When we think about the apostle Paul, we often think of him as a teacher who wrote many letters filled with important spiritual information about how to live out our Christian lives. We sometimes forget that Paul had deep and personal relationships with many of the people to whom he wrote and when he wrote those letters, he was thinking of those relationships. Today’s passage is taken from Luke’s account and describes a time when Paul was leaving the folks in Ephesus and was saying goodbye to the elders of that congregation. Let’s listen to it:
“And now I commend you to the care of God and to the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the blessings God has for all his people. I have not wanted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that I have worked with these hands of mine to provide everything that my companions and I have needed. I have shown you in all things that by working hard in this way we help the weak, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’” When Paul finished, he knelt down with them and prayed. They were all crying as they hugged him and kissed him good-bye. (Acts 20:32-37)
While we often think about Paul as a great letter writer, it’s important to remember that he spent about three years ministering to the people in Ephesus. He didn’t just show up, start a church and then move on to the next town. He spent time with them, building relationships, getting to know them and learning to love them. When he gathered the elders together in today’s passage to say goodbye, he knew he would probably never see them again. At the end of the passage we hear, “When Paul finished, he knelt down with them and prayed. They were all crying as they hugged him and kissed him good-bye.” Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend, thinking that you might never see them again on this side of heaven? I remember well the very last time I saw my dear friend Ray Liptrap. We both knew he was dying and instead of me comforting him, he comforted me by reminding me that “Living and dying are both part of the same adventure.” I’m talking to someone today. You have someone in your life who has been very dear to you, someone you fear you may never see again. If that’s you, let me encourage you to thank God for that person. If you have the opportunity to pray with them one more time, do it.
Friendship is a great gift and you and I should celebrate it…and thank God for it!