Welcome to the second installment of ‘Goodbyes for the Gospel,’ a personal reflection on Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Last time we considered that goodbyes for the gospel are good. We say them out of obedience to Jesus our Saviour and Lord. If you missed it, here’s the link.
Second, Goodbyes for the gospel come at a cost (both for those who are leaving and those who stay).
Goodbyes for the gospel come at a cost for those who are leaving.
We know from v31 that Paul had been with the Ephesians for three years. And it had been a relationship clearly of great commitment and love for the church in that place.
We see as Paul reflects on those three years that he’d put into practice the words he writes later to Timothy – ‘watch your life and doctrine closely.’
V18 … you know (and he says this twice) … you know how I lived, v20 you know I have not hesitated to preach.
How did he live among them? V19. V33.
Do you get the picture? Paul wasn’t just their acquaintance, he wasn’t just filling some clerical role, no he loved them, he wept over them and worked hard among them and he poured out his life for them. That’s how he lived.
How did he teach? V20a. He’s given it all to them. V27. Nothing has been held back. The whole counsel of God has been declared to them. The Ephesians therefore have been corrected and rebuked and encouraged, they’ve been trained in righteousness, they’ve been equipped for every good work that God had for them to do.
V20b Paul taught all this publically and from house to house. He declared it to both Jews and to Greeks. And what was the overriding message? V21 ‘… that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.’ Sound familiar? Luke 24:44-49. Jesus is at work fulfilling everything written about repentance for the forgiveness of sins being preached to all nations. Paul therefore would have preached the death and resurrection of Jesus. He would have urged the Ephesians to turn from their worthless idols and to turn to Jesus as their new Lord and master. He would have urged them to confess their sin and to trust in Jesus’ death to deal with their sin. And clearly when people came to trust in Jesus, he went on to teach them the whole will of God. So clearly and so fully had he done this that he could utter the words of v26, drawing on Ezekiel 33, “Read v26.”
So there were Paul’s reflections on the past – it would be so hard to say goodbye because of the bond that existed between them.
And having spoken of the past, Paul then also speaks about the future as he prepares to say goodbye. V22,23. He’s not saying anything new here. Remember back in chapter 14 … Paul on his first missionary journey … ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” His end goal as we’ll see in a moment is crystal clear … but the more immediate circumstances … as he leaves behind all that is familiar and precious to him, well they’re much more uncertain.
Goodbyes for the gospel come at a cost for those who are leaving.
And that of course is something that Rachel & I are acutely aware of at the moment.
We count the cost and it’s big. There are many things that are precious to us that we’re about to leave behind. We know that goodbyes for the gospel are good. But they’re still hard.
And one of the hardest things of course for us is to leave you, our family at Beeston Free. We certainly don’t pretend to be the apostle Paul … but it has been our intention over many years to delight in sharing with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. We hope that we haven’t hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful and we’ve sought to work hard among you. And at times we’ve done that with tears.
But you know what makes leaving even harder … it’s that for any good that might have come in your lives from what God has enabled us to do … how much more has God done through you in us. Because in this family – that is those who remain and those who have been here in the past – you have shared your lives with us and you’ve shed tears over us when we’ve stumbled into sin and not been the people we ought to be and you have worked hard to teach us the whole counsel of God. And for that we will always, always, give thanks to God.
And therefore as we face a future that involves leaving you physically, a future that will inevitably have all sorts of hardships and uncertainties attached, we feel the cost of saying goodbye.
Saying goodbye comes at a cost for those who are leaving, but then our passage also show us that saying goodbye for the gospel comes at a cost for those who stay. v36-38 (It’s not just Paul doing the crying when he leaves … they all wept).
Rachel and I have been visiting a number of other churches sharing about the work the work in Indonesia and on one Wednesday evening I was in a church near Bristol. During the time of prayer a lady started in a broad Geordie accent and she prayed for our parents, that they’d know God’s peace during this time of farewell. And as she prayed you could hear her voice beginning to break up, it was full of emotion. Afterwards the pastor said, she knows what she’s praying about … her son and his family are missionaries in the Middle East.
Saying goodbye for the gospel comes at a cost for those who stay.
And there are plenty of you here who know that well … particularly those who’ve been part of the family here for a number of years. You’ve seen people leave year after year after year. And it’s tiring isn’t it? You feel the cost, you know the pain, you shed the tears. Sometimes you wish people would just stop leaving, perhaps other times you wish it was you who was going. Yet you’re still here.
Friends, you know when Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow him, we have to recognise that staying behind to follow him, can be just as hard as going.
Saying goodbye for the gospel comes at a cost. And so high is that cost at times, we inevitably find ourselves asking, ‘is it worth it?’ Isn’t the cost just too high?
Well friends, I think v24 will help us as we face that question. You see v24 is really a reminder of what we’ve said already … that goodbyes for the gospel are good. Because the words of v24 lift our eyes beyond our immediate circumstances and they give us the right perspective in which to hold the cost of saying goodbye as real and as hard as it is. Read v24.
There is a future that we’re working towards together whether we stay or whether we go … and our goodbyes remind us of that. Friends, there is a race for all of us to run, a task to complete … a life of wholehearted, sacrificial obedience to Jesus Christ, proclaiming the good news of the gospel, where no cost is too high, where no sacrifice is off limits, because Jesus is always worth more. And at the end of that race, of course there’s a great prize. Eternity, safe, forever with our Lord Jesus Christ. No condemnation, no more goodbyes, no more regrets, no more tears.
Goodbyes for the gospel come at a cost. Yet the prize before us, the inheritance that is ours, friends it is far greater than the cost.
Next time – Goodbyes for the Gospel (Part 3/3)
‘Goodbyes for the gospel never leave us lost for words.’
Michael Prest, serving with UFM in SE Asia