ACTS: The Ephesian Encore
Today we are FINISHING up our summer sermon series, as we are FINISHING up summer and the Apostle Paul is FINISHING up his third missionary journey. The last time Paul had been on the continent of Asia, things had ended abruptly. He had been in Ephesus and there had been a riot. People thirsty for his blood had chanted against him for over two hours. For his own safety, Paul left early the next morning. He left the congregation that he had served for over two years very abruptly without any kind of final, farewell sermon.
Knowing what it’s like to be a pastor.
And how easy it is to love a congregation.
I’ll bet Paul wished he had that chance.
Similarly, I imagine the Ephesians also wanted one more sermon. Because without Paul, ministry questions came to them.
Should they keep preaching in Bob’s home downtown or should they move to Bill’s home in the suburbs?
Should they serve the community of widows or focus on the community of the homeless?
Would their new fellowship hall look better with Neutral Gray or Eggshell White trim?
How should we do ministry?
That’s a good question.
Even for us at Gethsemane Church.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s encore sermon to the Ephesians and we’ll consider his encore sermon to us this summer. Our goal is to learn from Paul some key principles for Gospel ministry in Raleigh, NC in 2019. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lessons about Ministry
The lesson starts with a bit of geography. Check out verse 17: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Paul had been up in Troas. He wanted to get back to Jerusalem. An easy route would have taken him right past the Ephesians that he wanted to encourage. But Ephesus was still filled with people who weren’t very welcoming. So, rather than risk a riot, Paul took a trip down around Ephesus to Miletus. It was a city about 30 miles to the Southwest of Ephesus. From there, he sent words for the leadership of the Ephesian church to meetup with him.
When they arrived, they hugged.
They high fived.
They swapped stories about things that have happened without him.
Then, Paul got to teaching:
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility… (v.18-19)
This is strange. Because by the time Paul had gotten to Ephesus, he had already started over ten different churches. He had preached to thousands of people. He had even begun writing a few books of the Bible.
You would imagine that Paul would come to town full of pride.
Talking about how impressive he was…
…and how the people needed to listen to him for community revitalization,
…as he handed out T-Shirts with his smiling face on them.
Paul was humble.
Paul reminded people how he was the chief of sinners,
How it was Jesus who saved him.
And Jesus who worked through him to do anything worthy of praise.
Here’s the lesson:
(1) Gospel Ministry is HUMBLE.
Gospel ministry points people to Jesus.
It lowers the importance of self.
It gives all glory to God.
Because if it doesn’t…
I’ve got this long-distance social media friend who recently underwent a bit of a transformation. He had been an alcoholic, now he’s been clean for a couple of months. He was a smoker; now he doesn’t own a pack. He had been drinking three coffees a day and now he drinks one lightly caffeinated tea.
He’s been sharing the story and, to be fair, when he first started doing this, he gave a lot of credit to Jesus. Jesus was the one who influenced him. The one who became the purpose behind his life. The one who empowered him to give up his addictions.
But it recently changed. His most recent post sounded something like this:
“Man, I’m feeling the change. I’m transforming myself. I reached down. I dug deep. I can give up all my vices. It feels good. It feels empowering. I love what I’ve become. If you need help, talk to me. I’ll get you the transformation that you need.”
Did you hear it?
All about him.
If Gospel ministry is about YOU, it’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your family that you’ve been on leadership for years and that’s why Gospel ministry is good at Gethsemane, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your friends that YOU have been teaching your kids some awesome values and YOUR devotion is the reason their life will be good, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you post on social media that YOUR life has changed since YOU accepted Christ and YOU chose to change your life, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
In those scenarios, there isn’t Gospel ministry going on, because none of those scenarios involve teaching the Gospel.
And, (this is a shocker), Gospel ministry involves teaching the Gospel.
It points people to Jesus.
It points people to their Savior.
It points people to the one who lived for them, died for them, and rose for them.
You didn’t do that for you, Jesus did.
And you didn’t do that for your friends, Jesus did.
You can’t save you, Jesus does.
You can’t save your friends, Jesus will.
Share the Gospel by humbly pointing to Jesus.
