In Acts 20:18 - 36 we find the words with which the apostle Paul said farewell to the supervisors of the church of Ephesus. He was on the way to Jerusalem, and he did not expect to have the chance to see them again. Paul had been their teacher and master for three years, and there was a deep affection between them and Paul. In a few words, Paul describes his mission, that he completely fulfilled among them, and defines in general lines the work that the supervisors must develop.
The Christian worker, particularly he that entirely dedicates himself to missionary work, will find important principles here to guide him in its behaviour and his work.
The Apostle Paul starts by defining his own target: “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The eleven apostles were witnesses of what they had seen and heard while the Lord Jesus was on earth, and had been chosen and sent by Him with the command: “Go … and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Paul was not among them; on the contrary, he harassed the primitive church when it began, but he repented and submitted immediately to Christ when he saw Him on the way to Damascus. He also was chosen by the Lord Jesus to take His name to the Gentiles and kings as well as to the children of Israel, and the Lord would show to him how much he would have to suffer for His name (Acts 9:15,16). Paul placed himself among the apostles because of this, and because he received the Gospel by means of revelation direct from Jesus Christ, and not from men (Galatians 1:1,11,12).
The apostle Paul was, in first place an evangelist (a messenger of good news). In a similar way, all those whose mission is to take Gospel of Salvation to the world that does not know Christ are evangelists: they are the missionaries or workers, dedicated to this work.
To reach his target, it was necessary to use all humility and perseverance, even with tears, overcoming trials coming from the enemy. It was not easy. The way of the believer in Christ, testifying of his Saviour, is also not easy. It demands:
Humility: I recently found a very good definition of humility: humility does not consist in thinking little about ourselves, but in not thinking at all about ourselves. On the other hand, it was John Calvin who said “All those who exalt themselves fight against God”.
Perseverance: the great evangelist Spurgeon said about perseverance: “with perseverance the snail arrived at the ark of Noah”.
Courage to face the enemy who attacks us where he thinks that we are most vulnerable. Corrie ten Boom, a believer who had that to support horrors from the Nazis during the Second World War in Holland said the following: “when the train enters into a tunnel and it is dark, we do not give up the trip and jump off the train. We stay quiet and trust the driver.”
The evangelist of today goes into a hostile world, full world of preconceptions against the believers, of pride and disdain for imagining that it has a superior knowledge. As Paul, he needs a great dose of humility, perseverance and courage, remembering that the great apostle Paul, with the advantage of having received the Gospel directly from the mouth of the risen Christ, sometimes wept at the unbelief and hardness of heart of the world that he faced.
The Apostle Paul was, in second place, a master: he taught the new converts, many of which were Gentile and therefore didn’t know not only the teachings of Christ which all now had to learn from the Apostles, but were also ignorant of the Old Testament, of which Paul was an expert. He taught all that he knew, which might be beneficial for those who were being saved to Christ. In the performance of his task, Paul was a faithful witness of Jesus Christ and the Word of God, holding nothing back from them. He was faithful even when facing the opposition of the religious Jews. Paul ordered Timothy, one of the first “workers” among the churches at his time “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…” (2 Timothy 4:2,3).
The newly converted need masters because, as the Gentiles at the time of Paul, they know nothing of the Holy Scriptures. Today we have the Bible printed and relatively cheap, which is a great advantage, but the master still is of great value to clarify and to guide, as well as to correct, to reprehend and to exhort as Paul told Timothy to do. The missionary and the worker have to be well prepared for this purpose, knowing the Word of God well.
When teaching, the master must hold back nothing for himself of what is useful for his disciples: in Christian discipleship he is working to prepare others to continue his task, and he is responsible for assuring that they will be as well equipped as he is.
In the Bible we do not find any justification for clergy in the church. On the contrary, the dominion of one or more brethren over the church is condemned: we see this, for example, in the third epistle of John, where a certain Diotrephes wanted to dominate the church to the point of isolating it from others, even to the point of slandering the apostle John. Also in two of the letters to the churches in Revelation there are references to the doctrine of nicolaitans, which means having dominion over the people: it was the beginning of the clergy, which caused so much evil to the people of God.
The work of Christian ministry belongs to each one of the members of the church and for this they must be equipped by their teachers. Barnhouse, worker and writer, wrote: “If I only had three years to serve the Lord, I would reserve the first two for study and preparation.”
Paul had to give his testimony, as much in public, as from home to home. When preaching the Gospel, Paul adapted his messages to his audience, but the purport was always the same: repentance from sin followed by faith in Jesus Christ.
Like Paul, we must be always ready to testify to others the faith that we received from God and to urge them it to leave their sin and to receive Christ as the Redeemer and the Lord of their lives. Regarding Christian testimony, a commentator, called Vance Havner said: “We are the salt of the earth, not the sugar, and our ministry is to purify, not only to change the flavour.” We are in the world to be witnesses, and must dedicate ourselves to this vocation. According to Spurgeon, every believer is a missionary or an impostor!
