Paul’s Final Message 2

Character is at a premium in today’s society, much less in the church. Elders should lead by example. So Paul reminds the Ephesian elders in his farewell speech (Acts 20:17-38 NASB) of his character while with them. In the last article in this series, we looked at his outward behavior; this time we are looking at his inner composition. One dictionary lists the meaning of character as: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of a person” (Mirriam-Webster).

Humility. First on the list, Paul says, “I [served] the Lord with all humility …” (Acts 20:19). This seems a bit odd for a person to identify himself in this way, almost negating the very thing he is claiming! However, when one considers that humility is diametrically opposed to the natural bent of the proud human heart, especially in those aspiring to leadership, such an admission is not a veiled form of pride, but rather is a natural expression of that very thing, humility. Paul means that, although he was an apostle with the exalted privilege of being God’s ambassador to the Gentiles (Gal 2:8-9), he realized deeply his unworthiness for the task.

On a personal level, he saw himself as “the foremost” of all sinners (see 1 Tim 1:15-16) who provided God nothing more than a proving ground for His perfect patience. On the apostolic level, he was keenly aware that “God has exhibited us apostles last of all…fools for Christ’s sake… …without honor…hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless…working with our hands…reviled…persecuted…slandered…scum of the world, the dregs of all things …” (1 Cor 4:9-13). Yet, he continued serving the Lord faithfully. It is not a proud statement for him to say he served in humility! Very few men would admit to humility. Like a poor man would say, “I am a man of humble means,” Paul admits that from the world’s perspective, he is a man of humble task, not one who spends his time in finery, pomp and self-adulation.

Being a leader of God’s people is not glamorous, despite the imaginations of those who envy popular preachers and leaders of God’s people. Serving is hard, and at times, demeaning work. The church needs more men willing to take the humble position in all matters, accepting as a privilege the difficult, thankless assignments the Lord gives. He alone is worthy of honor.

Fortitude. Paul had “the mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage” (Mirriam-Webster). He served “with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; however I did not shrink from declaring …” (20:19-20). He was not a quitter, despite incessant harassment from the so-called “Judaizers” who dogged him at every step. Their continuous efforts to distort grace back to the Law wore him down, but he didn’t stop proclaiming the life giving message of the Gospel of grace.

Solemnness.Levity was not essential to his message—the work was solemn. The Greek word is an intensification of the word “to testify.” His message carried the same gravity as the testimony of the Spirit telling him that more suffering awaited in every city (vs. 23). That was a sobering message. Yet, getting the word of the Gospel to people was worth suffering for. Needless to say the message, as seen by what Paul went though, was of considerable importance.

The character trait of solemnness, has nothing to do with somberness in our church meetings. Rather it has everything to do with taking the message of grace so seriously that we are willing to sacrifice greatly to get it out to people. The elders of Ephesus, and we also, ought to consider whether our lives reflect a similar attitude toward the gospel.

Courage. Paul was never deterred by the potential for hardship or persecution. The Spirit’s warning only challenged him to not give up. “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, and a night and a day I have spent in the deep” (2 Cor 11:24-25). That was just a sampling! To the Galatians he said, “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me” (Gal 4:15). Possibly his many hardships resulted in eye damage. Yet, he was not stopped. What courage to keep going!

Self-giving. “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may …testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (vs. 24a ). Solemnity, courage and self-giving are intertwined. Paul didn’t make choices on a case by case basis, based on what the potential danger might be. Rather he had settled the question of self-denial at a deeper level – everything he did was overshadowed by the prior commitment to whole-hearted surrender to Christ (for example, Rom 12:1-2, Phil 2:1-5, etc.)

Goal-oriented.“…so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord …” (24b). He knew his God-given task, and did not waver from it. He would do that until he could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). He wasn’t just “putting in time” as an apostle. I can’t imagine him saying at the end of the day, “Whew, made it without any problems.” Have we as elders considered at the end of the day what was our real goal?

Compassion.Paul “did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” These were different than the tears he experienced in vs. 19 where they had to do with struggling against the trials. Here he notes his compassion for the ones he came to reach, a compassion that did not abate for at least three years (see vs. 31).

Not greedy. Paul never requested money for himself (though he had no problem requesting it for others, for example, to help alleviate the poverty in Jerusalem—see 1 Cor 16:1-4). No one could ever accuse him of “being in it for the money.” Likewise, elders should serve, as Peter puts it, “…not under compulsion, but voluntarily…not for sordid gain, but with eagerness…” Nothing will undermine an elder’s work faster than the impression that he is serving for his own personal benefit.

Industrious. “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner…” (34-35). Paul pulled his weight in the practical areas of life; in Corinth this “commended worker” earned his living by manual labor.

Generous. “…I showed you that … you must help the weak and remember the word of the Lord Jesus, that he Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (35) He did more than his fair share. In fact, he gave freely to those who had needs.

Personable. His reference to tears while serving them, and their response of weeping and embracing Paul (37), and their grief at the thought of his leaving them (38) point to the close bond that had formed between them. Paul was clearly not a cold academic or distant theologian. He shared deeply with them in just about every area of life. He was very personable and the people in Ephesus felt close to him. By way of application, do the folks in our congregations see us elders as approachable? Are we developing close connections with them? Would they be sorry if we had to leave?

Spiritually real. Paul knelt together and prayed with them. This wasn’t just a formal mid-week prayer meeting, the scheduled time for prayer. It was a spontaneous demonstration of the deepest level of fellowship. Notice the text doesn’t say that only Paul prayed, as though he were the cleric bestowing spiritual blessing. He prayed “with” them, for he had been one with them. They prayed together—apart from the formally gathered meeting of the church. Paul was spiritually real!

In all this, the apostle modeled the character of a godly man, a disciple. It emanated out from the genuineness of his inner man. Paul saw himself as a model of Christian life and ministry (see Phil 3:17, 4:9, 1 Cor 11:1). This now was his last face to face contact with the Ephesians. However, he understood, as he did with the Corinthian believers (1 Cor 11:1), that his model of life should only be followed as it was clearly patterned after the Lord Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1).

Fellow elders, let us pray the Lord would change us internally, so that we would become more effective outwardly in shepherding the “flock of God.”