The Lord’s Day Evening
November 14, 2010
“To Spend and Be Spent
The Reverend Mr. Nathan D. Shurden
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Acts chapter 20, Acts chapter 20.
And as you are doing so, I want to express my thankfulness to Josh and to
Gina for the opportunity to be here for this incredible occasion, a true
expression of God’s goodness to have brought you through this last season and to
see the way He has worked in your life, and to now, look to the future of what
He has called and commissioned you to do and to have that be, tonight, signed
and sealed in many ways. And we’re
looking at a passage tonight that I believe sets the tone for the beginning of a
ministry as we look towards the end of one of God’s greatest missionaries, if
not the greatest — the apostle Paul.
As he nears the end of his ministry, he gives us a beautiful portrait tonight of
what a faithful, leading servant of God is supposed to be about.
And so before we read God’s Word and we give our attention to it, let’s
pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Father in heaven, what a joy
it is to know that You abide with us at all times.
Lord, You are always as close to us as the Spirit that abides within our
hearts. And Lord, this means that on
an occasion such as this, and in a worship service such as this, that we can
rest in the truth of this fact, that the Lord Jesus Christ, right now, rules and
reigns, and that He has, by His grace, chosen men for the purpose of going into
the vineyard and laboring, going into the field and harvesting, and that Father,
tonight, we celebrate one of Your great providences in setting aside yet another
worker for the extension and the glory of Christ’s name.
Father, we pray that You would be pleased tonight as we look into Your
Word, as we submit ourselves to Your instruction.
And we ask Father, that You would guide us in the way of all truth.
We pray it in Jesus’ precious name.
We’ll be looking tonight at Acts 20, verses 17 to 24.
This is God’s Word:
he sent to Ephesus
(that is, Paul) and called the elders of the church to come to him.
And when they came to him, he said to them:
‘You yourselves know
how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,
serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened
to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you
anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to
house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of
faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And
now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem,
constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that
the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions
await me. But I do not account my
life 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.’”
Amen, and thus far the reading of God’s holy Word.
As the apostle Paul writes this section, as we have this testimony of the
apostle Paul and his relationship to the church at
Ephesus, we’re peering into the church that he loved
dearly, the church that he served for three years, faithfully.
And as he makes his way to Jerusalem, I think anticipating Pentecost and
probably the celebration that would ensue from the descending of the Holy
Spirit, back in that not too distant memory at this point in the history of the
church, he’s going to pass through Miletus, only thirty miles away from Ephesus,
the church that he served for nearly three years, and he’s not going to get that
close without having a final word to these elders.
He knows that this is the last time that he’s going to see them, and so
in many ways, when we read this section of the book of Acts, we’re gathering
Paul’s very testimony about his ministry to the church at Ephesus, and this is
the memory that he wants them to walk away with, knowing that he will never see
them face to face again. And he
gives us, as is done throughout the book of Acts, a cameo portrait of the beauty
of the church and the richness of Gospel ministry.
And what we have here, by the very words of the apostle Paul, is a
portrait of what a leading servant of God is to be about.
And that’s why we’re gathered here tonight — to be reminded of what it is to be
a minister in the vineyard of God and to serve Him faithfully.
What are the characteristics?
What is the quality of the work?
What are the challenges and the obstacles that one is going to face?
And indeed, how is one going to overcome them?
He gives us, I believe, six characteristics of faithful Gospel ministry.
And we have about two minutes for each of them, so stay tuned!
The first is this — humility. Notice
what he says in verse 19 — that he has “served the Lord with all humility.”
As the apostle Paul goes to the church at Ephesus, he goes
recounting to them of the situation and the circumstance that he found himself
in when he was there — serving them with all sorts of trials and tribulations,
and in many ways coming to the end of himself in the midst of his Gospel
ministry there. You’ll remember the
attacks that were levied upon the apostle Paul from those who were the marketers
who made the idols for the goddess Artemis and who ran Paul out on a line out of
the city and the oppositions that he faced there.
As Paul served in the midst of the church at Ephesus, he was reminded
of the fact that he was a mere man.
He was reminded of the fact that, as a Gospel minister, one who goes forth into
the field to sow the seed and to reap a harvest, that as he does so he goes as
one who is abiding under the character of the providence of God, and apart from
who God is and who God has made him to be, he has nothing.
He has no creativity and ingenuity within himself.
He has no power to save the souls that are before him.
And he realizes that as he faces these sorts of oppositions, oppositions
that every sower of the Gospel seed faces, that he realizes that he stands
before a sovereign and holy God that he must begin a faithful ministry and
recounts his ministry as one who despaired of his own capability.
