Paul’s Charge to PastorsActs 20:13-28
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, September 26, 1999
Copyright © 1999, P.G. Mathew
A number of parents I know have appointed guardians for their children in case something terrible happens to the parents. These parents were very careful in the selection of the guardians, choosing people who would do good to their children, love their children, provide for their children, and, most importantly, train them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
In this passage the apostle Paul is speaking to the guardians, meaning the pastors and elders, of the church of Ephesus for the last time. Paul tells these leaders they will not see his face again. This is Paul’s farewell speech, which is similar to other farewell speeches in the Bible, such as those of Moses, Joshua, Jesus, and others.
This was a time of deep sorrow and great earnestness for both Paul and the Ephesian leaders. In these verses Paul is giving a serious charge to these leaders, placing upon their shoulders for the last time the serious burden of caring for the church of God under their care and exhorting them to follow his example in their lives and pastoral ministry.
Paul finished his third missionary journey and was now on his way to Jerusalem. In this passage we find him traveling from Troas to Assos. At Troas Paul had decided to go by foot to Assos, probably to spend the time alone communing with God.
In Assos Paul joined his companions and boarded a ship for Miletus. Located about thirty miles south of Ephesus, Miletus was known as the birthplace of western civilization and was home to Thales and other philosophers. From Miletus Paul sent for the elders of Ephesus. I suspect he sent Trophimus, who was an Ephesian, to bring the elders of this large city church to meet with Paul at Miletus.
Ephesus was the city where Paul had preached the longest time–about three years–on any of his missionary journeys. Trophimus returned to Miletus with the elders probably the third day after he was sent. I suspect these elders were graduates of Paul’s seminary in Ephesus, men who were very knowledgeable in the word of God. After they arrived, Paul probably spent at least one day ministering to them–exhorting them, encouraging them, appealing to them, comforting them, and charging them as the ministers of the church of Ephesus.
In this study we want to examine who these guardians, elders, and pastors were; what work they did; how they did it, specifically in regard to their attitude and character; and for whom they were ministering.
Who Is An Elder?
Who were these elders? In New Testament churches, the government and authority rested not on the people but on the elders. Paul appointed elders in every church he established, beginning with his first missionary journey, as we read in Acts 14:23, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” He committed these elders to God, praying that God would strengthen them, keep them, educate them, and guide them in doing their job. In Titus 1 we also read that after his ministry on the island of Crete, Paul left Titus on Crete to appoint elders in every city there.
In the New Testament the words for elder, bishop, and pastor can all be used to refer to the same person, as we notice when we compare Acts 20:17 with Acts 20:28. In Acts 20:17 we read, “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.” “Elders” is the word that Luke uses for the leaders of the church. But in verse 28 Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God.” Paul uses the word for bishops, or overseers to refer to these leaders, and he also calls them shepherds, meaning pastors. So the words for pastor, elder, and bishop can all refer to the same person, as we also see in Titus 1:5 and Titus 1:7.
What do these terms mean? The term “elder” comes from the Jewish synagogue background. It expresses the dignity and spiritual maturity of the persons to whom the charge of ruling the church is given. The term “bishop” comes from Greek culture and refers to the function of the ruler, the episkopos, meaning the one who sees from above, one who looks over the affairs, the one who supervises and takes care of things. He is the guardian. The term “pastor” means shepherd–one who feeds, defends, rules, and rescues the flock under his care. We find the idea of leaders as shepherds even in the Old Testament. For example, in Numbers 27 Moses asks God to raise up a pastor for the community of God. Numbers 27:16-17: “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
When we look into the New Testament, we find the terms for elder, pastor, or bishop used in the plural whenever church government is addressed. The idea of just one person ruling is not biblical. The governing of a church of Jesus Christ is a team ministry according to the Scriptures, as we read in Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; and Philippians 1:1.
