Week of February 18

Willing to Be Turned Upside Down

Read: Leviticus 20-22; Acts 20
“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.”
Acts 20:24, ESV


Were Paul to have a life statement, this would be it! In fact, he similarly writes, “To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” in Philippians 1:21. My first childhood pastor penned this exact verse in my Bible. I opened my Bible to that page on countless occasions and wondered why he had hung that statement above his life and ministry. I understand better now, at this stage in my life, his reason for choosing that verse. I also believe Paul helps us adopt “to live is Christ” as a life goal. His words in Acts 20 offer us a picture of how to embody Philippians 1:21.

The Meaning of the Text

A worthy life statement
Paul states a missionary challenge to the Ephesian elders because he senses that he will not see them again this side of heaven (20:22). Our focal verse is an awkward statement in the Greek language and there are different views about the best way it should read when translated. Some believe Paul says, “I reckon my life of no value, as though it were precious to me” (cf. TEV). Others translate the phrase as, “Life to me is not a thing to waste words on” (cf. JB). Paul was likely saying, “It is not important to me whether I live or die, but it is important that I complete my mission” (Handbook). We can look through the lens of Philippians 1:21 and see how he might express himself in this way.
Living wholly for Christ
We may be tempted to see something of a razor’s edge in adopting this type of life goal. It reads like Paul counts his life as being of no value. This cannot be the case, since Jesus teaches us to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). A tiny Greek conjunction offers help to us when we seek to apply this verse to our own lives. It is often translated “like” or “as,” but here it indicates purpose. So, our morning prayer may be, “Lord, I want to finish this day within your purpose for my life.”
Two good goals for every single day
Offer God’s grace to all (20:21). We all know of churches who play favorites. Such favoritism breeds gospel injustice, because a person or group may be left out. Paul, however, practiced inclusiveness. He witnessed to anyone and everyone (20:21). The Jews severely persecuted him, but he did not withhold the gospel from them. No one was left out! I made it a pastoral practice to accept the first invitation a person or family extended to me regardless of who they were or how they behaved. Paul takes this ministry principle of equity a step further. He did the asking! He went from house to house to share Christ with people in those homes. Why? His motto was something like, “God is the God of all.” Stamp out injustice by stepping out with grace toward all people.
Live sacrificially for Christ (20:24, “Finish my course”). Paul likens living for Christ to an athletic contest, but it is safe to translate it “mission” (cf. “race,” 2 Timothy 4:7). Either way, he combines the thought with our word for “ministry” (“work”). We get our word “deacon” from the same word group. He felt called to “mission and ministry” in the church! We are free to roam about the world serving sacrificially within the Body of Christ because this is purposeful and holds deep meaning and value in the kingdom! For to me, to live means more opportunities to serve Christ, and to die . . . well that is better yet! Paul is a sanctity-of-life fellow after all! We should be, as well.

The Message for Your Heart

I needed new reading glasses, so I asked several people what they would recommend. I settled on Warby Parker glasses, because of the good brand reputation, and their app has a handy Virtual Try-On tool that enabled me to determine the best frames for the shape of my face. Yes, I enjoyed a good laugh at some of the recommended frames, but I finally settled on the Fletcher style. My glasses arrived with a handy cleaning cloth upon which was printed the company’s brand statement in 100 words! Let me reduce it to the main claim: They sell “amazing glasses for non-insane prices” and then also distribute a separate pair of eyewear to someone in need.
I “see” Paul’s point, if you do not mind my pun. His statement in Philippians 1 and here in Acts 20:24 challenges us to consider afresh our life purpose! I will use the metaphor of salt here (see Matthew 5:13). God turned Paul’s life upside down and generously sprinkled it over the lives of countless people who needed the Savior. God invites you to be turned upside down, so that He may apply the gospel to the lives of those around you, too.

For Thought and Reflection

1. Take time to write down your Christian life statement. Now, use it as the lens through which you view your daily life! It will be surprising how much clearer you will be able to see the needs around you and where God wishes for you to act.
2. For Families: Parents? Do you have a pair of binoculars? Paul’s truth in this passage, and Larry Ashlock’s application, together with your binoculars, can provide a spiritual learning moment for your kids.

Draw a square on your porch or driveway with tape, or chalk, and place a chair in your square. Then, take your binoculars and sit in your chair, and ask your children, one by one, to go far out in front of you, and spell a word with their arms and legs and body. See if you can solve their word puzzles. They might spell out animals (dog or cat or bird), or people in your family (mom or dad or grandpa).

Now ask them if they would like a turn. Let them each experience looking through the binoculars. When everyone has had a chance to see far away objects more clearly (and closer), share with them the point of this passage. Paul had a life statement that made everything he did clear and close up to everyone who saw him. Plain and simple, he wanted people to know about Jesus! When folks saw him, Paul wanted them to meet Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Ask your children to think and pray about a life statement like Paul’s that will help them direct others to God every day.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:21 NIV
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock