Captivated by God's Grace
Today we read Paul's final words to a church that he well knew and loved. It’s the church in Ephesus. Starting next week we’ll study the apostle’s letter to the Ephesians. But we’ll set that up today in the book of Acts.
Paul is on his final missionary journey, the Lord directed him from Antioch to Jerusalem. God didn’t say what would happen when he got there, but He revealed that affliction awaits Him. Truth is, he’d be arrested while preaching in the temple and ultimately sentenced to death in Rome.
But he’s near Ephesus, and the church that he has fond affection for. Earlier, Apollos preached there, but when Paul arrived he led twelve men to Christ and the church began. He preached the gospel openly then chose to rent out a school, kind of like us, and discipled believers every day for two years. After three years total, his stay tended after a non-peaceful riot.
Now a few years have passed. Paul is heading to Jerusalem but He’s in Miletus, about 30 miles away, and he loves those Ephesian believers so…
Acts 20:17 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...
It wasn’t easy, false accusations, protests, a riot. He may have wanted to leave but He served the Lord with all humility. Humility is not shyness, careful not to offend. Humility depends on God; it’s a choice to be used of God to bless others. Humility leads to faithfulness. Pride would have left in frustration or fear, it’s not worth my time. But serving God—faithfully…
Acts 20:20 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.”
Repentance, to change your mind toward God—the Holy Holy Holy One, the Father who loves you, who sent Jesus. Turn from your empty life, a hopeless future, a life apart from God’s love…
And put your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; the gospel calls us to trust Him.
Jews have the law and the prophets but they don’t listen to them. Jesus is the One they point to. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us. Jesus is the One God told Abraham would bless the whole world. He is the great prophet Moses said would follow him. He’s the Son of David, the Glorious King to come.
Gentiles, Americans, you think you have it all figured out. You have so much faith in your technology, your doctors, scientists, politicians. Put your faith in Jesus. None but Jesus can right you with God. Give you peace or hope, eternal worth or eternal life. Only Jesus will raise you from the dead.
And with the church, Paul didn’t shy away from declaring anything that would build up our faith in Jesus. He was faithful, and he encourages church elders, group leaders, teachers to faithfully teach God’s Word.
Acts 20:22 “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem [he's bound by the Spirit, voluntarily, by his faith in Jesus he's going 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 [prison] 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.”
The good news of God’s grace gave Paul a completely different outlook.
Paul only knows that God is leading him to Jerusalem and going there will bring pain and imprisonment. So why go? He's not a captive to fear, for he is bound by the Spirit, for his heart is captive to Christ, captivated by grace.
God seeks to bring you to allow yourself to be so captivated by God, by His goodness to you, His love, and the glory of His grace, that whatever happens, your heart is to follow Him.
God’s will for Paul was to preach the life-changing news of God’s grace.
But not all of us have this call on our lives. Yet if we read God's word with an open heart, listen to His Spirit, God calls us to do things, small and large, short-term or for the long haul, that we would not otherwise choose to do.
When? How does God do this?
God does this as we make ourselves available to Him—at times, exhortations in His word jump off the page at us. His Spirit gently nudges us. A godly friend or message speaks to us. And we listen, process with godly friends, and God’s command becomes personal for us.
God might be calling you to live completely different in your relationship with your girlfriend or boyfriend than the world promotes. He may speak to you about something at work. Something private to you. It might be in your marriage. About forgiveness. Bitterness. Love. Submission.
But God's Spirit still moves in us today particularly in tandem with His Word: "Here’s what I want to do through you, in this relationship, in this situation, in this ministry. It’s the opposite of what the world says but it reflects God’s character, Jesus’ attitude, and Abba’s love. O and it’s always best. When He reveals this to us, then God asks, “Will you trust Me?”
"Will you trust Me? Are you willing to go with My plan? I know what you want to do. I know better than you how hard it is for you. You’ll constantly look for success, ‘Is it working? Is this getting me what I want?’ But will you trust Me that this is best for you, this is My way to love you even if it its really scary to you?”
Then, Paul turns to the elders of the church in Ephesus, and warns them,
Acts 20:28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you [the elders] overseers, to shepherd the church [the special or called people] of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Paul’s last words to the church he loved and knew he’d never see again is to faithfully teach the gospel of the grace of God, and to protect the church from any who would compromise or abuse the gospel of grace.
Look at the deity of Christ: the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. This is such a profound statement—for gods don’t have blood.
But the Eternal Son of God became flesh and Jesus died for us. And with His blood, He purchased us from satan, sin, and death to God the Father—for His glory, for His joy.
So elders, teachers, leaders, protect the church, primarily from false teachers and teachings.
Acts 20:29 I know that after my departure savage wolves 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 [elders, Christians, in 2022, with social media, weak teachings, false teachers, woke agendas, secularism, humanism, politicism, tribalism, atheism] 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 has taught them God’s purposes, and given them a few commands: Be on guard. Protect the disciples. Shepherd God’s church. O and I’m leaving, you’ll be on your own. So try hard, do your best; and know 'you’ve got this.'
No! They don’t have this! We don’t either. They're not just going to do this great because they know truth. None of us are expected to be great on our own. Listen to what he says next,
Acts 20:32 And now, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up [edify you, equip you, make you more like Jesus] and to give you the inheritance [reward] among all those who are sanctified.”
Through God’s grace the Spirit will build us up in Christ, through the word of His grace, His favor, His love, His power, His working in us He shapes our lives in Christ that we receive abundant and eternal rewards in heaven.
We are not commended to self-discipline or brilliant strategies but to God and the power of Christ working by grace through faith in us.
After we are commanded to do something, we are then commended, escorted, handed to God and to His life-giving, wonder working grace!
In whatever God’s Spirit commands you to do—forgive, put another’s preferences over your own, apologize, abstain from sexual immorality, love your wife, submit to your husband, honor your parents, serve in a ministry—He commends you to draw close to Him and to rely on His grace.
Cling to God’s Word, the word of His grace—God’s favor. The assurance of God’s love and acceptance in Christ. His Holy Spirit in you. God’s promise to be with and empower you to follow Jesus and to bring you through this.
Know that God’s Word, the gospel of His grace, the word of His grace is for your joy. Every word of it is true. There’s God’s guidance for every situation. Walk in the light of what He says, shows you, and yearns for you.
And when we live by it today, it builds us up, we not only soar with Jesus today, but it leads to a life that God will bless and reward—it is the power to give you the rich inheritance speaking of eternal rewards with the saints.
Paul's final message to the Ephesian church leaders was to faithfully teach God’s grace, to protect the church and the gospel of grace, and to live your lives according to the grace of God.
Why? Verse 32 For the Holy Spirit uses the word of God’s grace believed to build us up in Christ, so that we can lead a rich and Christlike life with peace and joy, which will lead to the inheritance, abundant rewards on top of the kingdom and heaven, so God's grace changes our lives today and forever.
This is Paul’s final message to the church he loves. This is why he wants us to be captivated by God’s grace. Paul concludes,
Acts 20:33 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
So give without expecting anything, looking forward to the inheritance, captivated by God grace even through the promise of eternal rewards.
This is his last message. This is the church we’ll look at next week.
Acts 20:36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them. 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. And they accompanied him to the ship.