Church leaders are not to be appointed by the people, especially by those who would like to appoint them so that they could tell them what to do and which way to go. Church leaders are appointed by the triune God–the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul refers to this in Acts 20:28, saying, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” In Ephesians 4:11-12 we read that the ascended Christ gave gifts to the church in terms of men–apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 we read that these leaders are appointed by God the Father. Thus, church elders–bishops, pastors, and teachers–are appointed by the triune God to minister to God’s people under the Chief Bishop and Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What are the qualifications of elders or bishops? We find them listed in several places in the New Testament, especially in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. First, they ought to be of exemplary character. Second, they should be knowledgeable in the Holy Scriptures and able to teach the word of God. Third, they ought to be able to rule and should rule their family well. If a pastor’s children are crazy and unruly, he cannot be a pastor, an elder. I have seen many pastors whose children are absolutely wild, yet these men go around telling everyone else how to live. Such people should be silenced. We have no authority to tell anyone how to live when our own house is not in order.
The Work of Elders
What is the work God assigns to elders? To watch over the lives of God’s people. We find this charge in Acts 20:28 and Hebrews 13:17. But before a man can watch over anyone’s life, he must watch over his own life. How is the personal life of the pastor? How is his financial life? What type of husband is he? What type of father is he? These are important questions both the pastor and his congregation must ask.
An elder must keep watch over himself, his life, and his doctrine. He must live a disciplined, holy life so that he can lead others by example into holy living. He must follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and that of the apostles. An elder’s life and preaching must be lined up with God’s word.
Elders must also realize that they are accountable to the triune God who appointed them. They are undershepherds, assistant shepherds, assistant bishops, acting under Jesus Christ, the chief shepherd, the great shepherd, the good shepherd. All pastors must give an account to him for the souls of God’s people over whom they watch.
Elders As Watchmen
In Ezekiel 33 we find an illustration of the role of a pastor as watchman. In verse 1 God tells Ezekiel, “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head.'” God goes on to say that if the watchman does not warn his people, their blood will be upon his head.
In verse 7 God says, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” This is the charge to every pastor of a church. He is a watchman who must warn people of the impending danger of God’s wrath which will be poured out on all who are rebellious. He must preach the law as well as the gospel to his people and appeal to them to save themselves from the coming wrath by trusting in Jesus Christ alone–the only Savior. He must stand on the walls of the city, being ever-vigilant and blowing the trumpet whenever he sees danger coming. He must spend time in prayer and the ministry of the word rather than getting drowsy or drunk with the cares of this world. He must not indulge himself in the pleasures of this life or trust in the deceitfulness of riches. He must not engage in anything that would divert his attention from eternal realities.
A pastor must focus his attention on the word of God and spend his time in prayer so that he will understand reality as it is. He must be faithful in his duty, remaining awake and alert at his post. He must be faithful to warn, exhort, and teach his people, crying out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” If a pastor does these things but the people fail to take warning and repent, then their blood will be upon them alone, not on him.
The Example of Paul
As a faithful watchman to Jews as well as to Gentiles, the apostle Paul would always go first into synagogues on every missionary journey to preach about the promised Messiah. Whenever he did this, some people would believe while others would not.
We see this in Acts 18:5-6: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'” Paul had preached the gospel clearly to them and now he was no longer responsible.
In Acts 20:25-26 Paul declared to the elders of Ephesus, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.” Paul had preached the word for three years in Ephesus, and from there many people had taken Paul’s teachings throughout the province of Asia. Thus, Paul could say to the people of the whole province of Asia, “I am not responsible for your blood. If you perish, you perish. You are responsible before God if you do not listen to the warning of the gospel.”
If you are a pastor, I urge you to declare the gospel in your church as Paul did. Then you will be innocent of the blood of those listening to you, and your listeners alone will be responsible before God for their response to the gospel you clearly proclaimed to them.
Functioning as Watchmen
As a watchman, a pastor must be alert and ready to sound the alarm. There are many preachers in this country who can be likened to the watchmen Isaiah described in Isaiah 56:10-12. Isaiah condemned them, saying, “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge,” meaning knowledge of God. “They are all mute dogs, they cannot bark.” Many pastors are like mute dogs who cannot bark. They will not preach the gospel, or if they do preach, they preach a perverted gospel, not the true gospel. “They lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough.” This describes those who preach the gospel of wealth and health and similar false teachings. “They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain. ‘Come,’ each one cries, ‘let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.'”
Although this passage is speaking about the leaders of the Old Testament church, it is also true of many modern church leaders. Like the blind leading the blind, they are not functioning as alert watchmen ready to sound the alarm. They are not watching over their flocks as men who have to give an account to God.
