Sermon for Sunday Evening, September 24th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 20:17-38 ESV] 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. 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. 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.'” 36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
This evening we look at Paul’s well-rounded example for the Ephesians, and indeed certainly people in all places that he traveled.
It is well-rounded because he preaches (he talks the talk) and he lives out the word of God (he walks the walks). And living as a Christian he does so in both physical and spiritual ways; he both works hard with his hands and prays hard with his mind, trusting in God.
This should encourage us to do likewise. Let the Word of God transform you, and so live as a Christian. And if you are deficient in some area, as no doubt everyone is, here we have an encouragement to work; to work for others in word and in deed.
Paul is traveling to Jerusalem, but stops in Miletus. There he calls for the elders of Ephesus to come to him. That is about 50 miles away.
And he gives them these directions in life:
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.
They are to focus on God, His word, and His grace for their own benefit and for the benefit of the people in the church where they are.
And, for those who were here 4 ½ years ago, you might recall that this was the first text I preached on at this church. There, I focused on Paul’s statement that he, based on Old Testament law, was not guilty of the blood of any (any who might not believe) because he (Paul) had declared to them the whole counsel of God. He didn’t leave anything out; they can’t blame him. They can only blame themselves if they do not believe and live for the Lord. And I spoke of the importance of the WHOLE counsel of God, ALL of the words of the Bible; meaning that all are valuable to be preached on, to be read, to be meditated on, and to guide us in life. The whole counsel of God.
Well, today, I want to look at this passage in another way. We’ll be looking at Paul’s defense of himself, the defense that he did declare to them the Whole Counsel of God. And he declared this by example in three ways: his preaching, his work, and his trust in God.
So let us look at Paul’s Preaching, Paul’s Work, and Paul’s Trust
I. Paul’s Preaching
Paul tells us how he preached:
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house”
He preached in public. This was not a secret religion. He wanted as many to hear the word as possible. He preached in the public square. We don’t have public squares in most American towns anymore. In the ancient world perhaps this was the central marketplace or gathering place of many people. It was where the news was told from person to person. And certainly it was where Paul preached the Good News.
And he also preached “from house to house.” I don’t think that this means he had a door-to-door campaign, although he certainly could have done some of that. These are the houses of Christians that he would go to. Some of them may have been “house churches”; in a sense every Christian house is a house a church, a gathering of believers. And Paul went from house to house, not only preaching, but teaching; declaring to them anything that was profitable from the Word of God.
Primarily, what he preached, was this:
He was “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is a central message of the Scripture.
Our catechism says “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” Those are the two major areas. And while that statement is good, it is perhaps deficient in the fact it does not mention the Gospel. It is very law focused: “what man is to believer” and “what duty God requires of man.”
I would add, “the Scriptures principally teach THE WAY OF SALVATION” through Jesus Christ.
And that was is faith.
Scientists like to define faith as “belief without evidence.” And so they criticize Christians. Well, of course we have plenty of evidence. But the definition is all wrong. Faith IS belief. To have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to believe that Jesus is Lord; to turn away from trusting in other things and so “repent” and turn to Christ.
So Paul preached all of the Scriptures, but focused on Christ and the way of Salvation through Him.
II. Paul’s Work
And no one could say that Paul was preaching for his own financial gain. Though he says elsewhere that “a workman deserves his wages” and includes church workers in that equation, Paul always paid his own way. We focus on his “making of tents” though he could have done other work as well.
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.
So Paul was not a financial burden to any. That was one benefit of his tentmaking. Another benefit was to be an example to others to work hard and honestly. And the major reason for his work was to not dishonor the Gospel. He did not want to mix it with an appearance of coveting silver or gold or expensive clothing.
Then Paul gives a couple more reasons:
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.'”
Here we have a statement from Jesus that is not recorded in any of the four Gospels. Paul knew of it from other Christians. It certainly matches the tenor of Christ’s preaching. He says in Matthew’s Gospel “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” That is quite similar to “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Then, the other reason for Paul’s hard work is to “help the weak.” It is not to “help everyone” so that they can “help themselves.” Rather, charity is for those who need it. We should give to the weak, and the weak should not feel ashamed in receiving. But, we should say, “woah to those who are strong and take from others.”
So we have that Paul’s preaching and Paul’s work each defend his statement that he has declared to them the whole counsel of God. There is then one more aspect here. Paul’s trust in God.
III. Paul’s Trust in God
That trust is evident throughout. That trust is his faith in God. And that faith is born out in action.
We read this:
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.
So much does he trust God that he is willing to go wherever God leads him. And he does so knowing that afflictions await. This is a man who has been in jail, stoned, beaten, cast out of cities, and who will even be shipwrecked later. You might think “shouldn’t he have learned his lesson and so avoided such dangers.” But rather he knows that those dangers are worth it. He does not account his life as any value nor as precious to himself. He sees the bigger picture. He is working as part of God’s grand plan for the redemption of sinners, by bringing to them the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ. And that is worth all troubles.
1. Let us Seek to be Well-rounded in our Work for the Lord.
I’ve titled this sermon “Paul’s well-rounded example.”
We’ve seen he preaches, he teaches, he works, he trusts in the Lord.
I pray that such a godly work ethic prevails in us. That the Lord works in us so that we are well-rounded.
This is not to be well-rounded as in to soften one aspect, but to be well-rounded in strengthening all aspects. Do not hold back your testimony of faith, but add to it with your example of work for one another.
For most Christians, it is probably the “talk” that is harder than the “walk.” We shirk from the responsibility of talking to people about Christ, hoping that our actions are sufficient testimony.
When a person has a “talk” but not a “walk” we give it that tough term “hypocrisy.” But what of those who “walk” but don’t “talk.” Is that cowardice? Let us have neither of these. But in all things trust in the Lord. Trusting him in word and in deed. Let us be well-rounded, as Paul was, through the same Holy Spirit that works in him; may it work in us.
Let us pray.