Guided by God to serve…
I know what people think. They think that I work alone. That I enter a town like a lone superhero and boom – people are instantly wowed with my good news of salvation. That I am so intelligent, speaking things which are difficult to comprehend and without emotion.
But you know what. Those people who think like that, are wrong. I don’t work alone. I am always surrounded by a great team of people. Check out these folk with me on this occasion, or will be soon – Luke, Sopater; Aristarchus and Secundus; Gaius; my dear son, Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus. A community of God’s people from different places working with me. It is for God’s sake that I work and am His. It is my conviction that the good news of salvation can be had by all, through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead. As for being without emotion, clearly, they have never met me and therefore misunderstand me. Emotions are part of the human experience and that is what I am, a mere human being used by the God I proclaim, worship and serve.
I once was very different though. I was on a mission – a mission from God – or so I thought. A mission to defend God’s truth. It was my job to be God’s defender and root out the miscreants known as ‘The Way.’ Those people claiming that Jesus, Yeshua ben Joseph, had risen from the dead after being crucified. No way could God have a Son. That was blasphemy! Rubbish it was! It was! How could the Saviour of my people, the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross – a Gentile cross at that – and be cursed by God? Patently absurd! Bald-faced and blatant blasphemy! No! No! No! It was my duty as a man zealous for the Law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man, Jesus. Those heretics. Then… I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I was on the road to Damascus, embarking on my mission and boom! Suddenly a voice from heaven cried out “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
I asked who it was that was speaking and the voice spoke again “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
God had stopped me, arrested me (Philippians 3:12), shone his light upon me (2 Corinthians 4:6), and the mercy of God overflowed upon me (1 Timothy 1:14) and within me. Jesus is alive! WOW! It is true! Jesus is alive! Did you hear me? Jesus is alive! Jesus, the Messiah did die on a cross. But he came back to life, rising from the dead three days later just as He repeatedly said He would. Afterwards, he made many public appearances before He ascended back to God the Father. Then He appeared to me! Me! Saul of Tarsus! WOW!
That was about 20 years ago now. Now I am on a different mission. A mission given undeniably to me, by God – a mission which is to tell the world, by all possible means, this good news of Jesus the Christ. I, now named Paul, am no longer an enemy of Jesus, but now His friend. A friend of God! God calls me, friend – converted from a persecutor to being one of His faithful followers. This conversion was a total transformation by God upon me. My attitudes, character & relationship with God, have all been transformed and for His glory alone. My God loves me! Me! Unbelievable, isn’t it? My conversion is real, God continuing to work in me, upon me and through me.
So here we are today! Having just left that majestic city of Ephesus, where I spent the best part of the last 3 years. A city and people I love dearly – loved often with tears and joy. Recently as a result of my preaching and sharing the Good News of Jesus, some folk took exception and caused a riot.
So, onwards to Jerusalem and the believers there. I have a gift for them. A wonderfully sacrificial gift from the Gentile churches, to the Church there in Jerusalem. It is a practical way of looking after the welfare of the Church of fellow believers there in the magnificent city of Jerusalem. The churches in Macedonia and Achaia, are wanting to make a practical contribution towards the Christians in Jerusalem . Headlong we go, guided by God and serving Him. I will catch up with Timothy and Erastus whom I have sent ahead of me!
Firstly though, let’s look at the map so that you can see where I am and where we are going tonight.
- v1-2 – first we go north from Ephesus to Macedonia. I may just stay in Corinth for the winter.
- v3 – Then I will return through Macedonia instead of sailing to Syria
- v7-12 – Troas – Eutychus is raised from the dead by God
- v13 – By foot to Assos
- v14 – sailed to Mitylene
- v15 – sailed to Kos, Samos and Miletus
- v17 – Ephesus elders came to Miletus
And still on our way to Jerusalem! We will get there, even if not directly!
With that introduction, we come to tonight’s passage of Acts 20. We may just finish by midnight and hopefully nobody is sitting on any window sills to fall asleep and fall.
The chapter, as you can see, breaks down into 3 sections.
- v1-6 – Paul in Macedonia and Greece
- v7-12 – Paul in Troas
- v13-39 – In this section, Paul says goodbye to the Ephesian leaders. We have the only sermon in the book of Acts, which is given by Paul to other Christians. All others are preached to those who were not Christian.
As ever, there is a lot in this chapter for us. In preparation, as I read the passage, listened to it being read repeatedly and meditated on this chapter, two words came over and over to my mind. Two words which are important for the church today, just as they have been down through history.