If you are a pastor, let me ask you: Are you a blind, mute dog, as Isaiah described? If so, I exhort you to come to sobriety before it is too late. Look into God’s truth, believe it, and declare it with all unction and divine authority.
This charge to be a watchman is not limited only to pastors and church leaders. If you are a father or mother, you are also appointed by God to be a watchman for those who are under your charge. Ask yourself: Am I alert? Am I awake? Am I warning my children and teaching them the fear of the Lord? And if you are a teacher, you must also ask yourself: What am I teaching? You are appointed by God to warn the children under your care and teach them the fear of the Lord. You must carry this out with great diligence and faithfulness.
Declaring the Full Counsel of God
The second duty of an elder, pastor, and bishop is to bring the gospel to people. In Acts 20:20 Paul said to the Ephesian elders over whom he had functioned as a pastor, “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.” In verse 27 he said, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” I am tempted many times not to preach the whole will of God for fear that people may not accept it and like me when I do it. But by God’s grace I overcome these feelings, and I truly can say with Paul, “I have proclaimed to you the whole counsel of God.”
Pastors are to bring the gospel to people. There are many Greek words used in this chapter to describe this duty of pastors. One word, anaggelô, is found in verses 20 and 27. It means declare, to report with all authority. Another word, didaskô, also found in verse 20, means to teach with all confidence. In this context, it is not to teach the words of politicians and psychologists, but to teach with great authority and confidence what God says in his word. It is to tell those under you, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Another word is diamartureô, found in verse 24. It means to solemnly testify to the gospel with all earnestness. A pastor should never mix the preaching of the gospel with a joke, because preaching the gospel is an extremely serious matter. The wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, and people are on their way to eternal damnation if they do not repent and trust in Christ. A pastor must earnestly and seriously urge his listeners to save themselves from this perverse and crooked generation. That is what it means to solemnly testify.
Another word, found in verse 25, is kêrussô. It means the announcing by a herald of the king the news from the kingdom–in this case, of the kingdom of God. A herald does not add anything to or subtract anything from the king’s message. He merely blows his trumpet and says, “This is the will of the king!” And another word, found in verse 31, is noutheteô, which means to warn, to put sense in the minds of people, to warn them, to counsel them, to admonish them as to what they ought to be doing.
What, then, are pastors, bishops, elders to do? Look at verse 20 again. Paul says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you.” Paul preached the gospel, which is profitable and helpful. It alone is the medicine for our soul’s sickness and profitable unto salvation. That is why we must preach it, for, as Jesus said, “What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”
Woe unto that preacher who does not preach the gospel! Such a man has no love for the flock of God entrusted to him. Political opinions, psychology, sociology, or any other human philosophy cannot help a sinner who is perishing. So Paul told the Ephesians, “I did not shrink back from preaching the gospel to you. Without hesitation, with all vigor and confidence, and in power of the Holy Spirit I proclaimed that which was profitable to you.”
In 2 Timothy 3, beginning with verse 14, Paul writes, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of because you know those from whom you have learned it. . . .” Paul is speaking about the gospel, not philosophy. Philosophy cannot save anyone. It is only human words, man’s attempt to cover up the divine revelation given to him by God.
Paul continues, “and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation.” No word of man is able to make a person wise unto salvation. Only the word of God can enable a person to come out of the kingdom of darkness and the authority of Satan, and come into the kingdom of God where there is hope and eternal life.
We must think carefully about these things. Paul says, “I did not shrink back from preaching the gospel. I was tempted to do so, but I did not do it.” He preached the gospel because he was convinced that only the gospel can save people.
What about you? Have you believed the gospel and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? If you have, are you telling others to trust in Christ as well? Nothing else is profitable as far as the kingdom of God is concerned. You are going to die, and you cannot take your monies with you. Your children and everybody else will line up to carve out their share of your wealth. They may even hope that you will die sooner so they can get their hands into your money. But money cannot save you, nor can your position, your power, or your education. While you are living, you must trust in Christ. Then you will be eternally saved and can tell others so that they can be saved as well.
The Gospel of God’s Grace
The job, then, of a pastor, a teacher, an elder, is to preach, declare, warn, testify, and teach. What is his message? The gospel of God’s grace, as we are told in verses 24 and 32. Oh, this is good news! That is what the Greek word for gospel means–euaggelion, the good news.
