"And They Returned Home"
Kneeling down on the bench, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. Acts 21:5-6
When you read the book of Acts, with whom to you identify? Many of us try to identify with a central character like Paul. Naturally so. When we read about Paul’s courageous journeys and life-threatening predicaments, we tend to put ourselves in the shoes of the hero. But, as you’ve surely learned from experience, this approach to reading Acts is immensely discouraging! When we compare ourselves with Paul, we come up short in every respect. We end up saying to ourselves, “I’ll never be as zealous, as bold, as fruitful, or as significant as Paul.”
As exemplary as Paul’s heart and life are for us, God doesn’t call most of us to travel like he traveled or to accomplish what he accomplished. Next time you read through the book of Acts, look for the “normal” people – The majority of Christians. You’ll quickly realized that relatively few believers planted churches, trained pastors, and were imprisoned for the Gospel. Most of the Christians (like those in Acts 20 and 21) are unnamed believers who loved and prayed for Paul, but rarely met him. For those of us who aren’t called to be missionaries, but are instead called to “return home” after sending them on their way, I suggest the following lessons.
Most Christians aren’t missionaries; we’re missionary evidence. Missionaries plant churches. Most Christians aren’t churches. Like the elders at Ephesus, the Christian families at Tyre, and “the brothers” in Ptolemais, most Christians are called to day-in-day-out life in local churches. We’re the evidence that the Gospel once planted in our community has taken root and is continuing to grow. In reading the book of Acts, most of us shouldn’t ask, “How many oceans have I sailed for the Gospel’s sake?” but rather, “If Paul made a seven-day stop in my town, would he be likely to find me faithfully advancing the Gospel with the rest of the disciples in my church?”
Most Christians aren’t missionaries; we’re missionary admirers. It appears that Paul was a hero in the eyes of most Christians throughout Acts (including its author, Luke). When believers heard he was in town, they flocked to be with him. Most Christians consider it their privilege to hear his missionary updates and see him off. When we read Acts, rather than asking, “Have I done as many heroic things as Paul?” most of us should ask ourselves, “Do I have a deep admiration for our church’s missionaries? When one of our missionaries drops by on furlough, do I make it a priority to be with him? Do I esteem missionaries as highly as their great work deserves?”
Most Christians aren’t missionaries, we’re missionary supporters. Notice how the Christians at Ephesus, Tyre, Caesarea, and Jerusalem were united in heard with Paul. They greeted him when he arrived, housed him, spent time with him, prayed with him, kissed him goodbye, and cried at his departure. Their support was intensely personal and emotional. What an example for those of us who are called to “return home!” When reading Acts, don’t ask, “How many times have I said farewell to loved one for the Gospel?” but, “Can I really say that my heart is entwined with the burdens, joys, and concerns of the missionaries that my church supports? Do I know them? Do I pray for them? Do I communicate with them? Have I done anything that would convince them of my care for them?”
The Lord calls most of us to “return home.” Back home He calls us to be faithful church members who deeply admire and wholeheartedly support missionaries. Let the Gospel’s advance on the frontlines drive your oh-so-normal life at home. – Joe
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