How was Paul guided by God to fulfil God’s purposes and will? I know some people probably think that Paul was guided by God putting visible arrows in the sky, pointing Paul and his team in the right direction! Maybe you are one of those tonight, and if you are, then I am sorry to disappoint you by saying that is not how God guided Paul. As far as we know anyway! Another time, the Holy Spirit stopped Paul and his team from entering a place – twice. Acts 16:6-7 tells us this. How the Spirit stopped them, we don’t know, but soon afterwards, we find out why He did. God spoke to Paul in a vision. A vision whereby a man in Macedonia implored Paul to visit. So, Paul went and preached the Gospel there! But that was probably quite a rare event.
So how was Paul primarily guided by God? I would like to suggest that in the main, Paul just used his brain. He set out where he wanted to go, and proceeded to go there. If he got stopped, he went somewhere else, just as we have seen here in this passage and in previous weeks here.
We have that intriguing phrase in v22 “compelled by the Spirit” or as the New Living Translation puts it “bound by the Spirit”. What are we to make of that phrase? Is that in direct contrast to Paul using his mind to work things out, as some people today would suggest? By no means, no. Paul knew, as he has said, that he was to be in Jerusalem. He was obligated by his convictions. The Spirit was binding Paul to his inner conviction that Jerusalem was where he was to go. He also had that gift from the Gentile churches to give to the Jerusalem church. That thought also played on his conscience. He had undertaken the task and was honour bound to fulfil it. Therefore, Paul was bound by the Spirit to Jerusalem – bound by the Spirit through conviction and conscience.
His overarching conviction was that people must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. It was his aim to preach that message everywhere he went. His conviction fed his aim in v24 “to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Paul was also guided by circumstances (v3). Once he had found out that the Jews had made a plot against him, Paul changed his plan and went back through Macedonia. It would have been easy for a boatload of Jewish opponents going as pilgrims to Jerusalem to get hold of Paul and dump his body overboard into the sea.
Or with Eutychus in verse 10. When it occurred, do you think Paul had an internal debate with himself: “Hmmm. Is God guiding me to keep speaking now or is He wanting me to go help that lad?” Of course not! Paul saw the need, used his brain, went to the lad, prayed, held him and the lad was resuscitated.
God also would have guided Paul through prayer into His purposes and direction. Perhaps that is why Paul went alone on his journey by land to Assos– to spend time with God alone and seek His face. So, Paul had set his face towards Jerusalem.
Another way Paul used his mind in being guided by God, was by relating his future to his past. In this sermon, Paul says “You know” (in relation to his past in verses 18, 20 & 34) and “I know” (in relation to his future, in verses 23, 25 & 29). Paul had learnt the lessons of his past to help him in his future. All he knew that lay ahead, as he preached the Gospel, was that suffering and persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ was to be his.
Of course, these are only some of the ways. He certainly also sought and used the counsel of others. How are we guided?
So what can we learn from this, for us to put into practise in our life? We saw that Paul was guided by a vision, his brain, his convictions, his conscience, his circumstances, the past, prayer and wise counsel. Not a mystical arrow in the sky in sight! Perhaps the most common question we get asked is “How can I know God’s guidance for me – to know his purposes and will for me?”
Controlled by the Holy Spirit
So firstly, the Christian Disciple is guided by being controlled by the Holy Spirit. We see this clearly in evidence in the life of Paul. Another way to say this is by submitting to the God the Holy Spirit’s leading. Fundamental to being guided by the Spirit for the Christian is to be filled with the Spirit, or another way of saying it, is to be controlled by the Spirit.
When the Spirit is quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or grieved (Ephesians 4:30), then the Holy Spirit no longer has control of us. To allow the Holy Spirit control, we need to resubmit ourselves to God. Part of being controlled by the Spirit is to enable Him to convict us of sin (Psalm 139:23-24), regularly confessing our sin (1 John 1:9) and accepting the assurance of being forgiven. Sins such as quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. We are to go on devoting ourselves to being a living sacrifice for God (Romans 12:1-2) and seeking the Holy Spirit’s divine power and wisdom in order to serve Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 3:16). We show our devotion to God by yielding all things to Him, including our gifts and our plans.
In yielding to the Holy Spirit, the body (1 Corinthians 6:20) and mind (Romans 12:1-2) are given to Him sacrificially for the glory of Jesus Christ. Both the body and the mind are yielded, because the body activates what is conceived in the mind (Proverbs 25:19). We are called to a total dedication of placing all thoughts, plans and actions into God’s hands and the seeking of His divine wisdom. We set out where we want to go and let God steer, accelerate or brake. Sometimes all three at once. It’s like driving a car. No point just sitting in the car hoping to get somewhere if you aren’t willing to turn it on and actually drive! So we start out and let God do the steering, accelerating and braking. Just as Paul has done here.
Convictions and Conscience
We saw tonight how God the Spirit leads through convictions and conscience. How are we doing at standing firm in our convictions and allowing God to refine them? How are we doing at allowing God to refine our conscience – pricking and poking it?
