Movies do this often. The final words of a character are often very important. Having spent three years in Ephesus, it was understandable that when Paul needed to go to certain imprisonment and persecution in Jerusalem, he wanted to speak to the church there. But, not wanting to be held up long with people he loved, he had the elders trek about 40 miles to the coast to speak to him at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38). What he said is important for all of us as part of a local body of Christ to minister to one another after a leader has left.
I. 1 Corinthians 12:18-26. To minister to the flock, you must pay careful attention to the other parts of the body. None of us is alone as a Christian but have a responsibility to serve, feed, and care for one another. The first stanza of the hymn, “God Be With You,” explains this:
God be with you till we meet again; By His counsels guide, uphold you, With His sheep securely fold you; God be with you till we meet again.
God has a relationship with each of us, yes, but it is collectively as His bride that He sanctifies us (Ephesians 5:25-32). We can study His Word and determine to live for him alone, yes, but it is together that are secure and have fellowship with believers who help us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25).
II. Matthew 7:15-20. To minister to the flock, you must watch for wolves from without and within. Both might be hard to spot as they may appear as friends who tell you exactly what your itching ears delight to hear, so it is by the ‘fruit’ of their lives that you will know them. The song continues:
God be with you till we meet again; ‘Neath His wings protecting hide you, Daily manna still provide you; God be with you till we meet again.
Satan is the biggest wolf without (1 Peter 5:8), but even he can masquerade as an angel of light. When warned of the wolf within, Cain still killed his brother (Genesis 4:5-9). We must protect and provide for each sheep just as Jesus would (Luke 15:4-5).
III. John 10:2-5. To minister to the flock, you must first be alert yourself. Paul considered it his responsibility to minister to his brothers and sisters (2 Corinthians 11:28-29). So, it is ours, who strive to follow Christ, to help others listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice. The third verse says it this way:
God be with you till we meet again; Keep love’s banner floating o’er you, Smite death’s threatening wave before you; God be with you till we meet again.
We each have the responsibility of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), yes, but we can lighten the loads that others carry by our instruction, encouragement, and concern for them (Galatians 6:1-5). This is how the body works together.
Goodbye (from “God be w’ ye” or the name of the hymn) is so final, and indeed the elders wept knowing they would never see Paul’s face again … in this life. You see, for Christians who are parting, even physical death is a temporary separation. We will all see each other again in heaven for eternity. Rather, it is ‘So long’ or ‘See you later.’ The song captures this sentiment in the refrain:
Till we meet, till we meet, Till we meet at Jesus’ feet; Till we meet, Till we meet again, God be with you till we meet again.