My family recently spent a week at a state park. Along with our extended family, we rented cabins, and while the cabins had electricity, bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens, we had to bring pretty much everything else we needed. Pots, pans, utensils, bedding, toiletries, etc. Because our vehicles have only so much room to transport people and supplies, we had to determine what was essential. I thank my wife who planned almost all of that for us.
What is essential for Christians? How would you answer that question? And once you answer that question, is it possible you are not giving enough time and energy to the essentials? Have you been distracted by lesser things?
As we continue reading in Acts 20, verses 13-18 detail more of Paul’s itinerary as he is headed back to Jerusalem. In verse 18, we read that he has sailed just past Ephesus, landing at Miletus where he Paul sends word back to Ephesus asking the elders of the church to come see him. The elders from Ephesus arrive, and Paul begins talking to them about the essentials. In this and the following three posts on Acts 20, we are going to study Paul’s words to the Ephesian church elders.
What is the first thing he says to them? What is the essential ministry principle he wants them to know? In verses 18b-19 Paul briefly reflects on how he lived among the Ephesians. He says he practiced humility, and with tears, though he was targeted by the Jews. Humility is essential for disciples of Jesus. No matter how we are gifted, no matter what role we have to play in the Kingdom of God, our lives should be marked by humility. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or introvert, the standard is humility.
From that foundation of humility, Paul reviews his essential method and message in verses 20-21. What Paul has to say about his method and his message is not just for preachers or missionaries. We can all glean from this, as we all have carry the mission of God, each in our own context and our own community.
First, his Method.
Paul said his teaching was both public and private, house to house. In find this helpful. It means that even if you are uncomfortable with public speaking, there is still an important place for you in the mission of God. House to house. Small groups. In fact, I sense that the house to house, private, expression of the Kingdom is where most of us find our place. We need public speakers, and you might be one of them, but it is likely that the majority will be involved in telling the story of Jesus in that smaller group setting. So what is your setting?
Paul also says, when he taught he included Jews and Greeks. Another way to say this is, “I included everyone.” All people are to be equally in view when it comes to the Kingdom of God. Whatever method we use, it is to be inclusive of all. There is no person or people group that is excluded. Jesus built this expansive vision into the mission from the very beginning. You might remember that in Acts 1:8, he told his disciples that they were to be witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth. That means all people are in view. Christians, therefore, should known for not only being inclusive, but anti-exclusive.
Second, Paul talks about his Message. The message of the Kingdom includes three components that Paul suggests are essential: (1) Preach anything that would be helpful, (2) Turn to God in repentance, and (3) Have faith in Jesus. That first component, preach anything that would be helpful, we’ll talk about more in a future post in this series. What does Paul mean, though, by the last two, repentance and faith?
He matches the word “repentance” with the concept of turning to God. What does it mean to turn to God in repentance? The word “repent” has often been described as “stop doing the wrong thing, and start doing the right thing,” but in Scripture the image we see in both the Old and New Testaments starts at a deeper place. Stopping wrong things, and starting right things, is good, but it can be entirely outward. The repentance Jesus calls us to, the repentance Paul is preaching about, is not simply outward. Repentance is a willful choice that transforms us internally and thus leads to external restoration with God and others. It is an act of faith that radically changes us from the inside out, so that we follow the way of Jesus. That is the message of good news we preach. Do you see how the content is different from telling people to just follow the rules and regulations of the church? Instead, we preach an encounter with the living God who wants to make each and every person into something new. Faith in Jesus means that kind of repentant change.
Next in verses 22-25 Paul gives them a peek into where he is headed in his travels. He says that he is compelled by the Spirit, heading into the unknown in Jerusalem, remarking ominously that in every city the Spirit warns him that prison and hardship are facing him. In the next post we’ll look at verse 24, in which Paul states his purpose, and I think you find it a quite powerful anthem that we also can claim as our own.
For now, how are you doing with the essentials? If you are a Christian, is your life marked by humility, by repentance, by faith in Christ, by including all, by living out your gifts in public and private?