Counsel and Circumstances
In addition to submitting to the Holy Spirit, other people and circumstances are great helps in regard to guidance. We saw that earlier tonight with Paul. Seeking the advice of others in trying to understand God’s guidance, plays an important role in deciding God’s will in our life. The Ephesian Elders were certainly guided by God through the ministry of Paul. When seeking the advice of others bear in mind that the person should be a reliable, godly and faithful servant of God. How often have we not asked for advice because we don’t want to humble ourselves and actually ask for help and advice? Or am I alone in being like that? In the end, each of us as individuals is responsible for our own actions and for knowing God’s guidance for themselves.
Then, again as we saw earlier, we have circumstances, which are a great learning tool. Circumstances surround us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Through circumstances, God often discloses his perfect will and guidance. You can see examples of this in the lives of Abraham (Genesis 22); Moses (Exodus 2) and again, Paul (Acts 23).
Lessons from the past
Are we learning the lessons of our past, both individually as well as those passed down through Church history, to help us in our future – both individually and as a body? That is one reason we should be studying what has gone on before, in order to be ready for what is to come.
What did Paul do with that guidance? He served – served God and served others! Showed his love of God by loving others and serving both. That is our second word – service.
3a. Paul’s Service – How did he serve
We see here, just in this passage, as we do elsewhere, Paul served where ever he was – in public spaces as well as in private spaces, such as homes.
We see that Paul served God and showed that, by serving others. Serving others both in private and in public. He served groups of people, such as the leaders of the Ephesian church. As well as individuals, such as Eutychus. Paul overcome opposition while on his acts of service. Opposition as we saw last week in Acts 19. We see in v23 that Paul has been warned what is to come – persecution and suffering for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of God.
What can we learn of Paul’s use of words and of his knowledge in his acts of service to God and others. We see that with words Paul challenged, comforted, encouraged, evangelized, healed, prayed, preached, taught, warned and worshipped – all with words. We also see that he worked manually with his hands, probably as a tentmaker. We see a couple of times where Paul says that he served with tears in his eyes, verses 19 & 31. That is not something we usually associate with him, is it? In all these ways of serving God, Paul showed that service of God, by serving others and being a consistent example to others – is a good witness for God to others. Paul knew, that he knew, that he knew, he was called by God to be a witness to the Gentiles of a loving God of mercy and grace.
Let’s see just in this passage how Paul did that.
- v2 encouraged.
- v7 worshipped by sharing in the Lord’s Supper and s preached
- v10 Prayed
- v19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews.
- v20-21 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.
- v24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
- v25 preached the Kingdom
- v27 I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know
- v31 my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
- v34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and the needs of those who were with me.
- v35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need
Not only do we see Paul encouraging others to go serve but we see other people serve as well, such as when they engaged in worship and the Lord’s supper. We also saw that God Himself serves by his grace and mercy. We know that the Son, Jesus Christ, was the greatest servant of all.
One way, the Ephesian elders were to serve, amongst others. was by protecting their flock. To be on their guard and have their wits about them. They were to be on their guard for when wolves would enter amongst them to try and steal the sheep. Wolves as animals, hunt in packs and are predators. Collectively they use guile, intelligence, cunning and speed, panicking their prey and usually concentrating on the weaker prey. Their prey, as a collective defence, have a great sense of smell, good hearing, agility, speed, or sharp hooves.
What Paul means as wolves, are those people being ear-tickling false teachers trying to lure people away from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Wolves that knew nothing about the real gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance and are only in it for what they could get out of it. Ergo, the elders are to use their senses, their wisdom and knowledge to sense out these wolves. It wasn’t long after this, that we see that it did occur, just as Paul said it would.
Once again, what can we take away with us tonight, so that we can go from here to live lives worthy of Jesus Christ?
Just as Paul was gifted, so were the Ephesian elders. Eutychus obviously had the gift of falling asleep!
Who has Spiritual Gifts?
All of us here tonight have what we call spiritual Gifts. We know from other parts of the Bible, that God, through His infinite wisdom, mercy and grace bestows these gifts that belong to Him, upon His servants, you and I. These gifts are to be used primarily to bring glory to God! (1 Peter 4:11). That was Paul’s motive, as we saw earlier. They are opportunities for you and I to serve other people. Some gifts like teaching, helping or leadership quite possibly are enhancements of natural abilities. Whilst others like faith, healing and miracles are from the Holy Spirit’s empowerment alone.
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
The reason that the Holy Spirit imparts spiritual gifts to us Christians, so that the body of Christ is built up (Ephesians 4:12), for the common good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:12) and “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:12). That was certainly evident in the life of Paul, even in our brief glimpse of him tonight.
As all Christian people have gifts, we have a responsibility to discover and develop them (1 Timothy 4:14)! We are also, to help others discover and develop their gifting. Again, just as Paul did earlier. When was the last time that you and I did that? We are to discover, discern, develop and put into effect our spiritual gifts, so that God can be glorified and His church built up! Have you discovered your gifts of service yet?
