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Effective Christianity

A farewell address comes with a profound sense of urgency. 

Whether it’s a valedictorian speech to classmates, a resignation speech to coworkers, or a president’s farewell address, ‘last words’ carry a poignant power. 

As President George Washington delivered his farewell address, he concluded, in part, by saying “I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend.” 

In the New Testament book of Acts, the apostle Paul is delivering a ‘farewell speech’ to several dear friends and fellow-workers— the elders of the church of Ephesus, with whom he served for three years. 

Luke records Paul’s sincere, tearful address in chapter 20. His final words deserve a close and careful study because it is obvious that Paul was weighing his final words to the leaders of the church he dearly loved. 

Paul effectively delivered to these elders a recipe for effective Christianity. These ingredients, when mixed into our lives, give us a godly witness, an effective ministry, and a sanctified life. 


Paul tells these elders, “You yourselves know how I lived among you . . . serving the Lord with all humility” (Acts 20:18-19). 

Now at first glance, this sounds like pride, doesn’t it? Like the child in Sunday school who raised his hand during a lesson on humility and proclaimed, “I’m the humblest person I know!” 

But this is actually a sincere word from Paul; he’s not boasting in his ability, he’s boasting about his dependency. In a letter to the Colossians, Paul paraphrases the prophet Jeremiah when he writes, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). 

In many ways, the Christian life is a journey of discovering just how needy we are, and how great God is in meeting our every need. This keeps us steady as we walk in godliness. 


Paul continues his address to the Ephesian elders; “… serving the Lord with all humility and with tears” (Acts 20:19). Contrary to the modern image of a man as stoic, Paul demonstrates manhood through great emotion, even to the point of tears. Frankly, from other letters, we know that Paul had many reasons to cry during his ministry. 

Paul wept over the unsaved (Romans 9), reminding us that physical death is not as dangerous as spiritual death. In other words, Paul wept over people who were physically alive, but spiritually dead. 

Paul also wept over rebellious Christians (2 Corinthians 2). A rebellious Christian not only damages their own life, they damage the reputation of Jesus and His church. 

The question to ask in following Paul’s example of effective Christianity is have we wept for the sake of the gospel and the church? Paul’s example leads us to shed tears over spiritually significant issues. 


“…serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:19). 

Paul catalogues a list of trials in 2 Corinthians 11 that included being stoned by angry mobs, experiencing shipwreck at sea, living in constant danger for his life and experiencing hardship, hunger, thirst and sleepless nights. How could Paul— or anyone—endure such trials? 

He explains in his farewell speech: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24). Paul knew that his life did not belong to him. Neither does yours, or mine. We persevere selflessly when we hand over the control of circumstances, comforts, and conditions to our Lord.


These first three characteristics highlight Paul’s character, but this final characteristic highlights his conviction. “… how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21). 

Paul remained faithful when it was personally uncomfortable. He never pulled away from declaring what was profitable. 

Paul also remained faithful when it was socially unacceptable. He makes clear that he preached to Jews and to Greeks (Gentiles). This ran contrary to the culture of Judaism, which viewed Gentiles as unredeemable. 

Paul understood that the gospel is not segregated, but universal; race is not a barrier, but a bridge over which gospel truth can and should travel. 

The poet, Edwin Markham, wrote: 

Some draw a circle that shuts men out; 
Race and position are what they flout; 
But Christ in love seeks them to win, 
He draws a circle that takes them in!” 

This is effective Christianity: a commitment to persevere in our mission to steadfastly preach the truth, with sensitivity to the lost, and with humility in every effort. 

For God alone deserves all glory and honor and praise. 

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