Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.""
When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."
Paul offers his colleagues both advice and example. They are to remember his example of manual labour and of preaching the gospel tirelessly. Conviction and commitment are revealed in his words. Just as he worked ("with these hands of mine") to support himself and his companions he urges the elders to do the same. One of the values of work is to enable us to help the weak. Church leaders are there to serve the people, not exploit them, and to build up the community. Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." This precise phrase is not found in any of the gospels, and it surprises us not to find it in Luke's first volume. But its inclusion here serves to illustrate the truth that if all that Jesus said and did were written down "there would not be room in the entire world to hold the books" (John 21:24).
Despite the difficulties we may foresee for our church, we are encouraged to live joyfully, for Jesus intends us to share in his joy. Trusting in him fits us well enough to face whatever the future may bring.
Jesus declares how he has watched over his disciples and protected them. Now his prayer to the Father on their behalf is a further expression of his loving care. His intercessory prayer is an extension of the many ways he had served them since they first began to follow him. In a similar way, our prayer for others is an extension of our care for them; it is another form of service.
By his intercessory prayer for his disciples - and that includes all of us - Jesus teaches us the value of all intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer has been at the heart of the church's prayer life since the time of Jesus. Paul in his letters reports on his intercessory prayers for his churches and he often called on his churches to pray for him. Both Jesus and Paul, of course, were heirs to a Jewish tradition that greatly valued this form of prayer. Praying for others is one of the ways we give expression to our communion with others in Christ.