It was a ministry marked by humility.
One of the most difficult things, Josh, one of the most difficult things,
congregation, for a minister to keep in mind, is the fact that he abides under a
sovereign and holy God and that he has no power within himself as a vessel to do
the work that he’s called to do.
It’s so hard to be reminded of that, and to work from a place of lowliness and a
place of weakness and a place of radical dependence upon the grace of God for
every step that you take, for every word that you say, for every person that you
minister to. Paul ministered in
I remember a quote from a friend of mine who recounted a sermon that he heard.
These were his four laws of the spiritual life.
You’ve heard of the four laws of the Campus Crusade for Christ?
Well, he has his own four laws.
The first was this — that there is a God.
The second is — you are not Him.
The third is — your tendency is to forget law one and two.
That’s your tendency. And his
fourth law was — get it right. Get
it right. We tend to substitute law
two and law one. We begin to make
ourselves the center of the universe.
We begin to found our ministries upon pride.
And as soon as we begin doing that we make ourselves inefficient for the
work of the Spirit. Faithfulness
begins with humility.
But secondly, it begins with love and sincerity.
In many ways, this point comes from the whole tenor of these verses,
verses 19 all the way down to verse 24.
But you catch an intimacy in this passage that the apostle Paul loved the
church at Ephesus.
They were near and dear to his heart.
He actually refers in verse 19 that “he pled with them with tears.”
We can actually read further on in this chapter in verse 31 that “he
admonished them with tears.” But we
could read to the end of the chapter when Paul gets upon the ship and he’s
leaving and we see that they’re embracing and they’re crying and that they’re
kissing one another and they have a tight knit love and a sincerity that has
been a part of the nature of Paul’s work.
As a minister of the Gospel understands his humility, and begins to take
in the view of God as he looks into the lives of those in whom the Lord has made
him a shepherd, the love of God and the sincerity of God and the compassion of
God begins to ooze out of him towards those whom the Lord has put over him.
The beauty of this is that the love and sincerity of the apostle Paul cuts
against the showmanship that often comes with pastoral ministry that’s lost its
way, a pastoral ministry that has become a religious performance and has ceased
becoming true love and sincerity.
When a pastor forgets that he is preaching to those who will never die, that
everyone in this room is made in the image of God, that everyone here is lost in
sin and is in desperate need of God’s grace and without His grace there is no
hope for nobody here. That sense, in
the heart of the pastor, is absolutely essential to Gospel ministry – the love
Thirdly we see that he’s courageous; he’s courageous.
We see in verse 19 that he goes and he ministers in Ephesus with trials, that he goes knowing that
imprisonment and affliction await him.
He says that he does not shrink back from this.
He does not pull back in declaring to them everything that they need to
hear. He does not pull back from
what he senses the Spirit is leading him to do.
He goes straight forward into the work that he knows will require
tremendous courage, tremendous courage.
You get the sense that there’s external attached from the culture — the
tribulation that he experienced in Ephesus, that those who would attack the
church from the outside, but you also get the attacks that come from inside the
church — when you have to say hard things to the people that the Lord has
entrusted to you as a shepherd.
We’re told in the book of Timothy that there comes a time when those sitting in
the pews often listen for a word that will scratch the itching of their ears,
but is not the word that will actually be profitable for them.
And the shepherd is having to make a very difficult decision about what
he says and what he doesn’t say. And
how he says it and how the Lord guides and how the Lord directs.
He has to be courageous. It’s
tempting to compromise. It’s
tempting to move towards approval and approval ratings and job security rather
than to say the things that the Spirit is leading to be said by the Word.
When you see these first three characteristics come together of humility and
love and sincerity and courageousness, you realize you need all three of these
in Gospel ministry. If you have
humility without courage, your tendency is simply to compromise.
If you have courage without humility, you tend to be self-insistent and
selfish in your designs. You just
want things to work out the way you’ve always planned them.
But when you combine love and sincerity, humility and courage together,
what you get is this soft strength, this sort of gentle power that comes from
being emptied of all sufficiency of self filled with the completeness of the
Spirit, and a boldness that says, even as we learned this morning from the
passage, “I’m willing to go wherever God would send me.
Even should my life be taken from me, I do it with joy.”
That’s the call of these first three characteristics.
Now where do you get humility, love and sincerity, and courage?
You get them from being a Word-centered man.
You get them from being a Word-centered man.
Notice what the apostle Paul tells us in verse 20, that he did “not
shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in
public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of
repentance toward God and of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As the apostle Paul went to the church at
Ephesus, he gathered in the Hall of Tyrannus and as he
spoke, he spoke the needs of the corporate body.