The mission of Paul among the Ephesians was only completed after having announced all the design of God to everyone who was ready to hear his message: the responsibility of Paul finished there. It is for the listener to accept or to reject the Gospel, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince the sinner of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).
There is no place for pride in the preacher, or in any one for being the person who obtained the conversion of souls: all he can do it to testify of Christ, presenting the Gospel in a clear and understandable way: with this he is announcing all the counsel of God that Paul is referring to. It is God, the Holy Spirit, that does the rest, and the conversion is the result of a spontaneous and sincere decision of he who hears.
Forgetting this, many endeavour to force decisions with long appeals, music and moving language. Because of this type of pressure, some declare themselves converted, and attend to the call of the preacher; not being by work of the Spirit, the conversion is not genuine: it is like the rocky ground, or the ground of thorns of the parable of the sower. The devil has always been employed in arranging for the unconverted to be admitted into churches.
The Holy Spirit directed the movements of Paul, preventing him from going one way and impelling him to go another. The Holy Spirit forbidding Paul from preaching the word in Asia, and not permitting him to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:6,7). However the translated words “Purposed in the spirit” (Acts 19:21) tell us that Paul was resolved to go to Jerusalem even though he had been warned by the Holy Spirit (verse 20:23) that chains and trials awaited him there. If his spirit was under the control of the Holy Spirit (Roman 8:16), then he was justified in continuing the journey, even when the disciples in Tyre, moved by the Holy Spirit, soon after recommended him not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4).
Paul declared that he considered his life less important than completing his race and his ministry to witness the Gospel of the grace of God. Later, from his prison in Rome, when his life here on earth was finishing, Paul would write the Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7); he knew he had completed his mission.
His arrest gave him the chance to write his epistles, an important part of the foundation of our faith, by means of which the Gospel is still preached in the whole world; his written witness has reached and is still reaching immensely more people than that of those who heard his oral testimony. However, when he had completed his career, he could see only a small part of the effect of his work.
Paul had a clear and defined target for his life, and everyone who applies himself to being a worker must follow his example: the target of Paul was to testify the Gospel of the grace of God to the world, substantiated in the life, death and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of those who believe in Him. God still needs workers, like Paul, whose lives are dedicated entirely to giving this testimony to the world. The Holy Spirit will impel them or hinder them according to the superior designs of God.
After that Paul defines the target of the elders of the church (also called bishops):
To shepherd the church of God.
The elders must take care of themselves and of the flock entrusted to them (note that each church had a plurality of elders in charge of shepherding). It is not their place to preside over the flock, as if they were its proprietors, for it is the church of God, purchased by Him with His own blood, He being the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls (1 Peter 2:25); these men are made supervisors (the elders, Acts 20:17, called bishops, 20:28) of the flock by the Holy Spirit, and will have one day to give account of their performance.
They must be intent to the savage wolves: the devil walks around, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and many do his work, because they are enemies of the Gospel. Some wolves are disguised as sheep:
They must also take precautions against those which rise from within their own assembly, even from amongst the elders (“from among yourselves”), speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves (this is the beginning of heresies). False teaching motivated by greed and pride, involving philosophy, empty deceit, immorality, asceticism (Colossians 2:8,18; Ephesians 4:14, 5:6, 1 John 2:19, Judas).
Moreover they must watch intently to keep the sound doctrine, as taught in the Bible, which had been at first admonished to the elders, one by one, by the apostle Paul.
The Gospel cost the precious blood of Christ, above of any price; the maintenance of the true faith through almost two millennia cost immense sacrifice, even the life, of people and villages, martyred by the enemies of the Gospel, mainly the false Christianity which tried to stifle all opposition to its control. Our faith is therefore very precious and we must watch in order to keep its purity.
Finally, they must work for their own sustenance and to help the needy, following the example of Paul. “It is more blessed to give than to receive" are words of the Lord Jesus recorded by Paul and which had not been recorded in the Gospels.
The Christian worker should not aim to obtain material riches for himself, nor covet money or other things from the fold: Paul worked to support himself and to have enough to give to his companions. He never charged anything to anybody for his ministry in the work of God.
On the other hand, the same apostle Paul taught that the elders who rule well should be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine. Word and education, for the Scripture declares: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “the labourer is worthy of his wages”. (1 Timothy 5:17 - 18).
And, repeating the final words of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians:
Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
Acts 20:18 to 36
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,
19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;
20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,
21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
22 And see, now 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.
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.
25 "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
33 I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel.
34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.
35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He 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.
Acts 9: 15 and 16
15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."
Galatians 1:1, 11 and 12
1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),
11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
:12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Acts 16: 6 and 7
6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.
7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.
Acts 19:21 to 23
21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."
22 So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.
23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.
16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
4 And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.
1 Peter 2:25
25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep."
1 Peter 5:2 and 8
2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
:15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
Ephesians 4:14 and 5:6
14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
1 John 2:19
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.