The Marks of a Christ Centered Ministry (Part 1) Acts 20:17-38

The Marks of a Christ Centered Ministry (Part 1)

Acts 20:17-38

Introduction

We pick up the narrative the day after Paul preached all night. It seems without sleep or even a moments rest, the apostle rides off into the sunset…or literally sunrise, Oh, and he doesn’t ride but walks. Notice with me something very peculiar; Paul walks from Troas to Assos. All the scholars are stumped as to why he would do this. Some say the Jews were out to get him and would have thrown him overboard so he walks part way. Other say it was time for him to be alone with God to collect his thoughts and to pray or it could have been a hundred other reasons and we just don’t know.

At any rate, Paul boards the ship with the others already on board and they begin their journey. Luke tells us of the various ports they stopped at in the evenings to spend the night and then set sail in the morning for the next stop. There were strong enough winds throughout the day to carry a vessel along but at night they docked as the winds calmed.

The text tells us that after making these overnight stops Paul lands at Miletus, which is about 40 miles south of Ephesus…

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land.
14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene.
15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus.
16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
As I read this morning’s text, I want us to notice a few marks of Paul’s ministry. Notice how his ministry was unto the Lord, his ministry was characterized by humility, compassion, and trials. Then we’ll see what a ministry with those marks or distinguishing traits does or accomplishes.

TT- Paul viewed ministry to the Church as serving Jesus Christ.

 

Human need met by text

Every Christian has a calling to serve the church in various ways. We are all gifted differently for special tasks and service within the local church. To what ministry has God called you? Where are you exercising your spiritual gifts? I pray you have a ministry in this church. I pray you are serving.

In our text today we’ll see the marks of Paul’s ministry.

Acts 20:17-38 (ESV)
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;
20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,
21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
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, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.
34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.
35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him,
38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

 

  1. Marks of Paul’s Ministry

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;
20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,
21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
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, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Paul’s ministry was characterized by:

 

A. Serving the Lord

19 serving the Lord

When we begin our look at the marks of Paul’s ministry the first thing we see is that his ministry was serving the Lord. No matter what he was doing whether preaching, teaching, praying, collecting money for those in Jerusalem, planting churches, casting out demons, or raising the dead, he was serving Christ.

Everything he did was service to Jesus.

Galatians 1:10 (ESV)
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Here’s Paul’s point…whose approval are you after? If you seek the approval of people then you won’t tell anyone the truth but tell them what they want to hear. If you seek man’s approval you will fashion your ministry around pleasing people. Paul fashioned his ministry around pleasing Christ. He served Christ in his ministry. This is a vital point for us today. Whatever your ministry is do it unto the Lord.

I want you to see something that I pray will be, in a sense ground breaking; when you think of ministry think of caring for and equipping God’s people. We evangelize the lost by sharing Christ with them but ministry that Paul speaks of and biblical ministry for us has to do with God’s people. You cannot minister to lost people it is an oxymoron. It’s impossible because we minister care for Christ’s sake.

This is why ministry takes place to God’s people within God’s church. We care for the Lord’s people…that’s ministry. Never confuse evangelism with ministry.

Here’s what I mean…

Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Jesus counts ministry to Him as serving His brothers and sisters. We care for and teach and equip those in the church…that counts as serving Christ. Soup kitchens for lost folks, while it may be a good thing to do, are not serving the Lord. When we understand these principles accurately it enables us to carry out a Christ honoring mission to those around us.

I hope we see how important it is to be connected to a local church because that is where God’s people are and where Christ is served as we serve those He loves.
The question we must seek to answer with our ministries is…Am I pleasing God?

I want to make sure everyone understands what the Bible is saying. Christian ministry is unto Christ for the good of God’s people. It’s not wrong to feed a lost person or give lost people something to wear or visit them in the hospital or in prison but it’s not serving the Lord because they are not His people. Christian ministry is serving Christ as we serve Christians.
Paul’s heart was for Christian ministry. That’s why he went back through to all the churches strengthening the brothers and sisters in those churches…he was serving Christ as he did that.

 

B. Serving with Humility

with all humility

As we seek to serve Christ, not only must we be doing things that serve Him such as…Matthew 25:31ff…feeding believers, clothing believers, caring for those Christians who are sick and imprisoned but we see from Paul there is the right way to fulfill your ministry. Here it is… with all humility.