In the first three chapters of Romans we find some very bad news: that man is a sinner and he can do nothing to save himself from the wrath of God, which he justly deserves. But in Romans 4 we read that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. This wonderful news is preached against the background of the bad news. Yes, the wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, but that is not the end of the story. The righteousness of God is also revealed from heaven, and we can appropriate it by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
This is the gospel of God’s grace that we are to preach. It is the free bounty of God which is given freely to us through Jesus Christ. We must proclaim that Jesus did it all. He paid for it all, he suffered for it all, and he freely gives it all–his pardon and righteousness. Oh, what an abundant, free salvation he gives us! It is based, not on our good works, but on the merit of Jesus Christ alone in our behalf!
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
In Acts 20:25 Paul says, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” “Preaching the kingdom” in this context means preaching the kingdom of God, which is the sphere of life and hope over which reigns a mighty King who defeated hell and death and sin forever.
In Romans 10 Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7-8 which speaks of those who preach the kingdom: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'”
Oh, there is darkness, there are thunderclouds, there is lightning and God’s wrath. But in the midst of it all there are “the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace”–peace with God, reconciliation between God and man–“who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” This is what Paul preached: Our God reigns! He defeated death and hell and Satan and sin and every foe that is against us. He reigns for us. That is the gospel of the kingdom.
Who is the King of this kingdom? Jesus Christ. When Paul went to Thessalonica, he told the people, “There is another king greater than all the kings of this world.” He was telling them about Jesus Christ–Caesar’s God–who is greater than Caesar.
There are only two kingdoms–the kingdom of darkness, which is the kingdom of Satan–and the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ spoke of this when he commissioned Paul to preach the gospel. In Acts 26:16 Paul recounted what Jesus said to him on the road to Damascus: “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. . . .”
What is the problem of unbelievers? They are all blind. They may be able to teach you philosophy, but they are living in spiritual darkness, in the realm of meaninglessness. Jesus sent Paul to turn people “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.”
That is why we must preach the kingdom of God. We have a King who told us, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me; therefore, go ye and preach the gospel.” When we do that, people will turn from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.
The Whole Counsel of God
Not only must we preach the kingdom of God, but we must also preach the whole gospel of God. In Acts 20:27 Paul says, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” There are preachers who pick and choose what to preach rather than preaching the whole Bible. They may speak much about the love and forgiveness of God, but they will not preach the wrath of God. They may speak about heaven, but they will not speak about hell. You will find such preachers saying, “You should receive Jesus Christ as Savior but you don’t have to receive him as Lord.” But Paul preached the whole counsel of God—-pasan tên boulên–the whole purpose of God, the whole will of God. If you are a preacher, I challenge you to emulate Paul and preach the whole Bible.
In the book of Romans we find an outline, a summary, of what Paul would typically preach. There Paul speaks of Jesus as Savior, Lord and Judge and declares that there is a heaven, there is a hell, there is wrath, there is grace, there is faith, and there are works. He speaks of the ordo salutis: election, predestination, effectual call, justification, glorification. He speaks of a new heaven and a new earth.
If we are pastors, we should follow this outline as well. Preach the whole thing! Pastor, elder, bishop, preach the whole counsel of God! Don’t massage us by only preaching on pleasant parts of the Bible. Give us the whole thing. And I assure you that anyone who is truly born of God will want to hear the whole thing. He will say, “Pastor, preach the whole counsel of God to me.” The Spirit of the living God creates a hunger within God’s people to hear the whole will of God.
In verse 32 Paul says, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace.” A pastor is responsible to preach the word of God’s grace. Is the pastor’s job to feed his people with politics, sociology, and psychology? No. It is to preach the word. Be sure you preach the word of God’s grace, mercy, and love.
Preach the Perfect, Powerful Word of God
In verse 32 Paul also said, “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up. . . .” In the Greek it is “which is powerful to build you up.” The word of God is powerful. Man’s word cannot do anything, but the gospel is the power of God–dunamis tou Theou–unto salvation, first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. It alone can save the vilest sinner, clean him up, and transform him. The word of God alone takes a sinner from the depths of hell and places him in heaven. That is why we must preach the word of God!
We don’t need to go as far as the New Testament to find out how powerful the word of God is. In Psalm 19, beginning with verse 7, we read, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” Such is the precious, powerful word of God!
