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Acts 20:18-38

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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— [19] serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews— [20] 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. [21] I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus. [22] And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, [23] except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. [24] 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. [25] And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see my face again. [26] Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, [27] for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God. [28] 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. [29] I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. [30] And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. [31] Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. [32] 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. [33] I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. [34] You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my needs, and for those who were with me. [35] 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.’  [36] After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. [37] There was a great deal of weeping by everyone. And embracing Paul, they kissed him, [38] 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 write it.

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 more years.

 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.
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