This theme of inheritance keeps coming up over and over in my life lately--which is always a sign I need to pay attention. As I work to fix my eyes on Jesus this month, I'm reminded of a sermon our pastor recently preached on Acts 20:33-38.
As Paul prepared to go to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing he would probably be killed, he said goodbye to the Ephesian elders. He encouraged them that God's grace was "able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). Paul then reviewed his own ministry among the Ephesians, and our pastor outlined how Paul's actions demonstrated the power of this inheritance:
The inheritance breaks the bondage of covetousness.
How could Paul say "I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel" (v. 33)? He didn't long for these things because he looked forward to his inheritance. He knew he had something far better than money or clothing. Paul had God Himself, and he was satisfied.
The inheritance cultivates a heart of diligence.
Paul alluded to his work as a tentmaker and exhorted the people to work hard. He was a master scholar, but he wasn't above getting his hands dirty and working. You see, Paul knew that now was not the time of his retirement. So many of us have bought into the American Dream; we are willing to work hard for a few years only so that we can enjoy a leisurely, carefree retirement of travel and hobbies and relaxation. But Paul looked to something far better and more lasting than an earthly retirement. He knew that his entire life on earth was time to spend and be spent in order to maximize his eternal enjoyment of his inheritance.
The inheritance opens the springs of generosity.
Paul worked so hard that he was supporting his gospel co-workers--people like Priscilla and Aquila, or Timothy. And he urged the churches that "by working hard in this way we must help the weak," reminding them, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (v. 35). Even here Paul was motivated by his inheritance. The Bible is full of discussion about reward. God intends to motivate us with promises of the goodness He has in store for us--most of all, the gift of Himself. As we imitate Him in giving, we are storing up future blessings of knowing Him better and having richer intimacy with Him.
The inheritance creates a sweetness of relationship.
As Paul said goodbye, people wept and embraced him. This was a man who once ripped fathers and mothers apart from their children and killed them for worshiping Jesus. And now Christians love Paul and want to be around him so much that they are moved to tears when he leaves! It was Jesus who transformed Paul from one who hated the church and loved rules and self-righteousness, to one who loved the church so much that he was willing to suffer for them.
At this point, we might be impressed with Paul. But Paul is only a miniature picture of Jesus, who supremely displays all of these qualities:
Covetousness: Jesus "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself" (Philippians 2:6). He had no place to lay His head; He did not hold onto His reputation.
Diligence: Jesus had a clear agenda. He was up early to pray and up late teaching; He did not waste time. "My food," He told His disciples, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34).
Generosity: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Relationship: Jesus' gifts to us are intended to melt our hearts. He doesn't just command us to sit down, shut up and obey OR ELSE (even though this would be within His rights as Creator of the universe!). He loves us; He offers His very self to us and desires intimacy with us, drawing our hearts to want to follow Him. "I have called you friends," He says (John 15:15).
Jesus' perfect humility and sacrifice cover my covetous, greedy heart. His diligence covers my laziness. His generosity covers my selfish, stingy inclinations. And His love for me, in spite of seeing all this ugliness in my soul, draws me to trust and obey Him.
It was "for the joy that was set before him" that Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). And now that He is "seated at the right hand of the throne of God," He graciously invites me to share in that joy, promising that I too have an incredible inheritance to live for.
[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]