If you are a Christian, why do you have to go to the psychiatrist? You have the counsel of God, the word of God, the gospel of God that will give joy to your heart. And why do you have to stare at the television, thinking it will revive you, help you, and strengthen you? It cannot. In fact, it can damn you. Why don’t you turn it off and look into the word of God instead?
What did Paul tell the Ephesian elders at Miletus? “Preach the word! Pastors, as your apostle, I command you,” said the apostle, “when you go back to Ephesus, preach the word of God’s grace that alone is able to build up.”
That is what God is telling us as well. Preach the gospel! Teach it! Warn people! Declare it! Proclaim it publicly, as we read in Acts 20:20, and from house to house. Proclaim it to everyone–verse 21–Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. Everyone needs to hear the gospel, because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. If you love sinners, preach the gospel!
Response to the Gospel
How should we preach the gospel? Pointedly. Our preaching should challenge people to do something. Our preaching should challenge people to repent, which literally means to change their minds.
Why do we need to change our minds? Because the first place where we oppose God is in our minds. By nature we oppose God with our minds, with our intellect, with our will, with our emotions. We drive him out of our lives first in our minds, and that is why we must repent.
In Romans 1 we read that men “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” We must repent of this, and it should be an intellectual repentance, not just that we committed this sin or that sin. We must realize and confess that intellectually we opposed God. We must confess, “O God, I am sorry that I used the mind you gave me to oppose you.”
After we have done that, we must acknowledge that no one can save us but Jesus Christ, and we must exercise faith toward him. Every religion that does not teach salvation in Christ alone is suppressing the truth and teaching lies. There is no other savior, no other god, to save us but Jesus Christ alone. We must tell others to repent and trust in Jesus Christ. We must urge them to exercise vital saving faith, to link with Christ forever, to confess him as Lord and Savior, and do his will.
After we have repented and believed, we must join a church. Not only does God save people but, in his mercy and grace, he also appoints shepherds to preach the word of God that is able to save us. These shepherds are appointed by God to watch over our souls, and if they do not do so, God will hold them responsible.
Oh, what an awesome responsibility this is! Pastors are to function as watchmen, as are fathers, mothers, and teachers. If they do not, God will hold them responsible. (PGM) This is what Paul did for the Ephesian elders, and when he realized he would not see them again, he earnestly preached the word to them one last time.
May God help us to pay attention to his provision in Jesus Christ. May those of us who are pastors not to be afraid and shrink back, but declare with the unction of the Spirit of the living God the whole counsel of God. May we do our duty in warning people from the impending wrath, and may God open their eyes and grant them faith–living, saving faith–to trust in Jesus Christ alone that they may be saved.
How to Serve the Lord
Having seen who church elders are and what they can do, we now want to look at how they are to serve the Lord. There is a certain attitude, a certain character, expected of church leaders.
Serving as a Bondslave
The first attitude is found in Acts 20:19 where Paul says, “I served the Lord with great humility and tears. . . .” In the Greek, the word for “served” means “I served the Lord as a bondslave.” This is the normal Christian life. It especially should be the attitude of a leader in the church.
According to the Bible, how does a person become a Christian? In Romans 10:9 we read, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That sounds easy enough, but few people understand the gravity and comprehensive nature of that simple confession. It means that Jesus Christ is our master and we are his bondslaves. It means Jesus Christ owns us–he is our proprietor–and so we must think his thoughts, do his will, and feel the way he feels. It means we deny ourselves daily, take up the cross, and follow him. It means that there is no allowance made for any pockets of autonomy in us. The lordship of Jesus Christ is total: we are not our own.
Paul speaks of this in verse 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.” Paul was not interested in saving his life; rather, he denied himself and sought only to find out the will of Jesus Christ and do it. Just as every slave has a task assigned to him by his master, so Paul had a task given to him by Jesus Christ–“the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” As one totally committed to doing the will of God, Paul’s entire life was given to completing that task.
If you are a pastor, if you are an elder, if you are a bishop, if you are a person in any authority, this is the way you must think about yourself: “Jesus Christ is my Lord and I am his property. I understand what it means to be a Christian and serve Christ at the expense of my own life. I do not consider my life to be precious to me, but only seek to do the will of my heavenly Master and complete it.”
When Paul said he considered his life as nothing if only he could finish the task God assigned him, was he speaking rashly as one unfamiliar with the persecution faced by Christians? No. In fact, in verse 23 he said, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” But then he said, “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.”
