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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Church Power-Point


"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…" Acts 20:32

We’re back in Acts but ‘we’ are leaving Troas.  That’s how verse 13 begins – ‘we’.  That ‘we’ means the Paul party which includes Luke, the author of this Acts account.  In Troas, we saw Eutychus who was, literally, falling to sleep!  And we saw the miracle of restored life through the power of Christ.


Luke records a lovely detail in verse 13.  He and most of the others travelled from Troas to Assos by ship.  These two places were either side of a headland, so the ship would have travelled a sort of semi-circular route between the two towns.  The distance overland would have been shorter, and Paul went to Assos ‘on foot’.  There are so many things in the life of Paul that I look at and go ‘Lord, I’m gonna struggle with that’.  But putting all the other Christians on a boat while I go for a walk – ‘Yes, Lord, I can do it – just don’t let me do it too often!’  So, why did Paul do it?  We don’t know for certain.


What we do know is that he was heading to Jerusalem with money for the impoverished believers there.  He had a longer sea voyage ahead of him.  Perhaps he felt the need to stretch his legs.  Or, more possibly, considering that he had just led an all-night marathon ministry session in Troas, perhaps he needed to un-stretch his mind.  After all, Paul was as human as we are.  Like us, his capacity was limited.


Paul was also time limited.  We see this in verses 16-17, where Paul had reached Miletus.  He wants to give a final, farewell address to the church elders from Ephesus, but he knows that if he goes there, he will be distracted from his main mission of reaching Jerusalem quickly.  What does he do?  He asks others to assist him by going the distance themselves.  Someone would’ve had to travel the 40-50 miles to Ephesus to deliver Paul’s invite, and then the elders would’ve had to travel back to Miletus.  This would’ve freed Paul up a bit, probably for at least four days.  It appears that someone went willingly and that those elders came willingly – to Paul’s 3M Conference.  What’s the 3M Conference?  It’s the Miletus Ministers’ Meet-up!


You may be thinking, ‘I’ve never heard of that’.  That’s because it was unique.  It never happened before or since.  And there’s something else unique here.  We have a lot of Paul talk in Acts, particularly when he speaks about Jesus to unbelievers.  But we never have the record of words that Paul spoke just to believers and at length – apart from here in verses 18-35.


Luke was evidently there, so could either have written down what Paul said, or maybe he borrowed Paul’s PowerPoint presentation afterwards!  Actually, this is important.  This was a Power Point presentation.  What do I mean?  Well, I’ll explain. Paul is about to talk about details from his own life.  He begins (v.18) with, ‘You know how I lived…’  He is willing to have his life scrutinised by others.  But not because he wants them to observe his own awesomeness – quite the opposite.


Paul is speaking to a group of people who led others in church life.  Here, he is a leader of leaders.  It is so easy for us to be influenced by ideas from our surrounding culture – to bring world thinking into church thinking.  One of those world-ideas is that leaders must be powerful and robust and almost overbearing, pushy-leady type people.  But the Bible says different for the church.  Paul gives a list of qualifications for church leaders in the letters which he writes to Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3 1-7 & Titus 1 6-9) and he uses the word ‘must’ on four occasions in both those pieces.  There are things that ‘must’ be there in church leaders.  But those characteristics, that I just mentioned, are not found.  In fact, ‘overbearing’ is something that ‘must’ ‘not’ be there (Titus 1 7).


When Paul draws attention to his own life here in Acts 20, it is so beautiful!  He doesn’t ‘point’ to his own ‘power’ in his PowerPoint – quite the opposite!  In verse 19 he mentions his difficult Christian experience and says, ‘I served the Lord with great humility and with tears’ - weakness and crying!  What an encouragement for us in our lives of service.  It’s massive for me.  At this moment in time, I’m called to serve here at Riverside as a leader of sorts.  It’s a huge task for someone whose skillset is small.  But then I look at how Paul did it – with weakness and crying – and I go, ‘Yes, Lord, I can do weakness and crying!’


But Paul did awesome stuff, didn’t he?  Yes, he did.  But not by his own power.  The verse that I chose to start us off today, verse 32, shows this.  There, Paul points to the power that lies within God’s grace to his people.  That builds up the church.  That is what built up Paul.  In 1 Corinthians 15 10, Paul confirms how he had worked so effectively.  He says that it was ‘not I, but the grace of God that was with me.’  If we are going to serve God, then we are going to have to follow Paul’s example.  He looked to the grace – the ongoing power of God for Christian living – that flows out from the cross of Christ.  Paul didn’t achieve what he did because he was inward looking.  He did it by being upward looking!