He looked at a body like this and he said these things need to be said
from the Word and this guidance needs to be given in the public sphere.
But as he considered the needs of the corporate body, he also
individually and personally went from house to house giving personal words of
admonition and practical instruction from the Word, because not only are there
needs corporately as a body, in terms of the culture of the church, but they’re
in each individual pew and in each individual heart, right now – particular
pains, particular sin struggles, particular rejoicings that need to be engaged
so that the praise of God can be given.
The apostle Paul was a Word-centered man.
Wherever he went, he opened the bread of life and he knew only to feed
the people on that which he knew would nourish them.
And he was indiscriminate about this.
It was Jews and it was Greeks.
He was impartial because he saw that the need was so great in the lives
of all of the people that he saw, that the instruction of the Word needed to
come in public and in private in a very personal manner.
He was a Word-centered man.
But notice, fifthly, that he’s a Spirit-led man.
He’s a Spirit-led man. It
says in verse 22, “Now behold, I am going to
constrained by the Spirit.” One of
the temptations in pastoral ministry is to be overly calculated.
You can be overly calculated.
You can be so precise and so planned that the sense of the wooing of the Spirit
and where He has taken you has been squelched and oftentimes lost because even
in our good and blessed five and ten year plans, which are good and right, the
Lord often takes us to a Jerusalem where we know over that hill there’s
imprisonment, there’s affliction, there is loss of public reputation, there is
pain, there is difficulty, there is challenge, and so help me God, by the Spirit
I must go there. And since even as
you’re headed to England, to a place where the Lord, we pray, would do a mighty
work through you and would bring revival to that country, to listen to the
promptings of the Spirit, even as we heard from a dear brother this morning,
from his wife, who knew that the Bible should be given to the man with the gun
who’s life seems to be threatened — no, we need to turn around and we need to go
give the Word of God to that man — be constrained only by the Spirit and by the
Word of God. And let these be your
guide. Let this be your rule for all
faith and practice.
And notice sixthly and finally, that Paul is a single devoted man.
He is only about one thing.
Look at verse 24 — “But I do not account my life 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 Christ to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God.”
There’s only one thing that you’re called to do, Josh.
There’s only one thing. There
is a one, single-minded focus to faithful ministry, that finishing the course
that the ministry of Christ has given you to testify of the Gospel of the grace
of God. There will be many who
whisper in your ear about many other avenues and areas and influences that you
can have, but there’s one calling the apostle Paul says here.
There’s many things to distract you, but there’s one calling that’s said
here. It’s a single-minded devotion
that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ would be praised in everything that I do
in word and in life — a single-minded devotion.
Now I hope, as you’re overhearing a discussion, you’re saying, “I want that to
be the nature of my life. For if a leading servant has been given this call, are
not all servants of God given this call — humility of Spirit, love and sincerity
for the brethren, a courageousness to reach across the fence to say hello to a
neighbor that we’ve never spoken to that we know doesn’t know the Lord and to
look for the open doors through which the Gospel of Christ can be proclaimed, to
be a people of the Book, that we would believe the Bible, that we would be
sensitive to the way the Spirit is moving our hearts even if it’s imprisonment
and affliction that’s ahead?” The
only way that you will ever become the person that God has put here, for Josh as
a minister, for any of us as servants of the Lord, is that this single-minded
devotion of verse 24 will truly be true of us, that we would quite being
distracted by the things of this world and that we would be willing to lay
everything on the bottom line of the Gospel itself.
And we understand that there is nothing of any greater value and so
there’s nothing that attracts us away from Him.
What a tremendous call. What
a tremendous call.
And Lord, by Lord’s grace, Josh, may God give you, may God give all of us, the
privilege and the blessing to see Him work mightily in ways that are far
exceeding your abilities, that we would be able to see a gifted man like you and
say, “Oh, those aren’t gifts. That’s
the Spirit of God at work.” May He
be pleased to do that.
Father, You are the only One that
we can come to for a request this great and a request this grand, that You would
give to us the humility of Spirit, that You would give to us a love and
sincerity of the brethren and all people, that You would give to us, Father, a
courageousness to be able to walk the trail that You have given us to walk,
regardless of what may come our way, that You would make of us a people that
hardly know to speak without the words of God rolling off our tongue, that You
would make us a people who are sensitive to the inclinations and the guiding of
Your Spirit, and who would, from this day forth, be single-minded in their
devotion to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, this is our request.
It is Your heart. Grant it we pray,
by grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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