Last week’s message was focused on how Paul had lived among the Ephesians. This week’s message is focused on what Paul was going to do.
Acts 20:22-24: 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, 1) constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But 2) 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.
What a radical passage… what a radical thing to say! I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course. Whoa… this is big!! Let’s take this passage one idea at a time:
A. Paul’s road to fame:
Imprisonment and afflictions: The fate of the man who established the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles and gave us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, holy Scriptures from the Lord to teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us in righteousness, so that we may be competent, equipped for every good work, was imprisonment and afflictions, and eventually death for his faith in Jesus. Chains! Chains!
“We’re better at singing about joy than sensing its reality when adversity hits.” Larry Crabb Jr., Bold Love.
B. Paul’s help in staying on that road:
Constrained to the Spirit: The flesh is weak, but the Spirit is willing (Matt. 26:41). We do not have it in us to be in it for God’s sake and remain in it if chains is our only option, but the Spirit does. This is key for us tonight and we will fall back on this a lot.
The word constrained in the Gk. is Déō which literally means, to be bound; spoken of dead bodies which are bound or wound around with grave cloths).
Did you hear that? Dead bodies! Alive bodies do not remain bound. Alive bodies always fight for their right to be free; independence! This is the American way, right? We have the right to be free and able to choose whatever we want to. We have inalienable rights for justice and liberty as our good constitution tells us, right?
Let’s briefly look at a passage that seems to shed some more light on what Paul is meaning when He says “constrained by the Spirit” and that is in agreement with the whole “dead body” analogy:
2 Cor. 5:14-15: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
That word “controls” in the Gk. is Sunéchō which means to have, to constrain, or to compel. This is the same meaning of the word “constrained” in Acts 20:22. Paul is dead, Christ is alive, therefore the Spirit controls Paul and his decisions. This is not a human act. This is a very, very supernatural act that occurs to those who are alive in Christ Jesus. This is why Paul can also say in another passage, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
This is key to the gospel of Jesus being a reality in our lives and it builds on last week’s sermon on humility, tears and trials: John 12:24-26: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Let’s work through this together:
If a grain of wheat falls into the earth and doesn’t die, it remains alone.
If a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.
Then Jesus equates the grain of wheat analogy to those who love their life and those who hate their life in this world:
Those who love their life will lose it (constrained by the world).
Those who hate their life will keep it for eternal life (constrained by the Spirit).
So in verses 22-23 we see Paul, with Christ living in Him, being chained to the Spirit’s will walking head first in the afflictions and suffering….and we have concluded that Paul only got here through death and the power of the Holy Spirit binding Him in that death.
Read v. 24: Now we move towards his last phrase here in verse 24 before He turns the corner in this dialogue. In verse 24 Paul is speaking and modeling to the Ephesian elders that 1) faithfulness to God is better than life and 2) being constrained by the Spirit is the means by which he was able to be faithful to God. Paul is saying that we should count faithfulness to the calling of Christ as better than the comforts of life and as better than staying alive.
John Piper says this about v. 24: “Every time I come back to the radical words of Paul, the chills of obedience go up and down my back and I long to be utterly un-American and utterly out of step with my secular age and utterly abandoned to the cause of Christ no matter what!”
Again, Paul says that faithfulness to my call is more important than whether I live, or live comfortably. What does it mean for “faithfulness to be better than life”? Piper’s list below:
It’s means we need a recovery of the supernatural. When we are faithful to God, He unlocks a renewed courage to believe that He exists, and He is never far off. It’s being bound by the Spirit to the will of God. Our spirit is gripped. God’s Spirit has a hold of us, and so the will of God is our passion. We see with spiritual eyes.
It means that you are content not to know in detail what tomorrow will bring (v.22). This gives us the courage to struggle. It calls us into battle where we will either be killed or we will be intimate with God. What God requires of you tomorrow is that you be faithful to him and let the chips fall where he wills. That is very freeing to know that whatever happens tomorrow doesn’t matter, you are only called to be faithful.
It means we do not forsake Christ when we know afflictions await us (v. 23) Acts 14:22: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.” Until Jesus returns in full revelation of who He is, He commands His followers to enter the reality of life and to be bloodied by the reality of it. Life is hard. It can be good, but it is hard. We must discover God’s power (death to self) to not run when adversity hits, to care for others, to reach out to the lost, to meet others needs; all while we are broken, hurting, desperate, and living in pain, because these will always be present!
