Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Example Of Paul's Life

Paul was traveling by ship to Jerusalem with a big collection of money from the 'Gentile' churches for the Jewish believers. He was in a hurry, and didn't have time to stop in Ephesus, where he had spent 3 years establishing the Ephesian church. But he just couldn't pass them by without at least giving a final message to the elders of their church. The ship stopped at Miletus, a nearby town, and Paul sent word for the Ephesian church elders to join him there. Several days later they arrived.

As the men gathered together and listened to Paul, he opened his mouth and began to give them a 'farewell' speech. It's the only speech in Acts directed to believers, and it is filled with emotion and zeal. The Asian church leaders are gripped by Paul's words.

Paul boldly, yet humbly, sets forth his own life as an example to these men! "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia..."(Acts 20:18). Paul appeals to their memory. "You know how I lived. Remember? I gave you an example to follow, men."

Could we say that? "Church leaders, remember my life and live like I did."

Paul had lived a transparent life of integrity among the people of Ephesus. He had nothing to hide.

Now he highlights a few aspects of how he had lived among them:

1. "Serving the Lord..." (v19a). Paul had lived with a constant view that it was the Lord Jesus that he was serving, not merely men. He was not out to win a popularity contest, but to be faithful to his Lord.

2. "With all humility..." (v19b). Can you talk about your humility and still be humble? Paul did. He was not bragging here, but calling men to imitate him as he had imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Paul had not built a kingdom for himself in Ephesus, apointing himself as the king. He humbled himself and served. What a lesson for these church elders! And for us.

3. "And with tears..." (v19c). Welcome to the ministry. The greatest 'job' in the world, and perhaps the toughest. Leaders of Christ's church serve as men who will answer to God for the souls in their charge (Heb 13:17). The weight of this is felt deeply (2 Cor 11:28). There are tears of stress and tears of hurt; there are tears of compassion for the sheep and tears when they turn on you. These tears must be laid at the feet of Christ, the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.

4. "And with trials..." (v19d). Paul withstood persecution ("plots of the Jews") as he labored to build the Ephesian church. He did not give up, wash out, walk away or surrender. He persevered. He served with endurance. He remained faithful. So must these Ephesian church elders. So must we.

It's not that Paul was a happy-go-lucky guy who always had a smile. Paul faced some severe depression! He wrote to the Corinthian church,
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, ESV
Paul suffered as he served, both internally and externally ("fighting without and fear within" 2 Cor 7:5). But his hope was set on God "who raises the dead!" Paul knew (KNEW!!) that Christ was raised from the dead, for he had appeared to him on the Damascus road. Because Christ lives, we live through him, by faith.

We all know that Christ is our example. We look to him, who faithfully served God through the tears and trials of the cross (Hebrews 12:3). But God has also given us Paul as an example, not of total perfection, but of faithfulness, by grace through faith. These elders had fresh memories of Paul's faithful life, and were able to leave this 'farewell address' encouraged and emboldened to go and serve the Ephesian church with faithfulness, just as Paul had done.

Paul's example is not only for those men who served in Ephesus all those years ago. God has recorded this for us in Scripture to call us to faithfulness in our ministries, and to be encouraged. The same God who graced Paul with a faithful life can grace us too!

Let us recognize our need for faithfulness in our life. We cannot preach the gospel and live a life that destroys our words.

Lord, make us faithful!

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