Let’s put the words found in Acts 20:24 in contention for some of the most beautiful in all of Scripture. They also give us a clue as to why God used Paul so wonderfully.
The scene itself provides a perfect backdrop – Paul is saying goodbye to the elders from Ephesus, Ephesus being the city where he spent more time (2 – 3 years) than any other during his journeys. There is much history in this farewell, and it’s an emotional moment for them all realizing that they will only reunite again in glory.
On the occasion of the meeting, Paul has been on a sea journey, and stops at the port of Miletus, where he has requested the elders of Ephesus to travel for the meeting. In a moment they will walk him back to his ship, and he will put to sea, never to see them again, but before that…this:
“…And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me…” Acts 20:22-23 (ESV)
What a life this man has led, and how many eternities have been redirected by the Spirit’s work through him! But he has endured much pain, and apparently, according to his words above, there is more heartache and difficulty to come. But no matter…verse 24:
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 (ESV)
Apart from the Lord Jesus, was there ever a life that accomplished more for the Kingdom of God than the life of this man Paul the Apostle? We’ll never know, I suppose, but it’s awfully hard to imagine. He was not only the greatest theologian in the history of the world, but he was also the greatest missionary, bringing the gospel to the great Roman Empire. And in the words found in verse 24, we get a clue as to why this man made such a difference.
First, he died to himself: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.” Jesus had said that a grain of wheat needed to fall to the earth and die to bear much fruit. (John 12:24) Paul was that grain of wheat, and in his mind, he had died. The bountiful fruit all around him was proof.
Second, he made up his mind to finish. Finishing what we start is sometimes half the battle, and yet this was a theme in his life, as for instance, when he wrote to the Colossians with a special message for a man in the congregation: “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’” Colossians 4:17 (ESV) It’s a word that Paul could have written to any of us – finish the task that God has given you to do. And Paul was no hypocrite – Jesus had given him a job to do also, and he was going to finish it.
Third, he had a glorious message. Christianity is not a self-improvement program; it is an announcement. God is gracious, and He has provided forgiveness for our sins through Christ. This was Paul’s message to which he testified solemnly all of his days after the Damascus road. And ultimately, it is this message – empowered by the Holy Spirit, and faithfully proclaimed by His messenger – that changed the world.
For Tuesday, March 10th: Acts 21