LAST WEEK: In Acts 18:24-28 we covered the story of Apollos, a well-educated Jew from Alexandria who came to Ephesus with incomplete knowledge about Christ and was instructed and mentored by Aquila and Priscilla; then in 19:1-7, again at Ephesus, we saw Paul's encounter with the disciples of John the Baptist who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. The main point of application was:
Sometimes there are those who need to be evangelized although they already believe and are already in the church. And even today, there are some in the church who claim to be Christians but have never taken the fundamental step of repenting and establishing a personal relationship with Jesus. If you sense someone who may still be on the fringe, there are two diagnostic questions you can ask: (1) Do you know for sure that when you die you will be with God in heaven? And (2) If God were to ask you, "Why should I let you into My heaven," what would you say? If their answers are unsure, you can tell them that (1) he or she must believe that Jesus Christ, who is fully man and fully God, paid the penalty for the sin that we deserve when He died on the cross; and (2) personally receive God's free gift of eternal life by professing faith in Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. Tell them that any trust in human goodness (i.e., works), even if coupled with belief in Christ, reveals that he or she does not understand the gospel and hasn't trusted in Jesus alone for salvation.
THIS WEEK: In Acts 20:22-35 we will focus on Paul's farewell message to the elders at Ephesus. On his way to Jerusalem from Troas, Paul stopped at Miletus (see map) and called for the elders to come there and meet with him. There are two aspects to this message: (1) In vv. 18-21, which is not part of today's lesson, he looked back over the years he had spent with these men, recounting his teaching and the work of God in their midst; and (2) then in vv. 22-35, Paul looks forward, to his own fate and the dangers that lie ahead, which envisaged potentially his death or at least imprisonment, but he also looked forward to the dangers that would lie ahead for this church and for these men in particular, and to exhort them to continue the ministry in his absence.
Read Acts 20:22-24 - Paul Explains His Commitment
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
vv. 22-23: "And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me" - Because of recent riots in Ephesus (see, Acts 19:23-41), Paul bypassed it on his way to Jerusalem and called the elders to meet him 36 miles away in the city of Miletus. As he begins the message, Paul tells them that he's "constrained by the Spirit" (v.22) to get there, not knowing what's going to happen when he arrives. Then he also tells them that the same Spirit has informed him that he'll be imprisoned and mistreated when he gets there (v.23). This tells us a lot about Paul and how his walk with Jesus Christ was so close that he had yielded control of his life to the Holy Spirit. When we serve in a Christian ministry, we normally view ourselves as volunteers who have the option of withdrawing if we choose to; but not Paul, he viewed himself as a conscript, like a military draftee who is ordered into battle, in his case he was duty-bound and under orders to serve Jesus Christ. In Rom. 1:1, depending on the translation, Paul refers to himself variously as a slave or bond-servant to Jesus Christ. Slaves don't choose to serve; they're under orders. Ask: When we undertake a ministry responsibility, should we see ourselves the same way, as conscripts rather than volunteers, committed to finishing the job no matter what may come?
vv. 24: "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" - Paul uses an accounting analogy to state that his life was worth nothing against the cost of obedience in sharing the gospel. He considered himself as having already been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and was fully ready to sacrifice his earthly life for the sake of the gospel. The Bible makes it clear that following Jesus will mean hardship at some level. As Paul encouraged new believers in Galatia, he told them, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22). Once we entrust our lives totally to Christ, we don't need to live in fear of the future. We should live each day out for the Lord, knowing that if he brings trials to our lives, He will also give us the grace to endure them, "Working all things together for good, for those who are called..." (Rom. 8:28).
Read Acts 20:25-31 - Paul's Charge to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
v. 25: "And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again" - Here Paul changes the focus of his message, from himself to the church at Ephesus. Sadly, this will be the last time they will ever see him. He had enjoyed a powerful experience with these leaders, building a flourishing ministry with their bond of fellowship and friendship. Given this close relationship, we can understand why he asked these elders to walk 36 miles to meet him. Paul's concern for the leaders and congregation at Ephesus was simply a reflection of Jesus' great love for that church.
vv. 25-26: "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" - Here Paul is referring to God's words to Ezekiel, that He had appointed him as a watchman over Israel. If the watchmen sees the enemy coming and fails to sound the warning, he is liable for the city's destruction; but if he sounds the warning and the people ignore him, he has delivered himself, and their blood is on their own heads (Ezek. 3:17-21). Out of his commitment to share the gospel with all the known world, Paul could declare himself innocent of their blood. Moreover, Paul could leave the elders with integrity and honor because he had communicated the "whole counsel of God" with them, and for this reason, he could depart this church with no guilt or regrets. So that is our charge today: to declare the whole counsel of God, which, in practical terms, means preaching and teaching the Word of God-the whole thing, uncompromised and leaving nothing out.
v. 28: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" - Fearing his absence might unsettle the church, Paul expresses a deeper purpose for his visit with the elders. Using the familiar shepherd metaphor, he called on them to "pay careful attention to themselves and the flock," which, as elders, their main vocation in the church was pastoral, feeding and tending the sheep. He reminded them that the Holy Spirit had appointed them as overseers, which made them responsible that false teaching would not creep into the church. "Obtained with His own blood" refers to the fact that the church did not belong to them but was purchased with the blood of Christ. It's the same for us: our church belongs to Jesus, not us; we are simply called to serve here.
v. 29: "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" - Referring to false teachers as "fierce wolves," Paul urgently warned the elders to expect these wolves to attack and of their responsibility to protect the flock from them. Paul saw his responsibility as a protector just as Ezekiel, cited in v. 25 above, was called as a prophet to warn others about the coming doom. The same spiritual warfare exists today and this warning is equally applicable to us to never, never compromise the Bible-centered doctrines of this church. If you want to see this spelled out, simply go to Google and type-in "SBC Baptist Faith and Message" -read it.
v. 30: "and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" - Paul alerts them that these dangers of false teaching can come from within the church as well. I have seen this happen in this church on more than one occasion, people challenging the beliefs or the leadership of this church-often in a subtle way, with a hidden agenda-to bring attention to themselves and recruit their own followers-create divisions. Anything that divides a church is never trivial.
v. 31: "Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears" - Note this is Paul's third warning. During his three years at Ephesus, he had set the standard-not ceasing "to admonish night or day...with tears" (i.e., watching and reproving them with staying power). Using Paul as our model, we can never let our guard down, always being alert and watchful and ready to take action to prevent spiritual harm to the church.
Read Acts 20:32-35 - Paul Commendation to the Elders
32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
v. 32: "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" - When you look through the NT to read the parting words of the apostles, all of them turn the focus of their readers to the Word of God, especially in light of their coming absence among them (2 Pet. 1; 2 Tim. 3 & 4; 1 Jn. 2). Here Paul places great emphasis that the Word of God was to be central to their ministries and the building up of believers. This is as true for us as a church today as it was for the Ephesians almost 2,000 years ago. The "inheritance" refers to the end-time salvation to those who belong to God.
vv. 33-34: "I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me" - Paul concludes by communicating his heart and motives in ministry. Paul's ministry was marked by a servant's heart. He never gained anything materially from his ministries. He worked with his hands to support not only himself, but those traveling with him.
v. 35: "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" - Paul's ministry was characterized by giving not receiving. His strength was not used to prey upon the weak or to take advantage of them but to support them. His life was lived by the principle taught by Jesus that, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Note: This quote has generated much debate since it has no parallel in the gospels; however, Jn. 21:25 reminds us that Jesus said and did many things that are not recorded in Scripture. This saying was no doubt passed on to Paul by those who heard Jesus teach in the flesh.
So I ask all of you who may be listening this question: Are you being obedient to God's call? Only you and God know the answer to this.
PRAYER: LORD GOD, our Father and Creator, we come before Your throne this morning with humble and grateful hearts, thanking and praising You for Your love, mercy, and undeserved grace toward us and for all of the many blessings you give us this day and every day. We thank you, LORD, for this good church, and I pray for the health, safety, and wellbeing of each member as we are forced to remain apart during this pandemic, and I also pray for the health and safety of any others who may be listening-in to this lesson today. As we learned from Paul today, we all need to understand that whatever our background, education, or skills may be, that we all-every single one of us-have been gifted to serve in some area of Christian ministry. And we all need to understand, Lord, that serving in ministry isn't just volunteer work but making ourselves available to You so we can help other to draw near to You. And above all, Lord, help us to live out the priorities of life that Paul demonstrated to us today: (1) to serve You first, God; (2) to serve other second: and (3) to serve ourselves last. In the powerful name above all names, Jesus Christ, I ask these things, AMEN.