We should not forsake wisdom and be reckless on mission. Paul himself occasionally fled. But in all our contemporary concern for mitigating risk and exercising caution, I believe it is possible that we have all clenched our lives and possessions too tightly. Instead of counting our lives as precious to himself, let us return to the painfully simple teaching of our Lord: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Lord, grant that this greater love you have shown to us may be in us, and compel us out to our neighbors and to the nations.
Several years ago, when I was contemplating a transition from my role as a youth pastor into missions mobilization, one of the questions that gripped me was: Am I deserting my “flock”? How many of the young adults I’m leaving behind will make shipwrech of their faith?
As I weighed the options before me, the Lord brought me to Acts 20:17-38—the Apostle Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders—and eased my conscience. Like Paul, I felt that I “did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” and hence my hands were clean (vv. 26-27) of any charges of gospel timidity. Imperfectly, I discharged the ministry to which I had been called. It was in the Lord’s hands.
Since then, Acts 20 has been especially dear to me. But there’s another lesson from this precious text that has been haunting me as we all live through this strange season—a statement from Paul often overlooked:
“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.” (v. 24)
I’ve lived a relatively comfortable life—always well-fed, surrounded by loving family, and generally affirmed in my ministry and career aspirations. I will confess that the risks I have personally taken for the sake of the gospel are ultimately small and few in number compared to the global church of believers. I take it that my fellow middle class and upper-middle class North American brothers and sisters in Christ will relate. So, admittedly, I am in a precarious position—ironically—to be writing about risk.
But when we encounter a passage of Scripture that does not conform with our own past experiences, it is not the text’s job to bend and accommodate us. We must conform to the word.
A Revelatory Crisis
The current crisis in our nation has not really changed anything; rather, it has only revealed what was already present—in the medical community, in public policy, in the media, and in the health (or unhealth) of our churches.
And watching the variety of responses to varying degrees of viral threats—from my comfortable home, again—has indeed been revealing. Many churches, organizations, and individuals have taken wise precautions to protect the most vulnerable, using common sense, submitting as much as possible to reasonable recommendations, and showing love for neighbor. However, at the same time, there is a slowness to recognize truths which ought to have been more deeply instilled in us as Christians all along.