Commentary by Walter Albritton


November 27, 2005


The Spirit Helps Us Live Life in Chapters

With Grateful Hearts


Acts 20:17-38


Key Verse: Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. – Acts 20:28


          In his excellent autobiography, While It Is Day, Elton Trueblood suggests that life may be lived well in chapters. He uses this scheme of chapters to share the rich experiences of his significant life as a Christian teacher, preacher, and writer.  

          Living life in chapters is a great idea for anyone. It is especially helpful for pastors who serve churches in an itinerate system like that used by United Methodism. When the bishop appoints a pastor to a church, a new chapter begins. When the pastor is moved to another church, one chapter ends and another begins. As it is with most books, some chapters will be short and others long.

          Endings and beginnings are never easy. Closing a chapter is often deeply emotional. Pastors often may have mixed feelings. One may want to move to a “better” appointment but at the same time find it difficult to sever “the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.” Wise pastors know how very necessary it is when they move to “close the books” on the chapter that has ended. One’s energy and focus must be given entirely to the new assignment.

          Saint Paul was a deeply emotional man. He did not hide his feelings. He was sometimes tender, and sometimes bold and abrasive. Surely no one ever wondered where Paul stood on an issue; he was an authentic man who put everything on the table, though always pleading for grace to model his life after that of his Lord Jesus. No wonder his dearest friends wept at his departure.

          Paul did not leave quietly like the Lone Ranger when his ministry with the Ephesians was over. None of them was left staring at a silver bullet asking “Who was that masked man?” Indeed, he called his friends, the elders of the church, to gather on the beach for a last, sad farewell.

          There he commissioned them to keep the faith, to remain faithful to God. How moving it must have been to hear Paul plead with them to “shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” Paul’s charge is a beautiful example of the spirit every pastor should have when he bids his flock farewell.

          He does not invite the elders to remember him but to remember their sacred mission – to care for the flock of God. He sought not to build a kingdom for himself but to build up the Kingdom of God. His perspective on himself is exemplary: “I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.” This should be the motive of every pastor God calls to walk in that “endless line of splendor.”

          The scene in chapter 20 shows us one of the tenderest moments in Paul’s life. He knows he will never see his friends again. They weep openly when he tells them so. He has been their spiritual mentor and guide. He has fathered them in the faith.

With no shame at all, they embraced Paul and kissed him repeatedly. Tears flowed from every eye as they watched Paul walk out of their lives. They knew that what awaited Paul was persecution and imprisonment, and that all because he had laid his life on the line for his precious Jesus. Like Luther later, Paul “could do no other” for he was “a captive to the Spirit.”

          As chapters in our lives begin and end, we can find no finer example to follow than that of Paul. What he said to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:5-7), we must learn to say repeatedly as we live our lives in chapters with grateful hearts: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

          Thus does God accomplish his work in the lives of men and women who are willing to give him all the glory.

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