Let us look at Paul's perspective on his own ministry. Many great men never finish what they begin. There are unfinished sculptures, unfinished paintings, unfinished books, unfinished symphonies etc. But life is cruel in that sense. For the ungodly, there is no guarantee that they will ever see the completion of what they dream to do.
But that is not so for the Christian. God gives the Christian the time he needs to finish the ministry God gives him. When God calls you, He will not only give you the spiritual gifts, He will not only open the doors, He will not only make the ministry possible, but He will give you the time to finish it. That is Paul’s testimony.
In Acts 20:22-23, “I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” Acts 20:24, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul knew that he had only a certain amount of time, and that in that time he would finish his ministry. He had that confidence, because he pursued it and he believed that God would allow him to accomplish it. God prescribes the limits of every man's life sovereignly. And if God calls you to a ministry, within that sovereign frame there is the possibility of accomplishment.
Now if a Christian does not accomplish his ministry, it's not a question of shortage of time, it's a question of failure on his part to make proper use of his time. Paul says twice, "Redeeming the time." Redeem means buy up time, and that's what Paul was doing, he wanted to maximize every moment. He didn't waste time. Paul then lived his life using up every moment so that he would finish his ministry.
Here are some thoughts about time. In Ecclesiastes the wisdom of man intersects with the wisdom of God periodically. Look at Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Just as much as God guides all the other factors of existence, He guides time in Ecclesiastes 3:2: A time to be born and a time to die.” The bounds of a man's life are sovereignly designed by God.
Ecclesiastes 3:17, “I said in my heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” God grants time for every work to be accomplished. In Acts 17:26, Paul preaching on Mars Hill said, “And God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times.”
In Acts 20, we watch the Apostle Paul as a man who is running against the clock as he finishes his ministry. Some say, you will never be able to finish the work. Why? Because so much more work needs to be done. But God didn't ask me to win everybody in the world. God just puts us in this little place here and said, this is your area, cover it.
When the Apostle Paul came to the end of his life, in 2 Timothy 4:6, he said, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” He said, Lord, I can die now. How did he know that he was going to die? Verse 7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He had a little grace time left at the end. He finished the course.
Let us look now at Acts 20:17, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.” Paul, on this third missionary journey is saying farewell to his beloved in the eastern Mediterranean area. The ship is stopping there for several days, and he has a chance to call the elders in Ephesus, which is about 30 miles away. These were his own disciples, he won those people to Christ and he founded that church.
And for three years he nurtured them, and taught them, and they grew and grew until he had a whole flock of mature Christians. And out of that flock rose those men who were called of God to lead. They were capable, mature elders or pastors. This is really the Biblical pattern for the church, you grow your own leadership. And Paul had done it there, and now he turned the church over to them to nurture it.
Now Paul’s speech, in verse 18 is the only speech in Acts that Paul made to Christians. All the rest of his messages are to unbelievers. This whole little passage here is like a combination of Paul. All of the little Pauline phrases all pop up in this passage. It's as if he just pulled together everything that he'd been writing and just put it all together. So here is the Apostle Paul communicating to believers.
Verse 18, “And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you.” He says that, from the first time that he came, you know how my ministry operated. So here, he may be defending himself against some people who have tried to undermine him. Or it may be that he is simply expressing a pattern for the ministry.
Let us look at verse 19, “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews.” Paul says, here are the four ways I view my ministry, for God I see it as service to Christ; for the church I see it as teaching; for the lost, I see it as evangelism; and toward myself, I see it as sacrifice.
Now let's look at the first one: for God. Paul saw his ministry as service to Christ. And we have to see ours as the same. Verse 19, the main words are, "Serving the Lord." In Acts 27:23, Paul says, “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve.” Paul viewed his ministry, primarily as service to Christ.
If your ministry focus is to be popular with people, you are wrong. Remember in Galatians 1, Paul came down heavy on them. The Judiazers accused Paul that the reason he didn't impose the law on them with circumcision, was that he wanted to be popular. So Paul answers that criticism in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”
Do I sound like a men pleaser when I curse those people? You have to choose in your ministry, whether you're going to serve God or people. Do what is right and let God take care of the consequences. Whatever it is, render it to Jesus Christ, and you should consider that obligation as if Christ was standing in the room, for Jesus Christ Himself is really there, and we represent Him.
