March 8/9, 2014
Jason Meyer | Acts 20:17-35
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And 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, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 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. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 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. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 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. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 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.’”—Acts 20:17–35
We are now halfway through our ten-part sermon series on Bethlehem’s DNA. We have covered three sermons on Up-reach (worship) and now two sermons on In-reach (small groups and biblical counseling). I hope you are ready to take a step back and try to get a picture of the whole. How did this process come into being? I have a five-point introduction. Then we are going to Acts 20.
Mission > Priorities > Structure > Staffing > Equipping
1. Mission Statement
Let’s look at this from the ground up. First, we started with the mission statement: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” I love that mission statement. Then I asked, “How are we going to do that?” God is supreme in all things, but we can’t do “all things” as a church. Therefore, that led us to the second step of the process: we had to prioritize.
I wrote a document entitled "Bethlehem’s DNA" and used the acrostic IPOD. I started with ten irreducible essentials that make a church biblical. Then I identified 14 priorities that have defined Bethlehem. I did not write a section for the optional areas because that would have made the document longer by far. I wrote an initial paragraph description for the ten essentials and the 14 priorities. The elders wrestled through each page of the document and were unified on those 24 essentials and priorities. Then we decided to dig a little deeper. Rather than just a paragraph description, the elders came up with longer summaries for each priority (2–5 paragraphs for each one) just to be sure that we were on the same page in terms of what they are and are not.
Meanwhile, we led the vocational pastors through a complementary process of IPOD. We produced many smaller IPODs (sometimes jokingly called IPOD minis). Each ministry area (like Women’s Ministry) wrote a map for its own ministry using the terminology of IPOD. What is an irreducible essential of Women’s Ministry? What is a priority for Women’s Ministry? What things are optional? What things are "do not’s"? All the pastors read them together; in fact, we are still reading them together. It has been a unifying process as we get excited about each other’s ministry and see how our ministry areas fit together in the wider whole of Bethlehem. We wanted something of a "zipper effect" as the two parts of IPOD (irreducible essentials and priorities) come together to better define ministry at Bethlehem.
Once we established those priorities, we came to the third part of the process. If these are our priorities, then they should find their way into our organizational structure. Your roles and goals should find their way into your schedule. We saw that we needed both all-church standardization and campus contextualization of these priorities. Some ministries like Global Outreach make sense as an all-church ministry, with some campus-specific dimensions. At this point, it does not make sense to have three Global Outreach pastors. Other priorities will impact every ministry of our church in the way we approach them. We are not going to have a pastor for Christian hedonism. All of our pastors are Christian hedonist pastors.
Other ministry priorities are more embedded on each campus. Where is the vine of discipleship growing? It grows on the campus. That is where people are. We are trying to grow in our ability to address holistic discipleship needs on the campus through campus ministry teams.
Campus Ministry Teams
We have used a seal team analogy to explain the approach of these campus teams. A seal team is a team of highly trained soldiers that have a measure of expertise in different areas. One may be a sniper, one may be a medic, one may specialize in communications, but they are deployed as a unit. They work together, they go on missions together. They are doing some cross-training so that the collective skills of the team rise together. The sniper learns how to dress a wound, and so on.
We are deploying a campus ministry seal team on every campus. A campus pastor, a worship pastor, small groups, counseling, local outreach, children, and youth. Each campus should have pastoral level leadership in each of these ministries. They are scalable as well. You may have one pastor doing more than one thing, like campus pastor and worship pastor, or small group and children. If a campus is large enough, you may need two pastors over small groups. The point is that each area should have a pastoral buckstopper.
Is all of this talk about priorities just talk? I read somewhere that, when everything is all said and done, there is usually much more said than done. We need both vision and venture. Vision tells us where to go, but then it takes venture to get there. Vision has you stare up at the steps; venture says you have to step up the stairs. What are we doing?
4. Staffing: Putting Our Pastors Where Our Priorities Are
That leads to the fourth part of the process: staffing. We need to put our money where our mouth is. Putting our money where our mouth is means putting our pastors where our priorities are. We came up a little short on our budget last year and so we are not adding new pastors to the team at this point. That means we have to redeploy the pastors we have to make sure that each of these priorities has pastoral level leadership. We are making these moves in two phases.
