Induction of Tim Ford
The Gospel of God’s Grace
Acts 20 17-37
I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
I can think of no privilege in my whole life like this one. Over forty two years ago I stood in this place to be ordained to the ministry – so, that I should be privileged to speak today on the occasion of the church inducting its new pastor, is a great joy.
I will address the church at Bristol Road first, and use this passage to remind them of their privileges and responsibility, then I will address Tim and remind him of some of the things that he must do as your pastor.
Saying Goodbye is always difficult. In these verses Paul is saying Goodbye to the church leaders of Ephesus. They have travelled thirty miles to hear him – and they know that his future is full of trial and that they will never see him again.
So why choose a farewell speech for a beginning of ministry? Because here Paul sets out his aims and objectives, his hopes and aspirations, his advice regarding the Christian ministry. His speech here is unlike any other speech of Paul recorded in Acts – because here he is speaking to believers – and his words read much more like his letters.
I want to suggest to you that these verses contain many profound and fundamental principles for the Church and its pastors. Then I want to tease out of the verses a few thoughts for both Pastor and People.
The over-arching themes are those of the Glorious Gospel and of the power of The Holy Spirit to direct the life of the believer and the church
Here we see (particularly in verses 22, 23 and 28) that it is the Holy Spirit that is in control of the Church, and the focus of their endeavours is the “task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”. That is the starting point from which we shall consider these verses – and seek to apply them to the church and to Tim.
THE CHURCH AND THE GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE
The Holy Spirit hovers over the early church, delineating its apparent confusion – just as He did at the beginning of God’s work of creation – so in the work of Grace we see Him ordering the comings and goings of apostles and leaders, directing the decisions of its peoples – pastor and member alike.
Such is the power at work in the apostolic and the modern church. The Spirit compels Paul, warns him in every city, and makes elders responsible for the flock of God.
I want to separate out the teaching church from the pastor here. That will require a little more “digging” to see the picture that Paul paints of the churches in his day.
Despite our ideas of the importance of individual choices in the role of the ministry and in the selection of its pastor – the picture the Word gives us is very different. The church at Ephesus is not seen as “employer” of a pastor or pastors – not seen as wielding particular power in the ballot or in directing the affairs of the congregation, but, on the contrary seen as weak and vulnerable and wholly dependent on His grace.
The key words are:
BOUGHT verses 28, 21
RULED verses 22-28
VULNERABLE verses 29 & 35
I believe that God’s message to Bristol Road is that He wants us to recognise where the authority in the Church lies. After a lengthy interregnum there are many currents that seem to be at work in a fellowship. Some of us have very “clear” ideas of where we believe the church should be going – and whilst a shared vision is essential – a range of opinions is not a clear vision. Here Paul is reminding us that the ministry of the gospel and the work of the Church is to be seen from the point of view of the Head of the Church.
Of course Paul is talking here primarily to church leaders – and in a moment we will come to look more closely at what his advice is – but he also makes it clear that the family of the church is answerable to The Lord of the Church, to the Holy Spirit’s guidance – and to the authority vested in the church’s leaders.
BOUGHT WITH A PRICE v21 v28
Paul’s first point takes us back to first principles – and you find it reflected in v 21 and v 28
21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
28 … the flock … which he bought with his own blood.
We are reminded that the Church is a community of those who “turn to God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus.”
That is the believer’s perspective one the amazing work of Christ in His cross –
“the flock…which He bought with His own blood”
We too easily see ourselves as “the church at Ephesus” “the saints at Corinth” or even “the people of God at Bristol Road” – when we should be rejoicing that we are BOUGHT WITH A PRICE amongst huge numbers of those who belong to the Family of God and have been received in – not by the processes of Church government – but by REPENTANCE and FAITH in JESUS.
RULED BY THE SPIRIT HIMSELF v22~ V25-27
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.
We shall return to that argument presently when I turn to apply it to Tim and to myself – but for now it is entirely relevant to the congregation.
Paul sees the church at Ephesus not as a body of born again believers whom he has pastured – not as a self-governing group – but as part of the flock of God whose pathways are dictated by the Spirit Himself.
