What makes life worth living for you? Think about that. Is it spending time with your family? Is it enjoying vacation? A hobby? Maybe you’re working for the weekend? For some people it is getting outside and being in nature, gardening, hiking, or some other sport. What makes life worth living? What makes lives worthwhile to you?
Now look at verse 24, and Paul says, “I consider my life worth nothing to me if only I may…” What?
Finish the race. I love running metaphors because running is how I exercise. Faith Church has an informal group of runners who have done more 5Ks than I can remember, three half-marathons, and three marathons. In each of the marathons, once I’ve gotten past 20-21 miles, finishing is all I can think about. It becomes a mental war. Thoughts are flying around my mind: “Why did you sign up for this, you stupid idiot? Who in their right mind runs that long? You don’t need to do this…ever. You can get quality exercise by doing far, far less. Just quit. It doesn’t matter. No one needs to run a marathon. You do not need to finish the race.”
For me, at least, I’ve needed just about four hours to complete each of the three marathons. That voice starts blaring in my head right around hour three. So for a whole hour, I’m battling. Not only are my thoughts telling me to quit, but also my knees and lungs and head are screaming, “You do not need to finish!” But I’ve trained for 18 weeks for this, and there is part of me that wants to finish. I know the euphoria of crossing that finish line. Also my friends are running with me, and we’re in this together, a powerful encouragement to keep going. So you know the mantra I use? “Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running…” I want to finish the race. And I start breathing the mantra to the pace of my steps.
The race Paul is talking about though, is the completion of the task given to him by Jesus, which is to tell the story of Jesus. Specifically, he calls it the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. That’s what Paul lives for. Traveling around as a missionary, telling as many people about Jesus as possible. That is his marathon. What is yours? How are you living out the mission of Jesus in your context? Just keep running, just keep running on the mission of Jesus. What will it look like for you to just keep running on the mission of Jesus?
Then in verse 25, he switches gears to something that would have been hard for the Ephesian elders to hear: he says they will never see him again. Kinda harsh, don’t you think? How does he know that they will never see him, anyway? Maybe he is just preparing them for the worst? Maybe the Spirit told him this? We don’t know how he knows, but it gives Paul cause to reflect on his time with them. So he says in verse 26 that he is innocent of the blood of all men? What is that about? Why would he think he is in any way guilty?
Paul says he is innocent because he has not hesitated to proclaim to them the whole will of God. Ah, there it is. He is saying that he has obediently fulfilled the mission of God among them. How so? He told them the whole will of God. What is the whole will of God? What does he mean? Preaching of the Scriptures? It seems Paul is making a thematic connection here to verse 20, which we studied in the previous post. There he said that part of the content of his message was teaching them what was helpful to them. Now he adds that the content of his teaching was the whole counsel or will of God.
Some people believe this means that pastors should preach through books of the Bible all the time, which is mostly how I approach preaching. We have topical series here and there, of course, as well. If you follow the blog, you’ll see that. But I don’t think that kind of consecutive biblical exposition is what Paul had in mind in verse 27. It seems instead that he is saying that he has taught them, at the very least, the essentials of what it means to live the way of Jesus. They are ready, they are prepared for him to leave. Sure, there is always room to keep learning the Scriptures, but the people of Ephesus have all the foundation they need to continue to be the church without him there.
In chapter 19, verse 9-10, we learned that Paul spent two years teaching them every day. That’s 700+ days of teaching. In other words, Paul is saying that they’ve had enough teaching, and they are ready to be the teachers, leaders, and disciple-makers.
The point Paul is making is that we need to know the whole will of God, the whole counsel of God, and that is primarily found as we learn the Scriptures. This is why he gave so much time and attention to the word of God, and why we do the same.
I’ve often heard that pastors are to feed people the word. Or I hear people say that they went to a worship service, and either they did get fed or they didn’t get fed. Get fed? They aren’t referring to a meal. They certainly aren’t talking about communion, which is usually a tiny piece of bread and cup of juice or wine. They are talking about the quality of the sermon, usually. No doubt preachers and teachers are to present the word of God in an intelligent and engaging way. But people in a church should not just be feeding and feeding and feeding. More importantly, they should be doing something with what they learn, which is where Paul heads next.