OK, so we’re wrapping up Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders. These brothers were very dear to him, and he thought he'd never see them again this side of Glory. So he wanted to share with them what was on his heart and some last words of encouragement and admonishment before he said goodbye. We don’t tend to do small talk when we’re about to die, and Paul didn’t either. What was on his mind before he left them?
He wanted to point out to them the quality of his ministry. Why would he do this? Was he really that concerned about what people thought of him? Was he that vain? Did his self-esteem need a “pick me up”?
Um, no. He cared very little how he'd be judged in any human court, whether a literal one or in a court of opinion. He answered ultimately to his Lord, the One who called him and equipped him and to whom he would one day give an account. I can think of two very good reasons he would talk like this about his conduct in his ministry.
First and foremost in his mind was the preservation and proclamation of the Good News. Keep in mind that these verses come right after his stern warning about wolves who would come in to steal the flock. False teachers were going to come, and he anticipated their line of attack: The character of Paul. His reputation was permanently linked to the Message of Jesus, and he couldn’t allow the latter to be sullied in any way.
Second, he was holding himself and his associates as an example for others to follow. He wasn’t just doing this so that believers could look at him and say “Wow, that’s impressive!” Inasmuch as he was following Christ, he wanted them to follow him. Hear his words to the Thessalonians: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” Unlike a lot of (false) teachers, Paul--and his companions--were honest, hard-working, and self-supporting. He expected that to be the norm for believers. This is not to say that it’s wrong for ministers of the Good News to be supported by that work. But it’s the norm for believers to eat their own bread and pay their own bills.
The second point is related to the first although most don’t normally think in these terms. He wanted Christians to be self-supporting in order to help those are truly in need. To the degree that the Lord has blessed you financially, he's not blessed you primarily just so that you can be blessed, but that so you can bless others.
By the way, as a bit of trivia, this is the only authoritative saying of Jesus from his time on earth which is not recorded in the four Gospels. You won’t find “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” in any of the Gospels. But since Paul said it and the book of Acts is just as much Scripture as the Gospels, we can take it as authoritative.
So there you have it. This is what was essential to Paul: 1) The purity and proclamation of the Good News and the rest of God’s truth, 2) That Paul’s life and ministry would lead people closer to that Truth, 3) Paul’s responsibility before the Lord to proclaim everything in his commission, 4) Passing on that responsibility to the next generation. Nothing else really mattered.
Does any of that apply to me? Can I claim that?
Lord Jesus, I can’t claim that I’m anywhere close to this. But I thank you that although I’m not what I should be, I’m not what I once was and I’m not all that I shall be. Whatever I can do to cooperate, then please show me.