THE PRIORITIES OF PAUL

 

There are many great lessons we can learn about living the Christian life from Paul and today we will learn a great lesson from his speech to the Ephesian elders. Our main text this morning is Acts 20:17-36.

 

Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.18  And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,19 "serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;20 "how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,21 "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.22 "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,23 "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.24 "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.25 "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.26 "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.27 "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.29 "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.30 "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.31 "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.33 "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel.34 "Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.35 "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He 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.†††††††††††

 

This was an emotional moment for Paul. Not only is he saying goodbye to these elders and looking ahead to the hardship that awaits him in Jerusalem, he is also concerned about the wellbeing of the Ephesian church. In his farewell address, we see the attitude that each Christian should have about the church and the lost.

 

In verses 17- 21 we can see Paulís commitment to serving the Lord.

 

Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.18  And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,19 "serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;20 "how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,21 "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Paul had made up his mind to serve God with every ounce of his being. He was on his third missionary journey and he was making his way back to Jerusalem. Even though he was in a hurry, he took time out to call the Ephesian elders to come to him, so that he could warn them and encourage them to keep the faith.

 

These men knew Paul well because he spent over two years in Ephesus teaching daily the Word of God and making a big difference in that area as we read in:

 

Acts 19:8 And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.9 But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.10 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

 

These elders knew by the way that Paul had committed his life to Christ that he was sincere and faithful servant of God. He was willing to put God before himself, and as Christians, we must learn to do the same because if we make life all about us then we cannot serve God as we should.

 

Paul was also a humble man, and his life was hard. We learn that he shed many tears about how his fellow Jews were plotting against him and trying to kill him, but he did not allow this to keep him from pressing forward for Godís cause. Even though Godís Word contains some hard sayings that would cause some to have to make radical changes in their lives, Paul did not hold back any of Godís truth because he understood that Godís ways must be proclaimed, and His Word must be allowed to convict the sinner so they might repent and turn to God and save their soul from the punishment of hell.

 

We must have this same priority in our lives. We must put God first and we must proclaim all of Godís Word, and not just in word only, but also by the way we live our lives. People need to be able to know that we are Christians because if we look like the world, then how are we ever going to be able to be a shining light to the lost.

 

We can also see that Paul was dedicated to teaching the truth to everyone without prejudice and we must be the same. We do not have the right to decided who should or should not hear the Gospel because every human on the face of this earth is a precious soul to God. So, donít ever hold back Godís Word because of your prejudice.

 

In verses 22-27 we learn about Paulís desire to serve God.

 

22 "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,23 "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.24 "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.25 "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.26 "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.27 "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

 

Paul had a great desire to finish what God has asked Him to do and he counted at a joy to be able to serve God till his last breath. He did not know exactly what was going to happen to him when he got to Jerusalem, but the Holy Spirit informed him in every city through various prophets that he would be imprisoned and persecuted.

 

Even though he had this foreknowledge that hard times were coming, he did not allow it to keep him from doing Godís bidding because he understands that he is just a man and that getting Godís message out is more important than his life. Many times throughout the NT, Paul describes the Christian life as a race that must be finished. As Christians, we must understand that we are all running that race and we must all cross the finish line. The only way that we can do that is if we are moving forward in our Christianity.

 

If you are standing still or sitting down, you will never finish your race. So, we must run as Paul ran even if we know that danger or hard times are before us. Paul rightly said;

 

1 Corinthians 3:5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.

 

Again in verse 26-27, we learn that Paul has made his goal to always preach the whole counsel of God in every place and by doing this it made him confident that he was innocent of the blood of all men. Paul understood that he was not doing anyone any favors by holding back part of Godís truth from them because if they continued in their sinful ways without correction Paul would have to give an account of this at the judgment day.

 

This same thing is true when it comes to those who teach Godís Word and to those who Shepherd the flock. That is why James said,

 

James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

 

Notice what the writer of Hebrews says about the Elders in,

 

Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

 

While those who teach and shepherd the flock will receive a stricter judgment by how they teach and shepherd, this same idea extends to all Christians because we all have a responsibility to share Godís Word with those around us and to take a stand for Godís truth. In doing so, we can have a clear conscience knowing that we have been a voice for Godís ways.

