36) And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.
37) And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him,
38) Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.Acts 20: 36-38 (KJV)
In the midst of his third missionary journey the apostle Paul visited with the elders of Ephesus, for what he thought would be the final time, before moving on toward Jerusalem and then Rome.
Paul would in fact return almost a decade later (I Tim. 1:3, KJV) however this was considered by all in attendance a time of farewell and, in hindsight, it more or less was for an entire decade.
I find this an important ending to Acts chapter 20 and one not to be overlooked. It is fraught with intense human emotion. It is a solemn scene signifying the departure of a preacher who was deeply influential in the lives of his friends, the elders of Ephesus.
For the elders, at its simplest level their teacher was leaving and at its most significant level they were losing a close friend, a fellow brother in the faith.
In the departure of this teacher and friend lay many feelings: fear, doubt, anguish, sadness and others.
This was not an easy goodbye. In fact when a Christian says goodbye to another Christian, be it literally or figuratively, it often creates much the same type of situation.
I have found that the Christian life is filled with entrances and departures. Many times other Christians enter into and depart from our lives be it from death, relocation or just drifting apart.
As we march toward heaven the cast of characters that inhabits our life’s story and journey changes along with the scenery of our lives (jobs, churches, homes, etc.).
As Christians we can certainly empathize with the Ephesian elders above. They were distraught; Paul was leaving and he was no less concerned.
In reading these verses we are reminded of those Christian friends, family and mentors in our own lives— our own “Pauls” who have come and gone. Some may be already in heaven and others may have simply moved on from our cast of characters and are contributing to the spiritual development and well being of others. “As we march toward heaven the cast of characters that inhabits our life’s story and journey changes along with the scenery of our lives”
Perhaps they inhabited one act of our lives or multiple. Perhaps they were engaged in the prologue of our Christian life, maybe they presented to us the Gospel for the very first time. Or maybe they were involved in a crisis in our story— a time of sickness or distress. Maybe even in the conclusion of one of our life story arcs such as a graduation. Maybe all of the above, maybe they were a major character in your story. Duration does not necessarily correlate directly to the level of impact they have had on your life.
It is interesting that sometimes those whom we remember most as having a positive influence on our lives might have only been with us for a very short season and others for possibly many years.
Regardless, we know how they helped us along and we do not forget them. And many times we long for that time back, nostalgic for the community, for the friendship or for the season of spiritual growth that abounded in our connection with said person(s).
While not minimizing the feelings we have for those who are no longer pouring into our spiritual lives we must remember to be that person in the lives of those whom we are around too. In turn we become the friend, mentor or leader in their lives. “…sometimes those whom we remember most as having a positive influence on our lives might have only been with us for a very short season and others for possibly many years.”
It can often be easy when reading the Bible to overlook the emotions of the scenes being recorded for us. Sometimes there is distance between us and the recorded events taking place but we must always pay attention to what is going on.
This is an instance where we can see great emotion taking place. Look at the words: “prayed”, “wept sore”, “fell”, “kissed”, “accompanied” etc.
When we read and reflect upon these verses, they speak to us at a deep level emotionally. Why do they speak to us so much?
We have already demonstrated why— because we have faced the exact same departures of dear Christians in our lives. We get it and in turn it hits hard.
However why does it hit us so hard? There is often a different sort of feeling when it comes to the reminiscence of the departure of a Christian in our lives who has meant something to us. (Though I am not devaluing for a second the relationships we have with non-Christians in our lives, for many mean the world to us.)
I posit an interesting question for the reader. To whom are friends and family more important? The non-Christian or the Christian?
Of course they are important to the emotional, psychological, social and spiritual well-being of everyone, but I suggest they are even more so to the Christian for reasons unique to our standing as Christians. But why is that so?
The first reason is that we are under attack and soldiers for Jesus engaged in spiritual warfare. Remember…
12) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)
8) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
9) Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.I Peter 5:8-9 (KJV)
This is why we must put on the armor of God and why having other Christians in our lives is so important. This also explains why it can be so sorrowful when they exit from our lives or circles.
We find ourselves left alone on the battlefield with a source of support gone yet with the battle continuing all around us. You see, while loneliness and isolation are good for no man…
18) And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone;Genesis 2:18a (KJV)
…they are especially not good for us. Our adversary prays on the solitary and the isolated for alone we are weak.
Christian friends, family and mentors are essential to our success and commitment to Jesus in this life. Notice that “the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”
It’s not just us; it’s all Christians who undergo the same calamities in this life. Therefore, we cannot go it alone; we need other Christians in our lives. It makes us stronger.
20) For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.Matthew 18:20 (KJV)
This leads right into the second reason why Christian friends, family and mentors are so vital to the Christian; we are made for community.
24) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25) Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.Hebrews 10: 24-25 (KJV)
We are commanded not to forsake being together. This is referring to church and meetings but it also highlights the tenant that Christianity is not meant to be a solo endeavor.
The benefits of being together are far more numerous than those of being alone; provoking us to good works being just one of them.
Having Christian friends and mentors outside of your church family is also significant and vital. This is the third reason why Christian friends, family and mentors are so important for us.
You see, even outside of your local church family any other Christian you meet is part of your and Jesus’ family. Jesus said this Himself and it is reason number three: we are part of God’s family…
33) And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?
34) And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
35) For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.Mark 3: 33-35 (KJV)
You see, all Christians are brothers and sisters and parents to us. This is truly magnificent but also carries with it much great importance.
It explains a reason for why it can be so difficult to move forward after a Christian is no longer a part of your life. It is synonymous and unique to the Christian in that when another Christian departs from him he has lost a spiritual family member from his life.
You see, those not born again do not look at others in this manner. Even those whom they consider family (apart from biological family) cannot compare to the fact that other Christians are our brothers, sisters, mother and fathers and ultimately that Jesus is our Heavenly Father.
Back at the dock in Ephesus, the Elders were not just saying goodbye to a friend but a brother and the same went for Paul.
Moreover, these are family not just for “life” but for eternity. The fact that we will see them again also shows the significance of our relationship with them, it’s an eternal one.“…celebrate those Christians who have helped you along, kept you from evil and established you in community.”
Christian friends, family and mentors are all truly family for eternity. We are all part of God’s family and these individuals are vital to our well-being as Christians. They provide community and, additionally, help keep us from falling pray to sin and the devil, for family members do not let other family members go astray.
Therefore celebrate those Christians who have helped you along, kept you from evil and established you in community. At the same time continue your commitment to build up, envelope in community and keep your fellow believers from harm.
Lastly and ultimately thank God for adopting you into His great and glorious family of which He is King. Amen.