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Acts 20:17-38 | "Power in Oversight"

[Acts] The Church Empowered  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  26:53
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We will never be able to complete all the work of ministry that remains to be completed, but by God’s grace we will complete all the work the Lord gives us to complete. The Church of Christ belongs to God and is led, fed, and protected through the administration of the Holy Spirit.

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Reading of Scripture

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: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 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.
Pray

Introduction to Theme

Have you ever wondered how much God loves and cares for His church?
Have you given thought to how God has ordained that His church be led, fed, and protected from harm? In order to endure, and thrive with an unfading love?
Acts 20 tells us very clearly, that the Church of Christ belongs to God and is led, fed, and protected through the administration of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction to Text

This is Paul’s final address to the Ephesian church. A church he has spent three years ministry to.
But when he has a chance to see them again, he does not go to Ephesus to visit the church, but he calls for the elders to come visit him.
The group Paul is addressing is important to the context of Acts 20?
Acts 20:17 ESV
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
That word “elder” is the word “πρεσβύτερος.”
πρεσβύτερος may refer to person of advanced age, but in this context, it is a person with official responsibility and authority for something. (BDAG)
Paul is not summoning elders of the Jewish synagogue. He is calling for the elders of the “ ἐκκλησία” — elders of the church — God’s church.
And these elders have been made overseers, not by Paul, but by God, to care (or to shepherd) the church of God, which God obtained with his own blood! (Acts 20:28).
So these words of Paul are not directed to the whole church, but to these elders.
But they are words that are profitable and instructive for all of us — whether we are an elder, overseer or pastor of a church, or whether we are under the oversight of such elders, overseers or pastors.
Paul begins by reminding the Ephesians elders of the example he set for them (Acts 20:18-21). An example not in word only, but also in deed.
Paul lived among them. Paul served the Lord among them — with humility, tears, and trials.
Never hesitating to declare what was profitable to them.
Teaching and testifying to all, both Jew and Greek — of repentance toward God and of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But in verse 22, Paul begins the first of three statements that form the framework for his speech — what he wants to tell them and leave with them.
These three statements all begin with the words “And now,” drawing attention not only to the work of the past, but also to the circumstances of the present as he prepares them for the future.

I. Acts 20:22-24 “AND NOW...I am going to Jerusalem”

Acts 20:22 ESV
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
That word “behold” is a word meant to grab our attention. And certainly Paul wanted the Ephesian elders to pay attention to this point.
Paul says: “I am going to Jerusalem.”
On his second missionary journey Paul was met with resistance from the Holy Spirit preventing him from traveling into places he wanted to go, only to conclude through a dream that the Spirit was leading him to Macedonia.
But now Paul is traveling to Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit is not preventing him, but the Holy Spirit is constraining him.
“I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit.” (v.22)
The word “constrained” is the word that means “to be bound” or “to be tied” (BDAG).
The Spirit has bound Paul. And why does he say this?
In verse 22, he goes not to say he’s going to Jerusalem:
“not knowing what will happen to me there,
Acts 20:23 ESV
23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
The word “imprisonment” is the word for “bonds.”
Paul is “bound” by the Spirit, because the Spirit testifies that “bonds” await him in Jerusalem.
This is all that he knows. He does not know what will happen to him in Jerusalem, but he knows what kind of things will happen to him there.
Serving the Lord, being led by the Holy Spirit — even being constrained by the Holy Spirit — does not guarantee a knowledge of future events. Paul is not super-human. Paul is not God. Like us, Paul cannot see the future. We cannot know the future.
But the Holy Spirit does prepare Paul for what lies ahead.
God will prepare you for what he is preparing you for!
As Paul travels through these towns, somehow and in different ways, the Spirit makes known to Paul that in Jerusalem there will be bonds and persecution.
And so Paul is “bound by the Spirit” but not deterred.
And this acknowledgement leads to one of the great statements of personal testimony and conviction in the Bible:
Acts 20:24 ESV
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.
Circle the words “if only.”
Those words are a “marker of purpose” (LN/BDAG). They may be translated as “in order” or “so that” (LN).
In order for Paul to finish the mission and the ministry that the Lord gave to him, Paul must care more about God than about himself.
Paul must value God more than he values his own life and his own soul.
Paul reminds the church later in v.35, of what Jesus himself said, that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Paul’s life, ministry and mission was an example of giving.
We reflect this in our 2020 Focus: our first two steps are about Gathering, and our last two steps (Ministry and Mission) are about Giving.
The only thing that could stand in the way of Paul finishing what God called him to, is not the bonds, or the persecution, the trials or the plots of the Jews --- the only thing that can stand in Paul’s way is Paul himself.
So Paul does not place any value on his own life, but values more the mission, the ministry he has received from the Lord.
If we are concerned about finishing our lives well, then verse 24 is profitable for helping us place value in the right things — not in ourselves, but in the purposes of God.
Paul desires to finish his course. This is his race, his mission (LN).
And for him, his mission is also a ministry, a (διακονίαν) — not something he sought after himself, but a ministry he received from the Lord Jesus.
To the elders of the church, Paul teaches that they did not make themselves overseers, but the Holy Spirit did.
For us — the various callings, offices and ministries of God in His Church are not to be acquired. They are received.
They are at the disposal and direction of the Lord of the Church by His Holy Spirit.
And Paul’s mission is clear: he has received a mission by Jesus “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
This affirms what the Scriptures are teaching — Paul is what he is because of God’s grace.
The Ephesians are what they are because of God’s grace.
We are what we are because of God’s grace!
Paul was not deserving of being an apostle.
The elders are not deserving of being pastors and overseers.
We do not deserve what we have received — be it salvation or a ministry from God.
But this is our message — this is what we believe. This is what we stand upon: God is gracious.
And he calls us, and saves us, redeems us, and empowers us each by His grace.
What Paul has already alluded to, he now says directly with the second “And now” statement:

II. Acts 20:25-31 “AND NOW…none of you…will see my face again.”

Acts 20:25 ESV
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
This is the statement that informs all of Paul speech.
This is why he is saying what he is saying, to whom he is saying it to.
This statement will cause all of elders to weep intensely, and to be anxious and distressed.
Paul is going to Jerusalem, and they will not see him again.
Somehow Paul knows that the bonds and persecutions that await him in Jerusalem, will ultimately lead to his departure from this life. He has already said “I do not account my life of any value.”
And he subtly reminds them of his message — he has “gone about proclaiming the kingdom.”
His message about the kingdom of God brings hope to this life, because it is greater than this life!
It is not just a message about the here and now, but it is a message about our future together with God — the King of all kings — who rules and reigns over a kingdom that is not of this world.
And this causes anxiety to the point that they weep intensely.
Because the work that Paul has done for three years is being passed on to them. And you can imagine the weight of how that must feel — the responsibility to carry on such an important work of God.
It is the feeling that Solomon must have felt when he was established as king of Israel after his father David — king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth —- when pleaded with God not to give him possessions, wealth, the life of his enemies who hate him, or even a long life for himself — but he pleaded with God to give him wisdom and knowledge, to go out and come in before this great people (See 2 Chronicles 1:7-12).
So Paul begins to encourage them in a way, by helping transition their confidence from being in Paul, to the word Paul proclaimed among them. He draws attention to his message:
Acts 20:26–27 ESV
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 did not hold anything back from them. What Paul has received from the Lord, Paul has given to them — the “whole counsel of God.”
That word “counsel” is the word for “purpose” or “plan.” (BDAG/LN).
The purpose or plan of God was for Jesus to be delivered up, crucified, and raised from the dead so that all who repent and believe in his name will receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 2:22-39).
The gospel of Jesus is the whole counsel of God, that the scriptures testify to from beginning to end.
And Paul says “I’m innocent of the blood of all.”
This speaks to the seriousness of the message of the Gospel. The warning of the Gospel.
Paul has an obligation to warn the people of their sins and to call them to repent, or else he will be held responsible for them!
(Who wants to be a teacher now?)
In the prophet Ezekiel, God speaks of the responsibility of a watchman — teachers are like the watchmen —
Ezekiel 33:8–9 ESV
8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
Paul warned them all about the judgment for sin and the wrath of God. Paul did not preach a “sinless Gospel.”
He called out the bad for what it is — wickedness, evil and sin, and preached God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus’ name.
And having made these statements, Paul utters the first of two commands.
Acts 20:28 ESV
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.
To the elders, Paul says — “Pay careful attention” — be alert! Be on guard! Be always ready as a watchman!
This is the responsibility given to the guardians (BDAG) or overseers — the word here is “ ἐπίσκοπος.
We as a church, need to be reminded that the Holy Spirit appoints overseers to “care for the church of God.”
That word “care” is the word for “shepherd” or “pastor.” This is the role of shepherds, or pastors — to oversee, to protect God’s flock.
Why?
Because God has obtained, or taken possession once for all of his church by his own blood.
How did God do this? — By the cross.
At the cross, on which Jesus died, God once and for all took possession of his people — which is US — His church. He redeemed us from the curse of the law.
And he did this through substitutionary atonement — meaning Jesus took our place as a sinner, and by the shedding of his blood we are cleansed, forgiven, and made right with God.
If you ever want to know how valuable we are to God, how seriously God takes his church, how important it is that we have pastors and overseers to guard us — here it is!
We belong to God, and were obtained by His own blood. The blood of His Son — Jesus.
Not only does Paul know that he will not see see these Ephesian elders again, but he also says:
Acts 20:29–30 ESV
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.
The threat for the “church,” now called a “flock” is a threat from without and a threat from within — and the overseers are to always be on guard against both threats.
The threats from without are like wolves of a fierce nature, meaning they will be cruel (LN/BDAG). They will not spare the flock. They will cause trouble, without concern for the damage.
Pastors, overseers — have an obligation to guard against who comes in to the flock.
It is NOT contrary to the gospel for us to reject certain people from membership among us.
Membership in the church is not open for all people. Membership with Christ is open for all who will believe. And all in Christ are members of His church. The way to join a Church is through Christ.
And as a pastor, I have a responsibility to make sure those who come forward to join with us, and are among us, belong to Christ.
The threats from without are often easier to recognize.
But the more dangerous threats may be those that spring up from within. And Paul warns against dangers from within!
These threats come in the form of twisted (or crooked) teachings that draw NOT PEOPLE — but draw DISCIPLES away after them.
Even the flock, as disciples, we must be vigilant, like the Bereans of Acts 17:11, to confirm that the teaching received is the truth by searching the Scriptures for ourselves!
Pastors, overseers — must be able to recognize and defend the church against false teachings. This is why in 1 Timothy 3 Paul will place a requirement on overseers that they not be a recent convert and they must be “able to teach” (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7).
A person may meet most of the qualifications of an overseer, but if they can’t teach — they can’t be an overseer of the church. Because an overseer must be able to guard and respond against false teachings by teaching truth.
Local churches that fail, fail in the role of biblical oversight.
They place people in positions of teaching, or on committees or boards that are not accountable to Scriptural standards.
And they elect people to have authority in a church without thought to the appointing of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s charge for those leaders to protect the flock from false teachings or outside attacks.
This is why Hebrews 13 says of leaders:
Hebrews 13:7 ESV
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
and
Hebrews 13:17–18 ESV
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
Paul concludes his speech with the third and last “And now” statement —
Knowing that he is going to Jerusalem, knowing that he will not see their face again — he says,

III. Acts 20:32 “AND NOW…I commend you to God and to the word of his grace”

Acts 20:32 ESV
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.
That word “commend” is the word “entrust.”
The elders, who are overseers, who are pastors keep the flock safe.
But who keeps the overseers safe? — The answer is God.
Paul entrusts them to God, and entrusting them to God he entrusts them to the word of God’s grace.
And this word is able, it is capable, it has the power to build them up, and give them the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
What is that inheritance? The promised kingdom of God and the presence of its King.
The word of God is powerful — and so the overseers of the church must be ministers of the word.

Conclusion

We will never be able to complete all the work of ministry there is to be completed, but by God’s grace we will complete all the work the Lord gives us to complete.
The Church of Christ was always meant to be built, protected and sustained by only one person — God Himself — who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But Christ never appointed only one representative to do all that work of ministry in the church for all of time.
The Spirit appoints elders, overseers, pastors — to guard, protect and shepherd what is so precious to God — WE - His church.
And we believe that in Christ, all of us are priests. All of us have a gift of the Spirit. All of us has a place in the body of Christ.
May God guide us all into the ministry and mission He has for each one of us.
And May God build us all up by his grace until we see Jesus face to face.
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