How to Live
In Acts 20 we have Paul’s last recorded words to the pastors of the church at Ephesus. This is very instructive. What does he say? What does he emphasize? What does he leave them with? This passage is here to cause us to stop and consider what we want our life to be about, in the end, and start living that way now. The first day is important, but the last day is more important.
This morning we’re continuing to work our way through the great book of Acts written by Luke, a doctor and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. Acts is a fast moving account of the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire in the first 30 years following Jesus’ resurrection. The book is filled with real people, real cities and real churches being planted – albeit nearly 2000 years ago. Therefore, it is incredibly instructive to us as a newly forming, Jesus-following people in the great city of Seattle. Today we’re going to walk through the entirely of Acts 20. As far as we know, at this point, Paul is done planting churches and is on his way to Jerusalem where he will get arrested, shipped to Rome and placed under house arrest. History tells us that he was released for a short while, but eventually re-imprisoned and killed by the Roman Emperor Nero. He has roughly 10 years to live following this chapter.
Throughout the narrative of Acts, Luke periodically slows down and pauses in order to insert a particular story or speech. This is one of those instances. Given the fact that Paul goes to so much trouble to relay this message to the Ephesian pastors and that Luke pauses the story to insert this message, it must be important. What we have here is the last recorded words of Paul to the pastors of the church in Ephesus. It is the only speech aimed specifically at Christians in the entire book. In it, we get tremendous insight into the Apostle’s heart and life. What does he emphasize? How did he live? What does he encourage them to make their lives about? What do his last words encourage and move them to do? This passage is here to cause us to stop and consider what we want our life to be about in the end – and start living that way now. My heartfelt prayer for myself, my family and our church is that, in the end, we could say what Paul says here.
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time…” Acts 20:18
#1 Live your life in service to Jesus. vs18-19
“With humility.” Humility is a posture of heart and life birthed from the recognition that God has rights over your life. He is God, King, Almighty, Creator, Alpha & Omega, etc. To serve him with humility is to abandon yourself to his to authority, power, grace, oversight, love and truth. He is God. He knows best. 1Cor1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Some might object that the idea of submitting to God “sounds so oppressive.” It is oppressive to our natural selves. But, very interestingly, the Bible always connects our freedom to our submission to God. Jn8:32 “If you abide in my word…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Mt11:29 “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… and you will find rest for your souls.”
“With tears.” How do you serve the Lord with tears? What kind of tears is he talking about? He doesn’t say. Unbelievers (Phil3:18). Problems in church (2Cor2:4). Sincerity (31). Sad (37). What Paul is getting at here is more fundamental. Tears mean you are alive. Tears mean that you feel deeply. Tears mean that you are deeply involved in the lives of others. The reality is that the more involved in the lives of others, the more you will feel their pain and joy – and likely, cry.
“With trials.” The real test of service to Lord isn’t when things going well, but when things are difficult and dark. Paul specifically speaks of the “plots of the Jews”: Try to kill @ Damascus + Kill @ Jerusalem (9); Persecuted in Antioch (13); Attempted murder at Iconium (14); Nearly killed @ Lystra (14); Beaten and imprisoned in Philippi (16); Mocked @ Athens (17); False arrest @ Corinth (18); slandered in Ephesus (19). In other words, Paul has spent much of his ministry running for his life. What does this tell us about the God that Paul believes in? He must be pretty amazing. That’s how we serve the Lod in our trials – we show how good He is. Trials reveal how fragile life is and we are, while revealing how great he is in comparison.
#2 Live your life trusting and spreading the gospel of Jesus. vs20-21
“I did not shrink” Paul is saying that he has always said what needs to be said. Trust God’s Word, even if unpopular, not easy, others leave, etc He did so, “house to house” (for example, read 20:7-12; Eutychus = “lucky”) Q: What is the primary subject that Paul isdeclaring and testifying to? He tells us. Repentance (turning from) + faith (turning to) =gospel.
What is repentance?
Repentance is a broken hearted sorrow for sin, renouncing of it, and sincere commitment to leave it and follow Jesus. Intellect: “That is wrong.” + Heart: “Deep broken-heartedness” + Will: “forsake” + Faith “Trust Jesus” Biblical repentance is dependent on Jesus Christ for grace, forgiveness, power to change. Biblical repentance is NOT fixing ourselves, cleaning ourselves up, proving our worth, paying for our sin, getting ourselves ready to receive God’s grace. Repentance is NOT “Give me one more day, one more try, one more religious duty, different circumstances…will be better” Repentance IS “I have sinned, done what is evil in your sight. Broken your law and your heart. Please forgive me.”
What is faith?
Biblical faith is a living trust in living person of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, transformation, and eternal life. The popular notion of “faith” is that it is an irrational decision to believe something pretty sure is not true. That’s not biblical faith. Similarly, “belief” is commonly used in relation to something that requires no personal commitment or dependence on our part. That is not biblical belief. In our context, it is much more helpful to view faith as trust. The gospel requires not only repentance and not only faith, but repentance and faith. Repentance and faith are two side of the same gospel coin. ”uc” />
The Father promises to receive contrite sinners. No matter your sins, unlimited mercy is available in Jesus. Jesus cannot resist the broken-hearted. He will not stay away from repentant sinners. There are countless people around you need to hear this news. God wants you to speak for Him in grace and truth.
Self test: often lack joy? Consistently growing in maturity? Love for God lack passion? If so, there is a significant gospel disconnect in your life. A sure mark of authentic repentance is boldness and joy for the things of God. If we cultivate regular, humble, yet bold, confession of sins we will have greater freedom to confess Jesus before others.
#3 Live your life putting Jesus first in everything. vs22-24
What we see Paul doing here is placing Jesus first in everything, in the face of danger, disappointment and heartache…even death. What do learn from Paul here? Wjhy would Paul put up with such things? Jesus is better than life. Jesus offers more than this world could ever offer.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Ps73:26
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet alwaysrejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” 2Cor6:8-10
In Jesus, our identity, our soul, our future are secure. Take heart in singleness, chronic pain, cancer, unemployment, loneliness, struggle with sin. He is better.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up treasures in heaven…for where you treasure is, there your heart will be also” Mt6:19-21
“I don’t count my life as of any value.” Paul is not saying he’s worthless, but that “I am not here for me.” How often is the main problem in our life that the most important person in my life is “me”. Answer = Every day. The decision to be a Christian is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and the reality is that it is sometimes really hard. We all need to make a choice to follow Jesus even when it is hard. We all need to make a choice to finish, to the end.
You might think, “Sometimes I think it would be easier to give up.” There is some truth there. There will be relief, but it will be very short lived relief. That relief will be followed by waves of remorse, regreat and confusion. You’re heart will only be the worse after. Yes it is hard to be a Christian dad, mother, business man, single…” We all need to make a choice to be faithful. There is nothing back there for you or I. We need one another, we need to gather on Sunday in order to not lose sight of all the good things you have in Christ.
#4 Live your life with a clean conscience. vs25-27
Eze 33. Watchman on the wall. Ezekiel paints the picutre of a watchman on the wall, watching for the enemy. He is using it as a metaphor for delivering God’s word. If I’m playing Farmville and the enemy is coming and I don’t warn you…who’s fault is that? But, if you get warned, and you don’t do anything about it…then, who’s fault? Paul is saying, “I’m innocent…whole counsel of God.” I gave it all to you. I didn’t hold back. I have a clean conscience.
1Ti1:5 “[hold] faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith…”
1Ti4:2 “through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared…”
Tit1:15 “to the defiled and unbelieving… but both their minds and their consciences are defilbed”
Some of you don’t even know what it feels like to live with a clean conscience. You can have one through the exercise of faith and repentance.
#5 Live your life with careful attention. vs28-32
There are three groups that Paul speaks of here. Though he is talking directly to the elders/pastors of the church at Ephesus, they also apply to everyone of us:
#1 Yourself: Sometimes Christians presume on the grace of God, by receiving it and then go about doing whatever they want. That’s not Christianity. Your choices, life, body, words, actions matter. You can’t care for others if not first caring for yourself.
#2 Flock: The flock is the church, which God obtained w/ his own blood. The church is not ours, but his. The church is precious to him. We all have responsibility to the flock (ex. “one another’s”). It is also instructive to consider that sheep are NOT soft, cuddly, fluffy. They are in fact dumb, stubborn, easily wander, stuck on backs. They (and we!) need lots of help.
#3 Wolves: These wolves do not come from the outside. The wolves are an inside job. I hate the thought of someone arising from within and start teaching garbage.
#6 Live your life being a giver. vs33-35
Paul is saying “I was a giver. I was a contributor, not merely a consumer.” What are you? Which is a primary mark of your life – contributing or consuming? It is natural to think blessing comes from taking, but Jesus tells us the blessing comes from giving. Why do you think Paul talks so much about our stuff? Because our hearts get so attached to stuff. Stuff is stuff. God gives us stuff so we can live and give. So, are you a contributor or consumer? Who around you needs help? At work? Neighborhood? Community?
#7 Live your life cultivating gospel-centered friendships. vs36-38, 20:1-6
The gospel of Jesus Christ creates and calls us into gospel-centered friendships. The gospel doesn’t just send you deeper into heart of God, but also other followers of Jesus.Gospel-centered friendships are formed w/ people you have no natural affinity with, except Jesus. Ex. 20:1-6 > Berea, Thessalonica, Philippi, Derbe, Lystra, Ephesus – @ least nine men. The essence of friendship isn’t just whether you can find someone who likes you, as you like them. The essence of friendship is not to look at one another, but something you have in common: JESUS. There is no other religion believes that friendships last. Eastern: die = abyss; Secularism: die = rot. But, the Christian God is a triune that has forever existed in perfect trinitarian friendship. Genesis tells us that all of creation was birthed out of this friendship – even the creation of men and women (Gen1:27). We are made for relationship, because we were made by a God who has forever existed in perfect relationship. Friendships matter now because they matter for eternity. God’s purposes in world are to call out a redeemed people, redeemed friends – forever – better get used to it.We’re spoiled b/c in our context we have options – different churches, communities – not in early church. We often miss out on what God wants to do in and through us, by simply moving on and lookign for what is easy and more comfortable.
Jesus is the MEANS and MOTIVATION for all these things:
- We can give our lives to him in humility+tears+trials because he has given His life for us in humility+tears+trials
- We can graciously bring gospel to others because he graciously brought it to us.
- We can put Him first in everything, because on the cross he put us first by dying in our place.
- We can live with a clean conscience, because Jesus died to make that possible.
- We can give generously because we have been generously given everything, in Him.
- We can build forever friendships starting now, in Christ, because we are now forever friends with God in Jesus.
Downtown Cornerstone, let’s live our life well, for Him, with Him, until He returns or we see Him face to face. The first day is important, but the last day is more important. Let’s not focus only on what we do, but who we are – and who we are becoming. Together, let’s forget what is behind, and strive for what lies ahead.