We are going to do something today directly related to the Lord’s command:
Matt. 9:35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
We’ve got to set this out from time to time. I was 18 years old when the call came to me. I didn’t want to hear it.
My understanding of the call to Christian leadership has broadened since then. God may call you to vocational Christian ministry such as a pastor or a missionary, serving in or among churches. Or God may call you to serve as an evangelist, seeking those outside. Finally God may call you to be an elder or deacon, right here at OCBC. (1Tim. 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.)
What ever the calling is to, the call is for labourers to work in the fields to bring in the harvest.
Today, as we continue in the book of Acts, we see the passing of a baton, the baton from the apostles, the apostle Paul in particular, to a group of men set apart to lead the church at Ephesus. They meet and they say good bye at the beach of Miletus It’s one of the most moving stories in the Bible, perhaps it is for me because it was the passage my first youth pastor taught us on the night that he told us he was finishing up his ministry among us and would be transferring elsewhere. It’s a tale of departure. But within this sad tale of departure, the life of ministry is set before us in a compelling way, a calling way.
Acts 20:13 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.
Acts 20:17 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.
The Life of a Gospel Minister: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, Paul is not simply reminding them of his work among them, he is summarizing his approach to the work the Holy Spirit set him apart for throughout his multiple missionary journeys, and the purpose is so that these Ephesian elders would take note and follow Paul’s example as a model of the life that we are to live as gospel ministers. So what can you expect?
- Dejected but Not Defeated: 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; It’s a hard sell from the beginning isn't it? Ministry is tough and lonely, and not for the thin-skinned. Ministry is the X-games
2Cor. 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
We give ourselves over to death that we might have life. The secret to the Christian life - and this is for everyone, not just church leaders and elders - the secret is that the way down is the way up. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
So why would you do this? Some of you know that I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts this summer about World War 1 and 2. And its a completely different world to me. These men gave their lives for something and died horrific deaths, and yet more continued to enlist, knowing that death and suffering awaited them. Now by the end of the war some troops were resisting these suicidal orders, but it was shocking how far past the point and reasonableness they were pushed before they resisted.
The spiritual malaise of of day is not that we face harder obstacles than those who went before us, but that we do not live challenging lives. We’re soft, and God is not looking for soft men and women.
- Devoted to Declaration and Evangelism: 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. Notice that this is the craft of the gospel minister, to day and night set the word of God in front of the people of God, that is teaching, and to set the gospel of God in front of the people of the world, that is evangelism. “Some want to live within the sound Of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop,Within a yard of hell.” - CT STUDD
- Disinterested in Life Achievement or Career Advancement 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. For the gospel minister their is only one life achievement that matters - have I executed the work that God has set before me to do? Nothing else matters. Look at Paul’s disinterest here in what becomes of him - I know I’ve got to get to Jerusalem, but I don’t know to what end, except that the Holy Spirit keeps telling me that difficulties await. Ministry is not a career in which one seeks advancement, we seek obedience to the call and to the leading of the Holy Spirit - in fact, again, a person who is seeking aggrandizement should be kept far away from the gospel ministry. Does that mean we’re not ambitious? No but we’re ambitious in a different way.
- Dedicated to the Call 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. Her is Paul’s personal ambition. Paul said, I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, where it is not named. It’s our ambition to see Christ magnified. It’s our ambition to see his kingdom grow, but there is an ambivalence to see our personal success tied to the growth of the gospel.
- Defined by Faithfulness 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Here is how Paul defines himself - have I faithfully executed my duties as a minister of Christ, is my conscience clear that I have preached the full counsel of God to you. Not how big I grew the church. Not how many churches I planted. Not how much offering we brought in or buildings we made. Not even how many lives we saw transformed, but was I faithful.
The Work of a Church Leader
- Shepherding the Flock: 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.
- Guarding 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
- Admonishing 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
- Setting God’s Word at the Centre of the Church 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.
- Administrating the Care of the Weak: 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
That’s what we long for here - that we would raise up ministers for the harvest. Here’s how we seek to do this at OCBC. We have a plan. That’s not to say that everyone will follow a plan neatly, but there is a plan.