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(Acts 20:17–27) Four Habits of Highly Effective Christians

(Acts 20:17–27) Four Habits of Highly Effective Christians

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 20:17–27

Do real men cry? Can Christians show emotion without damaging their testimony and reputation? Yes! As a matter of fact, it's one of the Four Habits of Highly Effective Christians displayed in the life of the Apostle Paul.

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Four Habits of Highly Effective Christians

Part One:  Acts 20:17-27

Before we begin our study this morning, I want to tell you something interesting that happened.  As you know, our parking lot is jammed on Sunday morning; and that is quite a testimony to our city due to the fact that something is going on in here.  Well, a friend in our church was telling me the story of one of his co-workers who had to work one Sunday morning instead of attending his own church.  He was feeling guilty about having to work on Sunday morning; and in addition, he realized he’d be traveling down Tryon Road past our church.  He looked at his watch and thought, “Oh no, I’m gonna be stuck in the Colonial traffic jam for 15 minutes.”  Well, unbeknown to him, we were having our outdoor service on the land.  Remember, a few months ago we built a stage out on our property; and we all came that morning and got sunburned, I mean, had a service.  Well, this guy drives by our church and sees, except for three cars, the parking lot is empty.  He immediately thought, “Oh no, the rapture.”  This place was deserted; he thought, “I’ve been left behind.”  I guess the moral of the story is, whether there is a traffic jam or an empty parking lot on Sunday morning, you’d be surprised to know what kind of message is communicated to people who drive by.

Viewing the Past

The message of the Apostle Paul has been clearly communicated to the city of Ephesus.  For nearly three years, he’s served in the city, establishing the church and developing leaders.

Now, in Acts chapter 20, Paul bids farewell to the beloved elders.  It’s a long farewell.  In fact, it is the only time Luke records for us the message of Paul to Christians.  No other sermon to Christians is recorded for us but this one.

And for that reason alone, it is a fascinating study.

You discover in his message to the Christians, namely, the leaders of the church, one of the most transparent, emotional moments in the life of Paul ever recorded for us in the New Testament.  If you think that a mature man is someone who never sheds tears, you’re not prepared for what you're about to learn.  If you think a true man should never become emotional or tender or affectionate toward others, you’re not ready for Paul.

If you think that a mature Christian is someone who moves stoically through life, never troubled and never concerned about problems or people, you haven’t experienced life like the Apostle Paul, who in one of his letters to the Corinthians, wrote, “I exhort you therefore, live like me!” Literally, “. . .imitate my life.”  (I Cor. 4:16)

Furthermore, if you think that a mature Christian is someone who is always aware of what God is doing in his life; someone who is always confident of what God has in store and why God is doing what God is doing, you’re not ready to hear the message of Paul.

What Paul provides for us in this long farewell is nothing short of an expose on Christian living, the character of Christianity, what Christianity looks like and sounds like.

Four Elements Of Effective Christianity

We have time for just the first few verses; and, as we work through them, I want to pull from them four elements of effective Christianity. 

By that I mean Christianity that is truly and distinctively Christ-like. 

So let’s rejoin our study through this Book of Action, with chapter 20 and verse 17.  And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

Now, in our next session together we’ll deal with the challenge and responsibility Paul delivers to the elders – the presbuteroi – the leaders and administrators of the church who are to warn the body of false teachers  who seek to deceive the body as well as to protect the flock from, what he calls in verse 29, the savage wolves who seek to destroy the flock.

By the way, in this passage you discover the agenda of Satan, the enemy of the true church.  He rotates between attempts to destroy and what he cannot destroy; he seeks to deceive; whom he cannot deceive he attempts to destroy . . . and so on and so forth.  We’ll look closer at this later.

Now verse 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, (in other words, you, elders, have been able to carefully watch me now for some three years.  This is another way of saying, “If anybody knows the real Paul – and how Paul operates – and what Paul is moved by and troubled over – it’s you, elders . . . and what have they observed. . . verse 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.

That’s the end of the sentence – one of Paul’s typical, long sentences.  This sentence is Paul’s summary of the past.

Paul says, “You’ve seen me over the past three years serving the Lord.”

The word serving could be rendered, as a noun, the slave of the Lord.  It’s one of Paul’s favorite descriptions of his life.  He considered himself to be Christ’s slave, deulos,  bond-servant.  Someone who often voluntarily attached himself to a household for lifetime service, never to own anything or have anything other than what the master of the house gave him.  That’s how Paul viewed himself, as a bond-servant attached to the household of God.

            Romans 1:1 – He begins, “Paul a slave of Christ Jesus”

            Galatians 1:10 – “A slave of Christ.”

            Philippians 1:1 – “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.”