But before we focus more on Paul’s power point, let’s look at what Paul did.  In verse 20, he says that he preached to them ‘publicly’, so in a larger group with others attending, and ‘from house to house’, so in a smaller house-group type setting as well.  He preached to believers, that which ‘would be helpful to you’.  This is so important for us to ask about what we hear – Does this help me in my Christian life? – Does this build me up in a way which helps me to serve Christ, and to serve Christ’s people, better?   All that goes by the name of ‘church’ is not somehow magically free from error.  If ever we find that what we hear in church is hindering our Christian life rather than helping it, we must ask ourselves further, really serious questions.


In verse 21, Paul then declares what he had declared!  ‘I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.’  By ‘Jews’ he identifies religious people – people who had beliefs about God.  But what is true of the atheist, is as true of the religiously minded person.  All are turned away from God.  However pretty our life may look to others, to God it’s just plain ugly.  Everyone needs to turn back to be safe.  There is only one way to do this – we ‘must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus’.  Paul used to be religious – very religious – and loud and proud about it.  Now, he was repentant – turned about face.  He had stopped trusting in the pantomime of his own moral sham.  Now he lived with confidence in the perfect performance of Jesus, played out on his behalf.  And so must we all!


‘And now’, that’s how verse 22 starts, ‘and now’ Paul was on a new life journey.  This was a Spirit led life.  Why was he going to Jerusalem?  Because he was ‘compelled by the Spirit’.  When we were back in Acts 9 15, we read what God said about the repentant Paul – ‘this man is my chosen instrument’.  Paul’s life was now in the hand of God.  His heart was a new instrument tuned to a Spirit rhythm, where his life for Christ was in harmony with heaven.  He was going to Jerusalem, not because he thought it was a good life choice for himself.  He says, in effect, I don’t know – ‘not knowing what will happen to me there’.  Again, this is so helpful to me, and I hope it is for you too.


I like to know.  Decisions don’t come easy in my mind.  People ask me how I can eat the same cheese sandwich every day for lunch, and I think ‘well that’s one less decision!’  The more unknown variables, the harder I find it to move.  But Paul moved ‘not knowing what (would) happen’.  Paul’s confidence came, not because he had a foolproof plan, but because he had a God who did.  What Paul knew about the immediate future was somewhere between little and nothing, when he made this move.  How could he do it?  His God knew everything!


And we may say, ‘Yes, but God did give him some details.  We read about them in verse 23’.  Yes, we do, but they only make things worse!  When we make significant life choices, we usually hope for better – an improvement on now.  How many of us have changed jobs, or moved school or college, or moved house, or moved to a new town?  What were we hoping for?  Hardships?  Prison?  I doubt it!  But Paul’s mind had a single-track focus for the Lord.  Even the prospect of less, and loss, couldn’t derail his ambition for Christ. 


He had a new mindset.  He held this present life so lightly – that was key.  In verse 24 he says, ‘I consider my life worth nothing to me’.  I’ve got a confession at this point.  I’m hoping that you’ll identify with me, rather than criticise me.  A big part of my Christian struggle is because my grip on this life is just too tight.  Paul gives us a better example of life lived lightly.  It’s a principle which is rooted in Christ.  Why was Paul so willing to give up his life for Jesus?  Because he was utterly – completely, through and through, head to toe – convinced, by the word of God’s grace, that Jesus had so willingly given up his life for Paul already.


Paul’s aim was ‘to finish the race’.  I heard a story recently about a race.  It was an ultramarathon – 50 miles on foot – between Manchester and Liverpool, in April last year.  A lady had competed and finished and collected her trophy.  Later the trophy was collected back off her and she was disqualified and banned from future competition.  The reason?  For part of the race she had been propelled less by Nike and more by Nissan – yes, she went by car!


Paul wanted to ‘finish the race’.  His focus was on completing it properly, despite the hardships and need for endurance.  We can spend a lot of time and energy looking for an easier way to get to the finish, but the truth is this – in the Christian Race there are no shortcuts to the crown.  But there is a God who has promised to give us what we need, to keep us on course when the going gets tough (see Philippians 4 19).


It was about to get tough for this Ephesus crew.  Paul was leaving them for good in verse 26 – ‘none of you… will ever see me again’.  This meant heartbreak and grief.  We know this because later in verse 38 we are told that ‘what grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again’.  Christian leadership is like a relay race.  No-one carries the baton forever – it always gets passed on. 


