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Acts 20:17-38: Encouragement in Ministry Print E-mail

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I am preaching to myself this morning.  In one sense, that is always true, but especially this morning as we look at Paulís speech to the Ephesian elders.  As a pastor, an elder, I need to hear what Paul says in this passage.  I need to pay attention to his encouragement and his charge to these men.  So the sermon is for me.  Yet, what about you, right?  I mean, should I just dismiss you guys and preach to myself this morning?  Before you start packing up your things and heading for the door, let me help you see why you should listen to this sermon as well.  There are many expectations for ministers today.  Unfortunately, not all of those expectations line up with Scripture.  And lest you think that I am arguing for an easier job, I fear that most of the expectations for a pastor are far too small, or at least too occupied with lesser things.  So what should we expect from our ministers?  What does the Bible say about this?  I think a good place to start in answering these questions is Paulís speech to the Ephesian elders.

Let me offer a couple of notes about the passage before we begin.  First, and this should come as no surprise to you, this passage indicates that there was a plurality of elders in Ephesus.  Look at verse 17.  Paul is in Miletus, which is about thirty miles north of Ephesus, and he calls for the elders (plural) of the church (singular) at Ephesus.  This could be taken in different ways, but I believe in teaches the wisdom of having several men serving in the office of elder at a particular Church.  And when you look at Paulís ministry and the charge that he gives these men, I think you see why a plurality of men is so necessary.  Second, I just want to note that this is the only speech in the book of Acts directed at Christians.  Its similarities with the letters of Paul make a good argument for the historicity of this speech.  So then, what does Paul say to these men?  Instead of grouping several ideas under one or two headings this morning, I decided to just list out the different lessons that Paul is teaching these men from his own ministry.  Letís briefly look at each one together this morning.

Paulís ministry remembered (v. 18-21)

Paul uses his own ministry in Ephesus as an example of how these men should continue to care for the church in that city.  How does he describe his ministry among them?  Look at verses 18-21.  There is much we can say from just these verses alone, but I simply want to focus on two primary activities of Paul: serving and teaching.  He says that he served them with all humility and with tears and with trials.  He gave himself to serving these believers.  He did not hold back.  He was not filled with pride and arrogance, which so easily plagues leaders, but was willing to weep for them and suffer for them.  In short, he got his hands dirty as he sought to serve them.  

He also taught them.  He taught them all that was profitable.  He taught them in public and from house to house.  He taught them whether they were Jews or Greeks.  And what did he teach?  He taught them of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  He taught them the gospel.  He taught them that they were dead in their transgressions and sins, but that God had made them alive through faith in Jesusí work at the cross (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Paul taught the Ephesians of the glorious work of Godís redemption in Christ.

Paulís ministry expectations (v. 22-25)

The next few verses tell us of Paulís future expectations for his ministry.  Look at verses 22-25 with me.  Paul tells these men that he is going to Jerusalem and even though he does not know explicitly what is going to happen there, he expects to face suffering in every city.  We might encourage him to change his plans, to go somewhere safe, to not take the risk.  But Paul teaches us that the gospel is more important than our safety.  Obedience to Jesus is risky, it puts us in danger, but Christ is worth it.  Paul is not concerned about self-preservation as much as he is about gospel proclamation.  He just wants to finish his course.  He wants to be faithful as a minister of the gospel.  He is gladly willing to give his life in order to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  He counts telling other people about Jesus as more valuable than life itself.  He is here to tell, whether by life or by death, of the grace of God found at the cross of Christ.  And all of this means that he will not see these men again until glory.  

Paulís ministry examination (v. 26-27)

How did Paul measure his ministry among them?  Look at verses 26-27.  Paul tells them that he is innocent of their blood, which sounds weird to us.  He is using imagery that Ezekiel used when he spoke of the work of the watchmen (see Ezekiel 33:1-6).  A watchman who is faithful to issue the warning of coming disaster is innocent of the blood of those who do not heed the warning.  Paul tells these men that he is innocent because he did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.  He was faithful with the whole message.  He did not dumb it down.  He did not shy away from the hard truths.  He did not avoid talking about sin and wrath and judgment.  He did not pick and choose.  Rather, he taught them the whole counsel of God.  He warned them of the coming judgment and called them to believe in the crucified Savior.  Paul examines his ministry by looking at the fullness of his message (and so should we).