So, just how did Paul perform as Christ’s servant?  In three ways:  Verse 19 again, “Serving the Lord with all humility.

First of all, Paul says, “I serve the Lord with all humility.”  Now wait a second; that sounds like a very proud thing to say.  “You’ve seen me men, how I’ve served the Lord with all humility.” 

Doesn’t that statement prove that Paul is proud?  How can a person say he serves Christ with all humility and not be incredibly self-promoting at the same time?

Well, the word for humility is a compound word.  In fact humility is such a long word I won’t attempt to pronounce it lest I hurt my pride.  Fifteen letters make up this word.  It means to recognize your own personal weakness on one hand; yet, on the other hand, recognize the power of God.

That is true humility; it’s a recognition that what Jesus Christ said about us is true.  “Without me you can do nothing.”  Our need for Jesus Christ is not partial; it’s total.  Our need for His strength is not intermittent; it is permanent.  True biblical humility is nothing more or less than recognizing how needy we are and how great God is.

Paul says, “I served the Lord with an overwhelming understanding that I was totally dependent upon His strength for ministry effectiveness."

1) The first element of effective Christianity then is a stable perspective.

By the way, the person who goes around saying, “Oh I’m nothing; I can’t do that; I can’t teach that class or serve the Lord in that area; I’m nothing,” isn’t a humble person.  He is, in fact, a very proud person seeking to enlist supporters in their self-pitying hunger for compliments.

The second way Paul says he serves as the slave of Christ is found in the next surprising expression:  verse 19. serving the Lord with all humility and with tears.

2)  The second element of effective Christianity is a sensitive spirit

Paul characterized his ministry in Ephesus as a ministry of emotion, resulting in tears.  What made the great Apostle the great defender of God’s sovereign cry?

Other verses shed light for us and reveal that Paul was deeply moved over at least three things:

  1. Paul wept over the unbelieving lost.

Romans 9:2-3 records Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart.  Why?  Because, as he wrote, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren.”  Imagine feeling such deep remorse for his unsaved Jewish nation that he would have been willing to exchange his heaven for their eternity in hell.  And he shed tears of grief over their lost souls.

  1. Paul wept over the rebellious, sinning believers.

In 2 Corinthians 2:4 Paul wrote, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”

  1. Paul wept over the vulnerability of the church to the enemies of the gospel.

In Acts 20:29 where we will study in more detail Paul wrote, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 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 each one with tears.

Paul invested in the church his very soul, bathing his teaching with tears.

Have you ever cried for the sake of the church?

In order to effectively live true Christianity, you and I are to be stable in our perspective, yet at the same time sensitive in our spirit.

3)  Third, we are to be selfless in persevering.

Again in verse 19. Paul was the slave of the Lord with all humility and with tears (here’s the third way he served) and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;

The same people he was weeping over, willing to exchange his safety for their destruction, were trying to snuff him out.

Paul summarized in one almost unbelievable passage his trials:  In 2 Corinthians he just rolls out the things he’s endured.  Listen to this:

“. . . I’ve been beaten times without number, often in danger of death.

24.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  25.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.  26.  I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from mycountrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;  27.  I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.    

28.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.

Paul, surely God wouldn’t allow such suffering – surely He wouldn’t put you through all that . . . but God did.

How did Paul not only survive but selflessly persevere?  The same way James Calvert, a young pioneer missionary, persevered.  He and his team were headed to ministry among the cannibals of the Fiji Islands. While en route, the ship captain tried to dissuade him, finally crying in desperation, “Son, you will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go there.”  Calvert replied, “We died before we came.”

We died before we came!

Selfless perseverance led to the final element of effective Christianity:

4)  Steadfast ministry!

Paul goes on to say, in verse 20, “But 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.

Notice verse  27.  “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

In other words, there was reason to want to hold back some of the truth, because sometimes the truth is not only painful to hear but painful to deliver.  Paul says, “I didn’t pull any punches.”

So, in spite of personal discomfort Paul delivered the whole council of God, the truth that demanded repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ, the truth that becoming a Christian means a radical change in ownership.  You once belonged to yourself – your desires, your plans, your will - now you are a slave of Christ, to do His will and fulfill His plans.

Paul not only remained steadfast in ministry, in spite of any personal discomfort, but also in spite of a prejudiced culture.

Verse 21 tells us that Paul delivered the truth to the Jew and the Gentile.  That ran counter culture to the Judaism of his day that considered the Gentiles a corrupt, defiled people.

But not so in the church – the ground is level for any and all.

The well known Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that in his student days in England he was deeply touched by reading the Gospels and seriously considered  becoming a convert to Christianity.  Can you imagine the difference that he could have made for Christ in India to convert from Hinduism to Christianity?  He wrote that it seemed clear from the Gospels that Christianity offered a real solution to the caste system that divided the people of India.  So one Sunday morning he attended church services and decided to ask the ministry for enlightenment on salvation.  But when Gandhi entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and said that he should go elsewhere to worship with his own people.  Gandhi left and never came back.  He wrote, “If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu!”

Edwin Markham wrote this poem:

“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!”

Facing The Future

Paul now turns from viewing the past to facing the future.

Two things about what he will say:

  1. He leaves with an uncertain path before him.

Notice verse 22.  “And now, behold, bound in 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, in order 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.

Isn’t this encouraging?  Did you catch the fact that the great Apostle, the one who was chosen by God to introduce the Gentiles to the glory of the gospel, even he doesn’t know the details of his future!

22a.  “I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.”

His path is an uncertain as your is.  We have the misconception that when one signs on to be an effective Christian, a servant of the living Lord, God just unrolls the red carpet and says, “Well now for the choice servants of mine here’s what I’m going to do next; here’s what you’re going to be doing next week; here’s what’s coming around the corner.

Servanthood may mean obeying without understanding, trusting without ever seeing into the future.

Paul leaves with an uncertain path before him. . .

He also leaves with a clear conscience within him – notice 25.  “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more.   26.  “Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.

Paul seems to draw from the analogy of the watchman from Ezekiel 33:1-6.  The watchman was responsible to blow the warning trumpet in the face of danger.  Once he sounded his warning, he was no longer responsible for the lives the people he had been appointed to warn.  Paul says, in effect, I have sounded the warning of God’s coming judgement.  I have sounded the gospel of the grace of God.  All of Ephesus has heard!

What a challenge to us he is – as a church in a city that needs to hear – as individuals with families and friends and co-workers and fellow students who need to hear from us.

Can you imagine an interview with Paul.  Put your Bibles and notes away and let’s listen in on that dock.  Imagine someone from a Christian organization or magazine or publisher arriving with cameras and lights. 

“Hey Paul, can I interview you before you leave?”

 “I guess.” 

“Say Paul, you’ve just finished a successful ministry in Ephesus; you’ve planted churches that are flourishing.  Hundreds of people now believe in Jesus Christ.  We’ve also heard that you’ve written a few letters while you were there to people in Corinth in Rome.  We’d like to talk about copyrighting those.  You could retire rich Paul . . . what do you say?”

“I’m not interesting in selling what God’s Spirit has moved me to write – the copyright belongs to Him.”

“Oh . . . well, for our article, how would you summarize your ministry in Ephesus – we understand literally everyone in that city heard you preach and teach at some time – you’re a household name Paul!  If you could come up with just two words to summarize your successful ministry there, what two words would you choose?”

            “Two words?  That’s easy . . . tears and trials.”

“What did you say?”

            “Tears and trials – those words capture these last three years.”

“Uh, Paul, could you change that a little bit?  You know . . . could you change it to excitement and success; or victory and miracles; or health and wealth?  C’mon Paul, we’re trying to get people to serve the Lord, like you; this won’t read very well . . . can you change something?”

            “No, I wouldn’t change those two words, but I could add two more.”

“Great, what are they?”

            “Uncertainty and at the same time – urgency to continue on.”

Let me make two summary statements of application:

Effective Christians -

-are willing to stand for the truth regardless of any outcome.

-are willing to follow the Spirit regardless of any guarantee.

It was simply the passion of Paul to share the gospel of the grace of God; even though the Spirit of God didn’t fill in all the blanks – even though the Spirit of God didn’t guarantee safety or comfort; even though the Spirit of God didn’t illuminate his path but a few feet at a time, Paul will follow on.

Louis Pasteur, the pioneer of immunology, lived at a time when thousands of people died each year of rabies.  Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine.  He was planning to experiment on himself when a 9 year old boy named Joseph Meister, was bitten by a rabid dog.  The boy’s mother knew of Pasteur and begged him to use the vaccine on her son, even though it still had not yet been proven.  Pasteur was convinced his vaccine would work, and therefore injected Joseph for a period of ten days; and the boy lived.  Decades later, before Pasteur died, he made final preparations for his burial and headstone.  Of all the things Louis Pasteur could have had etched on his headstone, he simply asked for three words: Joseph Meister Lived.  He considered that his greatest legacy.  His work had caused someone to survive the effects of disease.

Can we be any less impassioned to see that people who are threatened by the infection of sin are given the antidote, the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

When all is said and done, that will be our greatest achievement; in the face of tears and trials and articles that won’t sell many magazines; the gospel we deliver and the lives we live are the legacy of those who call themselves the slaves of Christ.

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