Being faithful to the gospel will compel us to frequently say goodbye. Whether we’re the ones who stay or we’re the ones who go the questions we face are far from easy. What are we to make of so many goodbyes? How are we meant to cope? Are they really worth it?
It’s a subject that touches us all and so rather than offer a few generic thoughts, this post will draw on my own farewell sermon from Acts 20 given at Beeston Free Church in Nottingham before leaving for SE Asia.
Acts 20:13-38 “Goodbyes for the Gospel”
We belong to a church that says a lot of goodbyes.
We know because of our location near the university that every 5 years half of our congregation will change.
In recent years those goodbyes have felt relentless at times. Students graduating and leaving for work, other members caused to move on because of family or employment. Others intentionally sent on their way to serve elsewhere, at home and abroad.
There have been some big goodbyes … and of course there are some more on the horizon.
In 4 weeks’ time Rachel & I, together with Bethia & Jemima, will have our last Sunday here before leaving for SE Asia. At a similar time H will be heading off to Northern Ireland as she gets married to S.
And a few months after that, well we’ll be saying goodbye in a slightly different way to those involved in the new congregation in Beeston Rylands.
And if the previous pattern is anything to go by, in the months and years ahead … well, the goodbyes will continue.
And so here are some of the questions we’re confronted with. How are we to handle ourselves when faced with so many goodbyes? How are we meant to cope? What are we to make of them?
In Acts 20, we read of Paul saying farewell to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, v25; v36-38. Here is a significant and an emotional farewell. And whilst we recognise of course that there are things specific to the original context here, there are wonderfully helpful and important lessons for us to draw about our own farewells in the Christian life.
First, Goodbyes for the Gospel are Good
It’s really important to be reminded of why Paul was saying goodbye. And v13-16 help us in that regard. We read of Luke and his companions sailing for Assos in v13, where they meet Paul. And then they head to Mitylene and Chios and Samos and then on to Miletus, from where Paul calls the Ephesian elders to meet him.
Paul is on the move, and we know why as we remember the wider context of this book, as we remind ourselves that this is a book not primarily about Paul’s work. It’s a book about Jesus and his work. How do we know that?
Luke 24:44-49 … we read that Jesus is to be at work fulfilling everything written about him regarding the gospel message being preached to all nations.
And in the book of Acts we see that coming to pass. We read of Jesus at work on earth from heaven by his powerful Holy Spirit. We see the gospel spreading and growing in power. We read of Jesus calling his followers to participate in that mission, to proclaim the good news to the very ends of the earth.
And Paul of course plays a key part in that work. In the early chapters of the book of Acts we see the gospel going from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, we read of Paul being called as the apostle to the Gentiles, we see him being sent into the nations with the good news of Jesus.
And so Paul’s journey around the Mediterranean, it’s not just some nice jolly … no he’s on a mission, literally. He is taking this message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and he’s preaching it in the power of the Spirit to all nations. And therefore as we see Paul saying goodbye to the leaders of the church in Ephesus – where he’d spent three years – we have to recognise he’s not saying goodbye because he just fancied a change, he’s not saying farewell because he got bored there. No, Paul is saying goodbye because of the gospel. He’s saying goodbye because he still has work to do. He’s to return to Jerusalem from where he will then leave for Rome, preaching as he goes.
And that is why this goodbye between Paul and the Ephesian elders – as hard as it was – that is why it was good. It was a farewell full of meaning, full of purpose, because they were taking seriously Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Friends, being faithful to the gospel will compel us frequently to say goodbye. Because Jesus is not just at work at Beeston, within these four walls, no Jesus is at work all over our world. And he calls us, he commands us, he gives us the joy and the privilege of participating in the work that he is doing.
So friends, as we say our goodbyes, we must never forget that goodbyes for the gospel are good. In one sense, they’re perfectly normal. They’re what the gospel at times demands of us.
As we say goodbye to one another we don’t just wander off, we aren’t just drifting apart like old acquaintances, no whether we’re going or staying we say goodbye full of intention, we say goodbye out of obedience to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
Goodbyes for the gospel are good.
Now of course there are goodbyes for other reasons that aren’t so good.
And I want to say something briefly about that just now. We find ourselves in a church family where the turnover is high and perhaps that makes the prospect of leaving a little easier than it would be in another church.
Friends can I say to you, if you’re thinking of leaving, or moving on, would you be going for the gospel, or would be leaving because you just fancied a change? Now don’t hear me wrong, leaving for gospel reasons doesn’t mean becoming a missionary or the pastor of a church, but it does mean leaving intentionally and thoughtfully, asking, how will my leaving be good for the gospel, how will it better promote the gospel reaching the ends of the earth?
Friends, because we are in a place where so many do go, the need for more to stay is really great. Saying goodbye for the gospel is good, but it does not always mean going. And perhaps for you, saying goodbye for the gospel might mean staying.
Goodbyes for the gospel are good. And we say them out of obedience to Jesus our Saviour and Lord.
Next time – Goodbyes for the Gospel (Part 2/3):
‘Goodbyes for the gospel come at a cost.’
Michael Prest, working in SE Asia with UFM