20:1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. 2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
It's easy to miss. I fully admit just skipping over or reading past sections of the Bible like this. They just deemed like tedious and unimportant details. Then I began to clue in to the fact that the Bible is extremely concise and wastes no space and began to look more closely at the "unnecessary detail" portions.
There are three words that jump out at me from the verses above: embraced, encouraged, and plotted.
Paul is a person. He is not a machine, a robot, or even some kind of super hero. He has feelings. He has friends. In every place he travels to he builds new relationships and new friendships. When he is about to leave Ephesus he calls the believers to himself. There is no time or space to name them all but to Paul they are not just believers. For him they are precious individuals. He has watched God working in their lives. He saw their eyes light up when they first understood the love of God for them demonstrated by the sending of Jesus. He saw them make the miraculous transition from being religionists serving God for gain to children of a loving Father and living in the joy of the Truth.
Now he is about to leave them and he gathers them together and embraces them. I am certain tears were shed. He would miss them. He didn't know for sure if he would ever see them again. We never do.
Leaving Ephesus he returned to Macedonia, a happy reunion that was short lived. He returned not to stay but to encourage. Again this shows the deeply human side of Paul. He didn't just preach and leave. He built relationships and took them on his heart wherever he went. He had to return even though he could not stay. He wanted to ensure they were ok. He wanted to share Jesus all over again.
From Macedonia he returned to Greece for another visit. In Ephesus he had embraced the disciples before leaving for Macedonia. There he'd spent some time encouraging those he had preached to in the past. Now in Greece he was doing the same until the Jews plotted against him.
Why did this third and very different word jump out at me? Because it is very much related. It wasn't just anyone who plotted against him. It was the Jews - his own people. Resistance and betrayal is always bad but when it comes from your own it is brutal.
Embraced - Encouraged - Plotted Against by his own
All of this is emotionally charged. Constantly having to say goodbye. Reuniting ever so briefly with loved ones to encourage them on in your absence and finally being harassed and betrayed by others who should be your supporters. It all adds up to an intensely emotionally draining roller coaster. How did he do it? How did he survive the ride?
He had One constant Companion. So do we. Life is ever changing. Nothing is stable. The good is never guaranteed to last and the bad and ugly are sure to raise their head from time to time. How do we survive it?
The first thing that keeps me in balance is a healthy perspective. Just the knowledge that life is and always will be a roller coaster is in itself empowering. It's hard for the enemy to catch you off guard when you are expecting him. Jesus said quite frankly "In this world you will have trouble BUT be of good cheer for I have overcome the world."
The Truth is not about roses and lollipops here. The truth is about recognizing we are in a war zone but that the outcome of the war is already determined and when the last skirmish is fought we are going Home.
The root word of encourage is courage. Paul went to Macedonia to increase their courage. It takes courage to see beyond the war zone. It takes courage to keep a healthy perspective when those we love are torn from us and others who should love us are stabbing us in the back.
So embrace those close to you. Encourage those you love but haven't been able to embrace for a while, and when those who should love you plot against you just remember we did the same to Jesus but He loved us anyway and the Story isn't over yet.