Phase one includes sending Sam Crabtree North as the small group pastor and having Jack Delk focus solely on biblical counseling North. South, we would ask David Livingston to focus on biblical counseling and make Chuck the campus pastor. We are asking the congregation to vote on these redeployments at the April Quarterly Strategy Meeting.
Phase two will focus more on the Downtown Campus. Right now we are working under the provisional goal of having a proposal ready for the July Quarterly Strategy Meeting. Why are we making sure that we put our pastors where our priorities are? What are they supposed to be doing? What is their job description?
5. Equipping: The Multiplication of Ministry at Bethlehem
Each pastor is going to use his expertise to equip you for the work of the ministry. Each pastor has defining documents for his ministry from the IPOD process. The goal is for all the elders to look over these documents and robustly commission each pastor to oversee the multiplication of these ministries. Do you see your part?
I have explained that we have three top priorities for every member at Bethlehem. First, attend corporate worship. Second, join a small group. Third, find a place of passion to serve. Like what? We want to plug every member into a priority that is a passion for them. Don’t think that the pastors are going to do the ministry for you. They are equipping you to connect your passion with these priorities. They want these priorities to multiply ministry throughout Bethlehem.
Take the North Campus as an example. That campus team is attempting to equip you (the ministers) for the work of ministry. If Sam Crabtree oversees small groups, he is not going to do all the one-anothering. How could he? He is not going to be part of every small group. Jack Delk is not going to do all of the counseling. Vince Johnson is not going to do all of the outreach. Gil McConnell is not going to disciple all of the children, and Jon Nowlin is not going to disciple all of the youth. They are going to equip the ministers to do the ministry. They will oversee the multiplication of the ministry. As you hear about each priority we have, and some passion is stoked in your heart for that ministry, seek out that ministry leader and find out how you can cause that ministry to multiply on your campus. I also hope that you are attending the Q&A discussions to gain further clarity on our priorities here at Bethlehem.
This sermon series is like music to put in the IPOD. We want you to hear the heart of these ministries. Today I want to take you to the heart of Adult Discipleship in Acts 20. So let us circle back to where we are today. Two weeks ago we saw a powerful picture of what Up-reach, In-reach, and Outreach look like when united together in Acts 2. The early church did not need to pick and choose. A healthy church will be three-dimensional: up, in, and out. It will not be one or the other. It will not be one-dimensional. It is easy to read Acts 2 and draw the conclusion: “Oh, I get it. Be up, in, and out. That is easy.” Beep! Wrong answer. There is no easy button in Acts. Don’t glamorize the early church as if it never had any problems. We can scorn the church today, glamorize the church of yesterday, and assume that problems are a plague for today only. Let’s test this shall we?
Some say, “Look at the early church. That is the way it should be. No divisions and no needs.” Yes. By all means, look at the church in Acts 2. What an ideal and inspiring picture. I love to read Acts 2. But last time I looked, Acts had more than two chapters. I think Luke wants us to keep reading. The rest of Acts shows that this early bliss was something of an age of innocence. The sincerity of Acts 2 gave way to the dishonesty of Acts 5 (Ananias and Saphira), the unity of fellowship of Acts 2 gave way to the split of Acts 14 (Paul and Barnabas), the favor among Jews of Acts 2 gave way to the persecution from the Jews in Acts 3, 4, and 5, and it grows from there as others join in the persecution. In fact, the threat of persecution shifts from being a problem outside the church to being inside the church in Acts 20. Shepherding is hard work. The wolves are always watching and always waiting. But at least you know a wolf when you see one. Paul says church wolves are harder to spot. They blend in. They wear church camoflauge. This is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. These false teachers are ferocious. They will tear the church to pieces. Wake up and watch out. What are these church leaders to do? The answer is devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching so that the sheep can stand instead of scatter.
Here is the main point of Acts 20. When the wolves come, the whole church needs the whole counsel of God so that they will stand and not scatter. What did Paul give the church at Ephesus? In effect, he gave them a three-legged stool to stand on: suffering, sovereignty, and a secure foundation. This is what we want to give you in our adult discipleship ministry: 1) expect suffering (vv. 22–23), 2) embrace sovereignty (v. 24), and 3) establish a secure foundation (vv. 25–27).