What he says of his own experience has to be true of all believers
COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT
WARNED BY THE SPIRIT
WHOSE LEADERS ARE SUCH BY THE SPIRIT
In God’s great plan for His people the work of Christ is paramount – the power of the Holy Spirit absolute, and the members of the congregation are to see themselves as
VULNERABLE PEOPLE verses 29,30 and 35
29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Paul speaks of the people of God as a FLOCK subject to attack
Disciples who may be all too easily diverted
In short he sees us as “the WEAK”
Is this a picture we have in our minds and hearts when we consider our church here at Bristol Road?
Yet experience even over the last few years has demonstrated to us over and again that we are indeed VULNERABLE
We are subject to the problems that dogged the many and various fellowships described in the New Testament.
We come under attack from without – by the very strong forces of the materialistic age that surrounds us – and from within by the voices of disunity or being uncharitable – or by gossip and rumour.
If we see ourselves as belonging to Christ, ruled by the Spirit and needing the ministry of God as to a weak flock easily misdirected – our expectations and our prayers will be very different.
I turn now to an easier task.
The words that Paul has for ministers of every age and generation are most obvious in these verses. So I will draw out from a rich quiver a few arrows with good points and barbs – the better to direct a new pastor.
THE PASTOR AND THE GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE
Despite our ideas, Tim, of a pastor as centering in our calling, and in our God given authority and responsibility before God, and despite the advantages of our training and experience we too need reminding what the ministry is about.
Once again I extract from the passage three “words”:
LIFE verses 18 & 19 & 32-35
WORD verses 20, 24 and 28-31
SPIRIT verses 22, 23 and 28
LIFE verses 18,19 and 32-35
“You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.
32 “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. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Yes – this is a GIVING ministry, as Paul’s testimony to the lost saying of Jesus makes reference – but it is also primarily a LIVING ministry.
I don’t know how long it has taken me to learn this truth about ministry – in fact I don’t think I have properly learned it.
We are people given to preaching, talking, sharing…
But the force of our witness is the MANNER OF OUR LIVING
Paul says see: “how I lived” “how I served” “these hands of mine”
It was a ministry marked by tears and difficulty – but also certified by the great sense of loss that the Ephesian elders felt when Paul left their shores for good.
We forget too easily that the pastoral ministry is a WAY OF LIFE. We will make a difference by the distinctiveness with which we LIVE EACH DAY in the presence not only of the flock of God but of the unbelieving witnesses of our profession.
WORD verses 20, 24 and 28-31
I guess we feel comfortable with this part of our charge. This is by and large what we were trained for – this is what most ministers of the gospel feel is at the heart of their calling.
Paul makes it clear that it happens in the pulpit and in the home:
20 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. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Paul places his preaching ministry within the context of formal and informal, within worship and within counselling, in the churches and in the homes (and of course in his day there was little distinction – save that at Ephesus he used the lecture hall).
WHAT we preach is the Gospel – but the where we preach it is important. Publicly and from house to house.
This is the TASK he feels himself charged with: The HOW OF PREACHING:-
hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
His was a driven ministry – an unfinished ministry – and all consuming ministry. And whilst it meant opposition and hardship often it had about it an inexorable PUSH.
As he says elsewhere
16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! I COR 9 v 16
And lastly in regard to the WORD
28 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. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
WARNING - this is a WATCHMAN’S MINISTRY
A ministry that faces up to reality of the enemies that confront the flock of God
It is a shepherd task.
SPIRIT verses 22, 23 and 28
SPIRIT verses 22, 23 and 28
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.
28 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.
Not surprisingly, what we said to the flock arose from words that Paul clearly addressed to the elders at Ephesus. Words in which he recognised the rule of the Holy Spirit in his own life and ministry and in the oversight of the church
We cannot escape it – there is NO MINISTRY other than the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
He shapes the pathway that Paul takes, He prepares him for the unknown challenges of tomorrow, and He continues at work in the congregation when Paul has left them.
We may be selected to serve God in a particular place by the unique combination of circumstances and sense of conviction that goes to make up what we term a “call”.
In that we may recognise the part played by individuals and by the church meeting as a formal decision making body – but the REAL DIRECTION IS AT THE SPIRIT’S
So I summarise:
To the church: To the pastor:
32 “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.