What It’s All About
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. . . be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:28- 31)
Paul’s farewell address to the Elders in Ephesus in Acts Chapter 20 is essentially his last will and testament. What are we to make of it?
We could read these verses pragmatically, as a manual on how elders should elder:
- Serve with humility (v. 19)
- Serve with tears and with trials (v. 19)
- Serve boldly without shrinking back (v. 20)
- Teach in public (v. 20)
- Teach house to house (v. 20)
- Don’t value life according to the world’s values (v. 24)
- Be innocent of all men’s blood (v. 26)
- Pay careful attention to yourself (v. 28)
- Pay careful attention to the flock (v. 28)
- Shepherd the church (v. 28)
- Stay alert to fierce wolves and twisted teachers (v. 30)
- Admonish everyone with tears (v. 31)
It seems obvious: Paul is delivering a clinic on practical Christian ministry. If there was ever a manual on the how-to’s of shepherding the church of Jesus Christ, this is it!
However, while I don’t want in any way to diminish the practical assistance Paul is giving here, I do want to say, emphatically, that Paul’s farewell discourse is not primarily a manual of how-to’s. Most assuredly it is not!
Think with me for a moment.
Why does Paul submit himself to his particular set of how-to’s?
Why does Paul serve in humility in tears and trials not shrink from affliction, go house to house, march straight towards imprisonment, or engage with wolves?
Why does he take that practical approach to life?
It’s so counter-intuitive! Unnerving! Dangerous!
Why for Paul are these the how-to’s of Christian ministry? Why would he give these as instructions to the Elders?
There can be only one answer: it’s about what alone is profitable (v. 20), the gospel of the grace of God (v. 24), the word of God’s grace (v. 32).
The word of the grace of God. That is what it’s all about. The message of a new heart and a new status derived in and through Jesus Christ – the message of newness of life in the resurrected Christ.
When we rush to talk about how-to and forget to talk about how come? we give people a misleading and empty Christianity, a set of prescriptions without a diagnosis. We distribute lots of practical advice towards living a life that doesn’t make any sense apart from the gospel anyway.
But Paul always grounds how he lives in what he believes. He grounds the practical in the theological. He has a theological basis for his practical experience.
To put it more colloquially: before we can say ‘that’s how it’s done’, we’ve got to say ‘that’s what it’s all about’. The how-tos emerge from what it’s all about. And what it’s all about is the gospel of the grace of God.
You will only find the power to effect a change in your heart, and in your practical life, in one place: Jesus Christ, as he is unveiled in the word of God’s grace.