I love Acts 20! As a shepherd entrusted with the care of a local assembly of God’s flock, I get a lot of mileage out of these farewell words of the Apostle Paul to the church leaders in Ephesus. Paul spent three years shepherding and building the church in Ephesus – longer than he spent with any other church. He poured out his life as he invested in theirs.
As he prepared to depart from them, Paul both reminded them of something important and warned them about something important.
First of all, he reminded them that he had never hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to them. I get the sense here that Paul did not preach to their felt needs, but instead, ministered to their actual needs before a holy God.
Furthermore, he didn’t just preach from the pulpit to the masses. Like the pastoral giant, Richard Baxter, who would use this text as one of the foundations of his ministry some 1,600 years later, Paul went house to house – teaching both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance as well as place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ if they would be saved.
This effort, for Paul, was the cornerstone of his ministry there. He said in 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.
His faithfulness to this blessed task was what enabled him to say in verse 26 that he was “innocent of the blood of all men.” For he did not hesitate “to proclaim to [the church at Ephesus] the whole will of God.” In other words, there were no essential doctrines of the Christian faith omitted because of how uncomfortable they might make the intended audience. The whole counsel or will of God was preached. That meant that Paul preached on the character, attributes, and decrees of God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, justification by faith alone in Christ alone, holiness, the cost of discipleship, etc., etc., etc.
If it was a.) helpful to the people (verse 20), and b.) part of the whole will of God (verse 27), then the Apostle preached it.
I’ve heard it put this way before: If you knew you only had five years to minister to someone, what would you want to make sure they heard, understood, and began to put into practice before they left your influence? Paul only had three years. And we don’t have to guess what he spent every minute preaching and teaching. We need only read the Book of Acts and his epistles to know the heart of Paul’s focus.
That leaves me with this question: What am I preaching and teaching the people entrusted to my care during the time that I’ve been given? That includes not only my church but also my family…and anyone else whom I may influence. In that sense, we are all shepherds who need to ask ourselves that penetrating question. We are all called to pass on the whole counsel of God to the next generation of followers and would-be followers of Christ. It’s what Christ meant when he said that included in making disciples is the order to teach them to obey everything that he commanded. He also said in John 8:32, that if we would hold to his teaching, then we are really his disciples.
For us, today, that “whole counsel” of God would include things such as repentance of sin, trust in the person and work of Christ alone for salvation, the great doctrines of the faith, holiness of life, etc.
Some of this will soothe the wearied soul. Some of it will be a balm to the hurting. Even for some of the rebellious it will be inexpressibly good news. For others it will prick the conscience and even stir up anger. It will be repellant for yet others. But we can be assured that it will all be for the good of those whom God has entrusted to our care…to our sphere of influence And that, along with the joy of obeying God in such things, should be all the affirmation we need.
Grace and Truth,