Friday, April 29, 2011

The Example Of Paul's DRIVING PURPOSE (Part 3 of Paul's Example)

We have been studying Paul's final charge to the elders of the Ephesian church (found in Acts 20). We have looked at the example of Paul's Life (here) and Paul's Teaching (here). Today we focus on the grand Purpose that drove Paul.

Paul has gathered the leaders of the Asian church and has reminded them of the integrity of his life ("You know how I lived among you...") and the boldness of his preaching ("I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God"). Now he informs them of what lies ahead.

1. I am going to Jerusalem...(Acts 20:22). This is more than Paul telling the elders his travel plans. There is an ominous tone as Luke (who wrote Acts) seems to be comparing Paul's journey to Jerusalem (where he will be arrested) with Jesus' determined march to Jerusalem (where he was arrested and crucified - see Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51, 53). Paul is boldly facing assured persecution (Acts 21:4, 12).

2. Constrained by the Spirit... (v22). Paul says he is bound by the Holy Spirit. He is a prisoner to God's will, and that voluntarily. Just as Jesus surrendered his will to the Father's in the garden (Luke 22:42) and called his followers to do the same (Luke 9:23), so Paul has abandoned his desires to the Lord, even if it meant suffering (and it did).

3. Imprisonments and afflictions await me... (v23). Paul told the elders that he did not know exactly what awaited him, but the Spirit had testified to him in every city that it's going to be rough. A lot of times we just want a word from God. Paul got his word, and it wasn't full of rainbows and sunshine!

4. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself... (v24). In the face of certain suffering Paul does not flinch! He does not love his life as ultimate; he does not view his life as "a precious possession to be protected at any cost" (Alistair Begg). He knows that Christ has not called us to self-preservation or self-love, but to self-denail for the sake of Christ and the gospel (Luke 9:23).

Scripture is surprisingly clear that we should not love our lives (that is, see them as ultimate), but surrender everything to Christ and his gospel mission:

• …your steadfast love is better than life… Psalm 63:3

• Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me… John 12:24-25

• And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Revelation 12:11

• …as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Philippians 1:20-24

“If you can’t say ‘to live is Christ,’ you can’t say ‘to die is gain’” (Begg)

This is the effect of the great purpose set before Paul that drove him day and night. He was not lazy. He did not waste time. He did not live for his own comforts and pleasures. He had a calling. A mission. He had a Savior whose name was yet to be praised among the nations. He had compassion for people. This drove him! In our day where men waste day after day on video games and the like, Christ still calls men to surrender their lives to this glorious purpose!

5. If only I may finish my course… (v24). Paul is ready to pour out his life and suffer whatever lies ahead so that he can finish his course, or race, and the ministry he has received from Jesus. Faithfulness to Christ is better than life! Before Paul died, he used these same words:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV
Jesus was also faithful to the Father. He said “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” Jn 4:34). He was able to say from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Like Paul and Jesus, will be able to say at the end of our lives that we have finished the work God has given us to do?

6. To testify to the gospel of the grace of God... (v24). This is Paul's drive. To accurately and truthfully speak of God's grace shown in Christ and him crucified, and live a life of integrity that backs up this message.

Faithfulness is required of God’s servants (1 Cor 4:2). Run the race to win! Let us before our Master in such a way as to one day hear:
“‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Matthew 25:23

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