Sermons

Summary: This is an expository message on Paul’s personal testimony to the church at Ephesus.

“A Life Lived on Purpose”

Acts 20:17-38

June 22, 2008

Hardly any of life’s goodbyes are as dramatic—and thus well-remembered—as those words of General Douglas MacArthur when, forced to leave the Philippine island fortress of Corregidor, his goodbye contained the promise: “I shall return”, which he did, some 19 months later. And yet it’s difficult to say “goodbye”, isn’t it? Packing up and moving hundreds of miles here forced our family to say our goodbyes to longtime friends, some of whom we knew we’d likely never see again. Paul’s message today was a hard goodbye to a group of people he’d come to love.

Table Talk

What’s the hardest goodbye you’ve ever had to say?

This was a difficult goodbye for Paul. Notice how it came about:

• Prologue: Arranging the Meeting - :17-18a

The apostle Paul was a passenger on a merchant ship making its way slowly down the Aegean Sea toward the Mediterranean, stopping with regularity. At Miletus, the boat docked to load and unload cargo. Paul saw and seized an opportunity here, sending word for the elders from the church at Ephesus to come and meet him. Because of the distance, it was likely the third day of Paul’s stay in Miletus when these elders arrived. Paul looked into the eyes of these men and remembered their stories. Converted Jews; leaders of the city; maybe a transformed silversmith or one of the itinerant exorcists who went around casting out demons, but who had found the real Deliverer, Christ. He knew their lives and stories, and now he thought he’d never see them again; this was Paul’s one shot to show/tell them everything they’d need.

And for us, his words to them illustrate a life lived on purpose. I read this somewhere recently:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WHA HOO what a ride!

Well, maybe or maybe not, but can we not agree that just putting in time here until we get to Heaven, just running out the clock on life with little purpose or plan, is not living the life God intended for us to lead? Paul was active, engaged, focus, and energetic in life.

Purposeful Living: The Testimony of Paul

I. Serving God - :18b-19

Paul had in Ephesus, as in some other places, opponents of the gospel of grace who would use the opportunity of Paul’s absence to not only teach false doctrine, but also to deride the character and work of the apostle. As memories fade with time, and as human beings are susceptible to the power of suggestion, these false teachers used the opportunity of Paul’s absence to slyly call certain aspects of his character and teaching into question, that they might substitute their own false teaching in its place. Thus Paul begins his words to the elders with a defense of his life and ministry among them.

Paul identified with the people of Ephesus. This explains why he could spend an entire evening with the folks at Troas; they considered him a personal friend as much as they did a spiritual mentor, a guy who lived among them, not some spiritual guru who dropped spiritual truth from some exalted position over them. This explains why many tears were shed over the thought that they’d never see him again.

I cut my teeth, pretty much, on pastoral ministry strategies that focused on “up-front” forms of teaching and disciplemaking, and less on shoulder-to-shoulder, life-on-life ministry. I still bear some of the marks of what I now consider to be an unbalanced perspective on ministry. Paul was close to these people; he rubbed shoulders with them, was a visitor in their homes to teach/challenge/encourage, ministered the gospel alongside rather than only from the stance of teaching the crowd/preaching from the pulpit, if you will.

Paul lived “among” the Ephesians, and we can say he served them, certainly, but it was God Whom he ultimately was serving—and while it was a blessing and a spiritual experience he’d not have traded, it wasn’t a picnic!

A life lived on purpose, for the follower of Christ, is a life lived ultimately for an audience of One. It’s a life that takes its queues from Jesus, is concerned with pleasing Him, even if no one else is pleased or impressed. Paul had his priorities straight: while he loved people and toiled among them, it was God Whom he served.

II. Telling the Truth - :20-21

Here was the message that Paul preached, the message opposed by his (likely) Jewish opponents: repentance and faith in Christ. There were opponents who strenuously objected to Paul’s willingness to preach salvation to Gentiles which did not include a message of conformity to Jewish laws. The idea that they couldn’t abide was that unclean Gentiles could come directly to Jesus Christ without submitting themselves to become Jewish proselytes first; this, of course, would mean the observance of the ritual of circumcision, as well as submission to all sorts of rules and regulations that God had given to the nation of Israel. Paul zeroes in on the gospel message here: repentance and faith. This is the salvation equation, of course; trust in that Christ-centered gospel saved then, and it saves now.

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