Last Words

““So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Ac 20:32.

These are Paul’s last words to his friends in Ephesus. They’re part of a heartfelt talk recorded in Acts 20. In many ways, this verse forms my philosophy of preaching and ministry.

  1. I commend you to God… Only God can do in your life and your world what must be done. He is the sovereign–the ruler, leader, boss, guide, and king of your life. My task, as a preacher, is to deposit or entrust (paratithemi) to God. Obvious, I know, but so much of what the church does these days seems to commend people to their own devices, their own efforts, their own practical application of a recipe of steps… instead of to a dynamic walk with a living God.
  2. And to the Word of his grace… I love this title for Scripture. The Bible is the Word of His Grace. It’s sum and substance is Christ: his Person and his Work. If the Bible is all about dedication, service, and sacrifice, it is infinitely more about God’s dedication, service and sacrifice for us (grace) than ours for him (works).
  3. which is able… Literally, “which has the power.” The American church in this century has radically underestimated the power of the Word of God. We have looked for power in techniques or in practical applications. We have looked for power in creativity and modes of communication. We have looked for power in programs and in the meeting of needs. All of these things are valid functions of the church, but they offer NO POWER. The power is in the Word… especially when the Word is wielded as a Word of Grace. “For the Word of God is living and POWERFUL…” The more the church backs away from the Word, in-depth, in its fullness as the “whole counsel of God,” the more impotent the church becomes. Back to the Bible! What power does the Word possess?
  1. to build you up… To create structures in your soul. To restructure your soul–your thinking, instincts, and feelings–so that you have in your soul what Jesus had in his soul. So that you see the world from God’s perspective. So that you make decisions and perform actions according to his will. Same thought as: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Ro 12:2. Notice, it is NOT our discipleship programs, nor is it relationships, that build up the follower of Christ. It is the Word. The Word has that power. We must always point away from ourselves as ministers and back to God and his Word. Yes, some forms of discipleship entail relationship… but the power is the Word.

  2. and to give you an inheritance… The maximum experience of all the grace God has provided us, both in this life and the life to come. We can’t quantify it, but let’s say that God has set aside, in a trust, 100 tons of blessings for every Christian in this life. This is your birthright; your inheritance. Theses blessings apply to every moment of adversity, every trial, every temptation, every heartbreak, every loss, every opportunity, every divine appointment, every ministry, every moment of your life. God’s resources are there for you. But it is your involvement with the WORD OF HIS GRACE that activates these blessings in your life. So many Christians settle for 1 or 2 tons of blessing when you could have 100. Even worse, that 1 or 2 tons in this life sets your maximum capacity in eternity (see Jesus the Great Unequalizer for more). In other words, your capacity for grace in heaven is directly proportional to your capacity for grace on earth. And your capacity for grace is expanded by learning and living the Word of His Grace. The Word has the power to build you up and to give you an inheritance. That’s the sentence here.
  3. among those who are being sanctified… God is the sanctifier. We are the sanctifi-ees. You can consider sanctification–the process by which God conforms you to the image of Christ–“grace capacity training.”

And that’s my job: to commend people to God and the Word of his Grace. I take it seriously, and I wouldn’t trade places with anybody. I love my marching orders!

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9 thoughts on “Last Words

  1. Hey Pastor,

    good to see you yesterday!

    I have always made the distinction between the Bible being central and Jesus being central. I was wondering if you see that distinction as necessary, useful, and healthy; or something else?

    This gets back to the centered-set framework; what is at the center?

    (Of course I acknowledge that placing the Bible at the center would naturally include a heavy emphasis on Jesus, and placing Jesus at the center would naturally require interaction with Scripture to understand who Jesus is and what He is up to… but it has always seemed to me that these two approaches were distinct, and produced truly distinct differences in the people who take them.)

    Perhaps you would see this as splitting hairs? Just wondering.

    Enjoy your coffee!

