The pandemic has proven that the people of Christ in the West are far too risk-averse, and our risk-aversion is a major reason why we do not send more overseas missionaries, church planters, evangelists, Bible translators, open-air preachers, and abortion mill sidewalk counselors. There is indeed a time to hunker down for safety; “The prudent sees danger and hides himself” (Prov. 22:3). But far too many of us have been idly content to merely shelter in place while countless millions continue to perish into an eternity apart from Christ.
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 shipwreck 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.