Do you want to be a preacher? Do you want to be an elder? Do you want to be a bishop? Do you want to be a Christian? The Holy Spirit tells us also that the normal Christian life includes bonds and afflictions, both in the plural. What about the health and wealth gospel–that says Christians shouldn’t suffer–that we hear so much about in this country? It is fraud. It is not the whole counsel of God. Jesus Christ told his disciples, “Take up my cross and follow me.” He promised death to those who follow him.
The Holy Spirit told Paul that bonds and afflictions awaited him in every city. Paul understood that, but he still told the Ephesian elders, in essence, “I do not consider my life to be so precious to me. My job is to do and finish the task my Lord has given to me because I am his bondslave.”
This is true Christianity. Don’t ever accept Jesus Christ as your Savior so that you can have an easy, trouble-free life, or so that you can obtain wealth and health and feel good. It doesn’t work that way.
Serving with Great Humility
The second attitude is also found in verse 19: “I served the Lord with great humility. . . .” A Christian leader must be characterized by great humility.
In Numbers 12:3 we read “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Why was Moses humble? Because he frequently met with God. Moses frequently spoke to God, and God spoke to Moses. It was to Moses that God said, “Remove the shoes off your feet, for you are standing on holy ground” and “Tell the people to stay away from the mountain and do not come near it. Do not touch it, or you will die.” I am sure Moses trembled whenever God spoke to him.
How do we get humility? By seeing God. May God help us to have an understanding of who he is! No one will be arrogant or proud when he sees God. Where do we see God? In the Bible. God has given us a book in which he reveals himself. The more you get into the word of God, the more you will be faced with God and the more humble you will become.
If being humble means seeing God, what is arrogance? The negation of God. In Psalms 14 and 53 we read, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” This is the autonomy and pride of man who declares himself to be God.
Paul says he served God with all humility. Anyone who ever saw anything about God fell down before him. Look at Isaiah. Look at John the apostle. Look at Moses. They all fell down before God in humility and trembling, which is the correct reaction when we see Almighty God, the Holy One of Israel.
May God help us to have such an understanding of God that we will humble ourselves and walk in humility and in the fear of God! Are you a leader? Are you a pastor? Are you a bishop? Are you are a parent? Are you in authority in any way? You had better see our God so that you can do your job aright.
Serving God with Tears
The third attitude of a Christian leader is also found in Acts 20:19. Paul says that he served God not only with great humility but also with tears. Paul did not come to God and pray formal, mechanical prayers. He faced all kinds of troubles and problems, as we read especially in the book of Acts and in 2 Corinthians. He often found himself weak, so he learned to cry before God with tears: “O God, you have to help me.”
The phrase “with tears” speaks about Paul’s love for God, but it also speaks about his love for sinners. Paul wept over those who were not saved, just as Jesus himself had done (Luke 19:41, Hebrews 5:7). Tears tells us the seriousness and urgency of a situation. Tears means you are praying, “O God, you must help us! O God, have mercy upon my daughter, upon my son!” or “O God, have mercy upon these backslidden Christians. They don’t understand what they are doing. O God, save them, and save all those who do not know you!”
Have you wept for your children who are not in the church? Have you cried out for their souls, saying, “O God, save my children! I understand there is a real hell. I understand the wrath of God. This is serious business. O God, have mercy on my children!”? That is what it means to serve God with tears.
Paul says he served God with great humility and tears, “although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.” Paul’s life was filled with trials and problems, as we just said. Troubles cause us to cry out to God with tears.
We tend to get upset whenever we face even small troubles. Let me tell you, whether big or small, if troubles push you into God, welcome them. I am not saying we should pray, “God, give me trouble.” But if troubles push you into God, make you dependent on God, cause you to pray to God, and drive you into the word of God for comfort and consolation, let troubles come! Troubles are the antidote to arrogance and self-sufficiency.
Paul’s life was full of troubles. In Acts 9:6 we read what Jesus told Paul on the road to Damascus: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” And in Acts 9:15-16 “the Lord said to Ananias: ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'”
Are you interested in a Christianity without troubles, tears, or pain? There is no such thing. You can read fifteen books which say a Christian should only have a healthy, wealthy life, but that doesn’t mean it is true. Such books are full of lies and the Christianity they present is like a cult. If you are a true Christian, you will certainly suffer. Jesus Christ suffered in this world, and you will also.