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
Wait a minute. Did I read that right? Paul, you are going to Jerusalem and the only thing you know for sure is that suffering will be there. Then why are you going? Go somewhere else! Doesn’t it seem so natural to say that? We try to move away from suffering—not move toward it.
Here is a certainty. Suffering is a sure thing. Life is hard. It is not Candyland or Disneyland. Those are fantasy lands, not the real world. The real world is a fallen world. Life is hard here. No one is exempt from suffering. The forecast calls for a 100% chance of suffering, but here is the catch: You just don’t know when it will come or what it will be. The unknown can be difficult. So what are you going to do? You have a decision to make. We pray you will think about suffering the way Paul did. Our culture tries to avoid suffering at all costs, but here is someone who looks suffering square in the face and is not scared away by it. Why? He must believe in something bigger and more all-encompassing.
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.
How you approach suffering will be determined by your assessment of what is truly valuable or precious. Here we have the link between the past sermons and this one. We have been contending that Christ is better. He has surpassing worth. That means that we don’t. The fact that Christ has surpassing worth and we don’t is going to create a certain approach to life.
There are two possibilities for what Paul says in verse 24. We could take it as the ESV does where there is a mixed saying: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.” But there is another way to take it, which I prefer. The verse has a phrase front-loaded at the beginning of the sentence. The word logos is used and the word for “nothing” is modifying it as its adjective (meaning, “no word”). This phrase is connected to the word for worth or value. It could be taken as “my life is not worth speaking any word about.” The standard Greek dictionary translates it, “I do not account my life worth a single word” (BDAG, p. 599).
These two translations amount to much the same thing in that Paul is saying, “It is not worth talking about my life as to whether I am going to suffer or live or die. That is not what matters to me.” Paul did not put ultimate value upon himself. The ESV surely gets that message across in its translation, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.”
If Paul is not the focal point of ultimate value, then what is? He points to two things: 1) his Savior’s sovereignty and 2) the only message worth devoting your life to.
First, Paul embraced his Savior’s sovereignty. Paul did not put himself above God and thus he never said that suffering was somehow beneath him. He never said, “Clearly I am too valuable to suffer.” He gives my life meaning, purpose, and direction: “... If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” Paul knew that he had a race to run. The only thing that mattered to him was finishing it. And here is the point: He did not design the course. Jesus did. His Savior designed the course for him. He was going to keep running. Keep taking the next step.
Second, Paul said the only message that really mattered was the gospel of God’s grace. What matters to us becomes our message. What do you talk about on Twitter and Facebook and at work and at home? Our message is the true test of what matters to us. What do we find ourselves talking about when we get together with anyone?
The message that mattered to Paul was the gospel. The thing that is worth talking about is the gospel of the grace of God. That is what matters most to Paul. What matters to me is that I finish my course and fulfill the ministry Jesus gave to me to testify about the gospel. We are going to talk about what we worship, what we ascribe worth to. But we will do more than talk. I love that Paul uses the word “testify.” Do you see what he is saying?
What an earth-shaking testimony. I received the gospel of grace. There is grace for sinners found in the gospel. Grace greater than all our sin! God’s kindness made a stunning way to rescue us from his wrath through the cross of Christ. Amazing grace. Paul couldn’t stop singing it or testifying to it. He has been so changed by it and shaped by it that he is a witness of it. He believes that the gospel has such surpassing value that it is worth every expenditure of effort and endurance to proclaim it. I live to declare the good news of God’s grace. I testify. I do more than declare in a theoretical way. I am a first-hand witness. Wow, Christ is good! He made all the difference! No, you don’t understand. I don’t want your stuff. I want you to have what I have!
God’s sovereignty creates humility. Humility takes stock of true value. Paul says he doesn’t put so much stock in himself that suffering is somehow out of bounds. He doesn’t say that he is too valuable to risk losing. What would the world do if it lost me? He does not put himself above suffering because putting himself above suffering would put himself above the sovereignty of the King. It would in effect make himself the king of his life. It would say that he is calling the shots.
