Entrusting Oneself To The Word Of Grace
1. When Paul arrived in Miletus, he sent a person to Ephesus and summoned for the elders of the church. It is believed that since Miletus is separated from Ephesus about 60 kilometers that by the time they got back to Paul three days had passed. When the elders assembled together, Paul gave a speech to them. The contents of this speech is recorded in the place I read today.
2. Paul's long messages are partly included in the Book of Acts, (for instance, 13:6ff and 17:22ff, etc. ["ff" means the verses that follow]. However, what is recorded in chapter 20 is different at several points from the other speeches. First of all, this message is specifically for Christians. The scenes in which Paul speaks about the gathering of Christians have only been lightly sketched upon up to now, but here is the beginning of something definite being written concerning the contents of those scenes. Their contents are, naturally, similar to Paul's epistles. Luke, who recorded this, probably offered through this account a typical example of a Pauline message directed to Christians. However, this is not just a record about Paul's past. Clearly, Luke is bringing to this passage a meaning that spoke to the first readers of the book called the Acts of the Apostles.
3. Thus, the point recorded here as a final message containing the last words of a great man to those he loved, even this message to the Ephesian elders, is something which ought to be fixed most wholeheartedly in our own minds. Starting at verse 25, Paul speaks the following to them: "And now, even each one of you understands that you will not see my face again." That's because Paul is going to Jerusalem. He said the following in the preceding verses (verses 22 on ): "So now, being pressed upon by the 'Spirit' I am going to Jerusalem. I have no idea at all of what will happen to this body of mine there. Just this, only imprisonment and hardships are awaiting me; the Holy Spirit is clearly revealing to me the city. And I will try to run the way fixed for me. Again, I received it from the Lord Jesus. If I can only finish out the duty to boldly witness the gospel of God's grace, I will never feel this life was in vain," (verses 22-24). So we will get to reading this later, but the imprisonments and the hardships which he tells about here do become a fact of reality. Just as Paul had said, he does not ever revisit Ephesus again.
4. Even in our lifetimes we have times of meeting and departing. What might you have to say if you had to depart from a person whom you would not be able to see again? You may not have very many such decisive situations in your life. But, in reality, since every one in the end departs this world and leaves some kind of message behind, we can probably say that the figure of Paul that we see here is a figure that has something to do with every one of us. So, it is not too hard to understand that we will replace our bodies and that human life itself at death is so flimsy and mortal. At the time of death, it becomes clear what a person thought about when he was alive and what he made important when he was alive. Whatever favors we sought or things we wanted when we were alive end up becoming apparent in the definite settings of our particular situation. One cannot re-adjust them for the better. There's no covering them up in a re-write. In this case, what we are touching upon here is about the genuine character of Paul in whom there was no such re-adjusting and re-writing or cheating and camouflaging. As we examine the pen of Luke who wrote this passage we certainly touch upon this issue of looking at a person's true life and message. Some meaningful points come out indirectly as we analyze his life and the text. So we can come face to face with what Paul thought, with what he sought after, and with what he made important. As I mentioned at other times, Luke is deliberately planning that we, who are reading this passage, should come face to face with the words of this Paul. So, what possibly could Paul be saying here?
Repentance And Faith
5. Please look from verse 18 onward. Paul begins to say the following to the elders: "Since the first day I came to Asia, you know very well how we spent our time with you. That is, thinking ourselves insufficient to receive any thing at all and weeping with tears, and even while meeting testings that showered down upon us because of the plots of numerous Jews, we served our master. Not leaving out any thing that is useful, I passed on the teachings to you in open public and at the homes of each one of you. I testified boldly to the Jews and the Greeks about repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus," (vv. 18-21).
6. Paul says "we served our master." He definitely meant what he preached and taught to them. What did he preach to them? Paul says, "not leaving out any thing that is useful, I passed on the teachings to you in open public and at the homes of each one of you." Now, what does "any thing that is useful" or "profitable" mean? What would we call "profitable"? What did the people really hear from Paul? Could it have been a key to success in life? Could it have been some method on how to have good relationships with others? Was it a secret for harmony in the home? What kind of message did Paul speak as he wept with tears? As far as we are concerned, let's consider what things they are "making use of."
7. We know for fact that Paul spoke openly in public. At Ephesus he spoke first in the Jewish synagogues. After that, he spoke daily in Tyrannus' lecture hall. What could the Bible be saying? It reads, "Paul...boldly lectured on the kingdom of God and tried to persuade the people," (19:8). It's true. Paul spoke about the kingdom of God and he spoke about salvation. Yes, he did. A certain person translates "useful things" which I just read before as "things necessary for your salvation." What Paul spoke about was just that. So, Paul says that he testified about two facts that are pertinent to this matter of salvation. Verse 21 says, "I testified boldly to the Jews and the Greeks about repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus." The contents of what Paul continued to speak about were particularly "repentance towards God" and "faith in our Lord Jesus." It is God alone who is able to save a person from sin, death, and eternal destruction. It is God and only God who makes it so a person inherits the kingdom of God and who grants eternal life to a person. Therefore, when you don't restore your relationship with God, you do not have genuine salvation. There are plenty of so called "useful things" in the world today. And with this plethora of "profitable things" one no doubt has some means to solve problems. But whenever a person's life is ill from sin, these fleeting things won't hold up for good. A temporary inner comfort doesn't provide any fundamental solution to problems. Especially because the time is definitely coming when a person's very life will be questioned before God. If this is true, what a person must hear is the fact that there is "repentance towards God" and "faith in the Lord Jesus."
8. "Repentance" is not simply feeling sorry.* Feeling sorry is only part of repentance. Remorse alone does not bring salvation. "Repentance" is a turning to God. So, what a person who turned to God needs to do is have "faith in the Lord Jesus." This is because it is at Jesus where the basis for an association with God is, even the basis of salvation. When "the Lord Jesus" is said here it means the person who hung on the cross, died, and on the third day was resurrected. He is the One who hung on the cross for us to redeem our sins. And he is the One who having resurrected now lives on and the One who makes us live by the control of his decree [or his life] and rules over us. By believing in this One we live. By believing in this One we already begin to live in this world today based on the control of God's grace and also in the world to come we will inherit the grace [or gift or blessing] of God's kingdom.
9. Paul spoke about the kingdom of this God. So, in verse 26, he talks like this, "Therefore, today especially I am speaking clearly. I am not responsible for anyone's blood; for, I have passed on to you, without faltering, the plan of God." Though the part about "blood" is an expression often seen in the Bible, here one should regard it as having the same meaning as "eternal destruction." In short, even though someone has not been saved, it was no longer his responsibility. Because Paul had already spoken God's plan of salvation. Because based on the plan of salvation he is proclaiming repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus. Therefore, now the problem belongs to the ones who have heard. Please try to think hard regarding this matter. There are only two possibilities. You either turn to God and entrust every thing over to Jesus letting him carry it all, or you carry it all. If you carry it all you also carry the consequence of your sin and guilt. Then if you get to the place of eternal destruction (hell), nobody is responsible for it.** Have you turned to God and entrusted every thing over to Jesus letting him carry it all? Or, are you going about bearing the responsibility? How is it with you? If you are bearing the load by yourself, you must stop carrying your sin and responsibility of guiltiness all by yourself! The fact of reality is that what Paul first revealed as the final words to the Ephesian elders are the words that have to be spoken and were already spoken previously to them. Make sure you believe the gospel! The gospel is for the church. So, the gospel of God's kingdom is being handed over in communication even to us while we read this now. The words that have to be spoken are being spoken right here. We ourselves must seriously take in Paul's proclamation.
The Church Of God
10. Moreover, Paul begins to speak about things to come. His thoughts are inclined towards the church. "Will youplease watch among yourselves and the entire flock! The Holy Spirit has appointed you supervisors over this flock in order to make you look after the church of God, which God made for himself according to his son's blood," (v. 28).
11. Paul does not keep it in his mind that it was his church which he brought forth out of his missionary groundbreaking work. Paul knows what the church is. It is "the church of God which he made for himself by his son's blood." As Paul meets all his trials, his service given to his master is definitely nothing other than serving the church. That's because the church is "the church of God." Because of this, Paul seeks to work for the elders of the church in the same way. With respect to "the church of God," one must be watchful among "you yourselves" first of all and to "the entire flock." God appointed them to "look out for [or take care of] the church of God."
12. So, in the church when the words "be watchful for" and "take care of" are used it is necessary that we grasp well the significance of these phrases. The issue to which Paul is referring is "the wolves that lay the flock waste." Please look at verses 29 and following: "After I leave, brutal wolves will slip in among you and devastate the flock, but I already know it. Men will appear from among you yourselves chanting heresies and leading you into their discipleship," (vv. 29-30). At that exact time when Luke was writing Acts this situation had been realized almost just the way Paul had said. The winds of heresy were sweeping over the churches in Asia Minor; we see this in reading Revelation chapters 2 and 3 written by John.
13. However much the message may burn in our ears or even be easy to accept, it is a message that does not guide a person to repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus. Rather it is a message that ends up separating a person from God. Without guiding a human being to ultimate salvation, it is a message that guides one to destruction. Such a message comes slipping in. The church is always exposed to that type of danger. The elders are appointed to guard against that kind of teaching. Yes, persons who sound off heresy may appear from among those elders. So, Paul said to be watchful among "you yourselves."
14. Now, Paul says to them, "Therefore, wake up and remember how in the space of three years I wept for each one of you day and night and taught you all." You must open your eyes about the message that was originally given to you. The unchanging message must be passed on to the church in all its eras and epochs. In the end there is nothing else the church ought to have but this message. What the church of God does to keep out seduction in the church is to abide in Jesus Christ and pass on the same gospel today that was preached and passed on by the apostles. So what makes the church "the church of God" is the gospel which was manifested in Christ , preached by the apostles, and passed on to us in this current age. That is why Paul spoke to them in this way: "So now, I entrust you to God and the word of his grace. This word is able to build you up and cause you to inherit the blessings together with those who have become saints," (v. 32). No human being can inherit the gift of the kingdom of God on his own qualifications or strength. What makes it possible is God himself and God's word. "I entrust you to God and the word of his grace." This message is directed to the contemporary church as well.
15. "It is better to give than to receive." Finally, Paul ends the message pointing out how he had lived in accordance with such words. These are words of Jesus which are not included in any of the Gospels. Paul knew well this was not a mere lesson from human life. The word that says "It is better to give than to receive" becomes practical truth for the person heading for the eternal land. In addition, Paul made it plain among the people how to live as a person facing the end and as a person inheriting the blessings that are being prepared by heaven. Thus, he tells them how to live in the same way.
16. As Paul speaks like this, he prayed on his knees with every one. Every one wept profusely. There was sadness over their separation. The people felt pain in their hearts because of Paul's words that "we will not see our faces again." Their next face to face meeting will be in the world to come. However, while they prayed together in reverence towards God, they knew that their pain would ultimately notend in pain. The people who are being given the eternal hope from the same gospel, though continuing in much pain, are kneeling together in prayer. Among such figures we can see the life of the church.
Endnotes: *The Japanese word for "repentance" is "kuriaratame." It consists of two words "kuiru" (to regret) and "aratameru" (to change). Many Japanese think the word "kuiaratameru" means "to regret and try not to do the same again." This is because the Japanese word is not based on the relationship between God and a human. Therefore Rev. Kiyohiro feels a need to expand on the Christian definition for the Japanese culture. So, "kuriaratame" or "repentance" means not just regretting and trying not to do the same sin, but also turning to God.
**In Japan many who come to church do not become Christians. Some say they can't be a Christian because their Buddhist parents forbid it. Others say they can't because their spouse (husband) objects to it. There are many reasons. So there is a great need for the message that makes it clear that their parents or husbands cannot take the responsibility for their eternal deaths.