If you thought you were about to die and had only a few days to live, who would you want to talk to? What would you want to say to them? What would be the topic of conversation? Pretty downbeat questions, I know. But I ask them in order to impress upon you just how important Paul considered this conversation with the elders of the church in Ephesus.
He had spent quite a bit time in that city, both evangelizing and discipling. He had a particularly affectionate relationship with the believers there, especially the elders. Now he was determined to go to Jerusalem for the Passover, even though the Spirit revealed to him and others that Paul would be arrested there. For him to be arrested and charged in a Jewish court was likely a foregone death sentence. Therefore, before he headed out he wanted to give some final words of encouragement and admonition, since he had no expectation of seeing any of them again this side of the Great Divide.
We’re going to spend the next four days examining this passage and seeing what we can glean from it. Why spend so much time on verses which aren’t nearly as famous as others? Because here we see a window into Paul’s soul as in few other places. He thought he was going to die soon, so he focused on what was essential to him. No time for small talk! As we look at his priorities, we should measure them against our own.
First, we see Paul reminding them of his bona fides. In the coming months and years they might have imposters come by who disparaged Paul and his ministry. Paul had to defend his calling and apostolic authority regularly; in fact, much of 1 Corinthians is made up of that. He shouldn’t have had to, but unfortunately he did. What does he remind them about himself?
Well, he brings to their minds his humility, his passion, and his perseverance. Despite being an apostle who'd personally been visited by the Lord Jesus, we never see an air of condescension. He was perfectly willing to work with his hands in order to provide for himself and his companions—This was no stranger to hard physical labor!
Despite the common notion of what a true man is like, this man was also no stranger to tears. He wept over those who didn’t know Christ, especially his fellow Jews. He wept over immature believers who should've known better. And he wept over the negative impact of false teachers. Yeah, I cry sometimes too, but if so it’s usually because of selfish reasons.
And of course we know about his perseverance. Despite all the setbacks, rejection and persecution, he never gave up. He did everything he could and trusted his Lord with the results.
Some teachers, especially today, tend to tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. Not Paul. In both public and in private, he unflinchingly proclaimed the entire message of Christ and how to live for him.
And what was the essence of his message? How easy it is for intellectuals to be sidetracked and distracted by minutiae! Yes, he had some pretty deep teachings, but the most important part was also the simplest: You “must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” I know I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating—Repentance is an essential part of the Good News. Any presentation of the Good News that doesn’t include the fact that you need to stop doing things your way and start doing things God’s way is incomplete at best and misleading at worst.
This is what was vitally important to Paul, so I think it’s worth taking a close look at it, don’t you? To be brutally frank, I’m a little uncomfortable examining this, because it entails examining me. How’s about you?
Lord Jesus, I know that Paul was a sinner like me, but I also know that you use his words and life to cut through my complacency, my comfort, and my self-righteousness. Whatever needs to change, let’s change it. By your grace and power.
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