Conditions of entry

Parting Words of Warning / Acts 20:17-38

Passage: Acts 20:17-38
Campus: Rooty Hill
Dec 19, 2021

As part of his defence to the elders of Ephesus, Paul looks back to his ministry, looks forward to his suffering, and then looks them in the eye and warns them of the coming false teaching.

Manuscript

I often say Gods providence makes MBM looks more organised than it is. When I planned the sermon series 12 months ago, I had no idea that I was leaving for Dubai and preaching this passage. 

Paul is speaking his final words to a church he won't see again. This is the only speech in Acts that is directly addressed to Christians

- Paul is specifically speaking to the leaders of the church

- Called by the standard 3 titles - Elders, Shepherds and Overseers

Notice they are in the plural - A good reminder that only one of the Pastor elders of MBM is leaving for Dubai, the rest are staying. You’ve had me for 31 years. 

Paul was with the Ephesians church for 3 years and is now away for 1 year. Since that time, false teachers have savaged his character and he is forced to defend his ministry. The integrity of the gospel is tied to the integrity of the messenger. So he looks back, he looks forward and then he looks straight at them with a word of warning. 

1. He looks back to his past ministry

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. ~Acts 20:17-18 (NIV)

Six times Paul appeals to their experience of him: 'You know', 'You remember.' and 'You are witnesses'

It's the reason why the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. The Ephesians knew Paul first hand, he was above reproach, Not just at the beginning but consistently for the whole 3 years.

I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents ~Acts 20:19 (NIV)

He reminds them of how he was in their presence. He was not afraid to be vulnerable with them. He took his calling seriously because souls were hanging in the balance. This was not a job - they mattered to him.

I remember in the early days of MBM a committed brother fell away. I went to his place of work to see how he was going and before I knew it I broke down and cried. In ministry, there are tears of grief, tears over those who won't repent and tears over those you see drifting away.

Anyone can impress when the wind is behind them, it's only when you’re hammered that your character comes to the surface. It's why we don’t appoint Elders who are young in the faith and have not been tried and tested. We watch and see if suffering has made them bitter or better.

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. ~Acts 20:20-21 (NIV)

He taught the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In season and out of season, welcomed or not, he held nothing back that was for their good.

As far as I know, I can't think of a Biblical truth I clearly see in scripture that I did not clearly teach you, no matter how unpopular. From predestination to God's view on sex to government, I taught what I believed. Because it's only the truth that sets you free. How many times have you heard me say ‘We refuse to believe the lie that we are wiser than God’.

Paul preached consistently both privately and publically, it was the same message to Jew and Non-Jews. Notice the summary phrases: he covered 'the whole counsel of God', he focused on the gospel of grace. His message called for the response - Repentance to God and Faith in the Lord Jesus.

You can fake a great interview but it's hard to fake 3 years of ministry. His Loving tears, his perseverance in trials, his faithful teaching and his use of treasures. Paul did not covet anyone's silver, gold or cloth, he lived out the truth that it is more blessed to give than receive. He was a stumbling block.

One of my in-laws asked me what my salary would be in Dubai. I said I have no idea and she couldn’t understand how I could make such a big decision without knowing the salary.

Paul says appeals to their experience of him. Can I ask friends:

“What case can you make based on how you have lived.” In other words, make it your aim to have a death bed confession - able to look people in the eye and say “You are witnesses and so is God how I conducted myself before you.” Whether you’re a parent, or pastor, a worker, friend, or brother or sister in Christ, it won't do to say ‘Do what I say not what I do.’ It won't do to say ‘What I do in private is nobodies business.’ Live life where you’re able to say ‘Imitate me as I imitate Christ.’ Which includes a bucket load of apologies.

Paul then moves from what they know to what he knows

2. His future suffering

“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. ~Acts 20:22-23 (NIV)

The Spirit of Jesus lovingly warned Paul again and again that in Jerusalem, prison and hardship await but everyone except Paul makes the same mistake. If suffering is coming then it must be avoided at all cost, Paul must change his travel plans.

They confused the warning of suffering from the need to avoid it. Paul will not be stopped.

Sandy and I have really appreciated it when people have given reasons not to go to Dubai. But what I loved is that the cost of going was not one of the reasons to not go. Our prayer was simple, if you want us to go we will go, if you want us to stay we will stay, whatever the cost. The issue for Paul was not the suffering, the issue is finishing the race well

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. ~Acts 20:24 (NIV)

The issue friends is not living well but ending well. Paul's life didn’t matter only Jesus' Kingdom did. To be fair, he was given a specific brief as an apostle, to complete the task given by Lord Jesus. 

