My parting words part 1

I found myself in a very interesting situation as I write this letter: I don’t know what to say. I am no stranger to writer’s block. I have struggled through several incidents while writing for the WAC bulletin, but today is slightly different. This is perhaps my final lap with you.

To be honest, I have very mixed feelings. On one hand, I am confident that, as I mentioned in my announcement, it doesn’t really matter which priest or leader is with you. Ultimately, God Himself is the master conductor. So His work of growing the church continues. It isn’t dependent on me (and it shouldn’t).

Yet, in the same instant, there is a certain nostalgia. I may have only been with WAC for 4½ years. It seemed like yesterday when I first stepped into West Coast Recreation Centre for the first time and joined you in the church retreat. However short the time had been, I had formed friendships with many of you here. To leave WAC, even if for a legitimate and necessary reason, meant leaving those times behind. I had a tough time when I left my previous posting to come to WAC, and I have no doubt that I will have the same tough moments when I have to leave WAC.

I have many things on my mind that I wish to say to you, but perhaps I may start the first round by sharing with you from Acts 20:17-38.

The background of this portion of Scripture is that Paul was about to go to Jerusalem. He sent word to the church elders in Ephesus to meet him in a place called Miletus (if you’re curious, you may locate this place in some of your Bibles’ maps found at the back). This was his final speech to them.

Jerusalem was supposed to be the centre of worship for Jews and Christians. But it also had a dark reputation (ironically, because of that very status as the centre of worship) of getting so self-absorbed in that status that it failed to notice when the “real deals” i.e. the prophets sent by God, and even Jesus Himself, were among them. So it tended to kill people which it deemed to be a threat to its status, never mind that everything in their scripture pointed to these people as the bona fide servants of God.

Paul was fully aware of the fate that awaited him. His reputation and deeds had preceded him. There were people just waiting to “get him”. So he understood that this was likely to be the last time he was meeting his beloved friends, the Ephesian elders. He probably had fond memories of serving side-by-side with them for the advance of the Gospel. In all likelihood, they brought him great joy, first at their salvation, and then how they appropriated and manifested the grace of God that was given to them. Paul saw how they grew and matured in the Lord. It could not have been easy for him to be separated from them.

Some of us may get unduly pious and say to him, “Hey Paul, they don’t belong to you; they belong to Christ. Why are you feeling that way?” This is true, and it also misses the point. It is difficult to leave people with whom you have laboured in the Lord together. Paul is also human, and the pain of separation, however temporary, will always be painful. Other than missing them, he never stopped worrying for them.

He starts off by setting the record straight that he always tried to do right by God for them and do right by them. And then he warns them that their journey wasn’t over. After he leaves, there will be wicked people, some of whom are already in their fellowship who will try to lead people astray. When he was around, he could rebut them and defend the believers. But after he was gone, one of the intellectual and theological strongholds against false teachings will be gone.

So he urges (one can even sense, “plead”), in verse 28, for them to, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Your first line of defence, after I’m gone, is the same: Pay careful attention to your life, your attitudes, your first reaction to anything. They reveal the state of your relationship with the Lord.

Next, and only after you’re have checked yourself, you pay careful attention to the spiritual well-being of one another. You don’t do this out of a spirit of superiority, but a spirit of awe, that the Lord would entrust the responsibility of caring each other’s well-being to you. You are not to make followers and adherents to your way of doing things (this is called “forming a personality cult”), but to seek God for how you would point them in the right direction of deeper intimacy with Jesus. You care for others out of the realisation that Jesus redeemed them (and of course, yourself too) with His own blood, and thus, you can ill-afford to be indifferent to the spiritual maturity of others.

Above all, remember the heart of the mission verse of WAC—We proclaim Christ, warning and teaching everyone in all wisdom, in order that we may present them mature in Christ.

In His Majesty’s Not-So-Secret Service,

Bertram Cheong

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