On the last Sunday of October I completed 19 years of ministry in Vermont. I loved my many years of Christian service in Vermont, but felt a strong calling to serve as a catalyst for church planting in the state of Connecticut. I preached a sermon from Acts 20:17-24 on my last Sunday of ministry in Vermont. The notes from that sermon are below:
Verse 17 - Now from Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.
• It is important to note that every church Paul started (expect one) was led by a group of elders instead of a pastor serving alone. In the one church that was led by a single pastor, Paul encouraged that pastor to train up men to serve with him in ministry.
• Far too many Christians in our modern world have fallen for the idol of the “celebrity” pastor. This is dangerous because pastors are human and make mistakes, and if our eyes are on the pastor instead of Jesus, our faith may falter when the pastor fails us.
• This is also dangerous because no pastor remains in a church forever. The Lord will either call him to a different church, or the Lord will call him home to glory, but eventually the pastor will not be around.
• Therefore our focus must be on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Verse 18 - And when they came to him, he said to them: You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time.• Paul reminded the elders how he began working the first day on the job and remained “with” them the whole time. The phrase “with you” means that Paul was fully engaged mentally, spiritually, physically and financially in his efforts to make a difference for Christ while he was in Ephesus.
• Paul was fully engaged because he knew that “half-way” efforts only produced “half-way” results. The darkness that engulfs our families, our communities and our nation is too great for “half-way” results to be our goal. Let’s be 100% for Jesus 100% of the time!
• 1 Corinthians 10:31-32 - Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory. Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God.
• This verse from Corinthians reminds us that whatever we do should be done in a way that brings God glory. God is not glorified by a poorly done job inside or outside of the church. We should never allow our efforts to be so poorly done that they make God look bad.
Verse 19 - serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews• Being fully engaged was not always easy. Paul had to learn to be humble. Paul was a well-educated Roman citizen. But in his service to the Lord he was often treated unjustly, mocked and plotted against.
• If we want to be fully engaged in serving our family, church and community for the glory of God, we too will have to learn how to practice humility and accept suffering. Part of being humble is accepting that many people, even those close to us, may not appreciate the intensity of our efforts. But we do not serve for others to recognize us; we serve for God’s presence to be recognized by those around us. Humility is knowing what position we should take at any given moment to make a situation work for God’s purposes and plans.
Verse 20 - I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable, or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house.• The Greek phrase for “shrink back” is hypesteilamen and refers to pulling back out of fear. People sometimes confuse fear with humility. Paul knew when to be humble, but he was never afraid to speak the truth when it was needed. If fact, there were times that Paul had to confront people face to face for their sins. There were times when Paul had to cut ties with former colleagues. At least once Paul ordered the church to kick out a person who refused to repent.
• We should never confuse humility with fear. Sometimes doing things for the glory of God requires us to stand our ground. Some people will not understand that, most will not like it. But there are times when we must do what we know is profitable for God’s work to be accomplished.
Verse 21 - I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.• Paul did not discriminate against a person due to race or cultural background. He shared with anyone who would listen.
• We live in a world that is increasingly diverse. Part of being fully engaged in our faith is sharing the Gospel with anyone, and offering Christian service to anyone, regardless of their race or cultural background.
Verse 21 - I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.• All races, all educational backgrounds, all income levels have the same need, which is to repent of sin and turn to the Lord, placing our faith and trust in Him for both a successful life on earth and for eternal life in heaven. The Gospel is not a “white” man’s religion, nor is it a “rich” man’s religion. It is for everyone whom God has called to faith.
Verse 22 - And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there.• Paul did not know what his future held, but he knew he must head to Jerusalem regardless. He was “bound” by the Spirit to obey. The Greek word for bound is dedemenos and it literally means “captive.” Paul had been taken captive by the Spirit of God.
• That can be a scary thought because what if God wants us to do something we do not like? The idea of being held captive is scary because if we were trapped by people or circumstances, our lives could turn out badly. But to be captured by the Spirit is never a bad thing because God always has our best interests at heart. Being captured by God is the BEST thing that could ever happen to us. We may not know exactly what our future holds, but we can face it as fully engaged followers of Christ because God will give us strength to not only endure, but to thrive. We must stop fearing the future and embrace it as the great adventure God intends it to be.
Verse 24 - But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God's grace.• Many people have misunderstood what Paul meant when he said he counted his life as having no value. Paul was not depressed. Nor was he contemplating suicide or anything like that. Paul had simply come to the point where his own goals and dreams were no longer his main priority in life. Paul was now looking at God’s goals and God’s purposes as being more important than his own.
• Matthew 16:25 reminds us that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.” This verse points out that we are never more fulfilled than when we are fully engaged in serving the Lord.
• Paul wanted to finish the course God had laid out for him. Paul was not a quitter who gave up when things got hard. Paul was not a drifter who coasted toward retirement or re-assignment. Paul was fully engaged until the very end.
• Far too many Christians start well. We need to learn to finish well. Whether it is a project at work, at home, at school, or at church, Christians should have the reputation of keeping their commitments, finishing what they start, and working hard until the job is done.
Conclusion:• We must be fully engaged in what God has called us to do.
• Being fully engaged begins with an attitude of humility, which means doing whatever it takes for God’s purposes to work out for the best.
• Being fully engaged may make us feel “captive” to the Spirit, but that is okay because God has the best in mind for those who are His captives.
•Being fully engaged means we do not quit until our assignment has been completed.