In Acts 20, Paul makes plans for his “farewell tour.” Beginning in Macedonia, moving through Achaia, he lands in Miletus where he calls the elders of Ephesus. Those beloved men, with whom he spent three years, were dear to his heart and he had a final message for them to spur them on in their pastoral duties.
In addressing the Ephesian elders, Paul reflects on his past ministry among them and he warns them of future dangers, and in the midst of his emotional charge, he employs six images that define and depict the minister’s responsibility for God’s flock. Master of alliteration, Warren Wiersbe, captures these in his commentary on Acts in The Bible Exposition Commentary. Taken together these Pauline images of leadership are noteworthy meditations for the minister of the gospel who shepherds, or who intends to shepherd, God’s flock (Acts 20:28). Consider them with me:
1. An Accountant, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself” (v. 24a). Like the king who counts the cost of going to war and the businessman who considers the cost/benefit analysis before constructing a buildingr (cf. Luke 14:22-33), Paul was one who ministered soberly and with full knowledge of the dramatic toll he would pay for such service! He did not pick up the mantle of ministry haphazardly. He served the Lord acknowledging and accepting the call, knowing from the beginning he would suffer (Acts 9:16), and that in the end he would give the ultimate down payment—his own life–for the sake of the kingdom (Acts 20:23; 26:21; cf. Matt. 10:38-39). So it is with us who aspire to the ministry (1 Tim. 3:1) and are called to the work; we must count the cost as a sober accountant and joyfully bankrupt ourselves as we invest our talents in the kingdom that is to come (cf. Matt. 6:19-21; 25:14ff).
2. A Runner: “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” (v. 24b). Athletic imagery fills the pages of Paul’s letters. In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, he says that he disciplines his body, in order to finish his course. In 2 Timothy 2:5, he speaks of the necessity to complete the ministry according to the rules, meaning that the steadfast minister is he who serves according to God’s royal law and not his own self-assumed authority. Moreover, in Philippians 3:12-14, Paul presses forward towards the prize in Jesus Christ. He sees himself running towards the finish line and imploring others to follow him (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1). This kind of forward-leaning and faithful service is evident in his final assessment of his ministry: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Like Paul we must train ourselves in the ministry, we must complete our assigned tasks according to God’s sufficient instruction, and we must press on towards the finish line, refusing to quit until the Lord takes us off the playing field.
3. A Steward: “received of the Lord” (v. 24c). Paul recognized that his ministry was not his own. He was merely stewarding that which was given to him. Humble and yet regarding what he has received as unsurpassed in significance, Paul captures a valuable lesson in Christian ministry. True ministry is received! John the Baptist received his ministry from the Lord (John 3:27). Archippus was implored to complete the ministry that he had received from the Lord (Col. 4:17); and here Paul considers that his ministry was given to him from the Lord. What about you? Do you see your ministry, your church, your location of service as a divinely bestowed assignment, or a self-made position of influence. Ministry that is genuine and honorable is received from the Lord, and thus it should be regarded as a stewardship. For in truth, all who have been received a ministry (of any kind and of any “size”) will give an account at the end of the age (cf. Matthew 25:14ff).
As we meditate on the first three of six Pauline images for leadership, may pray, plan, and perspire to be more sober accountants, more energetic athletes, and more faithful stewards in the service of our Lord Jesus, for the sake of his church and the glory of his name!
Sola Deo Gloria, dss