 

How many times have we wished we had said something at certain time, but we chickened out and remained silent? Then later on, we feel guilty because we knew we should have said something. We must work on building up our courage in this area, so that the whole council of God will be made known. Even if we offend someone one or make them upset, at least we can have a clear conscience knowing that they have heard what Godís Word says.

 

In verses 28 -32 we can see how Paul delegated his work instead of trying to do everything himself.

 

28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.29 "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.30 "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.31 "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

 

Paul understood that he could not possibly be in every place at ever time, nor would he always be around to personally encourage or teach others. He wasnít naÔve because he knew how easy it is for people to stray from the truth. So, he warns these elders to oversee the flock in Ephesus, and he stresses the importance of the church by pointing out how God purchased it with his own blood, which is referring to Jesus death on the cross.

 

If God was willing to purchase the church at such a high cost, it is certainly worth fighting for, and we should never allow it to become corrupted by those who want to destroy it with their own traditions and ways. So, these elders must continue to grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures and make sure that the flock is being fed with the whole council of God, and they must be willing to take a stand against those who try to sway the church away from Godís pattern.

 

This is same responsibility the elders have today. They must be involved in what is being taught to the flock in the worship service and in the Bible class. They must make sure that the things being taught are in agreement with Godís Word and not manís innovation. This is a responsibility that should be taken seriously.

 

We can see how concerned Paul was that the Ephesian church stay committed to Godís ways and that the elders would do their best because he had warned them for 3 years night and day with tears. This is the same concern that we should have for all our sister congregations.

 

Just as Paul was willing to delegate the responsibility to these elders, we must also learn to delegate Godís work among our members. No one person should be doing the bulk of the work. The elders must learn to delegate certain works to the deacons and even to the saints. The preacher should never take on so many roles that he cannot dedicate himself to learning more about God and presenting lessons to the church that will edify and challenge them to grow.

 

We must all be willing to share the load and teach others how to do what we do because we will not always be around to do the work. We certainly need to be training our men to step up and get more involved in the work of the church. We need more men who are willing to lead and to become future elders in the Lordís church. Far to many congregations are without elders, but we need to understand that God wants His congregations to have elders, deacons and saints because the church functions at it best when the church is organized this way.

 

Finally, Paul tells these elders how they can make sure they can keep the church pure and that is by sticking to Godís Word as their only guide, which is the same thing we must do.

 

In these last few verses 33- 36 Paul expresses his sincerity in serving God.

 

33 "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel.34 "Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.35 "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He 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.††††††

 

During the first century there were men who would go around using the name of God to fill their pockets with money. In fact, Paul warned Timothy and Titus how some would use Godís Word for gain and would teach things they should not teach for gain in 1 Tim. 6:5; Tit. 1:11. I think we can all agree that we have many so called preachers out there today that are doing this very thing. They falsely proclaim that God has told them to tell the people to give their money to them and if they do they will receive 10 fold or maybe even a hundred fold back.

 

Many times Paul provided for himself as a tentmaker because he wanted them to understand that Godís Word came first, and he was willing to do whatever he could to help spread the Good News. But there were other times that he was supported by the church, and he even stated in 1 Corinthians 9 that he had the right to be supported, but he waived the right on occasion to not be a burden to certain congregations.

 

Paulís main point is that his goal was not to make money, but to preach the Gospel. In the same way he supported those churches that were struggling physically and spiritually by paying his way and those with him, he wants the church at Ephesus and every church to be willing help support those that are weak physically and spiritually.

 

Just like Paul, our money or material things should not be our priority. As Jesus said,

 

Matthew 6:19" Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

It is important for us to realize that we cannot take our money or our possessions with us when we die and if we make money our priority instead of God, then money becomes our idol and our God. So, each us should make God our first priority and not our pursuit for riches. We should certainly be willing to do what we can to support those who are physically or spiritually weak because as Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

 

Finally, as Paul finished his speech to these elders he got down on his knees and prayed with them because Paul understood the importance and the power of prayer and as Christians we should never neglect the privilege we have been given in prayer, and we should pray that we can follow Paulís example by having our priorities straight so that we finish our race by being faithful to God till the day the die.