Guarding the Gospel

Guarding the Gospel

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Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Acts is a record of Christ’s continued message here on earth through the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. He directs that mission by the Spirit through the elders and leaders of the church.

Acts 20 picks up three years after Acts 19. Paul had returned to Ephesus on his third missionary journey, and spent three years there teaching; his time came to a close at the end of Acts 19 with a dramatic book burning and near riot over the impact of the Gospel.

In Acts 20, Paul stops south of Ephesus (on his way to Jerusalem) and calls for the elders of Ephesus to come down so he can preach to them. This portion is significant because:
1. This was Paul’s only sermon to Christians in the entire book of Acts
2. Paul spent three years living with these men – he loved them
3. This was Paul’s farewell address to the men
4. The sermon was spoken to the elders of Ephesus, church leaders
5. The themes of the sermon reflect Paul’s letters
6. Although Paul’s sermon was directed at leaders, his words challenge us all and give the Remedy body specific ways to pray for our pastor and future elders (We are to follow and imitate our leadership as they point us to Jesus – Hebrews 13:7).

Paul’s exhortation is found in verses 17 though 32 and can be divided into three parts:
1. Paul’s example (18-21): Paul reminds the elders that he served the people of Ephesus with humility and tears amid much affliction.
2. Paul’s eternal perspective (22-27): He tells the elders that he will not see them again, and shares that the Spirit has told him imprisonment and affliction await him. Even so, his greatest desire was to represent Jesus well: “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.” v. 24
3. Paul’s exhortation (28-32: Paul tells the elders to watch over themselves and the flock, and to care for the church of God.

Watch – Acts 20:28

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Elders are to watch themselves, walking wisely with the Lord and being imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1;15-21). God is more concerned with our soul than our service; with the minister than the ministry. The Holy Spirit does not need us to do His work, He simply uses us. Ministry flows directly from intimacy with Jesus.

How can we experience intimacy with Him? By preaching the Gospel to ourselves, immersing ourselves in the Word (Romans 12:1-2), living in community, fixing our thoughts on things above (Philippians 4:8), praying without ceasing, and depending on Jesus each moment.

Elders are also to watch others, paying careful attention to the flock. The role of elder or overseer is a charge given by the Holy Spirit, in God’s church by the blood of Jesus. This is a serious position and the call to care for the flock must be affirmed by the Spirit.

  1. Elder/pastor/overseer – cares for and serves the Body the way Christ does the Church (Matthew 20:25).
  2. Elders do not act on their own authority, but on God’s (the Word of God)
  3. Elders do not own the flock, they belong to Jesus – Jesus bought the church, His bride, with His blood
  4. The Church en masse, this church (Remedy), belongs to Jesus. He is the Senior Pastor (1 Cor 11, Eph 4, 5)

Guard – Acts 20:29-31

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

Elders are to guard the Church from wolves that rise up from outside and from within. They will not spare the flock, and their purpose is to draw disciples away. They accomplish this by speaking twisted things and partial truths, like the serpent spoke to Eve in the garden (Genesis 3).

Elders are to be alert (1 Peter 5:8), to keep a diligent watch, to be faithful to teach and admonish in the Word of God, and to be loving and compassionate toward the flock.

Go – Acts 20:32

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Paul encouraged the elders to pursue God and the Gospel message. Although this message was directed at the elders of Ephesus and church elders today, it applies to all of us. We watch over ourselves and our walk with God, and we watch over others in love. We guard against the schemes of the enemy by being aware of his schemes and offensively pursuing Jesus. Go after God and the Gospel; let it consume you the way it consumed Paul, who valued the Gospel above his very life: “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.”

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Acts 19 – Truth and Idols

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And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. Acts 19:1-20

Acts 19 reveals four spiritual conditions:
1. Seeking but not saved
2. Saved and show it
3. Not saved and not seeking
4. Saved and submitted

1. Seeking But Not Saved
In verses 1-5, Paul comes upon a group of men who are “disciples,” teaching and following Jesus as Apollos did (without full Gospel understanding). We know this because Paul asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Why would Paul ask this question? Clearly he saw something in their preaching or life that revealed a void. Followers of Jesus will be known by a spiritual expression in their lives: the fruit of the Spirit. Everyone who knows God has received the Spirit of God.

Romans 8:9

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Romans 8:14

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Galatians 4:6

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Much like an apple tree produces apples, those that know Jesus will have His Spirit and produce fruit of the Spirit:

Galatians 5:22-25

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Followers of Jesus will produce a likeness of Jesus. We cannot mistake good works or skills for spiritual fruit in our lives or the lives of others. A person may demonstrate skills in leading, organizing, teaching, or caring for others but those skills are spiritual gifts, not spiritual fruit.

2. Saved and Show It
Paul was anointed by God and the miracles he performed were not by his power but by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:11-12). The role of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus, not Himself (John 16:13-14). Why do we see this great demonstration of the power and presence of God? God was establishing a new work, demonstrating Paul’s authority from God. As Christians, we all have power evidenced by our walk and relationship with Jesus. We have the power to overcome sin, the power to forgive when wronged, the power to love the unlovely, and the power to give even at great personal cost.

Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Our witness is the fruit of the Spirit. 1 Peter 3:5 encourages us to be ready to give a defense for the hope within us. In times of trouble, the fruit of the Holy Spirit shines brightest.

3. Not Saved and Not Seeking
The seven sons of Sceva wanted to use Christianity, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for their own gain and glory. The Holy Spirit is given to us at the point of salvation to seal our adoption as sons and daughters, signifying that we have been bought and paid for by Jesus. The Holy Spirit prays for us, empowers us, leads us, and convicts us; He is Jesus in us. Every follower of Jesus has the Spirit; anyone who does not submit to follow Jesus does not have access to that power and presence of God. The Spirit is exclusive to believers and fills us with power to overcome the world:

Ephesians 6:11-12

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

The Spirit within us is greater than all that we face in this world, but if we don’t know Him, we will be powerless like the sons of Sceva.

4. Saved and Submitted

Acts 19:18-20

Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

Many people who were now believers came confessing and divulging, with repentant hearts, and the Word continued to increase and prevail. When we are saved and submitted, we confess not just particular sins, but Jesus as Lord. We repent not just from particular sins but idols and worldly thinking. We stop following the world and start following Jesus, with the knowledge that Jesus is our greatest treasure (Matthew 13:44).

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After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. Acts 18:1-17

Corinth was the final stage of Paul’s second missionary journey. He entered the large city alone, and met with opposition because of the wealth and corruption of the people. He went to the synagogue to preach the Gospel every Sabbath, but received little to no positive response. After giving a concerted effort and still facing rejection by the Jews in the synagogue, he moved on. He later wrote that he came to the city with fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:2). Why?

Corinth was a huge city filled with commerce, wealth, and power. Paul had just come from Athens and although highly influential (home to Plato and Aristotle) in the intellectual realms, Athens was only a city of about 10,000 while Corinth may have had upward of 750,000 citizens. They were a proud people and proud of their city (built by Julius Caesar in 46BC), with great wealth and influence in trade. They boasted in wealth, culture, political influence and even athletics. Paul was bringing a message about the inadequacy of man and the brokenness of man. The cross leaves no room for pride.

Corinth was also known as a center for worship of Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love. It is said that 1,000 female slaves served her and went into the city at night to serve as prostitutes. Sexual promiscuity was the reputation of Corinth; KORINTHIAMAZAI meant to practice immortality. The cross is a call to die to the flesh, and a call to deny self by giving one’s life to Jesus. The cross is a call to holiness and sanctification, which is a stumbling block to those who are in pursuit of self-indulgence and blinded by pride.

In the midst of all that Paul faced, we see God’s grace and kindness toward Paul:

1. God brought Paul into community with Aquila and Priscilla (followers of Jesus and fellow tentmakers who were kicked out of Rome). We are to live out our faith in community. We are not islands, we are not self-sufficient. We are are not to be independent or dependent but interdependent on one another. The Bible describes us as a body with every part of equal importance (1 Corinthians 12). We are to bear one another’s burdens (bear and be); we are to pray for one another, encourage one another, and stir one another up. This church, the local expression we call Remedy, is part of the body of Christ.

2. God brought Silas and Timothy to support Paul; they functioned as ministry partners and brought resources with them to Corinth. Life and ministry is done in community and team.

3. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, becomes a follower of Jesus along with his entire household. Just as a fruit tree produces fruit, a follower of Jesus will produce other followers of Jesus: disciples make disciples. Philip Project – The gospel cannot terminate with us; if it does, then it is not the Gospel. If the Gospel ended with us, it would be about us, but the Gospel is about Jesus – who He is and what He has done.

4. God brings even more fruit when Sosthenes, another synagogue leader, becomes a follower of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:1).

5. God spoke to Paul to encourage Him.

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:9-11

Paul found encouragement in God’s Word as he faithfully preached the Gospel in Corinth for 18 months. We need to know and understand the Word of God, the character of God, and the promises of God. What is your go-to when things are difficult? Is it the character of God? Do you have some of those promises tucked away in your heart and head?

  • Who can separate us from the love of God? (Romans 8:35-39)
  • Set our hope on the grace to come (1 Peter 1:3)
  • He is our peace (Psalm 4:8)
  • He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • He will forgive us (1 John 1:9)
  • He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle in Him (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God encouraged Paul through community, like-minded fellow servants (the church), fruit of ministry or answers to prayer (God demonstrating His power) and through His Word. But God also gave Paul the reason for and importance of His mission: “…for I have many in this City who are my people…”

God has chosen to entrust man with the Gospel. There are many in this city who belong to Him, yet have not heard or understood the simple truth.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling. 1 Corinthians 2:2-3

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

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