It means that we must trust God to arm us “for battle w/ a higher purpose than present enjoyment, a determined confidence that God is good no matter what happens, & the passion of a love bold enough to take on the real enemy.” Larry Crabb Jr, Bold Love.
It means that we believe the Gospel is the center of life, not our circumstances. is the only thing that can heal, protect, nurture, save, restore, or whatever other saving word you can think of. This means that we abandon the “me-centered” aspect of our lives. “I need to accept myself. I need to learn to forgive myself. I need to learn to be at peace….before I can care for others”. This couldn’t contradict the gospel more! Not to mention it ignore the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ when He says that you will never find your life until you first lose it (Matt. 10:39). We need to live Chris-centered lives first. “The ‘take-care-of-yourself’ movement has led many to justify self-centeredness.” Dr. Dan Allender, Bold Love, 17.
It means setting your face against living out the American Dream. Switchfoot song… “that ain’t my American dream.” Not letting our culture determine where you should work, ow long you should work, how you should spend your money, free time, hobbies, etc. It means fighting like your fighting against hell to stay true to the mission of loving God and loving people so that you might fulfill the Great Commission!
As we close, I want to highlight two cravings that keep us from being faithful to God and then give us four reason why Acts 20:24 gives us more to crave than anything else in this world. So here’s two cravings that keep us from being faithful to God: thrill & significance. One quote regarding teen pregnancy says this: “Teenagers are far more likely to have babies when their lives begin to seem pointless and when the doors to the future seem closed.” There is a very close connection between saying “life has no point” and saying “life has no edge”. Sex, porn, jobs, sports create cheap thrills and false significance. Thrill and significance.
If we put these two deep longings together, I think what it’s saying is this: “I want my life to have a significance that is thrilling. I want my life to have a point that is admirable. I don’t want my days to be dull; I want my life to have an edge to it. I want something that is worth walking the the edge of a cliff for.”
Think about this: When you define yourself by what you do, then when you don’t that thing that defines you, you cease to be significant (no thrill) Oddly enough, the 2 things that keep us from being faithful to God are the very things that are satisfied when we are faithful to God. ETERNAL THRILL & DIVINE SIGNIFICANCE!
v. 24: “to testify to gospel of the grace of God.” In this we see the realities that was Paul living for that are much bigger than life as we know it? These realities are enough to make anyone walk right in to the fiercest of battle and risk life and limb to fulfill the reality that one believes in. This is the kind of reality we need to see Scripture through!
1. The Reality of God: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Since we come from God and are made for God, you can mark it down as absolutely certain: Any list of goals that you choose to live for will leave a deep void in your soul if GOD is not the centerpiece in that list, guiding and shaping all your choices. God was the center and source of Paul’s life, and the glory of God was the light of that enormous cause which led his every step, and all the other aims of his life were like tiny flickers from a dead lighter that would only light if God’s light was there to let it light. This is a driving force that creates a radical edge in life.
2. The Reality of God’s Grace: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” The power of God’s holiness and justice are unimaginable to us, the only picture we get that could compare is eternal darkness and separation from light and any life for eternity. So now, the grace of God is just as enormous in the opposite direction; eternal light, and reconciliation to the source of light and life. Grace is the center of God’s reality. Grace, or love, is the essential calm at the center of the perfect storm (1 Tim. 1:12-16).
3. The Reality of the Gospel: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” First, there is the reality of God himself, breathtaking in all his glory. Then, there is the reality of God’s grace, rescuing sinners from the perfect storm of his righteous wrath and giving them a place next to his heart forever in the eye of the storm. Then, the Gospel. The very message of God’s grace to all the world that these things are so and free for those who believe! An great and perfect God truly does exist. He is holy and cannot fellowship with sinners because of His perfection. But there is a way to safety and fellowship with this God, through the death and resurrection of his Son. All who submit to His Son, Jesus, and trust in His grace will be rescued and drawn into the place of peace and wonder at the eye of his storm. This is the gospel. This is a breath-taking reality!
4. The Reality of God, His grace, and the Gospel that transforms us as being our cause to live for: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” The cause of testifying to the grace of God is bigger than life as we know it because a cause is as big as its source and goal. The source and goal of Paul’s cause was God Himself. This cause is also bigger than life as we know it because a cause is as big as the effects that it has on those who are committed to it. I once was lost, but now I’m found! I was blind, but now I see. I was dead, but I was given life! I was an enemy of the Almighty, all-loving, righteous and perfect God, but He chose me to be His son and redeem my life! I was living for nothing, but now I am living for eternity with Him!