Paul's Example for Ministry
Sometimes moving from one year to the next carries with it real significance for me and sometimes I don‘t think about it much. Perhaps you are leaving a year that held pain and God’s goodness in the pain. Perhaps you’re leaving a year that held great joy and God‘s goodness there. I’ve found that looking forward to the coming year is, at best, an unstable proposition - we never know what’s “around the corner”. Thankfully, however, we can look forward to God’s goodness no matter he wills.
Before we move into the next series - “The Top 10 Questions” - I’d like to spend a few Sundays thinking about who we are and how we are moving forward - as a fellowship and as individuals. Next Sunday I’ll be talking about living and moving within the scope of God’s vision. On January 11 I’ll be talking about the GREAT difficulty of moving forward. It is VERY important that we know that moving forward within the scope of God’s vision is by definition stressful and full of promise.
Today, however, I want to learn from Paul as he spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus. I’d like us to “zero in” on what Paul did (his mission), why he did it, and how he thought about what he was doing. My goal here is that we learn from Paul’s example - as individuals, as a church board, and as a group. So, in Acts 20 there are a few verses that are VERY important. Luke inserted these verses into the flow of Acts because they hold a great deal of value.
The setting - Paul stayed with the Ephesians for about three years and, undoubtedly, through the power of the Holy Spirit poured his heart into this community of believers and had a great impact on them and the region. Now, some months later, he is on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem and he passes about 20 miles south of Ephesus - so he sends for the elders from the church in Ephesus.
Acts 20:18-25 (NIV)
18 When [the elders] arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
What Paul did
vs. 19 - He served the Lord - Paul, in pointing out the priorities of God’s vision and mission for him first mentions he is a servant of God - this is the first of the relationships we as humans are designed to embrace. He wants to make sure his audience understands that this service to the Lord took place in the face of real difficulty.
Romans 1:1 (NIV)
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God
1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Colossians 3:18-23 (NIV)
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. 22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…
It’s vitally important, however, that our service to Jesus comes out of an intimate, faith-based relationship with him - a friendship that compels us to live lives that embrace Jesus as not only our highest, constant vision, but as deepest friend. I say this because of what Jesus said:
John 15:14-15 (NIV)
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
We should NOT be serving from blind, godless obligation or guilt, our “following” must be faith-based.
Romans 1:5 (NIV)
5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
The biblical idea of faith that produces obedience is a faith that is based on knowing God through Jesus. It is a knowing that produces trust (faith) so we can leave self and trust Jesus with our lives.
Vs 20 - Paul served them, the fellowship of believers.
Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV)
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Vs 21 - He proclaimed the gospel - Paul was looking outside the fellowship to proclaim the gospel to those in need. Notice that, in the end, Paul wanted to see repentance and faith in Christ.
Luke 24:46-47 (NIV)
46 [Jesus] told [the disciples], “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
This is vitally important for many reasons. If Jesus came to save us, we must ask, “Save us from what?“ The salvation that Jesus brings as a salvation that does away with sin
Why Paul did what he did
Vs 22-23 - Even though Paul knows he is moving toward prison and hardship, he is constrained to stay on task. Even though Paul knows pain is ahead he cannot help but stay on mission - God owns him.
Acts 17:16 (NIV)
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.
How Paul thought about what he did
Vs 24 - God’s call on Paul’s life is in harmony with Paul’s heart. God’s leading into sacrifice and pain and Paul’s purpose are one. Paul is aligned with God’s vision for his life.