Counsel From Paul’s Farewell (Acts 20:17-21)

Minister in a way that will make you happy to review.

Acts 20:17-21

17Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Miletus was a town near the sea, about 30 miles from Ephesus. Paul sent to the leadership of the Ephesian church, and asked them to come and meet him there. He only had a little time to spend with them, and so he wanted it to count. The church leaders arrived, and Paul presented his farewell address.

In this opening section of Paul’s farewell address, he reviews his ministry among the Ephesians. That is why I say that we should minister in a way that will make us happy to review. Again, whether you are a pastor, a school teacher, or whatever your career, you should spend your time with people in such a way that, when it is all said and done, you will be happy to look back on it.

One way to minister in a way that will make you happy to review is to minister with transparency in your life. Paul says that the people knew how he lived before them. He was open. He was honest. He did not have any part of his life and ministry that was hidden from the people. And if you want to have a life and ministry that pleases God and makes you happy to review, you need to develop that kind of openness to others. Let others see who you are. Let them see how you live. The stronger you cling to your privacy, the more likely you are to fall into sin, believing that others will never find out about the compromises you make. So, live openly before all people, and you will be taking a step toward a ministry and a life that you can review with joy.

Another thing we see in Paul’s statement is in his next phrase. At the beginning of verse 19, Paul says that he was serving the Lord from the first moment he set foot in Asia. A second key to living a ministry that you will be happy to review is to serve the Lord first and foremost. What I mean by that is that you must serve God, even before you serve people. The Christian life is not about others first. The Christian life is first and foremost about the glory of God. Thankfully, God is honored when we also care for others, and so it is not that you will neglect others for the sake of God. However, if you are going to have your priorities right in ministry, you must have it clearly set in your mind that you are sent out to serve God. It is more important that God be happy with your life and ministry than it is for other people to applaud what you do in serving the Lord.

Paul says that he served the Lord with humility, tears, and trials. The idea here is that Paul most certainly did not serve for his own comfort and ease. The humility that Paul had marked his life as a life given for others and not for his own selfish gain. His tears showed that his heart ached when the name of God was dishonored by the lost, or by those who claimed Christ but who were not living as believers. Paul went through trials and persecutions in many of the cities that he entered. His ministry was not about making himself comfortable. His ministry was about doing the will of God and spreading the Gospel. And, if you want to have a ministry that will make you happy to review, you too will live more for the glory of God than for your own comfort.

In verses 20-21, Paul wraps up his ministry review by pointing out how he taught. This is a central component to having a life and ministry that you will be happy to look back on. Paul says that he did not shrink back from proclaiming anything profitable. He never hid biblical doctrine and teaching. He never held back. Paul proclaimed the truth with boldness. He taught the truth in public and private. He taught the truth to Jews and gentiles. He taught the truth when people wanted to hear it and when they didn’t. He called people to repentance and to faith. Even when people did not want to be thought of as sinners, Paul helped them to see their need to turn from sin and to receive God’s grace through faith in Christ. He boldly, unflinchingly taught the truth; and that made his ministry something he could look back on and smile.

I’m no Paul, and neither are you. But we can all live as Paul did if we will be committed to ministry, and to having a ministry that we can look back on with joy.