Lou and I have been saying goodbye to lots of people the last few weeks. With lots of time for reflection. Amidst decluttering the house and packing boxes.
POWER OF PROCLAMATION?
And I was talking to a friend and colleague who’d been a preacher and pastor for a while. And as we talked we were pondering, I guess, whether preaching and teaching were actually worth it. In a world where for example psychology and counselling seem to offer so much more immediate pay-off. Plus so many other churches are just so entertaining for people. So many social programs. Such good music.
Does preaching the word really cut it any more?
I mean, maybe you turn up Sunday by Sunday, you come in with a messed up life, and you feel you walk out just as messed up as you came in. Week after week. Year after year.
Now that’s a pretty discouraging thought.
And when you take the short view as a preacher, it’s easy to wonder. What change there is, is so often slow. Problems these days seem just so big and so complex.
And yet this week as Lou and I wind up 22 years of ministry with you, I want to say to you that a real delight of the past few weeks has been hearing from so many of you who’ve said that hearing the gospel preached has actually brought huge change in your life. In very real ways. Has helped you persevere. In very real ways. Has held out hope. When elsewhere there’s been no hope. But most importantly, has turned you towards Jesus.
And as we move I want to leave you with a reminder of that as we look at Paul’s words of farewell to the Ephesian Elders and see what his focus was and his priority was. As something of a gold standard to work from.
It’s a gold standard that I’d have to say as a pastor I’ve always had in mind. But of course failed in lots of ways to attain. As in our humanity we always do.
Which doesn’t change the fact that the principles Paul spells out as he recaps his ministry are crystal clear.
Paul’s ministry with them. Has always been about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. Which is the one thing he never hesitated to do.
Now look, before we dig into it, you’ll notice this is a heart warming tale with a lot of resonances. I feel them, anyway. It’s a goodbye story. Bruce Pass tells me it’s technically called a peroration
. A final word.
And it’s got tears. Which in itself is almost enough to choke me up.
Paul’s on his way into trouble in Jerusalem, and he knows it. And so as he’s passing by the southern Turkish coastline, he gets a message to the Elders in Ephesus, and calls them to meet him at the beach as he’s coming through.
As you run your eye through the passage, there are lots of mentions of tears. Three times.
By the end they’re all in tears. The Ephesian elders. As they pray and they hug him and they kiss him and say goodbye. Can I just say to the elders here today, tears if you like. But please, no kisses!
But look, I haven’t chosen this passage so much because of how they’re feeling. Or to make any suggestion that seeing Lou and I off to Melbourne is in any way comparable with Paul’s last big journey to Jerusalem. I’ve chosen the passage because of the razor sharp focus it gives on what’s been important to Paul. And remains important. In any gospel ministry. And I’ve also chosen this passage because it’s traditionally the passage I preach on whenever I leave a church. Which I’ve only ever done once before!
Paul says there are three things the Ephesian elders know about his ministry. They’re in verses 18 and 20 and 34.
And they’re things that are worth noticing for us. So let’s do a quick unpack around that framework.
Three Things They Know
Three things that the Ephesian elders know about Paul’s ministry. That shouldn’t be rocket science.
And we do well to keep them in mind.
It was the Greek Philosopher Aristotle who said that to communicate you need ethos to match your logos. You need actually live out an ethic. That matches the logic of your message.
Which paul… certainly did.
YOU KNOW HOW I LIVED
And so number 1 – they know that. Because they’ve seen him living it out for three years.
Most especially, they’ve known his humility. And they’ve known his financial integrity. That he hasn’t been preaching the gospel for gain.
Verse 18. Here’s what he says.
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.
It was a tough time. We’ve seen it in almost all of Paul’s letters. Paul’s opponents. The Jews. Were constantly out to nail him over the issue of the Jewish law. And yet in the midst of that he just kept going. Humbly. Serving.
For Paul, ministry was always about giving. And never about taking. He came to them as a self supported apostle. content.
Which links to the second thing they know. Number 2. He says, you elders know, I wasn’t on the take.
YOU KNOW HOW I WORKED.
You know how I worked. Look at his words from verse 33 onwards.
