Paying What I Owe: An Open Letter to Bill Elliff

By: Tim Grissom
Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. (Romans 13:7, CSB, emphasis added)
Respect and honor. I owe you both. Here’s my feeble attempt to pay them.

I have only to look at the lives of your family—Holly, your children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren to be convinced that you are at home what you are at church. An honorable man.

Or, I could reflect on my personal history with you—the times you sat at our table or we at yours, the conversations over coffee, the hours you sat with me at the hospital, the tenderness you displayed when you accompanied our family through the valley of shadows. The tears. The laughter. The friendship. Some shepherds keep a gap between themselves and the flock. Thank you for never doing that.

Or, I could look at the men you have helped launch further and deeper into ministry. They are honorable men, too. That’s what an honorable man does—he reproduces honorable men. This part of your work is not done.

But there is one thing above all others that I would honor you for, the thing I respect most about you . . .

Bill Elliff is a praying man.

I’ve witnessed this, but only just a little. That’s not to say that you pray just a little, but that very little of your praying is done where we can see it.

So many times I’ve heard you say, when teaching on prayer from Matthew 6, “Go into the room of prayer and close the door behind you. Let it be just you and God.” And every time I heard you say it I knew it came from experience. You’d been in that room again.

This is the one thing I have benefitted from the most. You, alone with God, behind a closed door. Praying. Often.

“And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

Maybe these few words, and others you’ve heard and read as we celebrated your ministry here, make up a tiny part of that reward. Words of honor and respect to an honorable and respectable man.

But I don’t think just of Bill Elliff, I think of Bill and Holly Elliff. The two are one, yet your honorableness and respectability are doubled, not halved.

You, Holly, are why Bill is “known in the gates” (Proverbs 31:23). Even so, you have your own reputation for good works. My family has received your counsel, your prayer, your generosity, your teaching, your example. Oh, and Jesus uses you to calm storms. I’ve seen it.

So, Bill and Holly, I’m paying what I owe you both. Here’s respect. Here’s honor.

I’m sure I’ll be in your debt again soon.

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