Acts 20:20-24

Sunday Morning Bible Study

September 6, 1998

Introduction

Paul is on his way back to Jerusalem and heís on a strict time schedule. Instead of taking the risk of stopping in Ephesus and getting caught up in visiting all the people that would want to see him, heís asked the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, where's he gives this "farewell address."

This group of elders is from the church that is probably dearest to Paul's heart. He's spent more time with the Ephesians than anybody else. And he has this sense that he's on his way to his death. He expects to never see them again. This is going to be an important message.

We saw last week how Paul began his address by reminding these men of the manner of his ministry: being a servant of the Lord, humility, tears, and trials.

:20-21 The content of Paulís message

:20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you

kept back Ė hupostello Ė to draw back; to not talk about something because of fear.

Paul was not afraid to tell the people what they needed to hear. He wasnít afraid of their responses or losing them as his friends.

Lesson:

Donít hold back the good stuff.

Sometimes the good stuff is sweet.

(Eph 4:29 NLT) Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Sometimes the good stuff is a little bitter.

(Prov 27:6 KJV) Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Sometimes we need someone who will be a good enough friend to share something weíve been blind to, even if it hurts us.

Illustration

I heard Howard Hendricks tell a story about a young seminary student who was being mentored by an older Christian businessman in the community. One day the man called the student into his office and said, "Son, Iím the president of 14 corporations, have been in the business world for 61 years, and you are the most self-centered person I have ever met." Do you think he had his attention? Two years later that student had already been placed in a church that had grown to love his ministry, and he would say it all started in a businessmanís office. A man who cared enough to tell him that he was a self-centered individual, and that he was only in the ministry for what he could get out of it.

Paul would write to the Ephesians again later on and remind them,

(Eph 4:14-15 NIV) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. {15} Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Speaking the truth, in love, is the key to growing up.

:21 repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus

We have a brief summary of what the gospel is all about. This is the most important thing you could be taking the time to tell people.

Repentance means a change of mind, a change of direction.

Repentance requires that you change your mind and realize that youíre going in the wrong direction.

Repentance requires that you change your mind about your sin, realize that youíre a sinner like the rest of us, and that your sin has separated you from God.

Repentance requires that you turn the direction of your life around and start heading towards God.

Faith towards the Lord Jesus means that you are willing to trust in Him. Youíre willing to count on Him.

Faith requires that you understand that Jesus is someone worth counting on.

Faith requires that you understand that Jesus has paid the price of your sin, and has died on the cross in your place.

Faith requires that you are willing to trust Jesus to pay the penalty for your sins, and that you are no longer trusting in your own ability to be "good enough for God."

Faith requires that you are willing to surrender your life to Jesus, and allow Him to be the Lord of your life.

Illustration

The great tightrope walker has stretched a cable across Niagra Falls. As the crowd begins to gather, he carefully makes his way from one side to the next. The crowd is asked if they think he can ride a bicycle across. They shout "Yes!" as he rides back across the falls. Next they are asked if they think he can push a wheelbarrow across. They all shout "Yes!". A man is singled out. "Will you get in the wheelbarrow?"

Trusting Jesus for salvation isnít just about sitting on the sidelines cheering for religion. Itís getting in the wheelbarrow. Itís believing that Jesus can take you across the gap between man and God. Itís trusting that Jesus will take you to heaven.

:22-24 Paulís determination

:22 I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem

Paul has somehow been convinced that he MUST go to Jerusalem. Almost as if the Holy Spirit has a chain around him and is pulling him to Jerusalem.

:23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city Ö

Apparently when Paul would go from city to city, there was a word of prophecy that came, telling of the hard times that were ahead of Paul. Weíll see an example of this later as he gets closer to Jerusalem through a prophet named Agabus (Acts 21:10-14)

Lesson:

Discernment and prophecy.

We are instructed to not just simply accept every "prophecy", but to judge to see if they are from the Lord or not (1Cor.14:29).

(1 Th 5:20-21 KJV) Despise not prophesyings. {21} Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Paul has apparently already decided that this prophecy concerning his future is from the Holy Spirit.

How would Paul know whether or not these things were true?

1. Scripture.

One important method is to see if the thing squares with Scripture.

But on personal things like this, there may not be a specific Scripture, though being persecution is certainly Biblical.

Incidental Note: Sometimes we have tended to reject any kind of prophecy that is negative, claiming, God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7)

The idea is that all negative kinds of prophecies make you fearful, and so are to be rejected. Yet here in Paulís case, though this prophecy is negative, it apparently hasnít gone very far in making Paul fearful. Others are fearful for him, and will beg him not to go, but Paul is no longer fearful at this point.

2. Discernment

It might have been through his own sense of discernment, a sense of just knowing that they were true. But discernment isnít always true.

1Ki.13 - The story of the prophet that was deceived by the older prophet to come and stay for awhile, and ended up killed by a lion.

3. Confirmation

It could be related to the fact that he received the same message in each city. But just because more than one person says it doesnít make it true.

1Ki.22 - The story of Ahab going to battle at Ramoth-Gilead. All the prophets were saying it was going to be fine. They were all wrong.

4. Fulfillment

The ultimate test is whether or not they would come true.

(Deu 18:21-22 KJV) And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? {22} When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

And indeed, when Paul gets to Jerusalem, he will find himself in the middle of another riot, arrested, and thrown into prison.

Yet even fulfillment isnít by itself proof positive that somethingís from the Lord. God warns His people that there may be times when He allows someone who is clearly leading people astray to prophesy correctly (Deut. 13:1-3), as a way of testing to see if His people will stick to following Him over other gods.

