Last words

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:21 NKJV).

Recent tragedies in Nepal have caused me to think more seriously about the way I take my leave of people at the end of trips. One never knows when a visit will prove to be the last one he or she is ever going to be able to make. One or both of the persons who are parting may not live to come together again. And we rarely know when that will be the case.

Most of us use familiar, habitual parting formulas with little thought about it. “See you later” or “come to see me” or “take care of yourself” suffice to mark our departure. These informal statements also suggest that we do not consider our parting to be particularly significant. Surely there will be many other occasions when we will see that friend or relative.

However, experience teaches us that life is uncertain, and one is not guaranteed repetition of opportunities and occasions. Each visit may be the last ever made to that particular person or group (James 4:14).

That presents the thought, if we knew our next visit to a friend were to be the very last one, what would we say in parting? Would it be a casual “be careful?” Or would we try to say something memorable and significant. At the very least we might express our regard and wish our blessings upon the one(s) we do not expect to see again.

I have recently examined the New Testament epistles with this theme in mind. When an apostle wrote a group of believers, how did he part from them?

In many cases there was a standard formula of farewell, such as “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (1 Thessalonians 5:28; compare also 1 Corinthians 16:23-24; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 5:18). Though these are recognizable as standard farewells, they still have a dignity and significance far beyond the informal “goodbyes” we often use.

Some of the letters close with charges to the readers which suggest great concern on the part of the writer. We do not know the exact order of the writings of John (the epistles are arranged in order by length rather than by chronological sequence) so we do not know which contains his last recorded words.

However the final phrase of 1 John reveals a subject of great importance to the aged apostle. “Keep yourselves from idols” is offered as a command, as advice, perhaps as a prayer, and certainly as the author’s fervent desire for his readers. If those were the last words ever uttered by him and read by that audience, they were worthy of being placed in that position.

Among the very last words spoken by the incarnate and resurrected Jesus, prior to his ascension into heaven was the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; paralleled in Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49, and Acts 1:8). Knowing he would not physically address them again, he instructed his closest disciples as to how they were to spend the rest of their lives on earth.

Most of us would feel awkward and inappropriate if we were to attempt to give weighty advice each time we briefly departed from someone. Perhaps that is not essential. But it is worth considering that every opportunity for good we have, in word or deed, may be our last. Let us not take them lightly.

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