I haven’t coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 you yourselves know… see, this is another thing they know… that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.
He says, I didn’t covet your cars. Or your superannuation. Or your fashionable suits. He says, you yourselves know… these hands of mine… covered with the blisters of a tentmaker… supplied my needs and needs of the other guys with me.
Because I wanted to model hard work to you. And the way we need to help the weak. I wanted to model giving to you. Rather than getting. Because Jesus said that. And Jesus did that. In spades.
Now Paul wasn’t against being financially supported. But what he loved to do was preach the gospel without charge. Supported by churches he’d been in before. To go and do it again. And most often, the primary contributor was him! Of all the things said about President Trump. And I don’t know if this is true. But don’t you find the suggestion disturbing that in the last few weeks he might have taken money for presidential pardons? Grace is free.
Paul’s ethos. The way he lived. His integrity and hard work. His humility. His perseverance under trial. All those things matched up with his message.
So. They know how he lived. And they know how he worked.
Here’s a third thing that they know for sure. And it’s in verse 20.
YOU KNOW HOW I PREACHED
And that is, Paul says, you know how I preached.
You know, says Paul, that I preached without hesitation. Every chance I got. Publicly. And from house to house.
Every chance he got. He preached in synagogues, he’d preach in the lecture halls, he’d run growth groups in houses. But they know something about the content of his preaching as well.
And he says, I haven’t hesitated to preach anything
that would be helpful to you.
In other words I told you everything you needed to know.
Which he then defines. In verse 21. Spells out in summary. No matter who you were. Here’s what he didn’t hesitate to tell them. Here’s what they needed to know. The most helpful thing you could ever hear. V. 21:
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Lou and I were chatting to a recent psychology graduate. About to start work as a school psychologist. Tough job.
She’s not a Christian. Working with kids who have got all sorts of anxiety problems. She said, there’s COVID, there’s the climate crisis, there’s anxiety everywhere.
Lou said to her, “We’ve noticed through COVID a lot of people on TV saying they’ve lost hope. Do you reckon that’s a problem for high schoolers as well?”
And she said, “Oh yeah, it’s a huge problem.” Lou said to her, “So what are you offering? As a school psychologist? Where do you point them. For hope?”
And she stopped for a second. And she said. good question. She said, “I haven’t really thought about it.”
Friends, let me assure you, if Paul was here this morning he’d be saying exactly the same to us Australians as was saying to the Jews and the Greeks in Ephesus. That you must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. That your confidence. Your trust. Your reliance. Has gotta be all with him. And not in your own failed efforts to keep the law, or be nicer, or to speak in a more pious tone, or aim to be more spiritual. Turn to God in repentance. And when you’ve done that, just keep on trusting King Jesus.
And that. Is where our hope is.
Because that’s what Paul calls further down the message of the kingdom. The Kingdom of King Jesus.
GOOD NEWS OF GRACE
That’s the message he calls in verse 24 the good news of God’s grace.
That’s the gospel he’s been preaching. That God is so generous… that all he’s asking for is our repentance and our reliance on Jesus. Because he’s the one who takes the load. He’s the one in verse 26 to 28 who takes on our blood guilt at the expense of his own blood on the cross.
Which makes us his church… the church of God in verse 28, which he bought with his very own blood. God blood.
That. Is the grace Paul kept preaching. That. Is the church he’s commending to the care and keeping of these elders from Ephesus. As they gather around to say goodbye.
Keep watch, says Paul in verse 28, and these are good words for any elder of any church in any age…
This is the church God’s bought with his own blood. Which is an astonishing statement. And the Holy Spirit wants you to look after it. Oversee it.
They know Paul’s own example of integrity and service. And they know the gospel of grace Paul’s been preaching. As his only ambition.
WORD OF GRACE
And it’s that same word of God’s grace in verse 32, that same gospel that he now charges them to hold on to.
Because it’s that word of God’s grace in Christ Jesus that builds us up in a way nothing else can.
That assures us that we’re right with God, again not because of a spiritual experience we might have had, or a feeling we might have, or a set of rules we might try to keep or sometimes fail at and feel bad… but that when we turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus; it’s all done.