:24 neither count I my life dear unto myself

dear Ė timios Ė as of great price, precious; held in honour, esteemed, especially dear

Paulís secret to finishing his course was to not allow something to be too dear to himself. If you have something dear to you, then youíre vulnerable.

Lesson:

Where are you vulnerable?

Health. For some, theyíll follow Jesus as long as He keeps them healthy.

Illustration

At this yearís Pastorsí Conference, Don McClure, pastor of Calvary Chapel San Jose, spoke on Acts 20:24. Don shared some of his personal experience to what it meant not to count his life dear. Earlier in the year he suffered a minor stroke while on the treadmill. At the time it happened, he didnít realize he had had a stroke. But over the next few days, blood started collecting in one eye, his vision started blurring, and when he went to the doctor, the doctor informed him of the stroke. His wife went with him to the doctorís office, and started asking the doctor questions. "Is he going to get any better?" she asked. "No" replied the doctor, "Heís not going to get any better." "Isnít there some kind of operation that you could perform to make his vision get better?" "No" replied the doctor, "Heís not going to get any better." "Well" replied Jean, "Iím sure that if we make changes to his diet and watch his health that surely heís going to get better!" The doctor didnít seem impressed with Jeanís medical expertise and just replied, "No, heís not going to get any better."

As Don sat there listening to his wife and the doctor, he kind of drifted a little and had this picture in his mind of he and Jesus walking down a road together. What a great time his life had been, walking with Jesus. Suddenly they came to a path that branched off to the side and a door with a sign on the top of it. The sign on the door said, "Not going to get any better." Jesus opened the door and started to go through it, but turned and said to Don, "Hey, why donít we go down this path together?" "Sure, Lord, Iíd love to follow You" said Don as he followed Jesus through the door.

The point is this. Is there a door on the path of your life that you refuse to go through with Jesus? Is there something in your life where you say, "Iíll follow You Jesus, as long as you donít go there!" What if Jesus opens it up and decides to go through it? Will you stay with Jesus and follow Him through the door?

Jesus said,

John 12:25-26 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. {26} If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

Family. For some people, the thing they love most of all is their family.

Donít get me wrong. God wants your family to be a priority. Donít misunderstand me here and go leave your wife and kids to be on the mission field. But thereís a sense in which nothing should be greater in your life than following Jesus.

(Mat 10:37-39 KJV) He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. {38} And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. {39} He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Are you willing to go against what the family wants if it means staying close to Jesus? Would you stop following Jesus if your family went through a crisis?

Money. For some, theyíll follow Jesus as long as theyíre doing okay financially.

I received this yesterday in my e-mail from a pastor in Moscow, where prices have tripled in the last few days:

Ö I am in my seventh year and was here during the attempted coup in 1993. This is the worse I have seen it since I have been in Moscow. My wife is Russia and she and our Russian friends said that they haven't seen anything like this. There is great concern, great instability. If I can give you an example or perspective of something: Some of our fellowship went out shopping and they wanted to buy a slice of pizza. When one of our friends, a nurse, looked at the prices for a slice of pizza, she saw that the price for one slice of pizza was now equivalent to 1/6 of her total monthly salary and she hasn't been paid in over two months. When she gets paid she can buy two pizzas, if the prices don't go up!!! That's after three years in medical school. She said she almost cried. What is happening to my country. Some nurses now earn an average of $25 a month. Some doctors maybe $50. Some pensioners receive as little as $5 to $6 a month after 40 years of service to their country.

We ask for your prayers for the body of Christ here in Russia and throughout the world. Jesus alone is our hope. We pray that God would use this situation for His glory and those who do not know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior would turn to that blessed hope, our precious Lord. We would appreciate your prayers for God's will and His help as we humbly turn to Him. May God give us wisdom as we minister to His people and to those who He brings in our path. Thank you brothers.

God bless you, Love in Jesus, Allan Esses, CC Moscow

If this happened in America, and pizza cost $500 a slice, would you still follow Jesus? What if you were offered a job with some criminal group for a lot of money?

:24 so that I might finish my course with joy

finish Ė teleioo Ė to make perfect, complete; to carry through completely

Paul will write in a few years, just prior to his death: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7)

Lesson:

Finish your course.

We get tired in the race sometimes. To finish the race, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, who has set the example to follow:

Heb 12:1-3 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, {2} Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. {3} For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Jesus told a story of a Master who entrusted His wealth to his servants Ö

(Mat 25:19-21 NKJV) "After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. {20} "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' {21} "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

Thatís the prize weíre looking forward to. To look into Jesusí eyes, and have Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Illustration

An old missionary couple had been working in Africa for years and were returning to New York to retire. They had no pension; their health was broken; they were defeated, discouraged, and afraid. They discovered they were booked on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his big-game hunting expeditions. No one paid any attention to them. They watched the fanfare that accompanied the President's entourage, with passengers trying to catch a glimpse of the great man. As the ship moved across the ocean, the old missionary said to his wife, "Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us." "Dear, you shouldn't feel that way," his wife said. "I can't help it; it doesn't seem right." When the ship docked in New York, a band was waiting to greet the President. The mayor and other dignitaries were there. The papers were full of the President's arrival, but no one noticed this missionary couple.

They slipped off the ship and found a cheap flat on the East Side, hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city. That night the man's spirit broke. He said to his wife, "I can't take this; God is not treating us fairly." His wife replied, "Why don't you go in the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?" A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his face was completely different. His wife asked, "Dear, what happened?" "The Lord settled it with me," he said. "I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, 'But you're not home yet!'" -- Ray Stedman, Talking to My Father