So beloved, you can purposefully take the next step because you believe that each step is filled with purpose. No accident. You don’t have to make sense of every step in order to take the next step. You don’t have to see it all. You can’t or you would be God. You can take the next step and believe that there is a point to it all because God has a purpose for all of life. He is working all things together for our good. One day we will see the mosaic of all that God was doing and all will make sense. Until then, we take the next step by faith and not by sight. You can take the next step. Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. You don’t have to design your course and figure it all out.
Just take the next step. Satan sometimes tricks us into believing that our circumstances determine whether God is good or not. This situation is not good, so God is not good. He can’t be both sovereign and good in suffering. Either he is in control and thus he is not good, or he is good, but helpless. He is good and sovereign, and life is hard. It does fit together. Now comes the third piece.
And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Notice that he does not expect to see them again. It gives his words power, like a last will and testament. He testifies to the kingdom. Was he guilty of any unfinished work? Did he leave anything undone? Did he establish a shoddy foundation? Was he guilty of leaving them ill-prepared and ill-equipped for what could be coming around the corner for them?
No way. “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all.” Paul evokes the imagery of Ezekiel:
"So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul."—Ezekiel 33:7–9
Why was Paul innocent of their blood? The answer is verse 27, “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul labored to establish a secure foundation. He laid out the whole counsel of God, brick by brick, sermon after sermon. The apostle believes that he has faithfully carried out his stewardship. He has passed the baton of stewardship to these elders. Look at how he did it. First, through hard work and tears. “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (v. 31).
Second, through humility: “... serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house” (vv. 19–20). Paul never asked, “Is the crowd big enough?” “Is the venue great enough?” Public or house-to-house, Paul would go anywhere. He also would say anything. He didn’t worry about whether it would be notable enough or quotable enough. He just wanted it to be helpful. I will go where the people are and I will say what will be helpful to hear. Humility means thinking about ourselves less and about the Lord more. I will teach on him anytime, anywhere. I am not what is valuable (I get value from being quotable). I exist to declare what is helpful.
Third, through courage (I did not shrink back). He endured the plots of the Jews and he risked saying things that people did not want to hear. His message was not just faith in Christ, but the flip side of that message is repentance toward God: “... testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21). Sin is not a popular subject, and repentance is even less popular. In his preaching, even to Christians, Paul tells us it took courage, because he could have withheld some hard things. But he didn’t. If he would have, then he would be guilty in God’s sight. He had to tell them what God gave him to tell. For he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God. Surely, the ministry of the word is going to bring us to places that are out of step with our culture. N.T. Wright said it well: “Where no attention is given to teaching, and to constant, lifelong Christian learning, people quickly revert to the worldview or mindset of the surrounding culture, and end up with their minds shaped by whichever social pressures are most persuasive, with Jesus somewhere around as a pale influence or memory” (Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1–12, pp. 44–45).
Here is the application for both unbelievers and professing believers.
Unbelievers, the secure foundation of the whole counsel or purpose and plan of God has a chief cornerstone: Jesus Christ. How you respond to him defines your life. Christ is the rock. Christ is always a rock of stumbling or a rock for standing. You are going to be doing one or the other. Stumbling over the rock or standing on the rock.
You can’t be almost a Christian any more than you can be almost pregnant. Repentance and faith are not half-hearted things. You need to see the difference between commitment and surrender. You remain in control of how much or how little you commit or decide. Repentance and faith mean surrender. It means, “I am all yours. I have no confidence in myself to save me. All my confidence is in you. I turn away from the sinful things I treasured more than you. Take every breath. Every moment. You gave your all. I give you all of me.”
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."—Matthew 13:44
It is worth all of you! Infinite worth! I don’t have enough lifetimes to give to this!
Professing believers, have you surrendered all of your life? Do you believe in God’s sovereign control over your life? This should not be a hard thing for a disciple to believe because it is the very way that we received life: to give up control of our lives! If your life is not your own, then you don’t have the right to decide what you will say and what you won’t say.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”—Luke 9:23–25
If your life is not your own, then you don’t have the right to decide what you will say and what you won’t say.