And it’s that. Says Paul in verse 32. … it’s that word of his grace. That can build us up and give us an inheritance among God’s saints.
So three things that the Ephesian elders knew.
They know how he lived.
They know how he worked.
They know how and what he preached. Relentlessly. Repentance. And faith in Christ Jesus.
And that, in a sense, is a sum up of Paul’s ministry.
He knows he’s heading for tough times. He knows they won’t meet again. He knows that those elders will face all kinds of challenges up ahead too. So they’re the things he wants them to keep in mind.
So now it’s time for Paul to go.
He’s finished speaking, he kneels down with all of them, and they pray. And they’re hugging him and tears are streaming down their faces. They all weep as they embrace him and kiss him.
Verse 38. What grieves them most is the statement that they’ll never see his face again.
Which is sad for sure. Although the tears Paul’s been shedding over the years have been for bigger reasons. His tears and fears for the church he loves so much.
And they take Paul to the dock, and he boards the ship. And off he goes to Jerusalem. And the trials that await him.
So on that note as we wave goodbye to Paul, I want to draw things to a close with a few reflections and a goodbye from me.
Friends how I wish in the last 22 years with you I’d been able to be a more like the apostle Paul.
With Paul’s integrity. And his willingness to sacrifice everything for the gospel.
But I hope there might have been at least glimpses of that. Because it’s certainly been my ambition.
And because I haven’t got the Apostolic gifts Paul had, I don’t know if hardship and prison await in Melbourne. But I hope not. I’d much prefer coffee.
And I’m actually hoping that one way or another we do see one another’s faces again. Quite often!
But certainly with all those differences… in the end I do hope you can look back to what I’ve preached here. What Lou and I have taught here. And see a thread.
That I have been doing my best to do what Paul did. And that is, constantly preaching the good news of God’s grace. That whoever you are, the only way to be at the right with God and to keep on being that way is to turn to him in repentance. And have faith in the Lord Jesus. Which is not just a feeling but a robust life shaping decision shaping reliance.
If you’ve heard me saying that kind of thing over and over again for the last 22 years and you haven’t done anything about it yet, how about today! I reckon that would be a great way to finish!
And so where-ever we’ve been in the bible… over the years we’ve covered lots of ground… Old Testament or New. We’ve been looking to understand how it makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Before we look for anything else.
And so I’ve tried to model that. Over and over again. I hope you’ve noticed. And I hope it’s been helpful.
Because in terms of that chat with my colleague the other night as we pondered whether anything else can have the same effect as the gospel. I’m convinced the answer is ultimately no.
I might choke up a bit as I finish. But just let me say, Lou and I have loved it here at mpc. We’ve loved your partnership. We’ve loved developing and working through programs like un-awkwarding Jesus. That had so many of us Sam Chan-ing our neighbourhoods. Building natural un-awkward gospel relationships.
We’ve loved the Food for Thought dinners and the women’s events and the men’s events. Where Jesus was proclaimed and modelled in a way that wasn’t corny.
Rick Fairhurst said to me a few years ago after a Board of Elders meeting, he said, “I just love coming to church on Sundays.” I said, “Rick, Lou and I do too.”
We’ve loved it most of all when sometimes for some of you the penny has dropped. And it’s dawned on you what this gospel thing is actually all about. And to have been reminded of that as we’ve caught up with so many of you over these last few weeks has been just a delight.
We’ve loved caring for you through life’s ups and downs. And so many of you have been through so many big downs. And just kept persevering in faith. Which is such an encouragement.
And more than that, those of you who have cared for us in our own hard times as well.
So thank you.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you for your kind words.
Thanks you for your partnership.
Thanks for your friendship.
Thanks especially to those of you who have loved our family along the way. Which has counted for more than you can imagine.
We’re immensely sad to go. But it’s time to go.
And I guess again like Paul and the Ephesian elders, that for our elders, and all of you, our main concern shouldn’t be so much over the parting. As it is for protecting God’s church, that was bought with His blood. And keeping our eyes fixed on making sure that the gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus stays right at the centre where it belongs.