What does it mean to live a good life?
I know what the world shows us. It shows us we should look good and feel good. Nothing more important than being rich. We should have it all. A successful life is defined as having as many toys and as much money as possible. But only if you’re also good looking and have good hair.
Or success is defined as defeating everybody else, being stronger or more powerful and winning more than anybody else. Even if you have to cheat to get there.
And I also think it’s interesting that the same things the world teaches us that we should desire are the same things the world uses to bring us down. The world’s richest people have their mansions and their yachts, but then the Occupiers of Wall Street demonstrating against the 1% that have mansions and yachts at the expense of the underprivileged. Or winning a Super Bowl one year, but if you can’t win it again the next year, you’re a loser.
Do handsome actors and pretty actresses define a life well-lived? Does having a super yacht define a life well-lived? Does winning the Super Bowl define a life well-lived? Or is there something else worth living for?
The bible is consistent in teaching us more. In Luke 12:16-21,
And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
The rich man was primarily worried about providing for his body in this life instead of providing for his soul in the next life. There was a famous French statesman named Tallyrand, appointed to the position of Foreign Minister by Napoleon in 1799, who said this near the end of his life,
“Eighty-three years have passed! I am not sure I am pleased when I think back over how those years were spent. How many useless uproars there were; how many failures; how many outrageous complications; how much wasted emotion and energy, and how much wasted ability! Hatreds have been aroused, illusions lost, tastes jaded. And with what result? Moral and physical exhaustion, complete discouragement with respect to the future, deep disgust with respect to the past.”
I think it’s sad to spend a life quarreling for table scraps and shiny trinkets that get tossed in the casket with the death of the body, when we could celebrate a life filled with purpose that serves God’s eternal plans instead of our own. God’s plans are so much better than our own.
I think of my stepfather who passed away last year. When he married my mother, he treated my brother and sister and me as though we were his own. We were already adults and too old to be adopted, but you would have never guessed we were not his biological children. He introduced me as his son. And as part of his family, he showed me greater love than I was ever able to return. While he enjoyed his job, the only time he would talk about money was to mention his goal of making sure my mother was well cared for. In return, we loved and appreciated all he did for his family. He was a rich man, and it had nothing to do with money.
And I think of my grandfather who passed away thirty something years ago. He was a tremendous model of peace and joy and love no matter what was going on around him. He took me fishing on his boat when I wasn’t even 5 years old and spent the day with me, and for years later that event defined to ma what family love is. He taught bible study at his local church, I’m told, for over 35 years, and in every way I ever saw, he modeled a Christian life. He was a rich man, and it had nothing to do with money.
You probably have somebody in your life that modeled a life well-lived. When you think of a great role model and a positive influence in your life, who do you think of?
I have a letter to share from a Godly woman from my wife’s church; she has been a missionary in an unfriendly communist country, sharing God’s Word, and writing back to supporting churches telling them that the Good News was being received eagerly in dangerous places. She was diagnosed with cancer some time ago. She wrote this just 2 weeks ago, and I’d like to share it in whole, omitting the names because of her missionary work overseas –
The Lord gave us a wonderful Christmas! Thank you so much for praying. I have attached a picture of me with our 8 granddaughters. As good as the picture is, it doesn’t convey how special Christmas Eve with the whole family was, and how much fun! Although I could not stand longer than a couple of minutes because of weakness, I was able to participate in the full 3 ½ hour celebration of our Savior’s birth.
This will probably be the last time that I am writing to you. Starting after New Year’s I began to go downhill again, and signs of the beginning of organ failure are quite evident. The Lord is gracious in that the pain is still manageable, and although for about a week nausea was a real problem, that is now managed as well. We are grateful to the Lord for His care for me.
How can I give you all thanks for the decades of care and support for my husband and me? Way back in 1976 when I was a college student studying English in communist Poland, I met Campus Crusade staff members for the first time, translating for them at our “Oasis” camp deep in the Polish mountains. I was so impressed with their ministry that even before I had committed my life to Christ I asked them if I could do what they were doing, i.e. telling others about Jesus. Over the next 4 years I committed my life to Christ, came on staff (not openly, obviously) and married my husband. And, for the past 37 years, thanks to your prayers and support, I have been able to focus my time and energy on that very thing: telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ. After a couple years of experience and training, I began to help others share their faith as well. I could not have followed God’s call on my life without you. I thank you with all my heart and pray God’s greatest blessings upon you.
According to hospice, in about a couple of weeks (although, only God knows) I will lay down this temporal body. I look forward to that. I cannot claim to understand all of God’s ways with me. In the end, God has given me the grace to walk by faith with many of my questions unanswered. He is good, and He is sufficient. With this knowledge I am at peace.
“Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Phil.4:20
Your sister in Christ
This Godly woman passed away earlier this week. I can read her letter of goodbye that had not one bit of regret in it, full of joy and peace. And I know she had a life well-lived.
III. A Life Well-Lived
We’re studying the book of Acts and we’re in Acts 20 this week and Paul is reflecting on the life he’s lived and saying goodbye for he knows the time he has left in this world is coming to an end. And like everything Paul wrote, even his goodbye is organized and with purpose. There are three parts to his goodbye; first he reviews the past, then he discusses the present, and then the future. He concludes that his past, present and future has enabled Paul to live his life in such a way that he may finish his race with joy.
I reflected on this message from Paul, how he plans to finish his race with joy, and wonder if I planned my life that way. I think a great many of us make plans, but they’re short term plans, maybe with a goal. I’m going to get through high school or college. I’m going to get married. I’m going to buy a house. Those are all things, sure, that we work for, but I don’t think that just because I bought a house means I lived my life well.
I think if you’re going to run a race that ends in joy, Paul’s messages of past present and future reflect the stages of the race. One doesn’t simply wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll run a marathon today.” No, a race requires training, endurance, and a strong finish.
IV. Acts 20:18-21 Training for the Race
First comes the training. If you’re going to run a race and finish with joy, you have to begin with purpose. Paul is talking to the elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20:18-21,
And when they [the elders] had come to him [Paul], he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s giving us his autobiography and telling us that his life was filled with purpose. He wasn’t an “accidental” that happened to be at church. Paul says “from the first day” Paul was devoted to his work.
Have you ever heard the phrase “ambassador for Christ?” I think the phrase is applicable, for we are all to be ambassadors for Christ. But too often we forget we have a purpose. Ambassadors have a purpose. Ambassadors know who sent them and why. Ambassadors take that purpose to a place or a people and represent the will of the one who sent them.
But ambassadors work out of a large building, an embassy, that’s also full of diplomats. Diplomats push the paper around and talk out of both sides of their mouths, so they do not offend anyone. Diplomats and ambassadors may share a building, but the ambassador has a purpose. Some people attend church as a diplomat and collect what they believe is a spiritual paycheck. Others attend church out of love and purpose, eager to see how God will use them today. Paul wasn’t a diplomat, he was an ambassador for Christ.
And Paul’s motive, his goal, is also in verse 21, his goal was to serve the Lord. While Paul ministered to people, he served the Lord. Paul lived a life unashamed of the gospel, never shying away because he was worried he’d upset somebody or offend them. The gospel is what it is, the good news of Jesus Christ.
And while we know Paul was unashamed of the Gospel, he shared the good news with “all humility.” He wasn’t a religious celebrity, he was a man who understood that Paul could do nothing on his own, he owed it all to Jesus Christ.
This is how Paul trained for the race. He shared the gospel with purpose to all from the first day. Paul recognized that a life worth living begins with training with a purpose, using the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of the Holy Spirit, never being ashamed and always with humility, knowing that it is the power of the cross that provides salvation, and nothing Paul or you and I do under our own power.
Using these gifts are sometimes met with failure. Paul did all this even through the failures, “with many tears and trials,” because he knew that the message was worth sharing no matter the cost to himself. All to share the message, publicly and from house to house to all those who would listen, that all should repent and believe in Jesus for there is no other means of salvation. Getting back up after failure builds our endurance. And endurance will be needed to run the race and finish the race with joy.
