I cannot imagine a more important address the one I’ve been called to give tonight. It could not be more important if there were thousands of Oxford University graduates here and not a small gathering of homeschooled graduates and their families. And I say that not only because my son is one of the graduates (and it is a tremendous honor for me to speak at his graduation), but I say that because these are five precious souls who will impact the world one way or the other. Because you can be sure that my remarks are exactly what I would want to say to my son, they are words from my heart for all.
My charge to you is to frame your future—your further education, vocational choice, vocational preparation, choice of friends, choice of a spouse and the reading of a family—on the solid foundation of God’s truth. As a preacher, you expected me to say that! Yet I want to follow God’s plan of bringing about a birth of new life by exhorting you with His truth in an incarnational way.
St. Paul’s faith mingled with his very life to finally be poured out into the ocean of humanity. And everyone alive in the West today and increasingly in the global south and the global east—South America, Africa, Asia, and the expansive reaches of the Pacific rim and great arc of the Indian Ocean—have been touched by this one scholar. I speak of Saul of Tarsus, forever after his life as St. Paul.
So if one man’s life can, through the centuries, transform art, literature, science and faith and countless, precious human souls, in such a profound way, how much more, then, the five lives before us tonight.
Before I give you the traits of a godly life that will influence others, I want to you a warning. There are many who have sat where you tonight who were as gifted, as educated, and had the same potential for virtue that you posses, but they failed to heed the wisdom of the Scriptures concerning young adulthood. The Bible warns us about mistakes in our youth can potentially disrupt and even destroy the potential God has given you tonight. So hear the challenge:
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Psalm 119:9 ESV).
Tonight I want to invest the God-breathed, Spirit-revealed Word about a life well lived, the life of St. Paul, in your lives, believing that if you follow St. Paul’s life, as shown to us by Dr. Luke as he recorded Paul’s stirring testimony of his ministry at Ephesus, you will, in fact, guard your life and preserve your gifts to be used of God in ways you cannot imagine.
Hear the Word of God from Acts 20:17-24 where St. Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray. Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our heats be always acceptable in Thy sight oh Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. And let me preach as if never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A life that is guarded by the truth of God’s Word, according to the testimony of Paul’s own life in Acts 20:17-24, will be a life lived for God’s glory, other’s good, and your gain. These three blessed outcomes are not to be divided. They are as united as the Holy Trinity. God’s glory is bound to lead to others’ good and cannot but result in your gain.
Yet is this passage we may see the strong straps that not only guard you but also secure steps that guide you into a life you will never regret.
Invest your life where it is most needed, not where it is the most comfortable. (17)
For Paul that was Ephesus. Ephesus was corrupted from top to bottom by the cult of Diana. Yet corruption or ungodliness cannot stop the love of God from shattering all life-destroying idols. Paul would later say that he did not build on other men’s foundations. He invested his life where it was needed most.
I challenge you to ask God where that is for you? That question impacts your vocation, your lifestyle, your attitude towards how to steward the gifts God has given you. And it impacts your relationship with God. For in Christ, God’s heaven was, as Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, book three, muted. The angelic hosts were muted by the reality that the Son would be departing from the glory of His Father to live the life Man could not live and to die the death that was due fallen man.
Follow Paul who followed Christ and invest your life where it is most needed, not where it is most comfortable.
Share your life in community, rather than shrouding your life in anonymity. (18)
St. Paul would say that the Ephesian elders, not doubt pastors among them, would have known he lived. Paul lived transparently before others. He shared his very life in a particular community.
Jesus was known. He was known as the carpenter’s son. He did not hide His identity and with wisdom and discretion and even time chose to show His true identity as the God-Man to Israel. He was known.
People choose anonymity because they believe it is a place to be free: free from the encroaching needs and problems and opinions of others; free from the scrutiny of others. But they are not free. Anonymity is a lonely place to be leaving you devoid of the blessings of community. “Blessings?” you answer. “Paul’s life was filled with tears according to his own testimony.” Yes. For the follow the way of the Lord is to follow the One who knew sorrow and was acquainted with grief. Yet His gift of Himself to others, living, eating and drinking, weeping and celebrating, in the context of community brought life to the world. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus into community. It is in community, in the presence of others, sinners and saints, that we grow to be like the Lord. It is there that we learn how to forgive and how to be forgiven. Sanctification cannot happen in isolation.
Give your life away to a community: a local church, a city, a town, a village, a university campus, a group, a workplace, a nation. In giving, you will gain more than you ever give.
Risk your life with conviction; don’t reserve your life through consumption. (18-21)
Paul did not withhold anything that would profit others, even though it cost him dearly. This sounds very familiar. This sounds like Jesus Christ. This sounds like the confessional vow of any believer who seeks to follow God. It is simply a call to recognize that the riskier the venture, the more pay off. The harder place to go to minister, to work, to live will also become the best place as you do it with a conviction to give your life away, and by that, I mean more than just an altruistic attitude. I mean that if Christ is in you, He must be lived out through you. Don’t hoard the gifts God has given you. Give them away.
Devote your life tonight to sharing Christ at every opportunity, don’t deny others the Gospel you have been given. (20-21)
For Paul he investment was not only in people and places but his investment of his life had a singular purpose.
I used to have a purpose: to gratify the self. The residual of that “old man” thinking still flows through me like a virus that rises periodically to slow the heartbeat of the Spirit within that has made me a new man in Christ. I am not what I should be but I can tell you that I am not who I was before. There is a new purpose and when I don’t goof up and block the Spirit from flowing within me, that new life, that new purpose guides me. Devote yourself tonight to being a lifelong, lifestyle witness for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That may mean full-time ministry. It may mean a vocation as a banker or a homemaker or a plumber who uses his or her vocation for a devoted place from which you will fulfill your life as an evangelist. We are all evangelists. For we love as we have been loved. It is not a mercenary attitude. It is devotion to God and to others lived out of a life of thanksgiving and awe and wonder over the God who saved you.
Aiming for Eternity may cost you much, but settling for earth will certainly cost you everything. (22-24)
Paul was aware that prophecies were made about his suffering. He did not doubt them. He knew what awaited him: uncertainty. Yet he confesses that uncertainly did not inhibit his advancement. He embraced uncertainly as the road on which he would travel. His destination, heaven, was certain.
We are told that we can be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Yet, as C.S. Lewis reminded us those who love heaven most help earth best.
Uncertainty awaits you. The only thing certain is Christ. Embrace that certainty. Live for it. Live for Him. And the uncertainties of this world will be overwhelmed by the sovereignty of God who makes all things work together for good for those who loved Him and are called according to His purposes.
This is the difference in living free and living in bondage, which is hardly living.
Abraham Lincoln once reflected: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” And God’s Word tells us that it is Christ in our minds and hearts that puts life in our years.
You will likely not remember the points of this exhortation, but I pray you will embrace the core truth that Paul lived and that Christ is calling you:
Seek good for others.
And in dying to all other competing claims and ambitions you will gain abundant life today and eternal life tomorrow.
This is my charge to you. This is my prayer for you. This is my prayer for the unseen generations who will be impacted by your response to God’s Word in your lives.