As I was reading Acts 20, I began to think about the life of Paul. How regardless of the events that transpired in his life, he seemed to always be obedient to Christ.
The passage that really stood out to me was Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesian believers. Paul begins by describing how he did not “shrink back from proclaiming” the word of God. He’s not talking about being fearful that people wouldn’t like him if he was obedient to preach. He didn’t shrink back from the beatings, imprisonment, and countless other hardships he endured. He shares some insight that while suffering it wasn’t always this super-spiritual feeling while he endured. There were tears but there was also the faithfulness of God.
Paul further reveals that there is imprisonment and a very likely execution looming in his future. But he was willing to endure that to fulfill the call God placed in his life. Then Paul repeats to his friends that he did not shrink back from his responsibility. I believe he was admonishing the church leaders to follow his example.
Paul then calls on the leaders to be on guard for the flock as well as themselves. We may not have official leadership positions but each of us have those that look to us for direction. We are to continually examine ourselves and our doctrine in light of the Truth. And the same goes for those that look to us.
Paul follows this thought by saying wolves will come from the outside to attack the flock. There will always be those trying to lead astray the flock but Paul throws a curveball. He continues his thought by that they should be on guard because people will rise up from within to lead believers astray. Paul was calling them to be alert not only about the flock but also about their own lives lest they become a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Paul repeats his warning to be on guard and follows it with a statement about diligence. He worked night and day for three years to warn and protect them.
Paul continues his encouragement by speaking of committing them to God and “the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance.” Now I may be off here, but I have a hard time not thinking of Christ with the words Paul is using. Colossians 2:6-7 comes to mind, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” I also think of Jesus when he told the disciples, “I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” That is what comes to mind when Paul is speaking of being built up and the inheritance we have in Christ.
Paul concludes his message by talking about work. It seems odd but when you see work through Paul’s eyes, you see it fulfilling the Great Commandment. By working we provide for our needs, not our desire for a new car or a 50” plasma TV, but for food, shelter and clothing. But I think more than that, we are called to work so we can give away what we have. Paul is reiterating the words of Christ by saying that we have to be willing to give up everything in our lives including our money for Christ. ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
So what is the point to this diatribe. Well, I don’t know about you but so many times unconsciously I place Paul in a separate category of Christian. He’s one of the Hall of Faith. I’m just a regular Joe. I examine my life in comparison to his and it’s hard not to think that, because Paul was used in an amazing way by God. So many times we read scripture and try to pull out the moral characteristics about a person and apply them in our lives and they don’t work. Then the words of Paul came to mind on how he saw himself.
“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry—one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. Since it was out of ignorance that I had acted in unbelief, I received mercy, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy because of this, so that in me, the worst [of them], Christ Jesus might demonstrate the utmost patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
Paul saw himself for what he was, a sinner that became a saint by the blood of Christ. Anything that Paul had, came through the power of Christ. So when you look at how Paul was able to endure the hardships and to remain faithful, it was not because of his good character but the power of God working through him to embolden him when the flesh was weak.
The question remains in my mind, “Why am I not used of God the way Paul was?” The question I hear back, “Are you utterly submitted to the will of God?”