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Godly Farewell

Acts 20:36-21:1
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. (NIVUK)

It is not wrong to be grieved or to weep. Even when God is sovereignly moving His people and changing good circumstances for right reasons - Jesus wept (John 11:32-36). Paul told the Ephesian elders that they would never see him again (Acts 20:25). He had been their spiritual leader and God had used him to disciple the church in the truth. Although they were elders, Paul was their mentor and confidant. Now, they would have to make godly decisions without his help or guidance. Yet, there was a strong mutual affection between them. That is why Paul selected them to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:17) before he sailed on to Jerusalem and prison (Acts 20:22-23).

Paul's farewell message moved them greatly. It was an emotional farewell which spoke of love and friendship, of shared spiritual battles and shared worship. Their weeping anticipated a severed relationship, because they knew that the Lord's future journey for Paul would not include them (Acts 20:22-24). He could no longer be there for them, so it was a huge 'growing up' moment; they would need to be fully dependent on the Lord alone.

But it would be a real bereavement which Paul knew was inescapable. Luke, who was with him, also felt the emotional wrenching. In using the expression, "After we had torn ourselves away from them", Luke showed that it was not only the church leaders who were distressed. Paul and his team also experienced great pain in separating from the men they had grown to love and trust. But the apostle was determined not to be dragged away from the Lord's will by massively strong personal emotions for people he rightly loved.

The Bible has many painful partings in which godly people were grieved over a good relationship which could not be continued if the Lord's will would be done. David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:41-42), Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-12), Jesus and his disciples (Luke 22:14-16), and Paul with the believers at Caesarea (Acts 21:12-14): the only godly way forward was to say goodbye. It is hard for parents to see their children leave home when they marry; but it is right (Matthew 19:4-5). It is hard to wave farewell to family and friends who go to live in another country for the sake of the gospel; but it is right. It is hard to leave a ministry team, valued Christian friends and family because the Lord calls you to His service elsewhere; but if He calls, you must follow Him (Mark 10:28-31; Luke 14:25-43).

Sovereign Lord. Thank You that all things are under Your command. Forgive me when I have resisted being obedient because I have preferred my chosen relationships rather than Your will. Please help me to be so clear about following Your calling that I am willing to move from what is good to what is best. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams