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Acts 20:17-38 (part 2) 7.06.20
This part of Scripture may seem like a strange choice for sermons last week, and this. It reads like Paul’s personal story. Or as a manual for church leaders who to some extent should pattern their ministry on his. In fact there are things here that Apply to every church everywhere.
What is a real Jesus church like? Last week in Acts 20, we saw some aspects of what it looks like from the outside, at its shape.
How about inside that shape? In its DNA? Again we look at Paul, and what he said to the leaders of the church in Ephesus - not because we are apostles or all are church leaders but because some things modelled by him are urged on all leaders, and some things are urged on all churches in other parts of the New Testament.
Today we focus on 3 parts of the DNA of a real church.
If you have seen the 1982 movie ET, you know it’s the story of a lovable character from another galaxy, ET, who is befriended by 10 year old Elliott. At the end, Elliott has to say goodbye to ET as he leaves earth and goes back to his word, knowing that they will never see each other again. It’s quite tender. When we watch the movie in our house, we know we are going to need the tissues – for Sue of course.
Saying good bye for the last time to someone you deeply love is for all of us a very heartfelt moment.
Paul has spoken to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “When he (Paul) had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken that they would not see his face again.” (20:36)
Tears were not new. In vv18b, 19a he says “from the first day that I set foot in Asia (Turkey) serving the Lord with all humility and with tears”. What about between the start and the end? “For 3 years I did not cease night and day to admonish everyone with tears” (v31).
Paul doesn’t strike you as a weepy kind of person. What are all these tears and hugs and kisses? These men aren’t family. He is a Jew and many of these men probably are not.
Some things run deeper than blood lines, and national flags, your personal preferences and temperaments.
Critics write Paul off as a hard liner, cut and dried, an ideologue without a heart for people. That could not be more wrong.
In 2 Corinthians 11, he describes the dangers he faced from thieves, his physical suffering at sea and in deserts, the way he was verbally maligned from avowed enemies and false friends and so on. He saves the biggest cost until last: “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches”. (2 Cor 11:28)
A man with the feeling of a house brick? Anything but. For any Christian leader worth his salt, there are more tears and more sleepless nights and more agonies of soul than you can poke a stick at.
What do your passions say about you?
If your passions are out of kilter like that, there is something wrong in you, in your soul. I am not talking about emotions – they are way passions show, and they show differently for different people, according to temperament. For some of us things are much closer to the surface than for others. I’m talking about passions – what stirs deeply in you – and priorities – what matters most to you?
What surfaces in your passions reveals what’s deepest in your mind and heart. What is most important in our thinking is most precious in our loving. Tender passion? Deep love? That’s part of the DNA of a true church of Jesus.
We got some idea of what happens when a mob is out of control as we saw buildings burning, shops looted and lives put at risk, in U.S. cities this week.
The crowd that was out of control when Paul first came to Ephesus, was really a lynch mob. They wanted the death of Paul and his friends with him.
It wasn’t only the people who worshipped the goddess Artemis who wanted that. Paul speaks of “trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (v19), and the fact that “in every city, imprisonments and afflictions await me” (v23). Paul’s face would be on wanted posters in every Jewish synagogue and every Roman police stations.
So time to back off and head to an early retirement? “But I do not account my life as 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.” (v24)
Bravado? Carelessness? A cheap view of life? An excuse for being rude and abusive. No. He is saying that he wants to speak the gospel of Jesus regardless of the consequences and no matter the cost.
Courage like this is a pattern. For leaders everywhere. And for churches everywhere. These men are going to need courage to stand for Jesus in Ephesus. The church there, on the home turf of Artemis is going to need courage to stand for Jesus.
We are going to need courage on our home turf where money is king, sport is king, pleasure is king, personal views are king. Where the mob chants “No god but our gods”, “Love is love and if you don’t see it our way you are haters”.
To say that Jesus alone is Lord, in a world where all religions are supposed to have equal billing will take gospel guts. We will need great courage to stand on the gospel for which Paul risked his life.
Within a few sentences Paul can speak both of tender tears, and bold courage. For him, it is not a choice between speaking the truth and loving people.
We won’t buy the line that if we really loved people, we would live and let live. We are not haters because we urge people to get out of a burning building before they perish. It is not hateful to aim to draw people away from their sin and to the Lord Jesus.
We speak the truth with courage not because we do not love, but because we do. We speak it tenderly, and often with tears.
Do you think we as a church have that kind of courage? We’re unlikely to have it if our leaders don’t have it. That’s why we must pray that they are not intimidated, blackmailed or lured into playing to the crowd or playing favourites.
This Word has come from the Living God. It has come to us, as the song says, through sacrifice – the sacrifice of men like Paul who went all out to make sure people everywhere heard it, and we got it. Paul tells these men here that it is this word that is able to build them up (verse 32) Please pray and pray hard that their courage will come out of their being captive to this Word, and nothing else.
What do you suppose most commonly wrecks churches? Lack of money or poor music or very ordinary programs? Antagonistic people on the outside? Narrow interest groups on the inside? What?
More often than not, it is bad leadership. We have seen already that true leaders preach the whole counsel of God, and teach all that is profitable, not all that is popular. That’s the positive side.
There are,however, two negatives. (vv29-31) “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease to admonish everyone with tears.”
Church leaders speak twisted things when:
>> ideas thrown in alongside what the Bible says which are twisted or woven together as though they have equal authority
>> what the Bible says is twisted out of shape so that it fits with what the culture says
>> things are twisted upside down so that secondary things become the primary things, and vice versa.
The other destructive trap into which church leaders can fall is to make things about them.
They use the church for themselves … they develop personality cults. It’s all about their opinions and plans, their cleverness, their success or their entitlements, their great preaching.
If these things can happen in a church among men hand-pickled by the apostle Paul, they can happen in any church.
Be careful. Be careful not to be too harsh in your judgment of leaders. All of them have made mistakes. None of them has preached a perfect sermon. Paul knows that. He is speaking here about men whose whole approach is to twist the Word of God, and whose aim and plan is to make church about them.
Not onlybe careful do not be blind, and just let things go that should not be let go. If you have leaders like this, they must be admonished, or challenged and corrected, as Paul had admonished these men for 3 years as part of his ministry to them. If they won’t be corrected, remove them, or remove yourself.
Someone told me once that he was being tempted to do this and that, and then said “But you wouldn’t know anything about temptation”, as if I was in some holy world where it didn’t happen.
Do you think church leadership brings fewer trials and temptations or more? George Whitefield was that 18th century preacher, whom even the sceptic Benjamin Franklin thought amazing as he heard him preach to more than 20,000 people. After one sermon a lady told him how wonderful he was. He answered, “I know it, the devil told me that just as I was stepping down from the pulpit.”
How do church leaders guard themselves, and guard each other so that their leadership is about as godly as is possible in a fallen world? How can they be alert to these things happening?
We want the flag of Jesus to fly powerfully all over the place, don’t we? God’s plan is to fly it highest in good churches.
Good churches? They have a certain shape: they meet, their agenda is what God wants, they have God-appointed leaders, and those leaders lead primarily by clear teaching.
They also have a certain DNA on the inside … tender passion, gospel courage and careful vigilance. Is there more? No doubt, but not much else that doesn’t flow from these features.
Is there enough there to know what to prioritise? And what to pray? Then, for the glory of Jesus, let’s do it.
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