But it is not only just in what you do in the church and what you do in terms of your active ministry. Look at Ephesians 6:5, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ.” You should work at your job as if you were working for Jesus Christ Himself.
God says that you ought to serve whoever your master is, even if he is not a Christian, as if they were Jesus Christ Himself. That is your obligation as a Christian. Everything you do from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep at night is service to Jesus Christ. There is no secular and sacred division.
You say, but I'm not in the ministry, I just am a mechanic. That is service to Christ. Our service is no less personal than if Jesus Himself were our employer, and remember, I serve Him, not men. I'm not making the effort in my ministry, to say what everybody wants to hear. Many things are avoided because people don't want to offend the guy who gives the most money.
In the ministry, as a servant of Jesus Christ it is a matter of responsibility. But, the highest responsibility is the responsibility of teaching. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” When I prepare a sermon, my thought is, will God be pleased, not will the people like it.
Now such service to Christ is rendered with two things. Verse 19, "Serving the Lord with all humility.” It is one thing to be a servant, it's something else to have the spirit of a servant. Serving the Lord is to be done with all lowliness, and this is a high calling, and this is something you enjoy doing, the spirit of a servant. Not just service, but in the spirit of service, in humility.
In 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, Paul says, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God. 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The only reason we have the capacity to do anything is because of Him.
But there is a second thing in verse 19, “with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews.” Serving the Lord involved humility and also, suffering. The suffering servant Jesus of Isaiah 53 is the perfect example. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”
So all that will live godly in this present age are going to suffer persecution. There are two areas that the suffering comes from. In verse 19, "With many tears," that's inside suffering, "And trials," that's outside suffering. Paul shed many tears. Why? Because it pained him when God was dishonored, he grieved when he saw those things in the world.
Three things made Paul cry: One, because people were lost. Romans 9:2-3 says, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.” He says, I wish to be cursed myself if Israel could get saved.
Secondly, he cried over carnal Christians. 2 Corinthians 2:4 says, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.” I wrote crying because of your carnality and your inconsistencies.
Thirdly, he cried about false teachers, because they undermine God's work. In Acts 20:31 he says, “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Philippians 3:18, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.”
There is also suffering from the outside in Acts 20, the Jews plotted to kill him. It was at this time of his life, that he wrote 1 Corinthians 15:30 where he makes reference to some of the problems. He says, "Why stand we in jeopardy every hour." And then the next verse, "I die daily." The Jews continually plotted to kill him, they saw him as a heretic, as a threat to their religion.
Suffering is just a part of living a holy life in an unholy world. You could gage your Christian effectiveness by the waves you make. And if there are no waves, you probably are not affective. There should be some reaction by the ungodly system against you. God looks at your priority of serving Christ and your humility and a willingness to suffer.
The second thing that Paul emphasized in the ministry toward the church was teaching. Acts 20: 20, "And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you and have taught you publicly and from house to house." His ministry, toward God was service, toward the church it is teaching. He says in verse 20, "I kept back nothing that was profitable." Paul did not avoid anything even if it might offend somebody.
What part of Scripture is profitable? 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” David says in Psalm 40:10, “I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth From the great assembly.”
Ezekiel 33:7-8, “son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.”
The implication there is that the Christian minister is responsible to communicate the truth of God or stand in the place of chastisement for not doing it. And if that individual dies in his sins, then it may be that you shall suffer some chastisement for a failure to communicate. So you are going to be punished for failure to minister to that person.
Notice the two ways he taught: publicly in the synagogue and two years in the house of Tyrannus. Paul knew that it was one thing to teach it, but it was another thing to teach in a home Bible study to a family, to apply spiritual truth. Christian ministry is public, but you ought to be able to bring that down to somebody's house and somebody's life, and make it work.
Paul went from house to house because he really cared, he was involved, and his ministry was something that you could test in your life based on these truths, and it would work. Our obligation toward God is to serve Him. My obligation toward the church is to teach the people in the church, whether it's done publicly or privately, to reinforce that teaching and to make it livable in our daily lives. Let us pray.