BE SHEPHERDS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD

 

Acts 20:1-38

Key Verse: 20:28

 

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Today we will study the last portion of Paul’s third missionary journey.  We find Paul’s world mission strategy and the gist of his missionary life in this passage. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, he shares the essential qualities of God’s servants as the shepherds of the church of God. Paul knew that they would never see his face again. This would be his last message to them. So he kept on speaking. We see his sense of urgency in his farewell message. Let’s listen to his message carefully today. May God bless us to have the world mission vision of Apostle Paul and follow his example of being a good shepherd to God’s flocks bought by the blood of Jesus. I pray that we may regard our task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace more precious than our own life and give our life for world campus mission.

PART I. THROUGH MACEDONIA AND GREECE (1-6).

Paul says in Acts 19:21, “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.’” This verse reflects what was in Paul’s mind at that time. Paul was praying to pioneer Rome, the imperial city. Look at verses 1-3. “When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-bye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.” Paul spent three years to raise many disciples in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. They were dear to him. Now it was time for him to say tearful good-byes. He gave them the words of encouragement to keep on preaching the gospel of Jesus. Though the world situation was not favorable to the gospel with increasing persecutions from the Roman Empire, he did not shrink and withdraw to himself. Rather, he was burning with a vision to go to Rome and evangelize the whole world through Roman roads.

Verse 3 says, “He stayed three months in Greece.” Paul does not even mention Corinth but presumably most if not all of the time was spent there. Those three months were important for a number of reasons. They marked a turning point on Paul’s missionary life. He had almost completed his third missionary journey. The most notable event which took place at this time was that he wrote the letter to the Romans during his three-month stay in Corinth. In his letter to the Romans, we can find his world mission strategy. His mind was now turning away from the east, from those churches he pioneered as a result of his three missionary journeys. He did not enjoy the fruit of his labor. He was restless as long as there were fresh new fields to conquer for the Gospel. His plan was to visit Spain. He mentions this decision in the letter to the Romans. Romans 15:24 says, “I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.” Of course, his plan to pioneer Spain did not work out because he was martyred in Rome for the gospel of Jesus. There is a saying goes around like this, “Think globally, and act locally.” Though he acted locally pioneering many churches, he was thinking globally planning to visit Rome. Now the privilege of pioneering of Spanish-speaking world like Latin America is given to us.  In any case, Paul was planning to visit Rome, the capital of the world at that time. As he anticipates his visit there, he wants to prepare the way. His coming to Rome had considerable significance because the gospel of Jesus would be carried to the Gentile world through the Roman roads later.  Here we learn that we need world mission strategy and plan. World mission does not happen over night. It requires a road map to accomplish the world mission plan. Because of his plan and strategy, Paul was preaching the gospel in his own rented house in Rome at the end of the Acts (Ac. 28:30-31). Without a plan nothing happens. Most of us made a 10-year plan a few years ago. What will you do after 10 years? Where will you be after 10 years? Where is our modern day Rome? It is Beijing, the imperial city of the last Chinese Empire. We can reach all the roads via Beijing. The gospel is forbidden in that city right now like Rome in Paul’s day. It is a fresh field to conquer for the gospel. Pioneering China has a considerable symbolic significance in our world mission strategy. At this moment we sent three missionaries to China. It is a historical moment. In the near future I look forward to preaching the gospel in the imperial city of China. We will hear many encouraging world mission report during our MSU conference. We are expecting many missionary delegates who will visit us after the MSU conference. We can be a blessing to our beloved missionaries from many nations when we have world mission vision burning in our hearts.

However, before going to Rome, he was on his way to Jerusalem (Ac 19:21) with some companions. Look at verse 4. “He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.” Seven local leaders accompanied Paul’s mission journey.  Paul’s journey team consisted of many familiar names and they were representative of the places he had pioneered. Though the churches were very young, they were willing to send out their leaders as missionaries. Here we learned that Paul focused on raising up leaders whenever he went to the new place. I pray that all fellowship leaders may raise at least seven directors who will pioneer 206 East Coast campuses. Two years ago we held the world mission report in Seoul. I was very happy to take Mahmia Richards, Steve, and Paul Sambuco as our representative. God will choose nine messengers for our Bible Academy. Some day they may grow as chapter directors and become a part of our mission journey team. By bringing to Jerusalem Gentile Christian leaders and an offering from their churches (Ro 15:25-27), Paul wanted to solidify the Jewish-Gentile unity through helping the poor in Judea. Paul’s spiritual growth is amazing. Once he was a selfish proud young Pharisee who was destroying the church of God. He was only concerned about making his own name great. But after meeting the Risen Christ he became a light for the Gentiles and a fruitful missionary for the sake of Jesus’ name. It was a great blessing for him to lead an international team to Jerusalem to share God’s vision for world salvation.

PART II. EUTYCHUS RAISED FROM THE DEAD AT TROAS (8-12).

Paul and his team came to Troas. This is where Paul had first seen God’s vision of the man of Macedonia (Ac 16:9). Paul encountered many adventures on his journeys. Luke did not record all of them. Today, special focus is on the resurrection of Eutychus at Troas. Although Paul had already been in Troas for a whole week, this final evening evidently meant much to him. He had much to say because this would be his last message. He had to speak all night because he had no time. The lamps in the third story room were flickering as Paul’s sermon continued until midnight. Paul seemed to finish his message by saying, “Therefore, brothers, give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” But he continued by saying, “ But, eh, uh, then, in conclusion….” He picked up a fresh topic and his message went on and on without an ending point until the midnight. Of course, Paul could have dismissed the congregation by saying, “I need rest for tomorrow’s journey. Good night.” But he was eager to share everything he knew. But even the great privilege of listening to the message delivered by the great messenger like Paul was not enough to keep all the audience alert. Most attendants must have worked hard during the daytime. Then they gathered in the early evening to have worship service. If they started after dinner, it means Paul’s gospel message lasted around five hours. Who complains our message is too long? Our message lasts only 30-40 minutes. Of course, this was a special worship service, because Paul was leaving the next day. Still, we must admit that the early Christians loved the word of God and they studied the Bible intensely.

 The place where they were meeting was an upstairs room. A young man named Eutychus came to the meeting. Maybe he was a teenager. We don’t know why he seated in a window. Maybe he needed a fresh air or there was no room. But as Paul talked on and on, without reaching a conclusion, Eutychus began to dose off. M. Luke Kim said, “Maybe he played too much tennis.” His eyes became heavy and his head kept dropping to his chest. Finally he fell into a deep sleep.  The young man who must have been near a window fell to the ground and died.  His neighbor did not warn him about the danger that threatened Eutychus. It was too late. He lay dead on the ground. Paul’s midnight sermon came to an abrupt end. The cause of his death was his drowsiness. If we see someone dose off during our worship service, what should we do? We have to wake up the person though there is no danger to fall down here. Most of all, during the worship service, we should be alert to listen to the word of God. When we come to the worship service, we have to be ready to listen to the message with full attention. When the young man fell down and died, there was a yelling and screaming. How did Paul react? He did not panic but was calm. Look at verse 10.  Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” (10) How could he say, “He is alive” when the young man actually died. Paul believed Jesus’ word in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” By Paul’s resurrection faith, Eutychus was raised from the dead. How could Paul have such faith and power to raise the dead? It was because Paul lived by the power of the resurrection every day. He practiced the resurrection power. The young man was taken home, much to the comfort of his associates. Look at verse 11. “Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.” In the end Eutychus’ fall helped Paul to take a 10 minute break and eat bread. After this event, the congregation were not dismissed. The people of Troas stayed to listen till daybreak. They loved to hear the word of life. Probably no one dared to doze after what happened to Eutychus. They could not sleep at all. Yet they were greatly strengthened by the word of God (12). When we listen to God’s word with reverence and worship God with all our hearts, he gives us true victory over life and death.

PART III. PAUL’S FAREWELL ADDRESS TO THE EPHESIAN ELDERS (13-38).

Paul and his company were in a hurry to reach Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost. Paul intentionally avoided Ephesus. His plan was to go on to Rome to obey Jesus’ world mission command after delivering the relief offering for Jerusalem Christians. If he stopped by Ephesus, he might not be able to pull himself away from his dear sheep and coworkers. He put God’s plan over his human attachments to his flocks.  So he landed at Miletus, about thirty miles to the south, and sent for the Ephesian elders. In verses 18-35 he says farewell to them. His farewell is both a personal testimony and a charge to the elders. We can see the fruit of his lifetime effort to imitate Christ, the Chief Shepherd. His farewell address directed to all future spiritual leaders. His address consisted of his past ministry, present ministry, and warnings about the future of the ministry. Let’s listen to Paul’s advise to all of us.

Paul revisits his past ministry in Ephesus vividly in verses 18-21. Look at verse 19. “I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.” His ministry among them was marked by humility and even by tears and trials, but it was centered on the Lord. When a growing shepherd candidate deserted him without saying a good-bye, he shed many tears and appealed him to come back. When the fellow Jews attacked him again and again, his heart was broken for them and he preached the word of God again and again.. While serving the Ephesians, Jesus was in his heart all the time and he was able to overcome all kinds of humiliation and misunderstanding and false accusations. Paul always fixed his eyes on Jesus. In fact, he was serving Jesus. In serving God’s work, humility is the number one quality. God was able to use Moses because he was the humblest man on the face of the earth. (Num. 12:3) God cannot use the proud people and trains them until they become humble like Jesus. (1 Pe. 5:5) What is the number one quality to become the servant of God? It is humility. M. Elijah Park served the Lord with great humility from the beginning of our ministry until now. He still serves the Lord with great humility nurturing CBF children and visiting the campus to find sheep everyday. Last year God gave a humble training to J. Roberts through the intern job. She mopped the floors and cleaned the woman’s room and she fed God’s sheep with humility. After she went to the medical school, most of her sheep remained in their Bible study.

