The Kingdom of God, Worthy of All Devotion
September 23, 2018 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus
Topic: Discipleship, Missions & Evangelism Passage: Acts 20:1–24
1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5 These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. 13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Determining a Well-Spent Life
How would you end this sentence? I would consider my life [not wasted but] well-spent, if… If what? If you keep a good job? If you provide for the family? If you save plenty for retirement? If you leave the kids a little nest egg? If you got married? If you stayed married? If you gave your kids a good upbringing? If you helped as many as possible? If everybody you met liked you? If you finally got that dream-home? If you checked off your bucket-list? If you stayed healthy, even enough to reach 90, 95?
How would you finish the sentence? The world would finish that sentence a lot of ways—some I just mentioned. But as a follower of Jesus—as someone who wants to hear “Well done good and faithful servant;” not “Depart from me you worker of lawlessness,” but “Well done”—I want to know more than anything how Jesus would finish the sentence. It’s the only answer that matters. It doesn’t matter if we think our life is well-spent, if in God’s eyes we wasted it.
In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper writes,
Oh how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there’s no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud—just lots of hard work during the day, and lots of TV and PG-13 [movies] in the evening (during quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend—woven around church (mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for more, far more.[i]
God doesn’t leave us wondering what a life well-spent looks like. He gives us a picture in Paul the missionary. At one time, Paul was wasting his life. Then he encountered the risen Lord Jesus. Everything changed. By grace, the Lord turns Paul’s life into a life well-spent for Jesus. It’s a life God repeatedly tells us to imitate.[ii] It’s a life Paul himself rehearses for the elders to imitate in Ephesus (Acts 20:31, 35).
That’s one reason I’m linking this travel section with the first part of Paul’s speech: the speech tells us why he’s doing what he’s doing. Verses 1-18 just exhaust you—nine cities, a day here, a week there. The speech is where we catch our breath and make sense of Paul’s life. What’s driving him? What fills his heart? What determines his course? When I look at Paul’s well-spent life four characteristics stand out here…
1. Constrained by the Holy Spirit
One, it’s a life constrained by the Holy Spirit. That’s the language he uses in verse 22. “Behold, I’m going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit…”[iii] Why all the travel? Why the haste to Jerusalem? One could make the case that Paul wants Jerusalem to hear the gospel again—that would be true (Acts 20:24). Or, one could also argue from Romans 15:22-32 that Paul wants to finish out giving the collection to the poor in Jerusalem. But in and beneath those good reasons is the Spirit constraining Paul.
Question: by the way you live your life, would anybody characterize you as a person constrained by the Holy Spirit? Are you taken over and led by the Spirit? Does his Abba cry characterize your dependence? Does his fruit captivate you: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control?
Or, would others say you’re constrained by nearly all the same things as the world? That the power leading you isn’t someone greater than you, as much as it is the lure of entertainment, the hunger for recognition, the love of money, the desire for comfort, the daily grind, all the deadlines next week, the tyranny of the urgent, or whatever the latest controversy is on Facebook? Who or what steers your course?
A life well-spent is a life that honors the Spirit’s lead. J. I. Packer says, “Believers honor the Holy Spirit when they give him his way in their lives and when his ministry of exalting Christ and convincing of sin, sinking them ever lower and raising Christ ever higher in their estimate, goes unhindered and unquenched.”[iv]
The Spirit compelled Paul in the mission. Nothing mattered to him more than doing what God revealed by the Spirit. Likewise, nothing should matter more to us than doing what the Holy Spirit reveals in Scripture. He may not say specifically “Jerusalem” or “Rome” as he did with Paul. But he’s very plain about how we follow Jesus anywhere we are, no matter what circumstances we face. We’ll spend our lives well when we honor the Spirit’s leadership and heed what he’s saying to the churches.[v]
2. Consumed with the Gospel of God’s Grace
Two, well-spent life is one consumed with the gospel of God’s grace.[vi] Paul is consumed with sharing the gospel with others. In verse 24, it’s his race-course; it’s the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” As long as he runs that race of making God’s grace look glorious, it’s a well-spent life.
He shares the gospel in initial evangelism. Verse 20, he doesn’t shrink from declaring anything that is profitable. Verse 21, he testifies “both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”[vii] He does this in public—think synagogue, Hall of Tyrannus. Also in private—“from house to house.” He shared with all kinds of people. Self-righteous Jews, pagan Gentiles—ethnicity, background, class didn’t matter; he shared with all.
Paul also shares the gospel in ongoing encouragement of believers. Look at verse 1, “after the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell.” That’s amazing, by the way! The whole city just rioted against Paul. If anybody needs encouragement, it’s Paul. But he’s focused on the well-being of others. He doesn’t sit in fear and self-pity. He pursues their encouragement.
He does the same in verse 2, encouraging the disciples in Macedonia. A more word-for-word translation reveals he did this with much word. Some of those words were like those in 14:22—he encouraged “them to continue in the faith…saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Others reflected what he says in Romans 15:4: “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Paul’s ministry of encouragement was rooted in gospel words.
We can also see how consumed with the gospel he was at Troas. We get this story of Eutychus. What really stands out is Paul prioritizing the word even when God confirms that word with a powerful sign. Think about it.
Paul teaches long into the night. Sleep overtakes this kid. He falls out the window three stories and dies. It’s awful. Paul runs down. The ESV says he “bent over him” in verse 10. It’s better translated, “he fell upon the young man.” That’s significant because Elijah and Elisha perform the same kind of miracle in 1-2 Kings. God is authenticating Paul’s prophetic role with this sign.[viii] Not to mention how this miracle links him with Jesus and Peter, who also restored others to life. Paul falls upon the young man, and taking him in his arms says, “Don’t be alarmed for his life is in him.”
The church is very encouraged by this, verse 12 says. Who wouldn’t be?! If we serve a God who can give life to the dead, he can sustain us. He can handle our church. He can handle our problems. He can raise us at the resurrection, after we face death. They’re encouraged: “God is at work, here. Jesus is alive and powerful. He’s bringing a kingdom where death will be no more.” Encouraged!
But notice the focus. Immediately after Paul restores Eutychus, verse 11 says this: “And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.” It’s so matter of fact. No hoopla. He just restored a kid’s life, and he picks up where he left off and converses with them till daybreak. You can picture Paul, can’t you? “He’s good—life’s back. So anyway, as I was saying earlier about Isaiah…” He’s just consumed with the gospel word; and the church is right there with him, aren’t they?
He knows he doesn’t have much time. He’s leaving town the next morning. They’re not going to see him again. He’s got to finish what he wants to say. It’s like one of those Secret Church meetings David Platt puts on. He’s packing it all in; and by doing so after restoring Eutychus, we see the priority given to the word of God’s grace. In Acts 20:32, Paul commends the elders to the word of God’s grace. Why? Because the word (not the miracles) is “able to build you up and give you the inheritance…”
A well-spent life is a life consumed with the gospel of God’s grace. Don’t get me wrong. Not all are commissioned to the same role God entrusted to Paul. Nor will all of us have the same flexibility he had—both single and sometimes supported. Nor will all of us possess the same gifts he had. We all have various gifts and roles and abilities and limitations that differ—and that’s okay. God designed the body that way, so that we might need one another and work together.
But all of us must be given over to the gospel and its advancement in the world somehow. Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” 1 Corinthians says to imitate Paul’s ways in Christ. Ephesians says put on the armor of God—two pieces of that armor being the gospel of peace and the word of God. Those are the weapons of our offensive strike. We run to tell others the good news.
If you truly know God’s grace in Jesus Christ, it’s hard not to be consumed with it. There’s no better news. There’s nothing better to talk about. There’s no greater or more rewarding cause to give yourself to. But it starts with prizing the gospel of grace yourself. It starts with being amazed that though we once stood condemned and without hope, God chose to love us and send his Son to die in our place and rise again.
When your heart is full of that grace, it goes out to your family, to your church, to your neighbors and coworkers and friends and to the nations. One thing I love about Luke listing Paul’s various partners and where they’re from in verse 4, is that it highlights the gospel’s growth from region to region. Now Paul, along with the other churches he planted, were commissioning others to spread the gospel further.
3. Content When the Path of Obedience Leads through Suffering
Three, a well-spent life is content when the path of obedience leads through suffering. Verse 1 recalls the riot against Paul in Ephesus. Verse 3 says the Jews made a plot against Paul after three months in Greece. In verse 19, Paul says he served the Lord with tears and with trials that happened to him through the plots of the Jews.
Paul’s life was marked by suffering in the path of obedience. And it wasn’t getting easier. Verse 22, “And now, behold, I’m going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
Here we discover the race-course will lead Paul through more suffering. The course bends around the way; he can’t see everything. But it will involve imprisonment and afflictions…that is, as long as he keeps running the race.
Can you hear the world persuading him otherwise? Can you hear America? “Why would you do that, Paul? Why would you move there? Don’t you know it’s not safe? Or, haven’t you done enough? Just retire; take it easy for a change! Stop being so serious about eternity all the time!”
I’ve heard of family members saying things like that to missionaries: “Why would you take your kids there? It’s not safe. Why risk your life there, if there’s lost people here?” “Elizabeth Elliot, they speared your husband to death! Why go back to the same people?!” “John Paton, they’re cannibals! You can’t take them the gospel. They’ll eat you!” “Helen Roseveare, why would ever choose the Congo? Isn’t that the rape capital of the world?” And they did rape her; but she brought them Jesus.
Count the cost here, beloved. Our race isn’t Paul’s race exactly. But we also can’t get around John 15:20, “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Or 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Or 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” The path of obedience to Christ leads through suffering.
Are you content with that? If we’re going to finish the race, we have to be content when the race leads through suffering. That doesn’t mean some stoic attitude of “keep calm and carry on.” No, contentment in suffering rises from the relationship we share with Jesus, and the words we know are true in him. This isn’t contentment from self-sufficiency; it’s contentment from Christ’s sufficiency.
It comes from knowing that Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age—Matthew 28:20.[ix] It comes from knowing our sufferings aren’t meaningless. 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” It comes from resurrection hope. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself…But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
Contentment also comes from knowing the reward is worth more than all our sacrifices. 2 Timothy 4:6-8. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there’s laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” These realities are yours in Christ Jesus, and they fuel contentment to obey Jesus when the race leads through suffering.
4. Cherishes Jesus & Values Faithfulness to Him More Than Life
Lastly, the well-spent life cherishes Jesus and values faithfulness to him more than life in this world. I shaped the whole sermon around verse 24. Paul knows suffering is coming. But what keeps him in the race? It’s this: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
He’s saying, “If I weigh my life in this world…” Think of even good things like family and friends and freedom and flowers.* “If I could weigh that life in this world over against Jesus and the race he set before me, Jesus’ side is infinitely more valuable. He’s so valuable, his reward is so glorious, I can lay this body down! What’s imprisonment and affliction really, if I can have Jesus and please him?!”
That’s the way Paul thinks. “I don’t account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only…” His life is valuable only as it shows Jesus to be supremely valuable. If you’re not spending your life that way—making Jesus look supremely valuable, making grace look glorious—you’re wasting your life. A well-spent life so cherishes Jesus that it gladly sacrifices everything to make him look supreme.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field”—Matthew 13:44. Where’s the worth of the treasure displayed? It’s displayed in the man selling everything to gain the treasure. The value of something is displayed by what we’re willing to give in order to have it. God displays the worth of Jesus when we give up everything to have him, even our own lives in this world.
That’s why we exist. That might mean some of you quit your jobs, sell everything, and give yourself to frontier missionary work or relief efforts among unreached peoples. That would be awesome if some of you did. But many of you will stay and support them and continue the work here. You’ll return to your homes tonight and parenting and friends. You’ll return to your vocations and studies tomorrow. How will you spend your life well, based on what we’ve observed in Paul’s life?
We will spend it well, if we’re not driven first by needs and deadlines and paychecks and fears and other people’s expectations and even Facebook posts. Instead, we’ll be driven first by the Holy Spirit. You’ll still do all these other things, perhaps. But you’ll do them in the strength Jesus supplies through the Spirit. You’ll do them in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Why? Because the Spirit will bear this fruit as we give ourselves to him.
We’ll also spend our days well, if we’re consumed with the gospel of God’s grace. I don’t mean in an annoying sense of consumption, where you don’t listen to others and seek to understand them and care for them as whole persons. But I do mean in a comprehensive sense. Grace will touch all your interactions somehow.
Grace enables us to be people of thanksgiving instead of people who murmur and complain. Grace frees us from the need for other people’s approval. We’ve been made right with God and that’s all that matters. Grace frees us from the fear of man, so that we now work heartily unto the Lord and not to please men. Our reward is with the Lord, not in the paycheck or the recognition by others. Folks will notice that.
Or consider what you do with the money you make. Ephesians 4 says we work to make money, not just to have money but also to share with those in need. When generosity motivates us, it magnifies God’s grace. When you’re not blowing money like the world, or freaking out when the stock-market dips, people start asking you to give a reason for the hope that’s in you. Then you get to say, “He who was rich became poor for our sake, in order that by his poverty we might become rich.” In him we have everything we truly need. When you’re consumed with grace and living under grace, magnifying grace in speech becomes the rhythm of your life.
We will also spend our days well, if we’re content when obeying Jesus leads us through suffering. Whether that’s persecution or someone writing you off as a fool; whether that’s torture or your boss mocking your faith behind your back, it’s all included. During these times, we must recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”
Finally, we’ll spend our life well if we cherish Jesus and value faithfulness to him more than life in this world. Consider the sentence we started with: “I would consider my life not wasted but well-spent, if…” Can you answer it now? I hope so. I hope we can say, “It will be well-spent, if I cherished Jesus and remained faithful to him.” That’s the only answer that really matters.
That’s all that matters from day to day until we meet Jesus. Not, “Did I pacify every complaint?” Not, “Did others recognize me?” Not, “Did I check off my list?” Not, “Did I meet that deadline?” Not, “Did I keep the house clean?” Not, “Did I get all the schoolwork done?” Not, “Did I bring the paycheck home?” Not, “Did I know everything about this subject, or did I always have the right words?” But just one thing matters: Did I cherish Jesus and count faithfulness to him better than life in this world.
[i]Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 119.
[ii]1 Cor 4:16-17; 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:7, 9.
[iii]You may recall a similar statement in 19:21—Paul resolves in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem.
[iv]Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 237.
[v]Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.
[vi]That makes sense in light of the Spirit’s work. The Spirit job is to reveal Jesus’ greatness through the word (John 16:14).
[vii]To repent means to reorient your desires and your whole purpose around Jesus. Faith is to take Jesus at his word, to trust him and rely on his power to do what you can’t do.
[viii]Not only that, he’s connecting Paul with Peter who restored Tabitha to life in 9:40. And both of them are connected with Jesus, who healed the widow’s son in Luke 7:13.
[ix]Also Hebrews 13:5-6, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
More in The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus
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May 5, 2019Paul Thanked God & Took Courage
April 28, 2019Dangerous Journey, Faithful Servant, Sovereign God