You can do right things and not please God. Christ is pleased when we do ministry with humility. This is exactly how our Lord did ministry. He sought to meet the needs of His followers with all humility.

If you try to engage in ministry without humility you will fail.

What is humility? True biblical humility is:
Philippians 2:3 (ESV)
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Humility is thinking of others instead of yourself. It is caring for their needs before your needs.   We could also define humility as seeking a lower position in order to lift others up.
Matthew 11:29 (ESV)
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

James 4:6 (ESV)
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
The Apostle Paul’s ministry to believers was marked by humility.

            C. Serving with Compassion

with tears

The Apostle Paul was a genuine minister of the Gospel. He longed to see people saved. He longed to see those saved grow in grace and grow in knowledge of the Lord. He literally spent his life to that end. He did it unto the Lord with humility and compassion. His tears were a mark of genuine compassion for those whose lives were not glorifying the Lord.
Romans 9:1-5 (ESV)
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—
2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Are you burdened for those lost souls around you? Notice how Paul served the Lord with sincerity and genuine heart.

Acts 20:31 (ESV)
31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

Paul wept over lost souls and he wept over wayward Christians.
2 Corinthians 2:4 (ESV)
4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Psalm 126:6 (ESV)
6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

This verse literally pictures the water in the sower’s tears as watering the seed he plants. The seed is the Word of God.

This was a picture of Paul’s work for Christ. He served Jesus, in humility, and in tears.

 

D. Serving Through Suffering

with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;
His ministry was marked by severe persecution and trials brought about especially by the Jews. They hounded him everywhere he went. Yet, through it all, he saw the work of God as the Lord accomplished so many unbelievable things that Paul knew it wasn’t his power at work but God’s power. Even in spite of the massive resistance of the Jews, the Gospel still triumphed and overcame.
Acts 9:16 (ESV)
16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Jesus declared at Paul’s conversion that he would suffer for Christ’s namesake. The Apostle knew this and remained passionate about Christ. Then, over time, he realized why he suffered as he did…
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

 

2. A Picture of Serving the Lord

20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,
21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

When your ministry is serving the Lord and not serving man here’s what it looks like…
            A. Paul Did Not Fear Man

20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,

Because the Apostle Paul cared more what Jesus thought that what people thought, he didn’t cower in fear when it came time to say and do some things which were unpopular among the masses. He never took a poll or sent out a questionnaire to see what the people wanted but simply proclaimed the message and taught the truths that Jesus wanted him to teach. He did it compassionately, humbly and with many tears. God gave the increase.
If you are out to please people your ministry will not glorify God. When push comes to shove you will shrink back and fail to declare what needs said.

He writes that it didn’t matter what it was so long as it was profitable to their growth in Christ, he was going to teach it to them everywhere he went.

 

B. Paul Preached the Gospel to Everyone

21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
If we fear man and not God then we might pick and choose how, when we speak the Gospel. In certain settings we may be bold with our witness but in other settings we might not be. When among certain people we might be bold and then when around others we might be silent. Because Paul cared more about what God thought than what people thought he preached to everyone…Jews and Greeks heard the undiluted Good News.

 

C. The Blood of the Lost was Not on His Head

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Because his work in ministry was for Christ and not for man he did not fail to speak everything profitable and the result of such a ministry is that he was innocent of the blood of all men.

He could rest his head on his pillow at night a sleep soundly. He was free from guilt and anxiety connected with whether or not so and so was converted or not. He loved them and spoke the truth to them. His heart ached when they refused to listen but God did not hold Paul responsible in any way for their rebellion…

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Literally, every profitable doctrine.

He gave the church a true picture of who God is. He taught them God’s attributes, the fact that God is a Triune God. He taught them the truth about sin and repentance and the Gospel. Paul was the faithful watchman found in Ezekiel 33. He fulfilled his duty as God’s watchman to warn the people of danger and so their blood was not on his head.

 

Additional Application

All this that marked the Apostle Paul’s ministry is a pattern for our ministries in the church. Regardless what your ministry is, it should be marked by these same traits. This is a good time to look at your ministry and examine it according to these marks. Where do you need to make improvements? Serve Christ with humility, compassion, speak everything profitable to the building up of the church. Do not shrink back because of the fear of man.
Sow in tears and reap in joy.

 

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