Acts 20:32

‘“I entrust you to God and to the word of His grace,
which is able to build up,
and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”’
(Acts 20:32)

This verse comes from a farewell address given by the apostle Paul to the church leaders of Ephesus. He’d summoned them to nearby Miletus, having stopped off there on his way to Jerusalem. He was expecting the journey to end with ‘“afflictions”’(Acts 20:23), possibly even death. At least he thought they would never ‘see his face’(Acts 20:38, cf.25) again.

Paul knew them well. Not long before he’d lived in Ephesus for ‘“three years”’(Acts 20:31), initially speaking in ‘the synagogue’(Acts 19:8), then elsewhere ‘daily… for two years’(Acts 19:9-10). He’d even taught ‘“from house to house”’(Acts 20:20). Paul had probably appointed these elders, as was his practice elsewhere, with prayer and ‘fasting’(Acts 14:23). He became emotionally invested in all such ‘assemblies’(2 Corinthians 11:28), and Ephesus was no different. He’d ministered there with ‘“tears”’(Acts 20:19&31), so this address was a painful farewell, and they ‘all wept’(Acts 20:37).

Paul must have regarded them like his spiritual ‘children’(1 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 6:13; Galatians 4:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:7). Yet he was willing to let go, despite all of that investment in time, emotional energy, and even material resources, since Paul’s ministry there had been self-funded through ‘“labouring”’(Acts 20:35). So how did he let go?

By entrusting them ‘“to God and the word of His grace”’. Paul knew where their spiritual life had come from, and how it would persevere. He knew that when he preached the ‘“Good News of the grace of God”’(Acts 20:24), regarding the ‘“Kingdom”’(Acts 20:25), prepared for those ‘“God… purchased with His own blood”’(Acts 20:28), calling for ‘“repentance… and faith”’(Acts 20:21), even though he deployed appropriate ‘reasoning and persuading’(Acts 19:8), they responded only because God’s Holy ‘Spirit’(1 Corinthians 2:13&14) touched the hearts of those ‘appointed to eternal life’(Acts 13:48). Moreover, he knew that such responses are part of an unstoppable chain reaction, ignited before birth even – ‘predestined… called… justified [by faith, cf. Romans 5:1 & Ephesians 2:8]… glorified’(Romans 8:30) in eternity, ‘“the inheritance among all those who are sanctified”’.

However, Paul didn’t expect a trouble free bubble for them, any more than for himself in Jerusalem. He’d written about this ‘golden chain’ (as it’s known) shortly before this, to reassure the Roman Christians in the face of ‘persecution, or famine, or…’(Romans 8:35ff.) any manner of other perils, just like Paul faced ‘“in every city”’(Acts 20:23). In fact he’d left Ephesus following an ‘uproar’(Acts 20:1) regarding his preaching, and at some point had been thrown to ‘animals’(1 Corinthians 15:32) there! He knew the risks they faced, including from ‘false brothers’(2 Corinthians 11:26) as well. He was convinced that such ‘“vicious wolves”’(Acts 20:29) would stir up the Ephesian flock, amongst the ‘“goats”’(Matthew 25:32-33). Nevertheless, trusting God’s sovereign will, Paul no doubt hoped the sheep would learn from his own Christ-like attitude, that such troubles need not be stumbling blocks, ‘“nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus”’(Acts 20:24).

Importantly however, this was not a careless letting go, as Paul’s later letter to the Ephesians demonstrates. That possibly had a wider original audience in mind, but so did his Ephesian mission, during which the whole Roman province of ‘Asia heard the word of the Lord’(Acts 19:10). So Paul’s care and concern for them continued, including through amazing heart felt ‘prayers’(Ephesians 1:16ff.). He also wrote to Timothy ‘at Ephesus’(1 Timothy 1:3), who interestingly Paul was expecting to visit ‘shortly’(1 Timothy 3:14), so perhaps he did see the Ephesians again after all.

Finally, Paul didn’t see the Christian life as simply a troubled wait until this ‘“inheritance among all those who are sanctified”’. He anticipated ongoing sanctification, also through ‘“the word of His grace, which is able to build up”’. No doubt that’s partly why he stayed in Ephesus/Asia so long, not just evangelising, but ‘“declaring… anything that was profitable”’(Acts 20:20), i.e. for spiritual growth. He reminded Timothy about this in another letter, that God’s word is ‘profitable for teaching… that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’(2 Timothy 3:16-17). Such growth is as sure and certain as our eternal hope, and important evidence that we’re on the journey, in the chain. We have God’s word for it: ‘“my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do”’(Isaiah 55:11).

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