I wonder if you think about your life the way the Apostle Paul thought about his.
I was struck this week by a passage in Acts 20 where the Apostle is saying goodbye to his beloved friends and fellow church leaders in Ephesus. Paul had been in the city for more between 2-3 years. He had seen the church he planted take root and blossom. Now he sensed God’s call to go to Jerusalem and to be there in time for the day of Pentecost. As he left Ephesus, he was aware that he would likely never again in this life be able to fellowship with these beloved friends and co-laborers. In fact, he tells them that he realizes that “none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again” (Acts 20:25).
Look at what Paul tells these friends on the night before he departed from Ephesus:
“Behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22–23).
As I read these verses this week, I thought about 2024. Like the Apostle, we are heading on a journey in the new year, and we have no idea what awaits us. We may have plans mapped out. But as the Bible tells us, man makes his plans, but it is the Lord who directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9). There will no doubt be twists, turns, unexpected detours and hard moments ahead for us in 2024. Unlike Paul who, notwithstanding being constrained by the Spirit, still had a choice about whether to go to Jerusalem or not, we have no options about 2024. We’re going there whether we like it or not.
Paul knew that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him in every city. If I’m honest, that knowledge would be enough for me to be looking for a Plan B, Spirit constraints or no Spirit constraints! How could it possibly be that God’s plan for my life might include afflictions and imprisonment?
Paul was fairly certain about what was ahead for him, and he showed no hesitation to follow God’s plan. I don’t know what God has for me in 2024. I’d like to think that even the hard things that are ahead will not keep me from following God’s path for my life.
Paul goes on in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders to explain why he is able to remain resolute in the face of hardship and suffering. “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Paul had a single mindedness about him. His purpose in life was to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Full stop. That was the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus. Nothing mattered more to him. Suffering? Affliction? Imprisonment? If that’s the cost associated with testifying about the grace of God, so be it.
We have brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who face those same consequences if they are open about their faith. Where we live, not so much. But it doesn’t take much for us to envision a time when we might face a penalty of some sort for being open about our faith. It might not lead to imprisonment right now. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t social or relational costs some are facing in our country today for aligning themselves with Jesus. This is a subject that author and social commentator Aaron Renn highlights in his upcoming book Life In The Negative World: Confronting Challenges In An Anti-Christian Culture.
The Apostle Paul’s answer to the real possibility of persecution for his faith? Simple. Look again at what he says. “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.” Elsewhere, he says that his agenda, his priorities, his comfort, his preferences have all been crucified with Christ. They are dead to him. “I no longer live” he writes. “Jesus Christ now lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
We don’t know what 2024 will hold for us. With a contentious election ahead, I’m anticipating it could be a bumpy ride for all of us. On a personal level, we will no doubt face challenges and hardships. When they come, ask yourself how you can fulfill God’s plan for you in the midst of the affliction. And how you can boldly and winsomely testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Ready for a recap of what’s ahead for us in January?
First, for students, this Friday night is Game Night.
And our Roots Student Ministry has a big event coming February 2-4.
D-Now 2024 will include worship and teaching, times of fellowship and a service project to help your student cultivate humility and an outward focus. Students can sign up now for what will be a spiritually impactful weekend!
With the new year, our small groups are starting back up. And January is the perfect time to plug yourself into a group.
Here are the times and other details about our small groups. If you’re not currently in a group, visit a few different groups and see what you think. There is no better way to connect yourself to others in our body.
Questions? Email Pastor Matt Gurney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve been coming to Redeemer for a while now and are interested in becoming a member of our church, next weekend is just for you! Here’s info on our upcoming New Members Class.
Ladies, the spring Women’s Bible Study will start the week of January 21, with classes on Monday nights and Tuesday afternoons. The study will be in 2 Corinthians. More info and class sign ups coming next week.
Guys, mark your calendars now for Saturday, January 27. We’ll be getting together for some great food and great fellowship that morning. A sign up is coming soon.
If you’d like to look ahead to plans for the spring, you can click here to download a copy of our Winter/Spring calendar. Or pick up a copy this Sunday at church.
Thank you for your prayers and generosity in December. We received a number of significant financial gifts. It is humbling and affirming for all of us who serve to see how God provides for our needs through His people.
Here are the numbers from year end:
December Giving: $144,798
December Expenses: $38,673
2023 Giving: $597,000
2023 Expenses: $589,000
Thank you again for your faithful, ongoing support of our ministry at Redeemer.
Before we jump into our study of the book of Revelation, we’ll be taking time this Sunday to explore some of the significant subtleties at work in the account of the paralytic being brought to Jesus by his friends – friends who were hoping and praying that Jesus would heal their friend, only to find that Jesus had something even greater in mind.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!