(2) Gospel Ministry is BOLD.
But don’t think of Gospel ministry as this meek, milquetoast thing. (Like the guy at Food Lion who is being forced for donations because his boss told him to. “Do you want to roundup and donate to the local hospital? It’s ok. I totally understand if you don’t. My boss makes me ask.”)
Nope. Gospel ministry is humble, but it’s also BOLD. Check out what Paul says next:
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. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (v.20-21)
Think back to some of the ways that Paul was bold on his missionary journeys:
In Athens, he preached that Greeks gods weren’t gods at all, to a group of people who had devoted themselves to worship of these gods.
In Thessalonica, he taught that people are saved by Jesus and not Jewish customs, to a group of people who were firmly entrenched in the fact that their Jewish customs saved them.
In Corinth, he told people that sexual immorality was sinful, in a culture that sexual immorality was what all the cool kids were doing.
In Ephesus, he taught that money wasn’t everything, Jesus was; to a group of rioters who were upset that he was costing them money.
Gospel ministry is BOLD.
In fact, if you look closely at what Paul says, he mentions two different ways that Gospel ministry is bold.
First, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches ALL of God’s Word.
It isn’t like a timeshare salesman. (Ever listened to one of those?) The venue is marvelous. The site is incredible. You’ll have a wonderful vacation and it’ll be so great for your and your family. This week-long vacation at a five-star resort will be yours for only one yearly payment of $500!
…Plus, monthly maintenance fees.
…and monthly checking fees.
…and you’ll probably never be able to book a room when you want.
…and you’ll have this timeshare forever.
…and we own your soul.
Paul wasn’t a timeshare salesman. He didn’t hide anything.
If you want to participate in Gospel ministry, you don’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the starting point becomes… “Friends, let me tell you what hell is like.”
Nope. But it does mean that we don’t shy away from truth in Scripture, even when it’s difficult to hear.
We BOLDLY preach ALL of God’s Word.
Second, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches to ALL.
Again, think of Paul. Some of the people he had to preach to might have been kind of nerve-wracking to talk to.
There were the Athenians, whose entire city was so foreign to him. Instead of the familiarity of churches, there were statues of other gods, another religion, everywhere.
Paul was bold. Paul preached to them.
There were the Jews. People who looked like him and talked like him, but when Paul told them they needed Jesus, they repeatedly persecuted him.
Paul was still bold. Paul preached to them.
The same is still true today. God is calling us at Gethsemane to share the Gospel with people who look like us, sure.
Those who look differently than us.
Those who dress differently than us.
Those who speak differently than us.
Those who cover their heads.
Those with tattoos all over their arms.
Those with three children from three different fathers.
Those who like the sports team that we can’t stand.
Those who came from a different state.
Those who moved from a different country.
Those who have a legal visa and those who don’t.
God simply calls us to BOLDLY share Jesus with ALL.
(3) Gospel Ministry is DANGEROUS
Look at what Paul says next, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (v.22-24)
Because when Paul preached, sometimes people didn’t like it.
In Philippi, he was thrown into jail.
In Thessalonica, his friends were fined.
In Ephesus, a riot filled the streets.
The truth is that Gospel ministry is DANGEROUS to the sharer. In fact, when we are doing it right by boldly preaching ALL God’s Word to ALL people, there’s going to be an element of danger. Whether that danger is…
…Danger of losing a job. “You don’t bring up Jesus at work.”
…Danger of losing a friend. “We’re done. Keep your stupid mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
…Danger of losing a relationship. “I like you, but if you’re all about Jesus? We’re through.”
Gospel ministry is dangerous to the sharer.
But before you call it quits and say: “It’s too dangerous! I can’t handle that.” Consider this:
It’s even more dangerous if you don’t share the Gospel.
That loved one? Is in danger of never knowing God’s love.
That friend? Is in danger of a lifetime of guilt and shame.
That family member? Is in danger…of hell.
Share the Gospel.
It might be momentarily dangerous to you.
But…it will be eternally dangerous to the devil.
When the Gospel is preached, the devil’s stronghold on a person’s heart weakens.
