The word of the day is “commend.” It is not easy to part with loved ones. At these times we are sadly aware that we will no longer be present with them. And they will not be able to care for us nor we to care for them. But there is one thing that can give us comfort. We can commend those we love to the Lord.
In our reading of Acts 20:16-18;28-36, Paul meets with the elders of the church in Ephesus for what was likely to be the last time (Acts 20:25). He gives his farewell instructions that they are to take care of the flock to which they have been entrusted. Then he commends them “to God and to the Word of His grace” (OSB Acts 20:32). Today we will learn from our study what it means to “commend ourselves, and each other, and all of life to Christ our Lord” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 31, passim).
A Sad Farewell
Few places in the scriptures have such gravity as this scene of Paul’s parting with the Ephesian elders. Paul is on the way to Jerusalem and wants to get there before Pentecost. Therefore, to save the time of traveling into the city, he requests the elders of Ephesus meet with him at Melitos on the coast of Anatolia.
In portions of the chapter not assigned, Paul says that he knows that trials and imprisonment will come to him. And he says that they will “see his face no more” (OSB Acts 20:25). Therefore, he reminds them of his ministry along them “with all humility, with many tears and trials” (OSB Acts 20:19). He recalls his open preaching to both Jews and Gentiles of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (OSB Acts 20:21). And he says that since he declared “the whole counsel of God,” he is not responsible for those who have rejected it (OSB 26 and OSB note on 20:26).
Thus, Paul puts the church in the hands of the elders that he has trained and ordained. He tells them to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (OSB vs. 28). The phrase take heed is a Greek word that is derived from the idea of to hold the mind—we might say, “Keep in mind.” It, therefore, means to “pay attention to” or the “watch out for” (Strong’s #4337, 213). Thus, Paul is warning against the wolves that will try to snatch disciples from the flock.
What Paul Can Do as He Departs
But having given his final instructions, what else can Paul do? He must put them in the hands of the Lord. Luke quotes him, “I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace” (OSB vs. 32). The term comes from the thought of “placing besides” and means entrusting or commending to another’s care (Strong’s 3908, 192). Paul thus hands over his church leaders to the One who has far greater power to care for them than he does.
Accordingly, Paul puts the elders and through them the church in Ephesus into the embrace of God and of the word of grace. God is able to shelter them from every harm. On the other hand, the word of grace is able “to build you up” (OSB vs. 32). That is, the Word of God will “edify” them, nurturing them in the ways of God and the virtues of discipleship. But the Word is also able “to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (OSB vs. 42). The Word not only leads to repentance and justification, but it produces sanctification. As a transitive verb, the term sanctified means to be set apart for the purposes of God and as an intransitive verb, it means to “be made holy” (Strong’s #37, 3).
Noting that he had supported himself in his ministry to them and urging them to help the poor and weak, Paul finished his farewell. Then “He knelt down and prayed with them” (vs. 36). After many tears and embraces, Paul left, and his ship set sail for Cos, Rhodes, and Patra (Acts 21:1) on the way to Jerusalem.
Just before He took his last breath, the Lord Jesus cried out, “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” (OSB Luke 23:46). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines commit as “to put into charge or trust.”[i] It defines commend as “to entrust into the care.”[ii] The difference may be subtle, but it is important. Both place something or someone into the hands of another. But commend specifically put something or someone into caring hands. Therefore, the translation in today’s reading is preferred. Paul says, “I commend you to God and the Word…” using another form of the same word that Luke used in reporting Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (KJV Luke 23:46).
Putting It All in God’s Hands
The prayer that “we commend ourselves, and each other, and our whole life to Christ our God” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 31 passim) follows a series of petitions of supplication to the Lord. But in the commendation, we gather up all the concerns and needs for which we have prayed, and we put all of it into God’s hands. God’s goodness is greater than our goodness. His wisdom is wiser than our wisdom. His knowledge of what we need for sustaining our body and healing our soul is more discerning than ours. Therefore, in the spirit of the petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done,” we leave the concerns and desires of our prayers to the mercy of God.
Our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). Accordingly, it is a great comfort to cast our burdens on the Lord and to let Him take care of them according to His good will. Likewise, it is a great comfort to place “each other,” our fellow members, our family, and our loved ones in the Lord’s good keeping. Thus, we know that He will watch over and care for them when we cannot. The same goes for us. It is a relief to hear His Word, “Cast your cares on the Lord, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). We do not know what will happen to us even today or tomorrow. But we can confidently commend ourselves to Him at every moment.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
[ii] Merriam Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/commend).