"For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."—Luke 9:26
Here is the point. What we value determines all of life. If we try to remain in control of life, we lose it. If we give up control and give our lives to Christ, we actually gain them for all eternity. Sovereignty clarifies all of life. God is in control, not me. He gets to define life. I don’t have to wander through life groping around trying to find meaning. Life is defined for us. Paul says in Philippians that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phillippians 1:21). What a beautiful thing for Christ to define our life and our death. Christ gives us life and then gives us a life—a purpose, a mission, a motivation to get out of bed. Life is Christ and our life is for Christ. Does anybody hear Christian hedonism here? Christ’s beauty shines best when our lips say and our lives show that he is better. His steadfast love is better than life. His love gave me life and his love gives me a purpose for my life. Death is gain because death is a doorway to more of Christ!
The fact that we are disciples of Christ (students of Christ) clarifies what we will say and what we won’t say. If he has ultimate value, we won’t be ashamed of his words (Luke 9:26). We are going to talk much more about this in the next sermon. We agree that we will not shrink back from saying what Jesus tells us to say. Better to have a bloody nose than bloody hands.
That is why the elders are accountable to the Elder Affirmation of Faith. It is our understanding of the whole counsel of God. We want there to be truth in advertising. If you want to know who we are and what we teach, there it is. If you want to know what we want to disciple you toward, there it is.
How do we try to establish a secure foundation with the whole counsel of God? My teaching certainly cannot lay that foundation alone. Paul spoke night and day for three years. Over three years, Paul could have spoken 2,160 times (night and day equals two times a day, times 365 days, times three years). In three years, you will probably only hear 150 sermons. But we have many more opportunities to hear the Word here at Bethlehem. There are Sunday School classes, women’s Bible studies, MOMS (Making Our Mothering Significant), and classes and seminars at The Bethlehem Institute. There are so many opportunities to get fed here, it is not even funny. We take the whole counsel of God seriously. I read the way that Paul treats the whole counsel of God and I doubt that we are taking it too seriously. He ratchets it up another notch.
The Role of Bethlehem College and Seminary (BCS) in Adult Discipleship
Let me say a word about leadership development. This priority is called "Adult Discipleship and Leadership Development." Discipleship is a biblical essential. The flock must be edified and equipped. But not every church is going to have the same level of leadership development. You don’t have to have a seminary to be a biblical church, but we do. We train future pastors. We are instilling our DNA in them and they are a wing of our outreach. They are going to go and plant churches near and far. BCS is also an instrumental part of our inreach. For example, think of our two TBI classes coming up: “Work With Your Hands” and “Now, the Future.” Think of the TBI seminar coming up with Joe Rigney. The timing is perfect because I am going to be preaching on God-centered enjoyment and wartime lifestyle that weekend. But I can hardly scratch the surface of how you glorify God by enjoying his gifts. Joe is going to take you much further in that seminar than I can in 40 minutes.
BCS is not a separate institution; it is like a department within the church. We must be clear on this point. It is not Bethlehem and BCS, as if we are separate institutions. Think of it like the example of embryo adoption. The government does not define embryos as human life. It is not embryo adoption to them, but donation, and then adoption becomes a property transfer. We can take advantage of government definitions for tax purposes, but we better be clear in our minds that we are talking about life, not property. In the same way, BCS may be a separate 501c3 for tax purposes, but we better be clear that they are part of us at the priority level.
A Word to Our Elders
What do overseers do? They watch over the flock and guard healthy doctrine. Congregation, do you see men who you want to put forward as elder candidates? People who are already functioning as elders and doing it well? Commend people to us for consideration. Fellow elders, are you ready to suffer? Let’s lead the charge. Let’s not shrink back. Let’s not move away from the whole counsel of God. The wolves are always watching. We must be on the alert! The shepherds must always watch. Let us be alert and arm ourselves to suffer and serve well.
We saw how Jesus is the Chief Evangelist in Acts 2. We have seen how he is the Chief Treasure (Philippians 3 and Hebrews 3). And now we remember that he is the Chief Shepherd (Acts 20). We are all weak. He alone is strong. He is invincible, so we are unsnatchable.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”—John 10:27–30
We are doubly owned (made and bought). We are doubly in the grip of grace. We stand by the power of God. I love the doxology of Jude. He is able to stand you, blameless and with great joy (Jude 24).
The whole counsel of God is like the whole armor of God. We want our doctrine to be battle-tested. Not a sword or a shield that looks so shiny because it is so theoretical that it never gets used.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.—Ephesians 6:10–11