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God's Finishing Line

Acts 20:22-24
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace. (NIVUK)

Paul's remarkable missionary experiences won many people to Christ and planted many churches. His frequent encounters with persecution provided practical training so that he could look forward to the last phase of his ministry. As a Jesus-hating, church-persecuting Pharisee, it was certainly not his idea to become a Christian, or to be a missionary, or to suffer for the sake of Jesus. It was God's idea; the Lord Jesus personally commissioned him (Titus 1:1-3) and the Holy Spirit impelled and guided him. The apostle knew that he must finish the race well for the sake of His Lord (Philippians 3:12-14).

'Suffering with joy' became one of Paul's themes from the time he was converted (Acts 9:15-16) and all through his ministry (Philippians 1:29). The Holy Spirit's inner voice about imprisonment after going to Jerusalem would later be confirmed by a prophetic message through Agabus. Although Paul’s friends urged him not to go there, he knew it was the Lord's will (Acts 21:10-14).

Paul always felt that he was the 'least of the apostles' because he had encouraged violent persecution of the church (1 Corinthians 15:9), but his submission to suffering was by no means a penance. He knew that his salvation was by grace alone and he could contribute nothing except thanks (Ephesians 2:8-9). No: like Peter (1 Peter 4:16), Paul accepted suffering for Jesus as a privilege (2 Thessalonians 1:5). His goal was not to get what he could for himself, but to give whatever was needed to ensure that as many people as possible could hear the gospel of God's grace.

Paul's ambitions are rather sobering for most of us. Human nature wants to live well and die easily: that was not Jesus' experience, nor the apostles'. We like to define our lives by how much we have got and how happy we are. Paul defined his life by choosing to be identified with Jesus Christ. We want to achieve our goals; Paul wanted to complete what Jesus had given him to do. We like the world testifying to our excellence; Paul wanted to testify to Christ's excellence, in front of a world which naturally wanted to kill Him. We tend to concentrate on the pleasures or woes of the daily path; Paul focussed on meeting Jesus after the end of his life (2 Timothy 4:7-8). So, let the Holy Spirit use these verses to reset your horizon, revise your ambitions and reshape your heart so that the Lord can use you to His glory.

Glorious God. Thank You for the clear example of Your servant who lived for You and not himself. Forgive me for my selfish use of the life You have given me, caring little about those who do not know You and being reluctant to tell them the gospel of Jesus. Please help me to understand that I am Your servant, and give me a new desire to sacrifice my own interests so that Jesus and His commands take priority. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams