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9/18/21 Great Expectations

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Summary: Having warned the elders of the Ephesian church about false teachers Paul also provides some final words of encouragement not the least of which is our everlasting inheritance.

OLActs20-Great Expectations
Series: Acts: We’re on a Mission from God
Message: Great Expectations
Text: Acts 20:32-38
Date: June 27, 2021
Big Idea: The Bible talks about there being an inheritance for believers but what exactly does that mean?
It was Dr. Seuss who said, “Don’t cry because it’s over smile because it happened.”
Background: Paul had called an Elder Board meeting for the church in Ephesus to meet in Miletus with the primary goal of warning them about wolves, false teachers, but it’s not all business. Weeping results in his announcement that they’ll not see each other again until heaven. Losing Paul must’ve felt like a gut punch, he’s irreplaceable. However, Paul has some final words of consolation and encouragement for them that will encourage us as well.
ACTS 20:32-38
And now I commend (NASB=entrust) 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.
INTRO: Losing Paul after three years must’ve felt like a “what in the world are we going to do now” moment?” to the elder board of the Ephesian church. In the church world we’d describe Paul as “irreplaceable”. He’s an apostle, a spiritual MVP. How can we possibly move on? Perhaps some had presumed he’d be there forever. They may also be having an “OMG moment” with the realization that all of the arrows and blows he’s taken on their behalf will now directed at them. It’s going to be their turn to lead and protect. He commissions them with the following:
v.32 I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified (20:32).
But what exactly does that mean? To our 21st century ears it sounds a bit like religious jargon or Christianese doesn’t it? Christianese is “in-house” vernacular that insiders of a church may know, but can be confusing to outsiders. Not that you should, but if you’ve ever seen the Simpsons there’s a character named Ned Flanders who’s somewhat infamous for speaking in Christianese, i.e., “Hiya hallelujah howdy neighbor”. Every church has some insider language and/or traditions that can seem confusing to others.
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Examples of Christianese
ILLUS: “Pass the peace”. I was once at a thanksgiving service being held at a Presbyterian church and the pastor suddenly said, “Ok, at this time we’ll pass the peace”. I was actually a part of the service order and I had no idea what that meant. I have Baptist roots and the only thing we ever pass is an offering plate. Turns out it was their way of saying “meet and greet”, i.e. turn around and say hello to someone and make peace with any enemies while you’re at it.
Have you ever noticed that it seems like every church has a different name for Bible studies? “Small Group”, “Home Group”, “Life Group”, “Missional Community Group”, “Life Transformation Group”, “Connect group”, etc. It’s insider language that. Likewise, there’s simply things about church that it seems that everyone else knows and understands, unless you’re a member.
JOKE: A little boy was observing a plaque in the church lobby with names and dates. He asked his Sunday school teacher who they were. She explained that they were the names of the church members who’d died while in the service. His eyes got big and he asked which one, the 8:30 or 10.
Languages are always morphing and by today’s standards Acts 20:32 may seem a little ambiguous. However, it’s very important that we internalize what Paul is conveying here and unpack the significance of this verse because it applies to us as well.
Remember the backdrop, they’re weeping because Paul is leaving without plans of ever returning. As an elder, these are some big shoes to fill. Without doubt they’re probably also concerned about their own spiritual welfare and future.
Paul consoles and encourages them with three things from this one keystone verse:
1-They are in God’s care.
I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified (20:32).
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 (Acts 20:28).
NIV: Commit. NASB/NLT: Entrust. The Message: Now I'm turning you over to God.
The Great Shepherd, Jesus, will protect the sheep, the church, from wolves.
ILLUS: Shepherding is a full-time commitment. Sheep are helpless to defend themselves against attack from wolves. Their only defense is the shepherd. They also have to be continually cared for. Sheep must be led to green grass but the shepherd also has to prevent them from over-grazing and becoming obese. Sheep need water and shepherds know the location of streams, rivers, ponds, and wells. Basically, being a shepherd is a full-time job. They were always thinking about the sheep and God is always thinking about you.
Jesus is the Great Shepherd. God loves His sheep. He loves His church. He loves you.
He also uses His under-shepherds, pastors and elders, to facilitate practical and spiritual care for the sheep. One of the advantages of being involved in a local church is it’s a part of God’s plan to provide you with a covering, i.e., protection and care. Maybe you’re new to the Valley and feeling alone or perhaps you’re a single or were recently widowed. One of the very best things you can do is to get involved in a local bible believing church. Among other things, it’s one of the ways in which God will provide protection and care for you.
“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.” (Acts 20:28)
The elders have an important role to play for which they’ll be accountable to Jesus for. Due to the influence of corporate America and the fact that most churches are 501c3s, many elder boards simultaneously serve as a board of directors which sometimes results in some confusion. Financial decisions have to be made, but predominantly an elder’s role is focused on the spiritual welfare of the sheep not the color of the carpet.
In the beach scene recorded in John 21, Jesus tells Peter to love the sheep. A part of the role of Elders is to physically, spiritually and theologically protect the church. God protects them and all of His church, but he uses elders, pastors, and leaders to aid in providing this protection.
Paul is saying, I’m not leaving you defenseless nor leaderless. I’m entrusting you to God’s care which includes the elders. You’ll notice that Paul takes this role very seriously in his instructions to Timothy and Titus about elders.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Heb. 13:17 NIV)
So, God is going to care for you. He’s also going to use the elders, and leaders to care for the church as under-shepherds.
2-“The Word of His grace” will build you.
I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified (20:32).
“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.” (20:24)
The “Word of His grace” = the gospel. There was once a church in Mesa that was named “word of grace”.
Paul is a church planter, a builder. Here he’s saying that the word of grace, the gospel, will build you.
Twice in this speech to the Ephesian elders he’s referred to the gospel as a message of grace. What’s he saying? Simply put, he saying that the gospel builds a church. It’s built spiritually, and even numerically through the proclamation of the gospel.
Ever wonder what exactly does the word evangelical mean? Seeing what was happening with how the church in Europe, most notably Germany, had forsaken essential Christian doctrine in the early 20th century, church leaders in the United States had become understandably concerned. They were concerned that just because a building had church in its name didn’t necessarily mean that they believed in the deity of Jesus or the authority of the Bible. So, to clarify that they believed in essential Christian doctrine, they came up with a new name-Fundamentalists.
They used this name, Fundamentalists, to communicate that they believed in the fundamentals of the faith, i.e., essential Christian doctrine. However, by the 1970s this term had become synonymous with legalism.
Humorous Examples of Legalism:
-Couldn’t have a tv unless it was black and white and only used for watching the news and Gunsmoke.
-The only secular music you could only listen to was Bach and Beethoven but nothing from that commie Tchaikovsky.
-Couldn’t buy anything on Sunday unless it was ice cream, praise the Lord.
So, once again, American pastors were looking for a new name to communicate that they believed in essential Christian doctrine, i.e., the fundamentals of the faith, but weren’t legalists. That name was evangelical.
Evangelical: emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion and the authority of Scripture.
Let’s be clear, Gospel proclaiming churches, evangelical churches, are not perfect. However, being proactive in sharing the gospel has the two-fold effect of helping to inoculate them from deception by the wolves (c.f., 20:29) and from mission drift.
The founders of any organization are typically very zealous and crystal clear about their mission and the purpose. Founders prioritize that mission, they get up and go to bed focused on that mission, but eventually there’s a transfer of leadership and generally that’s when an organization is most prone to experience mission drift. Generally, however, it’s a slow gradual drift.
-Harvard University, founded in 1636, originally only employed Christian professors. Their focus was on fulfilling the stated mission of instructing students to “know God and Jesus Christ.”
But today this school has no ties to its Christian roots.
Due to their biblical view of marriage, in 2018 an evangelical para church ministry Harvard College Faith and Action was placed on “administrative probation”.
In 1987 the president of the university acknowledged the school had strayed far from its original mission, becoming a completely secular university, with no option of turning back.
-Howard Pew (Pew Charitable Trusts and its subsidiary “sub sid ee airy” Pew Research Center) and his family were strong Christians. The Pew family made a lot of money in the oil business. Like many who experience financial success they set up a foundation that ultimately became the Pew Charitable Trusts. Howard Pew wanted to financially resource organizations that were faithful to the Gospel (e.g. Billy Graham Evangelical Assoc.), but after the founder died in 1971, the foundation slowly but surely drifted from the purpose of his foundation. Today, for example, they fund organizations such as Planned Parenthood, that Howard Pew would never have approved.
-The YMCA, which stands for Young Man’s Christian Association was founded by George Williams as a Bible study for displaced men, a half-way house, in London, England. The core of this group was centered on providing temporary housing and training for the body, spirit, and mind with a focus on showing sportsmanship in sports Generally, a stipulation was attending bible study. They actually ended up training and commissioning over 20,000 missionaries. But as the organization grew and expanded to other countries, the focus became all about health and fitness with no reference to Christ. In 2010, the organization officially dropped three of its four letters to become simply The Y, removing any remaining ties to its Christian roots. Point being, they are no longer fulfilling their original mission.
-Chick Fil A’s found Truett Cathy was a Christian business man. I actually heard him speak at chapel when I was at Liberty. He was a devout Southern Baptist who was known for requiring all franchises to be closed on Sunday. However, he passed away and in November 2019, his son Dan Cathy announced that Chick Fil A would no longer support the Salvation Army nor FCA. As they continue to bow to political and cultural peer pressure, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Sunday is a work day.
This mission drift, of course, has happened to churches and entire denominations.
In their book entitled Mission Drift, the authors, Peter Greer and Chris Horst reveal the importance of organizations staying on track with their mission and coined a term, “mission true”, to reflect this.
“Mission True organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all costs. They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable: their values and purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.” – Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer & Chris Horst
Staying committed to the gospel protects from mission drift.
A purpose driven church is a church that’s focused on the gospel. So easily, we can lose sight of this. The mission of the church is given by Jesus.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Mt. 28:19-20)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
(Acts 1:8)
Being a “word of grace” church, i.e., a gospel focused and gospel proclaiming church will not only protect you, but it will mature you. A church that prioritizes the gospel is generally a spiritually healthy church because its purpose driven for the right purpose which protects from mission drift.
Bottom line: The elders, the church’s leaders need to be aware that the pressures for mission drift are strong, but the word of grace, the gospel, will protect. Why? It keeps the main thing the main thing. It reminds you of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
God will continue to protect, the gospel will build, grow, mature and protect the sheep. Caring for one another and staying focused on the gospel will at times require some spiritual and physical elbow grease. Finally, and almost in passing, Paul makes reference to an inheritance.
3-You have an inheritance.
I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified (20:32).
In Him we have obtained an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11).
In 19th century England, the term “expectations” was sometimes synonymously used as a more discreet way to refer to an inheritance. The novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens reflects this in its title because the main character Pip, had the prospect of an inheritance, thus the title, Great Expectations.
People inherit money, land, property, businesses, and other things.
ILLUS: Strange Inheritance is a television documentary type series hosted by Jamie Colby which airs on the Fox Business Network. The series examines unusual inheritances and the stories behind them.
-Solomon Warner passed away in 1899, he left behind a wooden trunk, which eventually passed through his descendants. Inside that trunk was something that must've seemed pretty mundane to Warner himself: A pair of 44-37 Levi's jeans made in 1893, according to the New York Post. Currently in the possession of Warner's great-great-grandson, Jock Taylor, those jeans are now thought to be the oldest unworn pair of Levi's on the planet. As of 2017, Levi's offered Taylor $50,000
-Jerry Williams inherited a box of Arrowheads. He held on to it for ten years but eventually discovered that they were valued at $400k.
What kind of an inheritance can we expect?
-Everlasting life (Jn. 3:16)
-New family (Jn. 1:12-13, 2 Cor. 6:18) / illus. Ben Hur
-New body (Phil. 3:20)
-New residence (Jn. 14:2)
-The new earth (Mt. 5:5)
-A promotion (2 Tim. 2:11-12, Rev. 20:6)
New Role
Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him. (2 Tim. 2:11-12 NIV)
Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth: Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with Him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6)
Forever: There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:5, cf. Rev. 21:1)
To those who are victorious and do the Lord’s will to the end, Jesus will give authority over the nations during this time.
In the same way the children of entrepreneurs inherit a business, like Chic Fil-A or Pew Charitable Trusts, a facet of our inheritance will include ruling and reigning with Jesus. We’ll have authority over something and/or someone as part of our reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Well, first of all, reign over who or what exactly? The answer is we don’t know for certain what the entirety of this means. However, here’s what we do know:
-Garden of Eden. At the very least it will be similar to the Garden of Eden, and so we can expect that we’ll once again, to some degree, we’ll have dominion over portions of the earth as well as the animal kingdom.
-Creatures? Perhaps in the new heavens and earth there will be new creature a la Chronicles of Narnia.
-Residents/People. Possibly believers who were born again but never used any of their gifts, talents, or life for Jesus.
Randy Alcorn says,
“Who will we rule? Other people. Angels. If God wishes, he may create new beings for us to rule. Who will rule over us? Other people. There will be a social hierarchy of government, but there’s no indication of a relational hierarchy. In other words, the apostle Paul will be in a position of greater leadership than most of us, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be inaccessible. There will be no pride, envy, boasting, or anything sin-related. Our differences will be a manifestation of God’s creativity. As we’re different in race, nationality, gender, personality, gifting, and passions, so we’ll be different in positions of service.” – Randy Alcorn
Maybe you’re thinking that serving under someone in heaven doesn’t really sound like heaven? Perhaps this is why it’s so important that we learn to serve one another in the here and now. That’s what Jesus did.
But, let me put your mind at some ease. For starters remember it is heaven. Thus, there’s no sinful ulterior motives. It’s heaven, not payback time.
Think of it this way:
ILLUS: Remember how there were often favorite teachers in school? Have you ever noticed that every company has bosses, supervisors, coaches, that people actually want to work for? I remember at MCI there were always several managers that had waiting lists of employees who wanted to be on their team. Why? The managers were good people. They were kind, reasonable, good natured, and even seemed to care about their employees.
MT 25: The Bible reveals in passages such as the parable of the talents (Mt. 25), that we will not all be given the same authority in God’s kingdom. The extent of the authority given to us is determined by our faithfulness here on earth. Specifically, the life we live here on earth will determine how much authority we are given to manage in the next life.
But you may be thinking, but God did not create us all with the same abilities nor does everyone receive the same opportunities to serve Him. You’re right. God knows this about us all. The parable of the talents in Mt. 25 affirms this. One worker was given five talents, one two, and one only one. God knows this. He’s the one who has given you your talents and opportunities. He only holds us accountable for what He has given to us to steward. To him or her to whom more is entrusted, such as the elders of the Ephesian church, much more will be expected.
I know what you’re probably thinking…
So how can we be better stewards?
1-Learn to Serve with Humility
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility“ (Acts 20:18b-19a)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24)
ILLUS: Mrs. Zebedee. Matthew 20 records a scene in which the mother of James and John, Mrs. Zebedee, approaches Jesus with a special request. She asks for one James to sit on one side of His throne and for John to be on the other side of Jesus. I imagine that the other disciples must’ve been rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.
However, to her credit, she at least knows that Jesus is God and will rule and reign and that her sons will in some degree reign with Him.
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus (Mt. 20:26-28)
Darryl DelHousaye used to say, “everyone says they just want to serve God, that is until they start getting treated like a servant.”
This is why I have no reservations about asking someone to volunteer, because it too may provide an opportunity for them to serve. Now, there’s no guilt trip here. Everyone is in a different stage of life. You may be working two jobs to make ends meet-that’s your service. Or perhaps you’re serving as a caretaker to your spouse. That’s your ministry. There could be a health issue limiting your ability to serve and volunteer; I get it. I was once in a stage of life where it was all I could do just to get to church, much less serve.
-Prayer is a service
-Worship services are called services because someone rehearsed, cut on the lights, vacuumed the floors, etc.
Maybe you’d like to serve but don’t know where or how to begin.
-Schedule and lifestyle permitting, please pick up one of our volunteer surveys and we’ll gladly follow up with you.
-You can also go to our website and click on the serve tab to learn about opportunities not only at the church but with other ministries.
So, what can we do to better prepare for reigning in God’s Kingdom?
Serve with humility in whatever capacity and context you can. Secondly,
2-Practice Giving
Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Do you really believe that?
I know that over the years some churches and ministries have created somewhat of a bad reputation about giving but I personally have no reservations about taking an offering. I’ll tell you why. For starters, you’re funding the most important cause on the earth. There’s a solution to the sin virus-Jesus. Giving to a local church that believes in this, the gospel, is supporting our purpose and calling as agents and distributors of grace. The local church is plan A for the implementation of the Great Commission. Secondly, I have no reservations in taking an offering because I’m facilitating an opportunity for people to make an everlasting investment that will follow them, i.e., pay interest, through all eternity.
“A cup of water given in My name has a reward”. You cant take it with you yet to some degree you can send it ahead.
It’s a paradigm shift but let me encourage you to begin seeing your money as God’s money and that you’re simply the caretaker of it.
It’s important to keep this perspective.
Our citizenship is in heaven but we can easily become so attached to this world we can end up living for the wrong kingdom. So, invest in the right kingdom.
Ever heard of Conrad Hilton? He’s the founder of Hilton Hotels. Maybe you’ve heard of his great granddaughter, Paris Hilton, who is described as an heiress, meaning that without doing anything aside from being born she received a large fortune. In a similar, but much better fashion, at the moment you were born again, you received an everlasting inheritance. Just by being born, born again, you’ve come into a huge and immeasurable inheritance. You didn’t do anything to earn it. Jesus did all work.
Many of you are probably familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9 but let’s look at the verses that precede it.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10)
First and foremost, our inheritance includes being adopted into the family of God by having our sins forgiven. This is why Paul says,
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people (Ephesians 1:18)
When it comes to heaven, God’s kingdom, the new heaven and new earth, some people mistakenly believe it to be a phantom like existence. The Bible portrays heaven in very tangible earthly ways. It will be even more real than the life we’re living now. And this life is prepping us for eternity. Make the most of it and take in all you can by applying the teachings of Jesus to your life.
For some of you perhaps a course correction or recalibration is needed.
-Stay gospel centered
-As you’re able, serve and volunteer.
-Ask God to show you how.
-Be mindful of how you steward your income by making sure that at the very least you’re resourcing the Great Commission.
If you’re a Christian, you’re an heir! You have an inheritance! Whatever it is, it will be amazing, exceedingly abundantly above and beyond all you could ever ask or think.
If you’re not yet an heir you can become one. Like others who inherit great wealth without doing anything to obtain the wealth, Jesus has already paid for your sins. All you need to do is to acknowledge that you’re a sinner and ask Him to forgive you and save you.
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