Serving with Hard Work
The fourth attitude a Christian leader should possess is that of being hardworking. Many modern preachers are lazy simply because they are on their own and no one tells them anything. I am sure most of you have bosses or supervisors who look over your shoulder to make sure you are producing something. But many modern preachers do not have that type of supervision and inducement to industry built into their job situations.
The apostle Paul was not lazy. In verse 34 he reminded the Ephesian elders of his work among them: “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Pastors, leaders, elders, if you are looking for a pastorate so that you can have an easy job, you are not fit to be a preacher of the gospel.
Paul set an example for the Ephesian elders by his hard work. We read about some of his labors in 2 Corinthians 11, beginning in verse 23: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again,” and so on. Paul continues to list some of the work and hardships he encountered in his job as a minister of the gospel. When you read the whole list, you may wonder how he could work so hard. What is the answer? Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. Didn’t Jesus say, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”? The Holy Spirit filled Paul with power so that he could work hard for the kingdom of God.
Every Christian ought to work hard, but Christian leaders should especially be hardworking. We should desire to be more productive, rather than looking for an easier life. Don’t we have the Holy Spirit in us? This same Holy Spirit is the one who will give us the power to work harder for God. Why do we murmur, complain, moan, and weep? Why don’t we work instead? Pastor, work harder. Pray harder. Study harder. You have the Holy Spirit. The people of the world are energized by demons and Satanic energy, but we have the Holy Ghost. The third Person of the Trinity comes upon us and energizes us to do the will of God in a way that will please him.
I think all of us can work harder than we do. In fact, I have a policy that when I have a job I want to get done and someone says he is a Christian, I will put him under more severe scrutiny to see if he really does the job. Because I haven’t had much experience with Christian people doing a good job. Oh, yes, they will say right at the beginning, “I am a Christian this or that,” and this means I am supposed to let my guard and standards down. No! If you come to me for a job and say you are a Christian, all my guard goes up, because, in my experience, those who say they are Christians do not always do the best job.
But this does not have to be the case. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit and learn to work hard. This applies, not only to preachers, bishops and elders, but to every one of us. We can work hard because God in his mercy has given us a new nature and his infinite Spirit has come to dwell in our hearts.
Serving Without Regard for Money
The fifth attitude a Christian leader should possess is contentment. In verses 33-34 Paul told the Ephesians, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.”
Preachers can be covetous, and some have made covetousness into a religion, a mark of piety. They preach health and wealth rather than the gospel. They say they are speaking about the word of God, but what they are really doing is trying to seduce people and rip them off.
Are you a preacher? Don’t be covetous. Serve Jesus Christ without regard to making money. If you seek God and not money, I guarantee you that my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory. That is God’s promise and guarantee, and when you have that, you don’t need to be covetous.
Entrusted to God
The sixth attitude of a Christian preacher is that he should be one who finds his comfort and hope in God. This was Paul’s last meeting with the Ephesian elders, his farewell message. What did he tell them? “You shall not see my face again,” he told the men. “I am leaving. You will not see me again. I am no longer your pastor,” in other words.
What sad words for these leaders to hear! Before, they knew they could go to the apostle whenever there was a problem, and he would help them take care of it. But now he was telling them, “No, you cannot do that anymore. I am going away, and I will not see you again.” This happens to all of us. One of these days I will go too. Man comes and man goes.
But read verse 32. Paul said to the elders, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace.” Paul could no longer act as a pastor for these leaders, so he committed them to God’s care and oversight. This was important, for these Ephesian elders would be facing serious difficulties in the future.
If you are a preacher, if you are a pastor, if you are a bishop, if you are a teacher, if you are a man of God, there will be times when you are alone, and people will speak evil of you, abuse you, and oppose you. It is a profession filled with pain, troubles, tears, afflictions, and bonds. Paul knew these things awaited the Ephesian elders, so he told them, “I am leaving you and cannot help you anymore, but I commit you to God.” The word for “commit” is an interesting word which means “to entrust,” “to deposit.” Paul was saying, “I am leaving and may even die soon, but don’t worry. You can have hope, because I am entrusting you to God.”
