‘Seedtimes of Tears’: The Goodness and Necessity of Tears in Ministry

paul

When Paul called the Ephesian elders to himself in Miletus (Acts 20), he recounted his three years of service before them. His words focused on preparing the elders whom he loved and labored with for the challenges they would soon face. Just as Paul fought the beasts of Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 15:32), so too they would have to protect God’s sheep from the goats and boars who would come to ravage the Lord’s vineyard in Ephesus.

Reading Acts 20 recently, Paul’s words in verses 18–-20 struck a nerve. He writes,

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

Humility. Tears. Trials.

As Paul faithfully preached the gospel, he encountered humbling trials, tear-filled circumstances, and strong opposition for simply doing what God has said to do. For Paul, this was business as usual (see 1 Corinthians 4:12–13), but Paul shares these difficulties to remind the elders that it was their calling too. For anyone called to speak God’s Word—one might think of Paul, or Jesus, or the prophets of old—is likewise called to a ministry of suffering and sorrow. Sorrow was and is a natural and necessary emotion for God’s servant of the Word.

Strikingly, in Acts 20, tears are mentioned three times: (1) as Paul recalled his fruitful ministry of the Word in Ephesus (v. 19); (2) as he called the elders to be alert of false teachers (v. 31); and (3) when the elders and Paul part, realizing they will never see one another again, they wept (vv. 37–-38). In all of these places, tears are the natural and necessary part of genuine ministry. Indeed, it is worth considering these tears, as they prepare us for service and alert us to the high cost of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard. Continue reading

Acts 20:24-27: Biblical Leadership (pt. 2)

Scripture is filled with imagery that sharpens the mind and stirs the affections. In Acts 20, Paul employs six images to illuminate the pastor’s role and responsibilities in a local church. These images include: Accountant, Runner, Steward, Witness, Herald, and Watchman. The first three of six have already been considered (see Part 1). Today we will consider the remaining three. Like before, biblical commentator, Warren Wiersbe, highlights images in his commentary on Acts in The Bible Exposition Commentary.

4. A Witness: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24d). The work of the ministry is a work of proclamation; the mission of the Christian is to make known the gracious gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). In other words then, witnessing, testifying, and proclaiming the good news is not reserved for an elite class of preachers. Nevertheless, the pastoral leader must prioritize preaching the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31). This is not a matter of convenience, gifting, preference, or position; it is the essence of the ministry and we who are stewards of the gospel must pray for and work for opportunities to make plain the gospel of Jesus Christ.
5. A Herald: “I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom” (v. 25). What is the difference between witnessing and heralding? Wiersbe differentiates like this: “The witness tells what has happened to him, but the herald tells what the king tells him to declare. [The herald] is a man commissioned and sent with a message, and he must not change that message in any way” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 [Colorado Springs: Victor, 1989], 486). Clearly, Paul in his preaching proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 14, 17), but he also witnessed of his personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 22, 26). We must do both, one without the other skews the gospel. The faithful minister of Christ relates the authentic work of Jesus in his life as a witness. At the same time, he declares the redemptive-historic message of salvation offered by Jesus Christ, the king of glory who fulfilled the law and earned a right to be the righteous king, who died on the cross to redeem a people to populate his kingdom, and who rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, where he reigns in glory today!
6. A Watchman: Referring to language in Ezekiel 11 and 36, Paul writes, “I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 26b-27). In this final aspect of ministry, Paul summarizes all the preceding marks of ministry. He says that he is innocent of the people’s blood (i.e. the condition of their souls) because he himself faithfully “watched on the walls” by warning the Ephesian church of God’s coming judgment. Faithful ministers, by implication, must be those people who do not shrink in cowardice or waiver in certainty. They preach the whole counsel of God, centered in Jesus Christ, and they do this day-in and day-out, in public and with individuals, and they everyday until Christ returns or until their Maker calls them home.

These ministerial aspects are grueling. They require more than good intentions and good training. They require a Spirit-filled life that rests securely on the word of God for all strength and sufficiency. Simply memorizing a list will not suffice. Spiritual leadership is more than reciting a list of cognitive truths; it is pleading that the image of Christ might be born in our lives and abiding in the word of God until it is. Ministry that is effective is the kind that sows the seed in season and out of season, and that perseveres in prayer for those seeds to bear fruit that lasts. These six images serve as biblical images to spur us on towards love and good deeds. May we meditate on them and pray that they are true of our ministries, as we labor for the sake of Christ’s blood-bought church (Acts 20:28).

Sola Deo Gloria,
dss

Acts 20:24-27: Biblical Leadership (pt. 1)

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