We are to employ our gifts & talents faithfully by asking God to continue their development, strengthening and opportunities to use them! We are to seek gifts that build up others, commands Paul (1 Corinthians 14:1-12). We are to ask God faithfully for gifts that give opportunity for service to God and others!
Each of us here is creative in some way! How creative are you in your service of God and of others? Do not neglect or ignore your gifts and talents – the Church needs you. Church local and church universal. If you need help, ask somebody!
How are you serving God – in this church and outside of church, in the workplace and at home? Where ever we go, work, rest or play – online or offline, we are called to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ and serving Him. Serving Him in our office, our home and where ever we go. How are we doing at that?
3 quick questions to ask ourselves
- Q1. Am I willing to do whatever God commands me to do?
- Q2. Am I willing to be humble enough to ask other people’s advice?
- Q3. Am I willing to sacrifice my desires so that God’s Will is achieved and His glory acclaimed?
How are we doing at looking out for wolves amongst us as warned by Paul? The church we used to belong to in London, would often hae people from the nearby Jehovah Witnesses or the Church of Scientology sneak in to visit the congregation after the services, to see if they could steal people away to join their cult. Usually by inviting their prey to do some form of “bible study.” But as Paul said, not only wolves from outside, also wolves from amongst us. I am sure it has happened here before. Let’s all be on our guard. Not primarily from what is taught up front, though do keep your minds active to hear what is being said. But more what happens after the service, particularly by others, and away from here during the week. Possibly evern from within the home groups. Let’s all be on our guard – for ourselves and for those that we know. Let’s use our own knowledge of Scripture, our common sense and our senses to sense out the wolves.
Let’s have a look now to our words – our use of words. How are you and I doing in our use of words? Words are our central means of communication and miscommunication. Are the words you and I use, filled with grace, always of truth, healing, uplifting, encouraging and building up others! Words of comfort and of challenge – as appropriate. Serving others with your words. Sure, there are times when words are to be used for rebuking in love, but always used under the control of the Holy Spirit. The words we speak reflect our inner attitudes, our inner thoughts and our inner being. The words you speak and communicate reflect who you are. Just as mind do. If the words we communicate are derogatory, inflaming and cursory then that reflects your inner thoughts and attitudes. Your words and all your communication have the power to bring life, healing and encouragement but also on the contrary, have the power to bring corruption, degradation and death.
Are we sometimes embarking on gossip, under the pretence of “sharing”? “You know, ooo listen, did you hear about such and such? “No! Really? WOW!”
Let God Himself help us to use our words for the supreme glory of Jesus Christ! That is one of the ways in which you and I will truly be seen to be one of His disciples! Our words have power – we are to use them wisely.
As for silence. Sometimes silence is golden. Proverbs 17:28 says “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” But at other times it too is misused. We stay silent when we should say something particularly encouraging and building up. We all at times ignore people in need of care, but use our silence against them. Am I alone in doing this?
As we go now, into the new week, let’s go with the confidence that God is guiding us when we ask him too, that we are to serve him where ever we go – work, home and play. As C.S. Lewis once said, “It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God.” Too many Christians are afraid to do something different, in case it fails or because they think it somehow goes against God. If it is against God, He will soon let you know!
We are to use words to glorify God – words that comfort, challenge gently, heal and to communicate the Gospel to other people, those outside God’s Church. Our confidence, like Pauls, is to be in God and His words of grace. The words we use can heal people – heal their hurts. Our words of encouragement, can be a boost to others and ourselves, and glorifying to God. I know what it is like to be hurt by the words of others – people telling lies about me and gossiping – from the realms of fantasy. Even recently. But I also know beyond doubt that words can be a healing balm. Also recently.
Daily I have to repent to God, of my misuse and abuse of words. I have to ask forgiveness of somebody I hurt with my words or my silence.
Lastly, our knowledge. Let’s go on growing in knowledge – particularly knowledge of God, so we can pass that knowledge on.
Bernard of Clairveaux in the 12th century once said: “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”
I am convinced that is why Paul sought knowledge and to distribute what he knew – to serve God and others with love. Who will you share your knowledge of Jesus Christ with this week? How will you use your knowledge this week to be a help or encouragement of somebody else? Who will you protect from the wolves this week with your sensitivity, your sense and your knowledge of God?
Let’s go from here knowing we are being guided by God and to serve His purposes and will. With v24 in mind, determined, where ever we go – work, home or play “to go on to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
We are not all called explicitly to be evangelists but we are called to do the work of an evangelist. We are not all called to be pastors and elders, that is shepherds of God’s people, but each of us can take care of others in our own inimitable way. May God continue to guide us as we serve him in word and deed. May God be glorified in each of our lives every day as effective witnesses for Him, in this town, our workplaces, this country and this world.