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Bristol Road Baptist Church

Induction of Tim Ford

The Gospel of God’s Grace

Acts 20 17-37

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and
complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel
of God’s grace.
Verse 24

I can think of no privilege in my whole life like this one. Over forty two
years ago I stood in this place to be ordained to the ministry – so, that I
should be invited to speak today on the occasion of the church inducting
its new pastor, is a great joy.

I will address the church at Bristol Road first, and use this passage to
remind them of their privileges and responsibility, then I will address Tim
and remind him of some of the things that he must do as your pastor.

Saying Goodbye is always difficult. In these verses Paul is saying Goodbye


to the church leaders of Ephesus. They have travelled thirty miles to hear
him – and they know that his future is full of trial and that they will never
see him again.

So why choose a farewell speech for a beginning of ministry? Because


here Paul sets out his aims and objectives, his hopes and aspirations, his
advice regarding the Christian ministry. His speech here is unlike any
other speech of Paul recorded in Acts – because here he is speaking to
believers – and his words read much more like his letters.

I want to suggest to you that these verses contain many profound and
fundamental principles for the Church and its pastors. Then I want to
tease out of the verses a few thoughts for both Pastor and People.

The over-arching themes are those of the Glorious Gospel and of the
power of The Holy Spirit to direct the life of the believer and the church

Here we see (particularly in verses 22, 23 and 28) that it is the Holy Spirit
that is in control of the Church, and the focus of church endeavours is the
“task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”. That is the starting point
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from which we shall consider these verses – and seek to apply them to the
church and to Tim.

THE CHURCH AND THE GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE

The Holy Spirit hovers over the early church, delineating its apparent
confusion – just as He did at the beginning of God’s work of creation. In
the work of Grace we see Him ordering the comings and goings of apostles
and leaders, directing the decisions of its peoples – pastor and member
alike.

Such is the power at work in the apostolic and the modern church. The
Spirit compels Paul, warns him in every city, and makes elders responsible
for the flock of God.

What does this passage have to say to us about the Church in Paul’s time
and ours?

Despite our ideas of the importance of individual choices in the role of the
ministry and in the selection of its pastor – the picture the Word gives us is
very different. The church at Ephesus is not seen as “employer” of a pastor
or pastors – not seen as wielding particular power in the ballot or in
directing the affairs of the congregation, but, on the contrary seen as weak
and vulnerable and wholly dependent on His grace.

The key words are:

BOUGHT verses 28, 21


RULED verses 22-28
&
VULNERABLE verses 29 & 35

I believe that God’s message to Bristol Road is that He wants us to


recognise where the authority in the Church lies. After a lengthy
interregnum there are many currents that seem to be at work in a
fellowship. Some of us have very “clear” ideas of where we believe the
church should be going – and whilst a shared vision is essential – a range
of opinions is not a clear vision. Here Paul is reminding us that the
ministry of the gospel and the work of the Church has to be seen from the
point of view of the Head of the Church.

Of course Paul is talking here primarily to church leaders – and in a


moment we will come to look more closely at what his advice is – but he
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also makes it clear that the family of the church is answerable to The Lord
of the Church, to the Holy Spirit’s guidance – and to the authority vested in
the church’s leaders.

BOUGHT WITH A PRICE v21 v28

Paul’s first point takes us back to first principles – and you find it reflected
in v 21 and v 28

21
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in
repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

28
… the flock … which he bought with his own blood.

We are reminded that the Church is a community of those who “turn to


God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus.”

That is the believer’s perspective on the amazing work of Christ in His


cross –

“the flock…which He bought with His own blood”

We too easily see ourselves as “the church at Ephesus” “the saints at


Corinth” or even “the people of God at Bristol Road” – when we should be
rejoicing that we are BOUGHT WITH A PRICE amongst huge numbers of
those who belong to the Family of God and have been received in – not by
the processes of Church government – but by REPENTANCE and FAITH in
JESUS. It is not a club to join – but a family to be born into.