Paul was reminding the Ephesian elders that God is mighty and loved them more than he did. If he deposited them with God, God himself would keep them from falling. “Don’t look to me,” Paul told the Ephesian elders, and we say the same thing today. Preacher, pastor, father–whoever you are–if you are functioning in authority, you may feel you are alone, but look to God. That is the idea. Man will leave us, but God never will.
In Hebrews 13:5 we read that God will never leave us nor forsake us. When Jesus was facing his death on the cross, he told his disciples it was expedient that he go, but if he went, he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. In Hebrews 13:8 we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and Jesus himself said in Revelation 1:18, “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” What comfort and hope for a pastor! God is for us, with us, and dwells with us forever.
Committed to the Word of God’s Grace
Not only did Paul commit the elders to God, but he said, “and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” “The word of his grace” means the word of God. It means the apostolic doctrine, the Old and the New Testaments, not some words which Paul or any other preacher just made up. It means the truth of the Bible, the testimony of God.
What is grace? God’s unmerited favor. You say you are evil? You say you are a sinner? You say you are weak? You say you are nothing? You say you merit nothing? All of that is true. You are qualified to be committed to God’s word, because it is his word that offers us grace.
God’s word is able and powerful. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes! So Paul was telling these elders, “I am leaving, but you will not be alone. I commit you to God and to his promises, so that you can read them, draw comfort from them, and have hope in my absence.”
God’s word builds us up. Are you weak? Get into the word; it will build you up. Are you ignorant? Get into the word; it will educate you. Are you strong? Get into the word; it will make you stronger. Are you an infant? Get into the word; it will mature you and make you an adult.
The Inheritance of God’s Word
Paul said, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance. . . .” God’s word also gives us an inheritance. What else do you want? Paul had told the Ephesians, “I commit you to God, who will never leave you nor forsake you. I commit you to his promises; let God be true and all men liars. I commit you to the word of God, which is powerful to save you and build you up.” But now he was also saying that God’s word gives us an inheritance. What does that mean?
In the Old Testament the inheritance for God’s people was the land of Canaan. But the inheritance Paul was speaking of was not real estate but God himself.
We read about this many places in the Scriptures. In Psalm 16:5 we read, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” This is not speaking about real estate or gold. It is speaking about God.
We read about this in Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire beside you.” This is high spirituality–a yearning after God, not after the things of the world. We find the same kind of yearning in Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what i seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”
If any preacher tells me that blessing consists of health, wealth, and designer clothes, I would tell him that he is a fool and a fraud who is refusing to preach the whole counsel of God. Such a man is a worshiper of creation rather than a worshiper of God.
What does the psalmist say? “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).
The apostle Peter also speaks of this inheritance in 1 Peter 1:3, where we read, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil and fade, kept in heaven for you. . . .” We have an inheritance, a spiritual blessing, kept for us in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. What is our inheritance? God himself.
What is your portion? Real estate? Silver? Gold? Designer jeans? Gucci shoes? No. If we are people of God, the Lord is our portion. And in Deuteronomy 32:9 we read that God also has an inheritance, a portion. What is it? “For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.”
This is Christianity. What is the heart of the covenant? “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” There you have the gist and the essence of Christianity. “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
What is the highest blessing we can experience? Fellowship with God. When God looks upon us and says, “You are my inheritance. You are my portion. I value you so highly,” we will say to him, “O God, you are my portion and my inheritance. I desire nothing else beside you. I am happy, I am filled, I am satisfied just to be in your presence, for in your presence there is fullness of joy and on your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” This is Christianity.
God’s Charge to Us
In conclusion, let me ask you: What do you find yourself murmuring and complaining about? If you are honest, I am sure it would have something to do with this earth, this creation. Why don’t you look up to God and see him who is your inheritance?
The apostle Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church, “I am going and you will not see me again. I cannot help you anymore, but I entrust you to God and his eternal word of grace. It is powerful to build you up from weakness to strength, to bring you from hopelessness to fullness of hope, and to take you from loneliness to great fellowship. But more than that, this word gives you an inheritance. What is it? Nothing less than the infinite, personal, triune God. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. He loves us, cares for us, and gives himself to us. He will be our God and we will be his people.”
May God be the strength of our heart and our portion forever! May we realize the truth of God’s presence in our lives, rejoice in it, and live according to it. Amen.
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