By Jen Akin
In a recent team building exercise, ministry staff members wrote a message in a bottle – a piece of advice or counsel – to the future church. Each week we pulled out one message and had the author expound on it. It was thought-provoking to reflect on what our last words of encouragement and direction would be to the church. Moreover, it highlighted what was currently important to us.
In Acts 20:13-38 Paul is in a similar position with the Elders of Ephesus. Compelled by the Holy Spirit to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Pentecost, he skips Ephesus. At a stop in Miletus, Paul sends for the Ephesus Elders, wanting one last time with them. His encouragement and teaching focuses on what he discerns is most important to sustain them as they lead the church.
It boils down to these three things:
Be living examples of what it means to turn to God in repentance and have faith in Jesus Christ. From day one Paul relentlessly served the Elders by teaching them everything about being a follower of Christ. He not only taught it, he modeled it, and now Paul expected no less from them. Their task, as Paul had demonstrated, was to “testify to the gospel of God’s grace” (v24) with their lives and leadership.
Watch over each other. As shepherds appointed by the Holy Spirit, Paul wanted to make sure the Elders understood that the care of the flock was their primary responsibility and to be on guard for what might subvert their sheep. Paul warns the Elders to pay close attention to both internal and external influences that may tarnish the message of the Gospel.
Humbly and generously serve one another with love and grace. Paul reminds the Ephesus Elders that their life reward is not found in earthly jewels or wealth, but rather is found in their eternal grace and inheritance. And from this place of grace they, in turn, should be generous with all that they are and all that they have for the sake of the Kingdom.
Here is Paul, the Pastor. He is huddled with these Elders, speaking with kindness and gentleness. Having given them everything he can to prepare them for their ministry, Paul needs to let them go. Their love is deep for one another, evidenced by their prayers, their embraces, and their tears as they say good-bye, grieving that they will never see Pastor Paul again. Those final moments were unforgettable to these men, making a lasting impact on their ministry.
While Paul’s initial teaching is for the Elders of the church, his wisdom transcends his audience and this moment. It becomes the template for a holy mentorship program, inviting and challenging us into intentional, gospel-centered living. All of this, so that others might know and follow the Lord for generations to come. Quite the message in a bottle!
Lord, I pray our lives would become a living testimony to the gospel of your grace and that we would protect one another from that which would want to steal this away. May you find us faithful in how we serve one another – with abundant generosity and love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen