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”And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You know, from the first
day I set foot in • Asia, how I was with you the whole time—  serving
the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to
me through the plots of the Jews—  and that I did not shrink back from
proclaiming to you anything that was profitable, or from teaching it to
you in public and from house to house.  I testified to both Jews and
Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.  And
now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I
will encounter there,  except that in town after town the Holy Spirit
testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.  But
I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and
the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of
God’s grace.  And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about
preaching the kingdom, will ever see my face again.  Therefore I testify
to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood,  for I did
not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.  Be on
guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit
has appointed you as • overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which
He purchased with His own blood.  I know that after my departure savage
wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  And men from
among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples
into following them.  Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night
and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.
 And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which
is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are
sanctified.  I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.
 You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my needs, and
for those who were with me.  In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring
like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words
of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
 After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. 
There was a great deal of weeping by everyone. And embracing Paul, they
kissed him,  grieving most of all over his statement that they would
never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.” (HCSB)
As I read this text, I can’t help but flash back to a couple of resignation
letters I’ve written over the years. Perhaps the most difficult was
to the people of the First Baptist Church of Palm Desert, California--my
first full-time church. After pouring ten years of my heart and soul
into that church, I sensed the Lord was leading me to move on. It
wasn’t that I didn’t love the people there or that the thought of leaving
didn’t devastate me, it was that I became convinced that my ministry there
was complete and it was time for a change. I wept uncontrollable
as I read my letter of resignation to those dear people. Though I
knew leaving was the will of God, it brought me great personal pain to
Another letter that comes to mind is the last one I wrote, which was
to the people of the First Baptist Church of Alameda, New Mexico.
This time, my reasons for leaving were different. In many ways, I
felt I was leaving prematurely, like there was still work for me to do
there. After all, I hadn’t even completed my fifth year of service
to that church. But I was compelled to resign because God moved my
heart back to California and gave me a vision for the ministry of this
church. That sense of unfinished business made it difficult
to resign, but I knew I had to follow my heart and the leading of the Lord.
That church was truly the “Bride of Christ” to me, showing me love and
support through some of my most difficult days. I will never forget
how those dear people treated me through my illness and the Grace of God
they showed me as I recovered from cancer. In a private letter, one
member wrote to me, “When we called you to be our pastor, I thought it
was for us, but now I know it was for you.” Those words illustrate
God’s grace in my life--my work among them was undone, but their work in
my life was completed, so God moved me to the place He was preparing me
for—Seaside, California. A place, God willing, I’ll remain for many
Saying goodbye is hard.
After three years, Paul was saying goodbye to a community of believers
he loved. I’m certain that he had a sense of unfinished work, but
he knew the Lord was calling him to suffer for his name’s sake. There
isn’t a tone of regret in his words, but there is a sense that Paul knew
there was unfinished work there. He was concerned that “savage wolves”
would try to fill the leadership void he would leave behind and that some
of his flock would be influenced by men with “deviant doctrines.”
Though I also sense that he had a real feel of satisfaction about his accomplishments
and the hard work he’d done. Within the context of this “resignation
letter” Paul gives us some insight into his ministry—his “both/and” attitude.
Paul didn’t mix truth and error; neither did he do right and wrong.
That’s not what I mean by saying his ministry was characterized by a “both/and”
approach. Rather, he didn’t get so out of balance with one good thing
that he avoided another good thing.
In verses 20 and 21, he gives three “both/ands” that were the
hallmark of his ministry. He had a ministry of public and private
proclamation. Verse 20 says, “and that I did not shrink back from proclaiming
to you anything that was profitable, or from teaching it to you in public
and from house to house.” Having been raised in the South, when I
read “house to house” I immediately think about door-to-door evangelism.
But Paul wasn’t a southern and wasn’t referring to knocking on someone’s
door, interrupting their dinner and going through a canned gospel presentation.
He was talking about visiting different small group meetings or having
private conversations with people whose home he was invited into.
But the point of this passage isn’t whether it is promoting “cold call
evangelism” it is that Paul proclaimed the gospel in public and in private.
It wasn’t either/or, it was both/and. One was not more important
than the other, both were essential.
Paul proclaimed the gospel to both cultures he ministered in.
Verse 21 says, “I testified to both Jews and Greeks…” Paul did not
designate a target group, focus on them and discard the others. He
didn’t map out a strategy that excluded anyone, his approach was “both/and,”
not “either/or.” In Romans 18:13, Paul refers to himself as “an apostle
to the gentiles,” but this self-understanding of his primary mission did
not keep him from proclaiming the gospel to the Jewish people. The
special responsibility he felt to minister to the Gentiles did not keep
him from also proclaiming the gospel to the Jews.
Paul had a “both/and” approach to his strategy, to his target
group and to his message. Verse 21 continues, “…about repentance
toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” A couple weeks ago we learned
that the message of repentance is an incomplete message, but Paul didn’t
abandon it, he just completed it. He preached repentance and faith.
Today, I fear we have the opposite problem that was in Paul’s day.
While some in Paul’s day were preaching the message of repentance, as John
the Baptist did, without emphasizing faith in Jesus Christ, I fear that
many today are guilty of preaching faith without mentioning repentance.
Like wings of an airplane, they are both important. People must repent
from their sins and have faith in Jesus Christ.
Convictions are a good thing. People should live by their
convictions, but like everything else, they can have a dark side.
It is fine to have a conviction that the gospel should be proclaimed from
every pulpit in the land, but it is not OK to say that as long as preachers
are faithful to proclaim the gospel that the church is no longer responsible
to proclaim it in the workplace or in our neighbor’s homes. It is
great to have the conviction that a certain people group should hear the
gospel as long as it doesn’t mean we exclude someone else. And it
is wonderful to have a conviction about teaching faith in Jesus Christ
as long as it is accompanied by preaching repentance from sin.
These “both/and” pairs are complimentary extremes. In some
ways, one is incomplete without the other, and a Christian who intensifies
the importance of one, while downplaying the other is out of balance and
is thwarting their own potential and is missing out on the full counsel
of God for their life and His church.