Paulís ministry charge (v. 28-31)

Paul moves on to his charge for the elders in verses 28-31.  Look at those with me.  Paul tells the elders to be alert and keep watch.  In particular, he tells them to pay attention to two things: themselves and the church.  First, they are to pay careful attention to yourselves.  These guys are elders, they are leaders, so why is Paul so concerned with them watching out for themselves?  Paul knows the dangers in being an elder.  He knows the temptation of pride and arrogance.  He knows the darkness of doubt and despair.  He has literally felt the pain of persecution.  He knows that it is easy to be so distracted with care for the flock that one ignores the care of their own soul.  And he knows that wolves are coming.  Not just wolves from outside, but from among their own number.  From Paulís letters to Timothy we know that his warning here is warranted.  So he tells them to watch over their own souls.

But they are also to watch over the souls of the Church in Ephesus.  They must tend the flock.  They must feed it and protect it.  They must not abandon it.  Why?  Again, they must protect it because wolves are coming.  False teachers will seek to take advantage of the situation in Ephesus, be it for money or popularity or whatever.  Paul knows that the wolves are coming and so he charges these men to be faithful shepherds, tending to their own souls and to those for whom Christ shed His blood.  In these words, we see the weight of ministry.  Elders are not trying to just earn a paycheck or keep the seats filled, they are laboring to care for the souls that Jesus purchased with His own blood.  And the threat of wolves is just as real in our city as it was in Ephesus.  False teaching is happening in our city today.  So pastors must be on guard.

Paulís ministry source (v. 32)

In light of the weight of pastoral ministry, we must ask where our strength will come from?  How will we guard ourselves and our own families while trying to guard those entrusted to our care?  How will we fight off the many wolves that come from within and without?  Where will we turn?  Look at verse 32.  The only source of strength and power for our ministry is God and His Word of grace.  We must look to Him.  We must trust in Him.  We must hope in His Word and the power of the gospel.  An elder, a pastor, a minister, must know and depend upon God, the God revealed in the Scriptures and not one of his own making, to be faithful in ministry.  When he does this, he and the Church will be built up and prepared to receive the inheritance of the saints.

Paulís ministry finances (v. 33-35)

Paul notes one final fact about his ministry that illustrates his commitment to the people of Ephesus.  Look at verses 33-35.  Some think that Paul is perhaps defending his ministry against critics at times in this speech.  While I think that is a possibility, it is obviously not the only thing that he is doing.  He is using his own ministry practices as an example for these men.  While in Ephesus, Paul worked hard to provide for his own necessities, while giving the rest of his money away to care for the needy.  Paul understands that a teacher is worthy of pay when that is possible (see 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but he also expects the elders, and all Christians, to use their finances to minister to the needs of others.  I think it is very odd that some believe and teach that a manís ministry is validated by driving a nice car or living in a nice home.  All Christians, and especially our leaders and teachers, should use their money to simply provide for their necessities, while giving the rest to the needy of the community.  Otherwise we turn Jesusí statement on its head: ĎIt is more blessed to receive than to give.í  We must avoid that error.

Paulís ministry impact (v. 36-38)

How did the people in Ephesus feel about Paul and his ministry toward them?  Look at verses 36-38.  These men cared greatly for the Apostle and he cared greatly for them.  Paul was not some cold Church-planting guru who was simply moving on to the next city.  He knew these people.  He visited them in their homes.  He prayed with them and laughed with them and cried with them.  He taught them the Word, warned them of judgment, and proclaimed the good news of Jesusí death and resurrection to them.  He gave them his all for three years.  And they loved him for it.  They wept at his leaving and they wept at the fact that they would never see him again.  His faithful ministry was not lost on these men.

Paul was committed as a minister of the gospel.  He was faithful to teach and warn and encourage.  He sought to guard himself and the flock.  He put his trust in God and the power of the gospel.  The call for ministers today is to do the same.  The call on my life is to do the same.  So, like Paul, I do not covet your money, but I do covet three things from you.  First, I covet your prayers.  Please pray for my own soul and for my labors in overseeing the souls here.  Second, I covet your feedback.  I am not above correction.  Hold me accountable to what you see here.  And I am not above discouragement and despair.  I covet your encouragement.  Third, I covet your help.  Just because I am called to these tasks does not mean that you are exempted from them.  Use whatever gifts God has given you to serve the believers here.  We must labor together to care for the Bride of Christ, which he bought with His own blood.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 October 2014 )

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