In the book of Acts, we read the following passage:
“From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:17-24, NASB)
This passage is a notable passage in that it contains the word “solemnly” three times. Now this word is used only 30 times in the entire Bible (containing 31102 verses). And in just four verses here (21-24), we see it being repeated three times. There really must be something special going on here. Is God trying to get our attention?
This passage is one in which we see the apostle Paul plainly summarize his ministry on the earth. He may have made and sold tents. But that doesn’t matter in light of his ultimate calling, and so is not mentioned here. He may have had brothers and sisters, but that pales in light of his ultimate calling, and so is not mentioned here, either. He may have had degrees – and we know that he was indeed a scholar who studied under Gamaliel – but that again is nothing, in comparison to God’s call upon his life.
What Paul focuses on here is the cap-summary of what is important in his life. Several things stand out and I think both you and I, too, would do well to pay heed.
First, the IMMEDIATE NEED to serve God.
Serving God CANNOT WAIT. Paul states, “from the FIRST DAY THAT I SET FOOT IN ASIA” he was serving the Lord. We, too, need to serve the Lord right now, in our place of work, or at home, or in the supermarket, or around the business table, or sitting on an airplane, or wherever the Lord happens to take us. This just cannot wait. The needs are too pressing. And our lives are very short. So question number one, for both you and me is, are we really doing ALL to serve the Lord, RIGHT NOW?
Second, the MANNER of serving God.
Paul states, “serving the Lord with all humility and tears and with trials” (and we know the trials were very severe indeed). To what extent are we really willing to serve the Lord? Only when it’s convenient? Only when we feel like it? And what should our attitude be? I believe it is clear, this verse states that we are to be humble in every way, and it would not be unreasonable that even tears should flow. Were these tears of pain and sorrow? Yes, in some cases, perhaps, for those who had fallen very short of the mark. In other cases, perhaps, for those whom Paul missed as they went on to be with the Lord. In other cases, still, for those who were going through intense struggle, and persecution, or for those who were mourning themselves. Whatever they were, they were godly tears – tears of godly compassion, concern, and sorrow. Paul himself was the one who wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And certainly he practiced what he preached. Note that Paul considers trials to be very much a part of preaching the gospel. If, therefore, you want to be effective for the Lord, consider that trials are to be expected. Do not be discouraged when they come, knowing that the Bible teaches that they are a part of the call.
Third, the CONTEXT of serving God.
Paul states that he taught “publicly and from house to house”. This denotes both public and private teaching. In other words, ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE. Indeed, as we read, we are to be ready to give an account at any time. Paul was not afraid of what people would say. He spoke the truth in love, and was also wise. This is NOT a mandate to go speaking out of line or apart from the Lord’s leading. There is a time and a place to speak and a time and a place to keep silent. However, we are to be open to speaking publicly about our faith, as the Lord leads. And likewise, in smaller group settings – from house to house, as it were.
Fourth, the CONTENT of the message.
This is where we come across our first “solemnly”. Paul states, “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is really the heart of the matter. The word solemn denotes “very serious” and “vitally important”. What is so serious and important that it requires being prefaced with the word “solemnly”? It is our need to repent and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. THIS IS THE MAIN MESSAGE. And this is the message we are commanded to bring everywhere, to a dying and hurting world. What part are you and I playing in this TODAY? How are we doing our share to help that message be shared? Think about it. And ask God to give you wisdom to put your feet into action, because the days are short. Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4) Today is the day! We must do God’s work, friend, TODAY!
Fifth, INEVITABLE PERSECUTION.
Paul states, “the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me”. This one is the “difficult part” for many, but we must make up our minds that it is a part of the Christian faith. In fact, Paul writes elsewhere, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Persecution is simply a fact of the Christian life. Some people will not choose Christ because they do not like the persecution or the rejection that it might bring (from family members, etc.). The Lord says we should put Him first in everything. Are we really doing that? And are there things that we are deliberately avoiding because we do not want to be persecuted? Paul was steadfast and unwavering. In Acts 21, in the very next chapter, Paul reaffirms his commitment to serve Jesus no matter what the cost, when he said, “For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
In closing, Paul states, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
“Lord Jesus Christ, help us to be more like you. Thank-you for the example of the apostle Paul, who did not consider his own life as anything compared with his mandate to serve you. Thank-you for his testimony, and his example, and his teaching, and for using him to make a great difference in our world. Lord, we take up where he and others have left off. Help us to do our part, and to follow the individual and corporate leading that you have placed upon each and every one of our lives. For it is in Christ’s name that we pray. Amen.”