- Sermon Notes
Committed to the Course
Illus. Course Correction.
As we continue in Acts 20:17-24, we are going to be invited into a farewell address and teaching that Paul brings to the elders of the church at Ephesus. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, but prior to sailing there, he has an important message for those who had walked with him and seen his ministry firsthand for over 3 years. The section we will cover today ends in verse 24, where Paul speaks of his determined desire to finish the course that was given to him from the Lord.
The word for “course” that Paul desired to finish is translated differently in other biblical translations. The NLT translates it “the work assigned,” The NIV translates it a “race and task” assigned, and the NKJV translates it a “race” to complete with joy, and the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus.
The word translated “work, course, and race,” is a Greek word that describes a figurative race. It refers to the course of a person’s life. And in Paul’s case, the race, or course he was compelled to complete, was that with was assigned to him by the Lord Jesus. Paul was committed to the course; he was radical about his race. He speaks here about the importance of finishing his race, which speaks to carrying it to completion, or to make it perfect.
One thing I love about Paul, is that he liked to use athletic analogies. It is apparent through his writings and teachings that he believed there were some important principles we can gain from applying truths about athletic competitions to our lives in Christ.
2 Timothy 4:7, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.
1 Corinthians 9:26(b), I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air…
Ephesians 6:12(a), We do not wrestle against flesh and blood…
1 Corinthians 9:24, 26(a), Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly…
Philippians 2:16, I did not run or labor in vain.
Galatians 2:2, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
Galatians 5:7, You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
In these verses Paul is going to speak about the importance of his course, his race, and remind them of the way he committed to the course, and I pray that his commitment will be insightful and encouraging in our commitment to the course laid out by Jesus Christ today!
Read: Acts 20:17-24
- Review the Way You’ve Been Running
Acts 20:18, And when they came 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…”
- Paul begins his final message to the elders at the church of Ephesus with a review.
- He points them to what they knew of him, the way that he was when he was among them.
- In other words, he is saying, “you yourselves saw the way I was running the race,” you saw the way I committed to the course.
- Paul says, you saw the way I went about my ministry from the day I set foot in Asia (modern day Turkey), and how I approach my ministry the entire time I was with you.
- Paul lived in such a way that others could see his way, not only could they see the way he walked, he wanted them to be reminded, so he will review the way he committed to the course while in Ephesus.
Illus. Paul’s Highlight Reel from Ephesus.
- From Acts 19:20, we know that through Paul’s ministry, the word of the Lord was growing and prevailing mightily in Ephesus!
Acts 20:19, Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.
- In the book, “Purpose Driven Life,” Rick Warren wrote “true humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”
- John Bunyan, in his book The Pilgrim’s Progress, described a time when one of the characters and her companions have to descend into the Valley of Humiliation. It was described in the book as a “steep hill, and the way was slippery.” In other words, the path of humility is not an easy one.
- Paul’s path was not an easy path either. He reminds the Ephesian leaders of the tears and trials he endured. . He tells the leaders that he walked with all humility.
- That is a Greek word that speaks to a humble opinion of oneself, and a deep sense of one’s moral littleness.
- Paul pursued the path of humility, it was a steep hill and the way the slippery, it was not an easy one, but he was following Jesus. Paul serving the Lord will “all humility” came directly from what had been modeled, and what he had seen in Jesus Christ and His ministry.
- Jesus described Himself in Matthew 11:29 as “gentle and humble in heart,” Paul could describe himself similarly, and all the church leaders had seen that characteristic clearly.
- Paul says, look at the way I was when I was with you, let’s review it, there were tears, there were trials, they would have also been aware of the victories, but through it all, he ran the race with humility.
- Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was powerful, yet he did not boast. God had performed miracles through Paul, people were turning to Christ, being baptized, he trained up many ministers, and planted many churches, still he did not boast.
Philippians 3:12, Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on if I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
- In verse 12 of Philippians 3, Paul displays a recognition of his place and the importance of pressing on from that place.
- In the verses leading up to verse 12, Paul spoke about the transformation in his life when he encountered Christ. He spoke to his impressive credentials.
- After recounting his impressive resume e wrote, “if anyone thinks he had reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more reason.”
Philippians 3:7-8, But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ…
- Paul’s desire in his life was to pursue Christ, he knew that Jesus had taken hold of him, and he wanted to take hold of the reason Jesus took hold of him…He tells us here, he was not there yet!
- We recently studied Acts chapter 9, when Paul was on his way to persecute Christians and Jesus stopped him on his way saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” We know from Acts 22 as Paul recounts the story that he first responded, “who are you, Lord?” and when he knew it was Jesus he asked, “what shall I do, Lord?”
- The Lord told him to get up and go and he would be told what he must do. Here Paul says, “I am not there yet, I have not “arrived,” I have not grasped it.”
- He repeats that statement in verse 13.
Philippians 3:13(a), Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet.
- When Paul wrote Philippians, it was nearly 30 years after he had begun running the race for Christ, yet he says, “I am not there yet!” In Acts 20, he had been walking with the Lord for over 20 years, he tells the people I have walked with humility, you have seen it…I am not there yet.
- The review of Paul’s course in Ephesus so far consists of serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials.
- As Paul reviews some of his race, it is evident that he is giving them an example of what to do, a good way to go, keys to effective ministry.
1 Corinthians 11:1, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
Illus. Role Model?
- Paul did not desire people to follow him instead of Jesus, but to follow the way in which he followed Jesus.
- He pointed others to the way he went about his race, and his commitment to the course, so that they would have a good example to follow.
- He then speaks specifically to the way he served the Lord the whole time he was with them.
1 Corinthians 13:5, Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Galatians 5:7, You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.
- In Galatians 5:7, Paul gives a review, they were at one point running a good race, but something cut in on them. And he asks the question, who?
- Perhaps someone or something cut in on you in the race you are running, or the course that is marked out for you in Christ. It is important to review it, and then ask what, or who?
Illus. Cut in on.
- Bind Your Life to What the Lord Says is Right
Acts 20:20-23, How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was beneficial, 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.
- Verse 20 continues with the things the Ephesian elders knew about him…That he did not shrink back from declaring to them anything that was beneficial.
- Paul told them what was beneficial both in public, and in private (from house to house).
- Paul said, I did not shrink from it. This is a word that means to draw back, to withdraw, to refrain from saying or sharing.
- Whatever Paul knew that was beneficial, he shared, he did not simply preach on topics that he enjoyed. Later in verse 27, we will read him saying “I did not shrink from declaring you the whole purpose (or counsel) of God.”
- That Paul would not shrink back, is important. Whatever he knew that was good, that was from the Lord, he shared it.
Proverbs 29:25, Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety. (NLT)
- Paul withheld no doctrine, information, exhortation, or admonition that he was aware of and knew would be beneficial. He gave all he had and bound his teaching to what the Lord said was right.
- Not only did Paul not place paraments on or limit the topics he addressed, he also did not limit where he spoke, or his audience. He spoke to both Jews and Greeks in Ephesus, because he was called to preach the Gospel to all.
- When the Lord told a man by the name of Ananias to go to Paul and lay his hands on him in prayer, the man was reluctant. He said, “Lord, I have heard about him, he has done much harm to many of your people and arrests your followers.”
Acts 9:15, But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer in behalf of My name.”
- Paul is showing his commitment to the course the Lord had marked out for him. He gave the same message to all people, to repent from their sin, turn to God, and place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Just before going to Ephesus, Paul had received at vision from the Lord in Corinth. Acts 18:9 “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent…”
- In 1 Corinthians 9:15, Paul wrote, “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
- And that’s just what Paul was doing in Ephesus, telling any and everybody to repent from sin, turn to God, and put their faith in Jesus.
