Think about the power of final words.
Final words and thoughts stick with us. They do not easily fade into the background of our memories, especially if these words were deeply influential when spoken.
I will never forget a time when, sitting during a concert, an older gentleman struck up conversation with me. He asked a few simple questions about where I grew up, what I studied in school, and what I was doing at present. The conversation tapered off as the music commenced, but his final words hung in the air long after the musicians began playing: "Kristen, do not sell yourself short."
This thought affected me for days. Did my words relay that, somehow, I was selling myself short? And still I consider his words, even this morning, as I pray about what God would have me do/say/think each day for His glory. The gentleman's words held weight, and they will not easily be lost in my memory.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, would admit that his speech was not full of eloquent words, but of the pure power of the Spirit. In Acts 20, Paul stops at Miletus while on his missionary journey to Jerusalem. His wish is to speak with the Ephesians’ elders, of whom he requests a meeting before he continues his travels. Acts 20:18-38 gives us another example of the power of final thoughts and words, as Paul says his farewell to the elders and leaves them with some reminders.
Although these words were spoken to the elders of Ephesus, they ring true as exhortations to us, followers of Jesus Christ today. Certainly, these were not Paul's final words altogether, but they were conclusive for the elders; so we can surmise that they hold deep significance and are instructive in purpose.
Here are five excellent reminders from Paul:
1. Keep the focus on the Gospel of grace. So many "final" messages and influential voices vie for our attention in today's day and age. How easy it can be to lose sight of the truth, embellishing the Gospel or detracting from it to make it more palatable for the culture.
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock...
2. Do not shrink from telling the truth. Proclaiming the blood and resurrection of Jesus is no easy task, in a world that despises the name of Christ. But Paul reminds us that it is our responsibility to speak boldly on behalf of the Gospel, not to shrink back--for all people need to hear about the grace of God and respond to Him in trust. He reminds us to pay careful attention to "the flock", but also to ourselves...
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
3. Be on your guard against false teachers and distortion of the truth. Paul reminds us that God paid the price of our redemption with His very own blood, so we must care for the church with high responsibility. This includes being aware of "fierce wolves", or false teachers, entering the Body of Christ. "From among [our] own selves" there will be twisted speech, Paul reminds us, so we must walk fully aware of this reality and stand for the truth of the Gospel.
32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
4. Remember that your identity is built on God and the word of His grace. How easy it is to wrap up our identity in worldly gain, or lose our identity when hardships come. We can even make an idol of doing good works for God, as if they, alone, are the basis for our value. Paul reminds us that God is our source of value, strength and security. He has prepared for us an inheritance that far exceeds anything this world can offer us.
33 I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'
5. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Paul reminds us to live above reproach by working to please God and to serve others. We have eternal treasure awaiting us in eternity, so everything we gain here on earth we can count as loss for the sake of Christ.
One thing my mother always taught her daughters was the power of saying "I love you" before leaving the house. To this day, if I forget to tell my family this, I turn the car around or call them, so they always have these words lingering in their minds and hearts.
Final thoughts and final words have the power to linger within us--especially when those words are the pure power of the Gospel. Let us take these final reminders with us today!