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Acts #75 (chapter 20:17-24)
The Book of Acts
Paul's Ministry
Acts 20:17-24
Tonight we return to Acts, chapter 20 and some of the details we find there regarding the Apostle Paul's third missionary journey. And it is interesting to me, and I hope it is to you, to just pull some beneficial insights and observations from the narrative and see what they teach us about our own service to the Lord.
In particular, these verses tell us a great deal about Paul's philosophy of ministry. According to this passage, he saw his ministry in four different dimensions or perspectives. And just to overview it before we look at some of the details, he saw his ministry in relation to God, in relation to the church, in relation to the lost and in relation to himself.
And without going any farther, it's easy to see how sensible and practical that is. These four things, better than any other characteristics reveal the heart of Paul.
Now just to find our bearings, according to verse 17, the setting of this section of chapter 20 is Miletus. The church is being planted around the world with Paul himself being the primary tool God is using to plant the gospel and establish churches in the Gentile world. Paul is now completing his third missionary tour.
And under great persecution and stress, on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a love offering that has been received by Gentile churches, he lands at Miletus.
He is accompanied by representative from the participating churches and they're trying to make it to Jerusalem by the Day of Pentecost. He has a couple of days layover in Miletus, and he takes advantage of that time to be with the elders of the church in Ephesus, which church about 30 miles away.
He wants these church leaders to come because he has a few more things to say to them before he leaves, and he thinks this will be the last time he'll see them. The Jews are on his trail. He's already been persecuted and run out of town, But he loves this church. He spent three years there, he has much invested, and he wants this last opportunity with them.
verse 18
So here we find out what he wanted to tell them. He wants to remind them of the priorities he has modeled and his desire is they would become patterns for their lives and ministries.
So he begins by saying, “This is how I conducted myself and this is how to conduct yourselves as leaders of the church.” He is basically drawing their attention to the example he has set. This is how I did it and this is the way you should do it also.
And what follows in the next few verses is really Paul's ministry philosophy; how he viewed his responsibilities in the ministry.
He begins by talking about how he saw his ministry
1. Toward God
verse 19
Notice, he saw his ministry as service to the Lord. His view of his ministry was that whatever he was doing, he understood his ultimate service was not to men, but to God. By the way, that is a great thing to learn. That will keep you from feeling obligated to fulfill everyone's expectations about what you ought to be doing.
Paul kept in his mind, “I’m not serving men, and I’m not serving the whims and fancies of the people; I’m serving the Lord. So, whatever the Lord tells me to do; I do that without worrying about what people are going to say or think about it.”
First and foremost, the ministry was to the apostle Paul, service to the Lord. He saw himself as a servant. in the mentality of a servant. In fact, he often spoke of himself as a slave, a bond servant of God.
Now the mentality of a servant is simply to obey orders. Therefore, the mentality of Christian ministry is obedience. God gives the orders and we carry them out. We don’t have to worry about what the reaction’s going to be or what people are going to say. Our goal is not to please men. In fact, as Paul said in Galatians 1:10, “If I try to please men, I am not the servant of Jesus Christ.”
Now, my assessment of Paul's service is he didn't do it grudgingly. It wasn't just outward compliance. It was an expression of his heart.
He believed that God gave him something to do, and he was going to do it and it was a joy to be obedient in the doing of it. So how do we develop that kind of spirit that is not only obedient, but joyfully obedient?
verse 19
Paul says there are two things that go with service: humility and suffering. Humility is basic to being a servant. You can’t be effective as a servant unless you see yourself as lower than your master. We will never be effective in serving God until first of all we realize that we are not in charge.
Paul understood he had nothing to boast about except the Lord. And every so often, when he did brag, it was bragging was about Jesus. His boasting was about who he, as a servant, got to serve. What a high calling it is to be in service to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Serving God also involves suffering. Paul talks about the tears and trials that came because of the Jewish plots against him. Every time Paul turned around, there were Jews waiting to attack him. In fact, earlier in this chapter the most recent attack was a plot to kill him by throwing him overboard.
By the way, it was at this time of his life when he , wrote 1 Corinthians where he talks about being in jeopardy every hour and dying daily. But as the life of Paul demonstrates, suffering as some level is just a part of living a holy life in an unholy world. The world can't tolerate it and they react to it.
And in some regards, I suppose you could gage your Christian effectiveness by the waves you make. Someone observed if you aren't coming head to head with the devil every once in a while you're probably going the same direction as he is!
And it just seems to me that when we are standing where we need to stand, we ought to expect there will be some kickback against us. And by the way, the reaction should be from the world and not from Christians. If the Christians are reacting against us, that's a whole other problem. But he world shouldn't be at ease with us.
Paul saw himself first and foremost, as a servant of the Lord, and if that meant some tears and trials, then so be it.
Secondly, he also had a ministry
2. Toward the Church
And that ministry was primarily a teaching ministry.
verse 20
Notice he says "I have shown you and taught you” which means he taught by word and example. He said it, but he also lived it. And that is really the essence of effective leadership, and remember, he’s talking about his relation to the Church.
So what does he mean when he says, “I kept back nothing that was helpful”? 2 Timothy 3:16 comes to mind where he wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.”
I take that to mean Paul taught publically and from house to house and he taught the whole Word of God. I mean by that he taught what was convenient and easy and he taught what stung and corrected.
He understood that sometimes the most helpful thing you can give someone is correction and instruction. He told Timothy to “Preach the word in season and out of season.” Preach it when it's comfortable and when it's uncomfortable.
