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,

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

Acts 13:13-41 (pt. 3, OT Fulfillment and Response)

Today is the third part of a message I taught from the book of Acts on the biblical-theological nature of Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia.  There is much to be gleaned from Paul’s method of preaching and much to be believed from the content of his message. 

Following this canonical explanation, Paul goes back to the Scriptures and explains Jesus kingship, covenantal obedience, and resurrection in light of three OT passages (13:33-39). He assigns the subject matter in each passage to Jesus and says what was promised before has come to life in the son of the carpenter. From the second Psalm, Paul affirms Jesus as the son who God has chosen and set as king in Zion. Implicitly, this exhorts his audience to repent of their raging and to kiss the Son (Ps. 2:12).

From Isaiah 55:3, Paul says that Jesus has received all the blessings of David. In context, Isaiah 55 is the blessed result of the suffering servant’s substitutionary atonement in Isaiah 53. Through sacrifice, payment for sin has been accomplished; the servant has made blessing again possible for those estranged by sin. Moreover, the servant now lifted up in glory has received the blessings of God for his perfect work and he shares these things with all those who trust in his work.

Finally, from Psalm 16, Paul describes the way in which Jesus’ resurrection points towards an eschatological resurrection for all those who are found in him (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-12). Unlike David who died and was buried, Jesus never saw corruption; rather in his death, he defeated death because the grave could have no mastery over him. In the end, Jesus was himself vindicated and raised from the dead as the first-fruits of a great harvest to come, where all those who are united to him in baptism (cf. Rom. 6:4-7), will also be reunited to him in his life and resurrection.

Thus Paul, using three key OT texts shows how Jesus fulfilled all the OT promises of kingship, covenant, and resurrection. Turning from explanation to exhortation, Paul concludes his message by calling his hearers to believe in the Christ, to place faith in him and “be freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (13:40). He offers them a gospel of grace–justification by faith, not by works! Simultaneously, he quotes Habakkuk 1:5 and warns them not to reject the offer of God. Whereas in the original context of Habbakuk, YHWH was bringing judgment on the people of Israel because of their sin, now he is offering hope, life, and salvation because the judgment was inflicted on the royal son thus extinguishing once and for all the wrath of God for those who are in the Son. God is still at work, but the righteousness of God is not in the punishment of sin (yet), it is in the offer of free grace purchased at the cost of Jesus blood. In other words, no judgment remains for those in Christ.

For Paul’s audience, this message produced great excitement. The hearers longed to hear more. So much so, that the next week the whole city came out to hear this message (13:44). They came out not to just hear a great preacher, but to hear a great message of salvation. And the result was that many believed. In fact, in accordance with the sovereign will of God, “all those appointed for eternal life believed” (13:48). So great was the effect of this gospel that “the word of the Lord [spread] throughout the whole region” (13:49). The powerful gospel message begun in the Old Testament, manifested in the life of Jesus Christ, and preached by the apostle Paul in Antioch had incredible life-saving results. The same is true today. The gospel of Jesus still saves those who have ears to hear.  Will you believe?

To tell the rest of the story, not all those who heard believed.  Sadly, as quickly as the crowd formed to hear Paul, a band of high standing women and leading men forced the apostle out of the city (13:50). Their ears were not open to hear, their lives were not appointed unto eternal life, and the message of Christ seemed like foolishness to them. Instead of humbly receiving the message of Jesus Christ, they cursed Paul and heaped upon themselves the judgment of God.

Nevertheless, Paul’s message stands! It brought salvation to those who first heard his preaching and it still brings deliverance to those who read Luke’s account.  It remains available to all those who are willing to believe the testimony that Jesus Christ came and fulfilled all the OT promises; he came to die a criminals death on a Roman cross even though he himself never sinned; more miraculously, he rose again from the grave on the third day according to the Scriptures and he has ascended to the right hand of the father where he awaits the culmination of his kingdom. And what does he do in the meantime? He intercedes on behalf of those who trust in his name, and he sends out emissaries who will carry the good news to all the nations. Such is the biblical-theological message of the gospel.  The choice, by God’s grace, is now yours:  Will you hear his voice? Will you believe his good news? Will you go tell the nations? Tell them what?

From the beginning of creation, to the end of the age and beyond, Jesus Reigns! Go in his peace!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Bible in 3-D: Miles Van Pelt’s Biblical Theology

“From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying of the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets (Acts 28:23).

In the last week, responsibilities at work have entailed a great amount of computer-related number crunching and data entry/processing. This is the kind of computer work that leaves your eyes bleary and your brain numb. But it is also a time when I can close the door, get the work done, and listen to some very edifying audio resources. This week’s choice has been Dr. Miles Van Pelt’s “hermeneutical” introduction to the Old Testament . A PhD graduate from SBTS and now a professor of Old Testament at RTS, Dr. Van Pelt, joins Craig Blomberg, and Thomas Schreiner in presenting 19 classroom lectures on the subject biblical theology.

To put it mildly, I have immensely enjoyed the rich canonical treatment of the Hebrew Scriptures and the intelligent pedagogical devises Dr. Van Pelt has employed to teach the subject clearly and faithfully. In fact, apart from a two-minute egalitarian-esque rant on Ruth as a “woman of power,” I commend this treatment very highly.