When the Gospel is preached, Satan’s hold on a person’s conscience is lifted.
When the Gospel is preached, death is defeated.
That’s why Paul preached. In fact, look at what he says next:
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Paul didn’t know what might happen next.
But Paul didn’t hesitate either.
Because God had his back.
God also has yours.
Don’t hesitate either.
II. What Now?
These lessons from Paul lead up to a shift in his sermon. First, the sharing lessons from his own ministry and now give straight up imperatives on what to do next. It’s kind of like his own WHAT NOW? section. Secondly, he shifts from talking about outreach to talking about inreach. Look at Paul’s own WHAT NOW’s:
(1) Be a Shepherd
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. which he bought with his own blood.” (v.28)
Paul isn’t that interested in the Agrarian lifestyle. He doesn’t love wool so much that he wants whatever shepherds are in the congregation to “keep on sheering those sheep!”
This is an illustration of life in a church.
Because shepherds care for sheep. They feed the sheep. They give the sheep water. They protect the sheep. They go looking for the sheep when one of them is lost. They comfort the sheep when they are scared.
It’s the same way in a church.
A pastor (which is the Greek word for “shepherd”) cares for his people. He feeds them God’s word. He gives them the water of life. He protects them from doubts. He goes after them when they are straying from Jesus. He comforts them with God’s promises when they are scared.
Here Paul is sharing this with the Ephesian leadership.
But it’s also written down.
Which means it applies to you.
First, shepherd those assigned to you. If you’re an elder in the church, check in with those sheep. If you’re a spiritual mother to someone at this church, care for them. If you have been assigned children in your family, make sure they’re being fed God’s Word. If you are a Garden Kids’ teacher, guide your little ones to the Savior. If you’re a Precious Lambs teacher, keep your Precious Lambs safe.
Second, shepherd each other. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. Back to Church Sunday is coming up next week. You might know someone who had been attending this church who hasn’t in a while.
Go after them.
Ask them how life is.
Tell them you miss them at worship.
Remind them the importance of being fed the Gospel.
If next week is Back to Church Sunday, consider this: Be a Shepherd Sunday…
…and…you get the point.
(2) Guard against Wolves
Paul says: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! (v.29-31)
Spiritual wolves are those who distort the truth.
They are those who change the Gospel.
Those who feed their pride by leading others away from Jesus and to following them.
We need to be on our guard.
First, that we aren’t those wolves.
Second, that those wolves don’t get us.
Third, that those wolves don’t get others.
That can be hard. Because sometimes the wolf is in disguise. Sometimes he looks like a lamb. Sometimes the wolf looks nice.
But you’ll be able to tell who they are. Based on if they are someone leading you closer to Jesus or away from him.
Guard against wolves.
A wolf could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, even a boyfriend.
If they are leading you away from Jesus, be on your guard.
(3) Commit to the Word
Paul says it this way: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (v.32)
Because if we are going to be shepherds of each other, we need a tool. Just like the shepherd has his staff, you have God’s Word. And…just like a shepherd commits himself to learning how to use that staff to protect his flock, we commit ourselves to learning how to use God’s Word to protect each other.
That means more than just being able to conk a spiritual wolf on the head.
We learn to graze its pages for spiritual food.
We learn to drink deeply from its well of life.
We learn to wield its truth like a sword driving away sin and doubt.
We learn to dwell within its pages, protect from death itself.
Look at how Paul ends: 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. 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.’” (v.33-35)
Because the main reason that Paul was so involved in ministry wasn’t to get rich.
It’s the same for you and me.
We don’t participate in ministry so that God blesses us financially.
We don’t participate in church so other might bless us financially.
We don’t become part of this ministry in order to get something.
Because we’ve already got all we need in Jesus.
Instead, we GIVE.
We give gifts to help others.
We give time to help others.
We give talents to help others.
Ministry is all about giving because the one our ministry is about is all about giving!
It’s about God who gave his life.
God who gives forgiveness…
God who will gives eternal life…
After Paul says all of this. He left.
But he left with confidence.
Because that church was in God’s hands.
Friends, we leave with confidence.
We are in God’s hands. Amen.