Life goes by so quickly. One day, you are a hippie and so skinny that it is unimaginable. The next day, you are middle-aged and constantly battling your weight.
That is not a bad thing, because we are all going to age and are all going to move forward in life. The length of our life is determined by God – not by us. But what we want to do is to make sure we are moving in the right direction, because the evening of our life is determined by the morning of it. The end is determined by the beginning.
In Acts 20, we find the final words the apostle Paul gave to a particular group of people, the leaders of the church of Ephesus. Paul was reflecting back on life and some of the things he had learned – some of the things that mattered to him. It is an important message for us to take to heart as well, because the apostle identifies what the measure of a man or a woman ought to be.
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom once said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.” We want to think about what kind of donation our life is making.
This was an emotional moment for the apostle as he gave these final words. There was weeping. There was sadness. If you have ever had to say goodbye to someone you would never see again, then you know what this is like. They loved the apostle. He had spent time ministering to them and helping them and praying for them and caring for them. And now he was going away.
First, the apostle compared himself to a runner in a race. He said, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus” (verse 20 NKJV).
It’s important that we understand our times are in God’s hands. In other words, our life is a gift to us from God. God decides when it starts. And God decides when it stops. That is why Paul said that he didn’t count his life dear to himself. He was not saying that life was not important; he was simply saying that he knew his life was a gift to him from God. And as we see the frailty of life, eternity becomes more tangible and important to us.
Paul also said that he wanted to finish his race with joy. When you start a race, you don’t always think about the finish, but you should. The finish is the most important part. You can have a bad start and still finish well. But if you finish badly, it doesn’t matter how good of a start you had or whether you were leading the pack nine laps out of 10. Finishing is everything. And Paul talked about finishing his race well.
As I get older, I think about this more. I realize that I am not at the beginning of my race. And I am probably well past the halfway point of my race. I don’t think I am at the end yet, but I don’t really know, do I? When you are young, you say, “Well, I am just starting the race.” Yes, but you don’t know how long your life will last, you see. That is why you want to run your race well, and run it right. And the objective is to finish.
But finish with joy. Some Christians have lost their joy. They started off with joy, but then something happened to them. They just lost interest in the things of God, or other things crowded them out. They still do the things they should as a Christian, but they just go through the motions. They are not really happy about it. Don’t just start the race well; finish the race well. And finish it with joy. That is what the apostle was saying. I want to finish this race with joy.
Then Paul compared himself to a steward. He spoke of “the ministry which [he] received from the Lord Jesus” (verse 24). The word he used for “received” refers to a steward. A different word would be “servant,” or better yet, “slave.”
Paul was saying that everything he had in his life had been given to him by God. We sometimes forget this. Our possessions, our children, our career, our health – everything we have is a gift to us from God. That breath you drew in just now? Even that is a gift to you from God.
The goal of steward, or a servant, is to please his master. It is to do what his master wants him to do. But let’s understand that it is not as though God has taken us against our will and made us his slaves. It is more like he has bought us from the slave market and then freed us and adopted us as children. And out of gratitude, we want to serve him forever. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are called to be his servants.
Paul also compared himself to a witness. He said, “So that I may finish my race with joy … to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). What is a witness supposed to do? They are supposed to tell you what they saw. A witness’ objective is not to make up something or make the story better than it was. Witnesses are to state what they saw – plainly. And that is what we are to do.
Here is what it comes down to: If you walk in fellowship with God, he will be working in your life. He will be showing you things from Scripture that will help you to grow spiritually. And when you are full of the things of God, it just comes out.
Paul closed his farewell speech by saying, “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ ” (verse 35). Here is a little secret: It is a blessing to give. Do you know any generous people? I find that generous people are blessed people. You give to others, and others want to give back to you.
So if you were going to give your final message, if you were to say, “Here is what matters to me,” what would you say? We want to live our lives well so when that day comes and we are called home to heaven, we can say, like Paul, that we have finished our race with joy.