The most helpful section may have come in his second lecture, which Van Pelt calls “The Purpose Driven Bible.” In this lecture, Van Pelt takes extra time to unpack Acts 28:23 showing how the kingdom of God, the person of Jesus Christ, and the Law and the Prophets make up the three-dimensional center of the whole Scriptures. This approach is very compelling because it offers a singular vision of the Bible’s storyline while retaining the Bible’s vivid diversity and development. He offers a number of helpful illustrations to explain his biblical theology. One of them he frames bodily, that the central message is liken unto skin, a heart, and a skeleton. Let me explain.

Van Pelt likens the Kingdom of God to the skin of a person. In other words, you cannot know, see, touch, or come in contact with a person in any way in which you are not making encountering their skin. In the same way, nowhere in the Bible can you escape the the kingdom of God. It is the skin that holds everything together. The law is the law of the kingdom, the psalms are the songs of the kingdom, the history is the royal lineage to David, through David, to Christ the King, and so.

Next, he associates Jesus Christ with the heart. Jesus is the life-giving centerpiece of the Scriptures in whom all things find their life and meaning (cf. Luke 24:27; John 5:39). Take away the heart and you have a frigid, dead corpse. Take away Jesus Christ and the Bible becomes a lifeless book of antiquity.

Last, the OT is comprised of the Law and Prophets. Just like the skeletone gives shape to the body, these Old Testament books provide structure, support, and shape. Just as the skin takes on the shape of the skeleton, so the Kingdom of God is shaped by the canonical shape of the law and the prophets. Furthermore, as the heart fills the flesh and bones of the body, so Jesus Christ fills the Old Testament Scriptures.

Perhaps this description is a little visceral, but as Russell Moore has reminded us many times, the Son of God has hair, eyelashes, and fingernails. The Bible is an incarnational revelation of God, and I think Miles Van Pelt’s faithfully depicts this reality. Moreover, his whole argument is exegetical. Drawing his three-dimensional biblical theology from Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Acts 28:23: “From morning till evening he [Paul] expounded to them, testifying of the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

Today, I go back to work and face many more computer operations, but I go knowing that I will get to hear more great biblical theology. Better than that, though, is the reality that the heart of the Scriptures, the one who reigns in the flesh and whose shadow is seen in all the Law and the Prophets, the man Jesus Christ, will go with me. That is good news and I pray in the spirit of Acts 28:23, that I too may from morning to evening tell others about the kingdom of God and persuade them that Jesus is the Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Why Blog? (3): Blogging as the Modern Day Areopagus

Why Blog?

Because the Internet and weblogs are the forum for the twenty-first century Aeropagus.  In Acts 17, Paul travels from Thessalonica to Berea to Athens.  Being run out of the first two cities, he arrives in Athens to mend his wounds and wait for his traveling/ministering companions.  Yet, as he walks the streets of the cosmopolitan city “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city was full of idols” (v. 16), and he could not hold back.  In response to the culture’s false religions, he went to the synagogue (v. 17a) and the marketplace (v. 17b) “preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (v. 19).

Stirring up significant attention to his claims, Paul was ushered to the Aeropagus.  Located on a hill on the outside of Athens, this forum of philosophers “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (v. 21).  Having heard that a new preacher was in town, the Aeropagite leaders invited the apostle.  Standing up in the midst of this erudite but skeptical assembly (v. 22-31), Paul preached the gospel–starting with the religious worship of an unknown God (v. 22-23), he described the God of the Bible as the Creator (v. 24-28 ) and Judge of humanity (v.29-31), and the one whom all men would one day give account.  He spoke of Jesus as the man God raised from the dead to judge all humanity, and he called them to put faith in him (v. 34).

The scene is impressive.  Paul, in isolation yet empowered by the Holy Spirit, boldly enters the pluralistic assembly and proclaims the exclusive message salvation offered by the God of Israel through His Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.  Such is the task of a faithful blogger, to enter the arena of swirling ideas and nihilistic philosophies and proclaim a surer message.  Today the world of ideas is too expansive for an Aeropagite rotunda, but within the WWW the Aeropagite debate rages on. 

Consequently, like Paul there must be a steady stream of humble witnesses proclaiming the Truth.  For this reason, Christians (perhaps not all, but some) must blog.  Not to be heroic, but to be a small but persuasive voices standing against an avalanche of avatars who reject Jesus Christ or who simply misuse and abuse his name.   For behind every weblog sits a person with a name and a soul, someone made by God (Acts 17:28 ) and called to believe in his savior for eternal life.  

When Paul left the Aeropagus, some mocked (v. 32), others said they would hear him again, but only two said that they believed (v. 34).  So is it in the blogosphere: many who hear about Jesus mock, others out of intrigue, antagonism, or misunderstanding listen and debate, but few believe.  Nevertheless we must contend (Jude 3) and blog, so that seekers of wisdom like Dionysius and Damaris (v. 34) may encounter voices of truth when they enter today’s Google-navigated Aeropagus.  

And perhaps to their amazement and surprise, what they find is not information but wisdom.  Wisdom that is not found on the the beaten path of the information superhighway, but rather on the sloped road that leads to Mt. Calvary, that winds into a garden tomb, and that turns to view the hill on which Christ will one day reign-Mt Zion.  This may sound like foolishness to some, but to others who have ears to hear it is the way of wisdom.  And for the latter ensnared in the Aeropagus, we must blog.

Sola Dei Gloria, dss