Have you ever watched a relay race where one person starts off but when they get to the person waiting for the baton, with their fresh legs and impetus, they just ignore them and carry on running lap after lap, year after year, getting older and slower, until eventually they drop dead, and the baton falls to the ground with no-one to pick it up, because the other team members have got fed up and gone off to run races elsewhere, and the crowd have all died of boredom, and the stadium is then closed and falls into disrepair?  No, I haven’t either – for good reason!  O church of Christ take note!


Paul is now passing the baton of Ephesus over.  He had done his turn and done it well.  Paul was freed up with good conscience because he had run faithfully.  That is what is meant in verses 26-27.  ‘I am innocent’ – I’m free of further obligation.  Why?  It was all in the detail of the doing.  ‘I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God’.  During his three-year stint they hadn’t heard Paul’s own version of easy – but God’s whole truth.  Paul had kept watch.  Now others must take over.


In verse 28 he tells them how.  First, they must watch themselves and their own lives.  You cannot possibly lead others towards the brightness of God’s glory in Christ, if your own life is lived in the gutter.  He calls these church ‘overseers’ to be ‘shepherds’ of God’s ‘flock’.  Two of the most important functions of a Middle Eastern shepherd were these - to look out for danger and lead the flock away from it, and to look for food and to lead the flock to it.  That was the spiritual role that Paul is pressing on these church shepherds here.  The church is a curious thing.  And here we have one of the most curious statements about it.  Paul calls it ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’.  The blood of God. 


Can you imagine trying to get your arms round a fully inflated hot air balloon and carry it home?!  That’s what my tiny mind feels like when I try to grasp this great truth.  But the great truth is this - the man who died on Calvary’s cross for my sin against God, was himself God.  Jesus Christ – God’s own son – my Lord and my Saviour.  I may struggle to carry this but by God’s grace I can’t let go!


This truth should affect our valuing of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  While it can be hard to spot our own weaknesses, it’s easier with others.  It can be so easy to be underwhelmed by the brokenness of those around us.  Let’s try rather to be overwhelmed by the reality that God was willing to gain, ‘by his own blood’, these broken people for himself.  All to easily we perceive lack, often at detriment to our own minds, and to our ongoing relationship with those around us.  May God’s grace make us otherwise minded.  ‘Our fellowship with each other’ will be vastly improved – if we, in future, see other’s shortcomings through the lens of the blood – ‘the blood of Jesus, his Son, (which) cleanses us from all sin’ (see 1 John 1 7 NLT).


Paul then nears the conclusion of his address with some hard truth.  There is going to be opposition both from outside the church (v.29) and inside too (v.30).  We must make allowances for each other – but we must also guard against distortion of God’s truth - Lord make us wise!  Such is Paul’s seriousness that it appears that the church is in danger of being knocked down.  How can this be stopped.  Verse 32 has the answer – Paul says, ‘I commit you’.  The idea is like putting something in a safe – committing something fragile but precious into a strong-box where it won’t come to harm.  What was true of Ephesus can be true of Riverside this New Year – If we stand committed ‘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’ then, come what may, we wil be safe.  Not just in 2024 but forever.


Paul talks about his own life of sacrifice in verses 33-35 and encourages these believers once again to follow his example only when Paul is following the example and principle of ‘the Lord Jesus himself’.  Paul reminds them that Jesus said, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’.  Christ gave himself when he gave his blood, shed for sin on the cross.  What did he receive in return.  A collection of fragile, broken people, which Acts calls ‘the church’.  It’s a miracle of grace – flowing like a river from God’s throne.


Then we have another river – even more tears.  This part of Acts 20 has so many.  Verses 19 and 31 have ‘tears’, and verse 37 says, ‘they all wept’.  I’m a very emotional person – I cry more often than I sneeze.  I absolutely love Acts 20 with all its tears – it makes me feel like a proper Christian!  But it’s only Christ that’s done that – for me and for you. 


Paul was leaving the church at Ephesus and it was an emotional time.  But the church’s standing was never because this person, or that person, hung around for a long time.  The church will only truly stand as it abides in Christ, and is built up by the word of God’s ongoing grace and power, and rests in his forever love.


Verse 36 has the finish – ‘Paul… finished speaking’, then ‘he knelt down with them all and prayed’.  What an example to us in church life?  When our speaking is done, let’s speak with God.  Everything in life has an end date.  Paul’s time of doing for the church in Ephesus was now done.  What did they do?  They committed themselves to him who never stops doing.


Will he? Well verse 28 holds the answer – ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.’ It’s very fragile, but very precious, placed into God’s hand and safekeeping by Christ forever. Can we really be that confident? Paul was. He wrote this about the Lord’s people in Philippians 1 3-6 – ‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, beingconfidentof this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’


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