  2. Hey Steve… Great to see you at the downtown YAKS. Welcome back to Redding, just in time for the mandatory evacuations! (Just kidding–though some of the outlying areas are under evacuation).
    To answer your question/comment: I see one as the practical application of the other.
    Yes, Jesus is central. But the WAY we keep in central, the way we function with him as central, the central way we “get into his mind” is by getting into his Word.
    Does that work?
    Bill

  3. Bill –

    What word was used in the original language for “Word” by Paul in the phrase: “And to the Word of his grace?” The reason I ask is that if we are to understand your teaching, which is that Paul was referring to the bible, he was then referring to something which did not exist. That doesn’t make sense to me. It would make more sense if the phrase read the “story” of his grace or the “example” of his grace. How could Paul have been writing about something (the Bible) which would not exist in a compiled form for hundreds of years?

  4. Hi JP–an excellent question. Actually, the bulk of the Bible had indeed been compiled by the time of Paul’s writing: the entire Old Testament, all 39 books. This was the Word of God and fully accepted by Jesus, the Apostles, and the Churches. Adding to that growing body, the Apostles wrote their books and letters. The New Testament’s compilation happened much earlier than you suggest, within 100 years of John’s death we have a roster of NT books that were held by the churches in the same esteem with which they held the OT. By the time Paul makes his speech in Acts 20, the books of James, Mark, Galatians, Matthew, Luke, 1,2 Thes, 1, 2 Corinthians, and perhaps Romans. Earlier in Acts, the Christians in Berea were “more noble” because they searched the Scriptures daily… When Paul commended them to God and the Word, the Word was a known commodity. Hope this helps.
    Bill

  5. Bill –

    Thanks for the answer, I did not know any of that. I always thought that the letters were sent to the individual churches and later were gathered up for us hundreds of years later.

    Your blog is a very helpful learning place!

    JP

  6. Hey Bill,

    What’s your source on the dates for the adoption of the Gospels/early Epistles by the early church? I’ve often wondered about the time table of the references to scripture in Paul’s writing myself. Doesn’t necessarily answer the question of his intent, but knowing the time line would determine the historical possibilities to choose from.

    And what of the Semitic notion of God’s “Word” as an aspect of God which has a quasi-distinct existence from God to which John seems to allude in John 1:1? Certainly, if Paul is writing before John’s gospel, he wouldn’t be referring to that notion via John, but he could be making a parallel allusion, being well versed in Rabbinic thought, right?

    This is why I stick to the meta-questions of Philosophy…all these particulars and details, yeesh!

    Thanks and Godspeed w/ all the fire stuff.

  7. Hi Jonathan…
    On the Bible book dates, try:
    http://www.carm.org/bible/biblewhen.htm
    or
    http://www.layhands.com/WhoWroteTheNewTestament.htm
    As to the Semitic notion of “word”… etc., we have to guard against the fallacy of “snowballing” which means importing all the potential meanings of a word into a given context. When Paul commended the Ephesians to the Word of His Grace, he meant the inscripturated Word, and that is how his first audience would have understood him. There is no evidence in the text to indicate anything beyond that.
    Bill

  8. Do you think Paul understood his own writings to be scripture? I realize he knew he wrote with authority — he typically opens his letters by underscoring the fact that God commissioned him as an apostle. I just wonder if he understood the ramifications of his own letters. I know that Peter equated Paul’s writings with “the rest of the scriptures.” But I guess I would have the same question about Peter’s letters. In both cases these apostles knew that they wrote with authority. And don’t get me wrong, I accept their letters as Scripture on a par with Isaiah or the Psalms. I just wonder if they knew that their letters would be preserved for the ages and be incorporated into the book we call the Bible. I kind of think they didn’t know it at the time. I can imagine them getting to heaven and being kind of floored by the fact that God himself was superintending their efforts. If I have wandered off into lunacy just let me know. I am quite adept at repenting. I get oodles of practice.

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