What was Paul’s message? Look at verse 21. “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Paul was a great intellectual. But his message was simple. Turning to God in repentance draws us near to God and restores our relationship with God. Faith in Jesus brings us healing of our wounded life and forgiveness of all kinds of sins. Faith in Jesus enables us to overcome the world and to see the kingdom of God as our dwelling place.

 

What was Paul’s attitude towards his mission? Look at verses 22-23. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” Paul’s journey to Jerusalem reminds us of Jesus’ journey to die on the cross for the sin of the world. Paul’s life was in real danger because he was obedient to Jesus’ world mission command. He expects nothing but imprisonment and afflictions. Look at verse 24. “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me---the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Paul’s concern is more for the faithful completion of his ministry than for his own safety. He was consumed with a passion to proclaim the grace of God. He could have had no greater goal than completing the task Jesus gave him to do. Without God’s mission, Paul’s life had no meaning. Paul’s single passion was to finish the race God had marked out for him. If he could complete his mission, he would be happy. His last word before his death was “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) It is more important how we will end our life than how we began our life. President Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address to the American people, “All in all, not bad, not bad at all.” He was happy to complete his mission to speed up the demise of the Soviet Union called the evil Empire. Jesus’ last word on the cross was “It is finished.” (John 19:30) We must follow Jesus’ example to finish our mission life to the end. We should not quit our mission due to hardships and human conditions. We should complete our mission until we see Jesus face to face and until we hear Jesus, “Welcome home.” God gave us the task to pioneer 206 East Coast campuses and to send out one million missionaries in the 21st century. I pray that we may be willing to give our life to complete this task of campus pioneering and world mission.

 

Now let’s look at Paul’s final charge. Look at verse 28. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Paul’s final word was “be shepherd.” Being shepherds of God’s flocks is a great privilege. How can we become a good shepherd? First of all, a shepherd must keep watch over himself. Their first task is not to neglect self-examination. God’s servants are not immune from the temptation of the world. To be a leader one must first keep watch over oneself before helping others. Before fixing others’ problem, we must fix our own problem first. In a practical sense, temptation comes in the form of money and flesh desire. Many great servants of God ruined their ministry because they neglected their self-examination. We must be alert in ourselves when we serve God’s flocks. A shepherd must keep watch over himself through daily repentance before the word of God and early morning prayers. God’s servants must take up the cross of mission daily instead of seeking easy-going and fun-seeking life style.

 

Verse 28b says, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” There is one Chief Shepherd of God’s church. He is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and Satan. Jesus purchased each member of the church of God with his blood. The church belongs to Christ. He charges his servants to be shepherds of his church. A good shepherd is one who follows the example of Jesus and Paul. Look at verses 29 and 30. Here we learn the danger of shepherding. True picture of the shepherd will be revealed when the wolves come. True shepherd protects the flock of God risking his own life. But the hired hand runs away when the wolves come because he is a false shepherd. Shepherding is not 9-5 job but it is 24 by 7 job. It is a fulltime job. It demands our life. True shepherds do not regard sheep as numbers or Ids. They regard sheep as their own. We cannot say everything about being a good shepherd here. But one characteristic is most important to remember. A shepherd must sacrifice for the sheep. Ultimately, a shepherd must give his life for the sheep. A selfish person cannot be a shepherd. Only a sacrificial person who loves Jesus more than himself can really be a shepherd of God’s sheep.

Paul was a good example. Look at verse 31. “So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Paul was diligent and watchful for the sake of God’s sheep in Ephesus. He thought nothing of himself but gave his time and heart to serve God’s people in Ephesus night and day for three years. He warns them even in the middle of the night if necessary. He called his sheep using his cell phone in the midnight warning them of any danger. He reminds them of his tears on their behalf.

Verse 32 shows Paul’s faith in God. Look at verse 32. “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.” Just before, Paul had strongly encouraged the Ephesian elders to be good shepherds for the church of God. Paul charged them with the trust. But ultimately, Paul trusted in God and committed the church into God’s hand. He knew that God had been working in Ephesus by the word of his grace. The word of God planted in their hearts would grow and produce fruit by the sovereign hand of God. Though hardships and trials would beset them, Paul believed God would work mightily in all things to build up his people through his word of grace. God would use times of suffering to sanctify them until they all became holy saints. God would work in them by the word of his grace until they bore the image of Christ and received the kingdom of God as their inheritance. Paul was a self-supporting lay shepherd. Paul worked hard to supply his own needs and the needs of his companions. A shepherd must work hard. A shepherd must practice a giving life. This may sound burdensome, but it is the way of true blessing. Though it is not recorded in the gospels, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37a) When Jesus gave his life on the cross, God enabled to save us from our sins and gave us eternal life. It is easy to receive God’s blessing but it is hard to give our life. When we give our time and life to God, God will bless many students to be saved. After his farewell address, Paul knelt down with the Ephesian elders and prayed. He depended on God in prayer. After saying everything, we must pray. Look at verses 37-38. “They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” I pray that we all may be good shepherds for God’s flocks entrusted to us. Let’s the key verse 28.