And notice, he taught publicly. Remember when he was run out of Ephesus? What did he do? He just moved down the road, found a place that was available in the school of Tyrranus, and kept on teaching.
He taught publicly and he taught house to house. He sat down with small groups and reinforced what he was teaching publicly. I take that to mean he was using every opportunity, both in the public square as well as the private gatherings of friends to communicate the truth of God's Word.
And we need to understand that is our ministry, not just as pastors and staff, but as Christians in general. Our responsibility, better yet, our ministry is to get God's truth out of our hands and into the heart of as many people as possible.
We do it in Sunday School and small study groups. We do it in public worship services. We do it in private conversations in our homes. We do it in the public square. I gave a 15 minute lesson on baptism at Burger King recently!
That’s exactly how Paul saw his ministry to the Church. Paul evaluates his ministry toward the Church, and says "I kept back nothing that was helpful and i did it at every opportunity I was given.”
Thirdly, Paul tells us about his ministry
3. Toward the Lost
verse 21
  1. saw himself as a servant of God, a teacher in the church and an evangelist to the lost. He had responsibilities to the church, but also to the un-churched. So what did he do? He shared an evangelistic Gospel presentation to those who needed Jesus.
That means he was telling them the story of the cross, the resurrection, and the message of salvation. The Gospel is Jesus died and rose again for our justification. That’s the Gospel.
By the way, notice that Paul was “testifying”. Take a look at the roots of that word and you will discover it is a compound verb that means he shared a thorough, complete testimony.
And I think it’s important to keep in mind that any presentation of the gospel deserves to be thorough and complete. I've never like to hurriedly rush through a gospel presentation and just hit the high points. Those who are lost deserve for us to take time and be thorough and unrushed, especially if they are showing interest in being saved.
And when we effectively share the gospel and the Holy Spirit brings a person to salvation, two things take place. Notice, he testified to both the Jews and the Greeks about repentance and faith.
First, he talked about repentance toward God. Repentance means to change your mind. It means to be traveling in one direction and to turn and travel in the opposite direction. And in particular, it is to change your mind about Jesus and His work on the cross.
Repentance is the first step a person takes in response to God's call to salvation. We turn from our sin toward God. That's what it means to repent.
The second thing is faith. Paul testified of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. In simple terms, you turn from sin toward God and place your faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember, repentance is a change of mind that results in a change in action. I used to ignore Christ and depend on something else to save me. Good works or God ignoring my sin or whatever.
But I repented of that and now I'm trusting Jesus to save me. I put my faith in him. That is the message of Paul's testimony. That was his ministry to the lost. And it is our ministry as well. We are to proclaim salvation in Christ to the lost.
Paul was a servant of God who taught the church, testified to the lost and finally, we see his ministry
4. Toward Himself
verses 22-24
That term “bound in the Spirit” is interesting in that the word “bound” is a very strong word that refers to being tied with chains or cords or fetters. He was "tied up" to the Spirit of God. He was under this strong compulsion to do what he was told to do, which makes sense if you are a servant.
He was absolutely chained and driven to this desire, bound in the Spirit to the calling to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
And notice, this desire was in spite of the fact that he didn't know what would happen to him once he got there. But the way that's worded leads us to believe he suspected whatever happened wouldn't be good.
He was on his way to Jerusalem because he believed God was in it, it was the right thing to do, and he was going to do it. He had a great motivation to go. He had this money to deliver to these needy saints. He knew they needed the help. He knew the Gentiles believers had given it with the intention of it being delivered and he was going.
And even though he didn't know what would befall him, he did have some insight because
verse 23
The Spirit kept telling him to expect chains and tribulations.
And before he gets there he will receive other warnings. In the very next chapter he meets a prophet named Agabus, and Agabus gives him a little object lesson. He takes his belt and ties him up and says, “See that? The Holy Spirit told me that’s what’s going to happen to you when you get to Jerusalem.”
And everyone begs Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But
Paul says, “It'll be alright! Stop crying! What are you trying to do, make me sad?”
Then he says, "I am ready, not just to be bound, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
He didn’t care about his life. He said, “Chains and afflictions await me”, but that's all right.
How did he do that? he did it because he only had one reason to live, and that was to finish the work God gave him, and he just wanted to get it done and die and go to heaven.
The last thing on Paul’s list of priorities was self-preservation. Did you get that? The last thing. Do you know where that is on most of our lists? The same place it was on the list of the guy Jesus called to come and follow him.
He said, "I'll do that, but first there are some other things I need to take care of and as soon as those are done, I'll be right along." We're always thinking about self-preservation. But Paul was thinking about sacrifice.
He said, "I’m here for one reason, and that’s to finish what the Lord gave me to do, and do it with joy."
After all, if you really believe that God has given you the ministry and that he’s in control of your life, you don't have to worry about anything except just faithfully serving Him.
Paul had his head screwed on right when it came to how he viewed things. To God, he was a servant. To the church, he was a teacher. To the lost he was an evangelist and to himself, he was a sacrifice.
By the way, the next thing he says, and we'll see this in more detail next week is
verses 25-26
In other words, he says, “Well, this is goodbye, guys. I've spent a lot of time teaching and preaching among you and I'll probably not see you again. But I can tell you this: I've done what God sent me to do and now, it's on you what you do with it. ”
What a blessing it must be to come to the end of your life and be able to say that and the only way you’ll ever be able to say that is when you are rightly related to God, the Church, the world, and yourself.
Let’s pray.
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