It is customary today for people to make out and deliver to their heirs their last will and testament. Before his imprisonment, the apostle Paul delivered his last will and testament to the church. In it we find most interesting instruction for not only the early church but for the church in all ages to show the destiny of the different members.
One Saturday night while he was in Troas, Paul preached until midnight. The next day, it says in Acts 20:13–16, “Then we [Paul’s disciples] went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot [around 15 or 16 miles]. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.”
But then, because of a delay, it says in verse 17, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church” (about 30 miles away). Paul knew he was going to be delayed for some time so the elders of the church at Ephesus and their families came for what was to be their last meeting with him. We do not know if he intended it to be this way ahead of time, but the Holy Spirit came upon him and revealed to Paul while he was talking to them that this was going to be the last time they were going to see him. So, Paul left with them his final instructions, his last will and testament, for the Christian church.
“When they had come to him, 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; and how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house …’ ” (verses 18–20). Paul told them everything. He understood the concept taught in both the Old and New Testaments that all of us one day are going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. If you are a minister it is a fearful thing to think about appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. What if you have not taught the people what they need to understand so that they can be saved? Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Jesus had something specific to say about the people who were Christian leaders and teaching others concerning that day of judgment. He said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over His household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that He will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:44–51).
If you study all the statements in the New Testament where Jesus said when He comes again there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, you will find something very interesting. Those who will weep and gnash their teeth are not the heathen, but the Christians who thought that they would be saved. They claim to be God’s people and expect to have eternal life. But Jesus said to them, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:28).
What a disappointment for them to find out they are not saved but are in fact wicked servants who beat their fellow servants, eating and drinking with the drunkards. This is not necessarily referring to a physical beating for today there are more sophisticated ways to beat one another. Some use the courts. Others enslave people in debt or use other methods to take control of somebody else’s life. The book of Revelation predicts that the whole world in the last days is going to be spiritually drunk. (See Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17; Revelation 18.) The wicked servants are the people who partake with those who are spiritually drunk and not ready for the day of judgment. Paul told the church that he was not in the category of the false teachers who are afraid to tell the truth and tickle the ears of the church members telling them only what they want to hear.
Notice what Peter says about the false teachers: “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. … When they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness [licentiousness], the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’ ” (2 Peter 2:15, 18–22).
The carnal heart looks for a way to be saved in sin, but this is not possible, for sin and holiness cannot abide together. Jesus alone can save you from your sins. Paul said, “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” (Acts 20:20, 21).
To be saved you must repent of your sins. Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4 KJV). We all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and need to repent. Repentance means to change your mind about sin. Those who are living in sin and have not been converted, sin because they want to; they choose to sin. But when you repent it means you are sorry for your sins (2 Corinthians 7), a godly sorrow for sin that does not need to be repented of, sorry for what you have done that is contrary to God’s law.
Paul said, “Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). What happens when you have faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ?
Jesus gives to you the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8) and through the power of the Holy Spirit you live a new life that is in harmony with God’s law. Many claim that it is impossible to keep God’s law. Without the power of the Holy Spirit that is true. However when you receive the Holy Spirit it is the power necessary to keep God’s law. If you want to be saved, you must have repentance towards God whose law you have broken, and you must have faith toward Jesus Christ who will be your Lord and Saviour and Deliverer from the guilt of your sins. He gives you the power to start living a life that is in harmony with God’s law.
Paul knew what was going to happen in the very near future from the enlightenment he received from the Holy Spirit. He said, “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, 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. And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you [his last will and testament to the church] this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole council of God” (Acts 20:22–27). Paul did not preach just those things that would please men and win him friends and influence people. He preached all the counsel of God so that nobody could come to him in the day of judgment and say, “You didn’t tell me what I needed to know to be saved.”
Then he gave them a charge. He said, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure [his death] savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (verses 28, 29). Jesus talked about these wolves. Notice what He said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles” (Matthew 7:15, 16)? So, Jesus warned to watch out for false prophets, false teachers. They will come to you in sheep’s clothing. In other words, they claim that they are Christians; they claim that they are disciples of Christ. They claim they are part of God’s people, part of His church. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inside, Jesus said, they are ravenous wolves. You do not know what is in someone’s heart. So, Jesus said, “By their fruit you will know them” (verse 20). The kind of life that they live is a revelation of their character. Do they live a life that is in harmony with the law of God? How is it with your life, friend? What message are you giving to those in your sphere of influence? Is your life in harmony with the law of God, with the government of heaven? Or are you living as though you are a rebel, even though you may claim to be a Christian?
Peter predicted that this same thing would happen, and he devoted a whole chapter to it in 2 Peter 2.
Paul, addressing the same issue, said, “From among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). Paul is speaking to the leaders of the Christian church and he said that from among the leadership of the church—the elders, the bishops, the pastors, the overseers of the church—people are going to arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves.
And then he says, “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (verses 31, 32). That’s the eternal inheritance.
My dear friend, do you want to receive the eternal inheritance? Have you noticed that in the Bible the only people who receive the eternal inheritance are the sanctified? A sanctified person is a holy person. The word sanctify means to make holy. Paul, who understood from the time he met Jesus on the Damascus road, that the word of His grace is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Notice how the apostle related his conversion to King Agrippa in Acts 26:17, 18. He said that the Lord told him this: “ ‘I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ ”
Paul taught the lesson that the inheritance is only shared among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. He said, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). God chose you and you were chosen for sanctification; He chose you to make you a holy person.
The good news of the gospel is that a person who is wicked and sinful can have his or her guilt taken away and receive what the Bible calls “the new birth” experience and through the power of the Holy Spirit can receive a new spirit, a new heart, and a new mind, and can become a holy person. We are encouraged by Paul to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is that plain!
Again Peter taught that, “As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:14–19).
Then, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart” (verse 22). He goes on to say that is the experience of the new birth (verse 23).
O, friend, have you been born again? Have you received the grace of Christ into your heart? Have you received forgiveness of sins and a new birth of the Holy Spirit so that you have new motives, a new heart, a new spirit, and new desires? Is your life coming into harmony with the law of God so that the whole universe can see that you really are one of His children?
Never be deceived by the lie that you can be saved while you are living in sin. That is not the message from the Bible. The choice is yours. If you want to be saved, you must be purified and made holy, not in your own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in you.
God told Paul that He was sending him to the Gentiles so that they could receive not only forgiveness of sins, but so they could receive an inheritance among all the others who are sanctified. After the apostle Paul told them this, he said, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:33–38).
What a last will and testament to the church! Paul committed the church to God and said the word of God’s grace is able to build each one up and prepare them so that they can receive an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. It is the will and testament of heaven that all should be sanctified and made holy so they can take their places among holy beings but, sadly, not everyone makes that choice. Will you surrender your life to the Lordship and sovereignty of Jesus Christ?
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.