V. Acts 20:22-24a Running the Race
After Paul tells us about how he trained for the race, he shifts now to today and running the race. Acts 20:22-23,
And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself.
Paul shifts from past to present with “And see, now,” or “And now, behold.” Paul makes up his mind with purpose to accomplish today what the Holy Spirit asks him to do. In Paul’s case, he is called to get to Jerusalem before Pentacost, but also told by the Holy Spirit that the trip won’t be easy. Trials and tribulations await. But rather than just gritting his teeth and bearing what inflictions lay ahead, Paul sets his course with purpose. Instead of running away from difficult times, he gets into the boat and sails into the hurricane.
Because of the endurance he has developed, though, from his past exercise of his faith, Paul sets his sights on Jerusalem. Knowing the persecution that our brothers and sisters endure in other countries, I wonder if we are more faithful under persecution. Knowing they are about to die at the hands of extremists, story after story is told of our brothers and sisters proclaiming the good news. Yet, we, who are so comfortable in front of our television with our iPhone by our side keep our knowledge of the good news to ourselves so as not to make others uncomfortable.
Because of Paul’s endurance from His past devotion, Paul has commitment and energy to run the race today, despite the trials and tribulations that are always in front of every true believer. The devil is furious with Christians and sure to inflict trials. I once heard it said that if you’re not experiencing trials, perhaps the devil is comfortable with your faith.
But Paul does not shy away from confrontation; he says he does not count his life dear to himself. He uses an accounting term when he says he doesn’t count his life dear to himself; it’s as though he’s balancing the books, examining his assets and liabilities, and decided that Jesus Christ outweighs everything Paul has to offer. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul puts it this way:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
I heard a story while studying this about a man who decides to dedicate his life and his business to the Lord. Since it all came from God anyway, he was going to dedicate every bit of it back to God. And the next week, one his factories catches fire. As it burns to the ground, the man stands outside, watching it, with his son by his side. And his son asks, “aren’t you upset? Is this your reward? You give everything to God and it all burns up?” And the man answers, “It all belongs to the Lord. If God wants to burn it all up, that’s His choice.”
VI. Acts 20:24b Finishing the Race with Joy
Once we accept the eternal salvation offered by Jesus, we can just sit at the starting line and watch the other runners. We still get to hang a number on a piece of paper around our necks, we can still claim to have entered the marathon.
Jesus calls us to do more. Jesus wants us to enter the race, run the race, and finish the race. He wants us to acknowledge that we have received a precious gift that cost the son of God His very life. To decline this gift is eternal damnation. In Matthew 13:45-46, Jesus describes the goal at the end of the race like this:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
We have each been offered a pearl of great price, our eternal salvation and life ever after. Are we willing to give up everything to achieve that prize? Or do we hold something back, something we are not willing to risk? What keeps us from celebrating the Good New daily? What keeps us from sharing the Good News daily so others may receive that same gift? Paul tallies up his balance sheet and the score is Jesus: 100, Me: 0. Apart from Jesus, I have nothing. In Acts 20:24, Paul is looking forward to the end of the race. He’s trained for it, he wakes up daily ready to run, and he sees the finish line.
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, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
I think a live worth living requires living a life with purpose, not just being a diplomat at the Church of Disgruntled Attendees. Whatever our past has given to us is fuel for the race, it has equipped us in a way that is unique to us. And fully-fueled, to live a life well-lived means greeting each day with purpose to accomplish the unique goal that the Holy Spirit has set before each one of us. And despite the trials ahead and the failures behind, recognizing that we are building endurance for the race ahead. And as we see the finish line approaching, finish it with joy. In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul says his goal was to run the race well and finish well:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
We can sit at the starting line with a number hung around our neck and claim we entered a marathon. We can go to a lukewarm church and be lukewarm diplomats for Christ and hope we do not offend anybody.
Or we can run the race with joy and purpose, we can be ambassadors for Christ with joy and purpose. On that day when we face our creator, we can in all humility look forward to that crown of righteousness. How much joy will be in our hearts when we hear our Savior say,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
To God be the glory. Amen.