- Paul also declared the whole counsel, the whole purpose, knowing it was profitable.
2 Timothy 3:16, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- Paul did not play favorites when it came to which Scriptures he was willing to share with people; and he also did not play favorites when it came to which people to share the Scriptures with.
- Paul bound himself to all that was beneficial, and his ministry to sharing it all both publicly and privately. He did so because he had bound his life and committed his course to what the Lord says is right.
Hebrews 12:1, Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us.
- We are told “let us also” lay aside every obstacle, and the sin that easily entangles.
- The acknowledgement is that there are certainly obstacles, other translations say things that hinder, or every weight that slows us down.
- Those three make up the definition of the Greek word here, “ogkas” (ogg-koss): A burden or weight.
- This would have meant something to those who understood racing in the ancient world. Racers in that day would often run without clothing, get in the best shape possible, removing all excess weight possible so that they could run unencumbered.
- Here we are being implored to throw off every weight, no limits, no lines, if I find something is an encumbrance, I am to throw it off.
Illus. Optical obstacle.
- The next thing we are to lay to the side is the sin which so easily entangles us.
- The word entangles us is an interesting word in Greek as well, euparistatos, which depicts a skillful surrounding.
- In order to run the race, we have to lay aside the sin which so easily entangles.
- There are times in the race we run that we might get tangled up, and we must be aware if that is where we are because we must rid ourselves of obstacles and entanglements.
- While we are on the subject, in verse 22, Paul reveals he is bound up, he is not carrying weights that were in the way of his doing what the Lord had to say, he was not entangled in sin, rather, he reveals that he is bound to the instructions the Lord had given him.
Acts 20:22-23, 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 chains and afflictions await me.
- When Paul says is he “bound by the Spirit, “he uses a word for “bound” that means to be bound with chains or ropes.
- Paul submitted himself to the leading of the Holy Spirit in such a way that he was “bound” to it. He was chained, or tied to it, he could not get out of it.
- The Lord revealed to Paul personally, “there are chains and afflictions ahead,” then through a prophecy, “a belt will bind your hands and feet.”
- Paul’s response to it all?
Acts 20:24, 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 God’s grace.
III. Let Your Race Be a Testimony of God’s Grace
- In verse 24, Paul reveals his commitment to the course marked out for him, as well as his motivation; to testify solemnly of the gospel of God’s grace.
- Paul had surrendered his life to Christ. Paul was more concerned with purpose preservation, than self-preservation.
Matthew 16:24-26, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?”
- To follow, means to line up and literally walk behind. Jesus knew that nobody could truly do that unless they had denied themselves. To take up ones cross meant they were headed to death, they were dying to self.
- Paul knew that afflictions awaited him, but he denied himself, “I just want to finish the course, to run the race I received from the Lord Jesus.”
- Paul was fixed on finishing the race and completing the course well.
Philippians 3:13-14, One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
- And verse 24 ends with him revealing the specifics as to the course he had been given from the Lord, to testify of the gospel of God’s grace.
- Paul had received God’s grace, and his purpose was wrapped up in testifying that others, any and all others, whether he spoke to them publicly, or privately, could receive the same if they would call upon Jesus, and receive Him as Lord and Savior.
- To testify is to give witness or testimony to something…To confirm it.
- God had given Paul grace, which is His favor, blessing, and kindness, even though Paul did not deserve it.
- Paul spoke about the way he was before the Lord poured out His grace upon him. Paul was a persecutor of the church, one who tried to destroy it (Gal. 1:13), Paul persecuted Christians to death, dragging people out of their homes in into prison (Acts 22:4-5), Paul punished Christians, cast his vote that they be killed, and he compelled them to go speak against and turn against God.
Timothy 1:15, It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost.
Ephesians 1:7, In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace.
- And as Paul would commit to his course, and live out his life, we would be given great understanding into just what God’s grace can do.
Romans 2:23-24, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Illus. Testimony of God’s Grace.