I will resume our study of Revelation next month but here I want to share my lesson for my Friday men's group from the book of Acts, chapter 20 (see below). It so happens that this lesson relates to a book I recently read that God is using to speak to me. The book is TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and John Lynch and like any other book (other than the Bible) there are a few points I don't fully agree with or maybe fully grasp but here is how it speaks to me. After preparing the lesson about Paul's radical love and labor for God and His people as seen in Acts 20, it drove me to my knees. How can anyone love God and His people that much? And that is the point of the book TrueFaced; that we are called to trust God first and foremost (meaning absolute dependence on His power not ours) so that we can please Him in obedient love and service for His people. The authors suggest we imagine walking down a road which represents our walk with God and we come to a fork in the road. The left fork reads, Please God, and the right fork reads, Trust God. And we can only choose one of these two paths. Yet both of them are good paths and Biblical. Which one do we choose? The authors go on to point out that Hebrews 11:6 shows us the answer: "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Or without trusting God for our salvation through Jesus and continually trusting and depending on Him for His grace (His supernatural power) to please Him we simply can't please Him. And we won't know God's power (to live in a way that pleases and glorifies Him) until we give up on our own power which is no power at all. Even our Lord Jesus, the God-Man lived this way. Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does." (John 5:19-20) And later He tells us to do the same: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) I thought of Paul trying to please God in the flesh in Romans 7 and how he failed until he repented of trusting in his willpower and started trusting the power of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit (see Romans 7-8). The flesh wants to perform, work, earn and take credit for our goodness and righteousness and is seen at its worse in the Pharisees. As Paul said later in his walk with Jesus: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:7-10) ["Christianity is a divine-human process. When we eliminate one side or the other we resolve the tension at the cost of biblical fidelity. The balance between the two extremes of willfulness (man-powered performance) and willessness (passivity – God will do it all) is willingness (participation in God's will as we wait in trust to receive both His will (not my will but Yours be done) and His power to carry it out." This is a quote from Conformed to His Image by Ken Boa along with my comments for clarification on this point. ] 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him." (Luke 22:42-43) The Triune God reveals Himself to us as Father/Husband/King and our Provider, Lover, Guide, Comforter (One Who comes along side to strengthen) and calls us His children/bride/sheep and other relational names that show us our need to receive all we need from Him – both physical needs, relational needs and the power to love and serve Him and His people. "He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. 30 Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. 31 But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." (Isa. 40:29-31) Now as we look at Paul's radical love and ministry we can know it was done in God's power, not his own.
Please read Acts 20
Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25) and Paul loved the church as seen here in Acts 20 and gave himself to it. Jesus gave His life to redeem the church (not an institution but us, His people) and Paul gave his life to love and serve God's people. And we are called to do the same; "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Gal 6:9-10) The Great Commandment shows that our love for God is inextricably related to our love for His people. We love Him by loving His people. (Matt. 22:37-39; also see 1 John 5:1-2)
I will use a six-point outline from John MacArthur's teaching on Acts 20. The text in this chapter demonstrates Paul's great love and service for God's people. It is more seen than stated as Romans 5:8 says about God's love for us: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Let's see Paul's love for the church in these six ways: his affection, his giving, his teaching (or the use of the gifts God has given you), his persistence, his availability, and his concern for the church. 1) Paul's affection – 1 "After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of (or embraced- KJV) them, he left to go to Macedonia." (Gr. Aspazomai – to draw to one's self, to salute one, greet, bid welcome, wish well, to receive joyfully, welcome.) The KJV translates this "embraced" showing Paul's affection for his disciples. We see many times in Paul's letters his affection for his friends/disciples and how he (and Peter too) encourages them to greet each other with a holy kiss (Gr. fiðlhma – a kiss of friendship – Rom. 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). We see his openness to receive affection at the end of this chapter: "When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again." This shows us Paul's approachability and how God values physical expressions of Christian love. We see physical expressions of love with Jesus and His disciples and He was God incarnate. Look at John 13:23: "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved." It is obvious that Jesus and John as well as all the disciples felt comfortable with that very demonstrative expression of love. Husbands and wives should demonstrate their affection for each other in the home for their children and grandchildren to see and also with their children. Some cultures are more demonstrative in their affection than others but Scripture encourages us all to demonstrate our love for others through physical touch. 2) Paul's giving – Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while he was still in Ephesus and chapter 16 speaks of his desire and plan to take up a collection from a number of the Gentile churches and take it to the church in Jerusalem as they were in the midst of famine and poverty. It took about a year and a lot of travel for Paul and his associates to do this. They later took the money to the Jerusalem church along with individual Gentiles representing each of the churches to foster love and unity among the Jewish and Gentile believers in God's church. What a gift – both financial and relational. (See 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Acts 24:17; 2 Cor. 8:1-4, 9:1-2; Rom. 15:25-28; Gal. 2:10) "Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me." (1 Cor. 16:1-4) "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." (2 Cor. 8:1-4)
3) Paul's teaching – The application for us is to use the gifts God has given us to love and serve God's people. "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10; also see Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 12) One of Paul's gifts was teaching the word and he wrote to Timothy: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16) Let's look at Paul's teachings in Acts 20: 2 "When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight." 11 When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left." 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." . 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears." We see in his epistle to this church in Ephesus his goal in teaching: 11"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants…" (Eph. 4:11-14). Even as good parents teach and discipline their children to grow up and mature, God uses teachers of His Word to grow us up to look more and more like Jesus. Our part is to crave God's Word (versus the junk food of the world) so we will grow in Christlikeness: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Pet. 2:2) 4) Paul's persistence – . "And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." And at the end of his life he pens these words: "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing." (2 Tim. 4:6-8) God calls us all to that kind of persistence and faithfulness as seen in Gal. 6:9-10 above and as Paul writes to the Corinthians: "Love…7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor. 13:7) And to the same church he writes: "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust (spiritual gifts and opportunities) must prove faithful." (1 Cor. 4:2) Otherwise we could live wasted lives. Let us pray with Moses, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) 5) Paul's availability – A reading of the book of Acts from chapter 13, here in chapter 20 and to the end of the book we see Paul on the move; three long missionary journeys by boat and by foot. In verses 1-16 we almost get tired just reading about Paul's travels. His second and third trips retraced his steps so he could be personally available to his new babes in Christ – the churches he had planted in Asia Minor, Greece, Europe, etc. Listen to what he says to the saints in Thessalonica that shows us his availability: "As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." (See1 Thess. 2:8-12) This is so like our Lord and God who came in the flesh and tabernacled (dwelt) among us (John 1:14) and walked and talked and listened and loved His people. And His promise to us today is His availability: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5-6). In an age of technology and a multiplicity of ways of communication, let us not forget the power of being with people face to face- being available in body, mind, and spirit to listen, love and serve. 6) Paul's concern for the church/saints – 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves (false teachers) will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish (warn) each one with tears." "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (God's people -not the institution) 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?" (2 Cor. 11:28-29) "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Rom. 12:15)
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND APPLICATION
1) Paul's affection – Some cultures (and people) are more demonstrative in their affection than others but Scripture encourages us all to demonstrate our love for others through physical touch. How do Paul and Jesus' example speak to you about demonstrating your affection with others?
2) Paul's giving – "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." (2 Cor. 8:1-4) This is one of the "poor" churches that gave generously to the poor church In Jerusalem. What strikes you most about this passage?
3) Paul's teaching – The application for us is to use the gifts God has given us to love and serve God's people. "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10; also see Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 12) In light of this message on Paul's labor of love for God's people, how may you use your God-given gifts in the same spirit of Paul?
4) Paul's persistence – "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity (meaning this brief life, this day that God has given me – Psalm 90:12), let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Gal. 6:9-10) What does Psalm 90:12 say to you in light of this exhortation?
5) Paul's availability – In an age of technology and a multiplicity of ways of communication, let us not forget the power of being with people face to face – being available in body, mind, and spirit to listen, love and serve. With whom may God be calling you to be available or more available?
6) Paul's concern for the church/saints – God often breaks our hearts for what breaks His and we are uniquely touched by different needs and sorrows of the saints – of the people in our midst. What needs and sorrows touch your heart and how has God called you to respond?
Until He comes, Len and Kristen
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