This is very clarifying, getting the cancer diagnosis is not to be your biggest concern, missing out on the job or love of your dream should not be your biggest grief. Finishing well. Not once but twice Paul says to the elders “I am innocent of the blood of any of you.”

“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. ~Acts 20:25-27 (NIV)

In Ezekiel 33 - The watchmen stands guard and announces that the enemy is coming. If the people don't prepare for that judgment, it's on them. If the watchmen does not warn and blow the trumpet then it's on him. In this passage, Paul is blowing the trumpet and warning the elders of false teaching that is coming.

Like a lifeguard who warns the swimmers that a shark is in the water, he is innocent of their blood.

Travelling west one holiday, I noticed an old Vauxhall car veering off the road, the senior driver fell asleep at the wheel and was heading for death. All I could do was blow the horn and warn him, he woke up, heeded the warning and veered back.

“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. ~Acts 20:25-27 (NIV)

There is a limit to a pastor’s responsibility. We can plead, urge, preach, teach, warn with tears but we can't repent for you or we cant believe for you. We can't live your Christian life for you.

We can't say your prayers, read your bible for you, parent your kids, serve at church for you and forgive your enemies. That is on you. We are explicitly told that the church grows as each part does its work.

Paul looked back on his ministry, he looked to his future suffering in Jerusalem and he now speaks a word of warning in the present.

3. Final Words of Warning

Keep watch over yourselves and the church

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. ~Acts 20:28 (NIV)

Keep watch over yourselves first, the hardest person to lead is yourself. The last of the fruit of the Spirit is Self-control. How many Pastors have brought the name of Jesus into disrepute? Pray every day for the nominators, that they appoint a man who watches over his life and doctrine every day. Paul was aware after preaching to others that he would not himself be disqualified.

He knows that he has to give an account to Lord Jesus when he returns. We Pastors must never forget that we are sheep before, therefore shepherds. Early on at MBM, I realised I was rejoicing over the salvation of others and stopped rejoicing over my salvation. I was watching over the souls of others and forgot to watch over my own soul. It’s a serious task to watch over the souls of others. When an Anglican minister is ordained these words are spoken to him

"Have always therefore printed on your mind how great a treasure is committed to your care. For they are the sheep of Christ, whom he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The church and congregation whom you must serve is his bride and his body. And if it should come about that the church, or any of its members, is hurt or hindered as a result of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and the judgment that will follow."

I don’t know one minister at MBM who does not shudder when they hear those words. Not one pastor who feels they are up for the task. Each one of us is aware of how we failed in some area. We know we will be judged by God more severely and sometimes the sheep can bite

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! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. ~Acts 20:29-31 (NIV)

When it comes to false teaching be alert! It can start by being bored with the gospel. It can start when Pastors wanting to scratch where people itch and ignoring hard truths because they want to be liked or bending to an ever-changing culture.

From the beginning of MBM, we have sought to preach the whole counsel of God chapter by chapter. Its why our preaching series for 31 years follows the same pattern.

Did you hear when I did warn you? How you cannot love Jesus and not love and serve his people. Was I clear that faith alone in Christ alone saves and that faith without works is dead - that anyone who divides the church starts a war with God himself.

Did you hear when I said if you’re ashamed of Christ he will be ashamed of you or that a love of money is the root of all kinds of evils? Did I warn you that unless you repent and have Jesus as your Lord you cannot be saved? I will be honest, the hardest thing about leaving MBM is entrusting you to God

“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. ~Acts 20:32 (NIV)

I keep telling myself that MBM is God's church, not mine. Jesus purchased you with His blood, not mine. It's His gospel of grace and not mine that transforms lives. Now is not the time for final goodbyes; you will see me again.

Remember Sandy and I will be your new overseas ministry partners. I fear at MBM we have a soft underbelly, a good number who seek comfort over Christ, who have moved from being part of the core to being part of the crowd, who have become Consumer Christians, happy to receive but don’t give of themselves. In short, some Christians have stopped counting the cost. That is why I think the best sermon I can give you is for Sandy and I to go to Dubai.

We spent the last week minding the grandkids. We are aware that we are going to miss their birthday's parties and Christmas together. When my kids and grandkids cried at us going, I remember the tears of my mum 41 years ago when I told her I could no longer in good conscience be Roman Catholic, she cried for 2 years. The verse that I held on to then was:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;… ~Matthew 10:37 (NIV)

When I saw the tears of kids and grandkids the second part of the verse came back to me.

…anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me ~Matthew 10:37 (NIV)

Jesus is worth it! Have you stopped counting the cost? Don’t dishonour Christ by hiding behind some form of cheap grace

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. ~Matthew 10:38 (NIV)

That my friends is a warning from the Spirit of King Jesus.

get in touch