Secondly:

RULED BY THE SPIRIT HIMSELF v22~ V25-27

22
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing
what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit
warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life
worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord
Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
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25
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the
kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am
innocent of the blood of all men.
27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep
watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers.
We shall return to this emphasis again presently when I apply it to Tim and
to myself – but for now it is entirely relevant to the congregation.

Paul sees the church at Ephesus not as a body of born again believers
whom he has pastured – not as a self-governing group – but as part of the
flock of God whose pathways are dictated by the Spirit Himself.

What he says of his own experience has to be true of all believers

COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT

WARNED BY THE SPIRIT

WHOSE LEADERS ARE SUCH BY THE SPIRIT

In God’s great plan for His people the work of Christ is paramount – the
power of the Holy Spirit absolute, and the members of the congregation
are to see themselves as

Thirdly…

VULNERABLE PEOPLE verses 29,30 and 35

29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not
spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the
truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
35
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help
the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed
to give than to receive.’ ”

Paul speaks of the people of God as a FLOCK subject to attack

Disciples who may be all too easily diverted


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In short he sees us as “the WEAK”

Is this a picture we have in our minds and hearts when we consider our
church here at Bristol Road?

Yet experience even over the last few years has demonstrated to us over
and again that we are indeed VULNERABLE
We are subject to the problems that dogged the many and various
fellowships described in the New Testament.

We come under attack from without – by the very strong forces of the
materialistic age that surrounds us – and from within by the voices of
disunity or being uncharitable – or by gossip and rumour.

If we see ourselves as belonging to Christ, ruled by the Spirit and needing


the ministry of God as to a weak flock easily misdirected – our
expectations and our prayers will be very different.

This should colour the way we see ourselves – the way we see the needy
world, and the way we relate to each other and to the new pastor.

BOUGHT verses 28, 21


RULED verses 22-28
&
VULNERABLE verses 29 & 35

I turn now to an easier task.

The words that Paul has for ministers of every age and generation are
most obvious in these verses. So I will draw out from a rich quiver a few
arrows with good points and barbs – the better to direct a new pastor.

THE PASTOR AND THE GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE

Despite our ideas of a pastor, Tim, as focusing in our calling, and in our
God given authority and responsibility before God, and despite the
advantages of our training and experience, we too need reminding what
the ministry is about.

Once again I extract from the passage three “words”:


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LIFE verses 18 & 19 & 32-35


WORD verses 20, 24 and 28-31
&
SPIRIT verses 22, 23 and 28

LIFE verses 18,19 and 32-35

“You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came
into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears,
although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.

32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you
up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not
coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these
hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the
weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to
give than to receive.’ ”

Yes – this is a GIVING ministry, as Paul’s testimony to the lost saying of


Jesus makes reference – but it is also primarily a LIVING ministry.

I don’t know how long it has taken me to learn this truth about ministry – in
fact I don’t think I have properly learned it.

We are people given to preaching, talking, sharing…

But the force of our witness is the MANNER OF OUR LIVING

Paul says see: “how I lived” “how I served” “these hands of mine”

It was a ministry marked by tears and difficulty – but also certified by the
great sense of loss that the Ephesian elders felt when Paul left their shores
for good.

We forget too easily that the pastoral ministry is a WAY OF LIFE. We will
make a difference by the distinctiveness with which we LIVE EACH DAY in
the presence not only of the flock of God but of the unbelieving witnesses
of our profession.

Secondly…
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WORD verses 20, 24 and 28-31

I guess we feel comfortable with this part of our charge. This is by and
large what we were trained for – this is what most ministers of the gospel
feel is at the heart of their calling.

Paul makes it clear that it happens in the pulpit and in the home:

20
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful
to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared
to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in
our Lord Jesus.
Paul places his preaching ministry within the context of formal and
informal, within worship and within counselling, in the churches and in the
homes (and of course in his day there was little distinction – save that at
Ephesus he used the lecture hall).

WHAT we preach is the Gospel – but the where we preach it is important.


Publicly and from house to house.

This is the TASK he feels himself charged with: The HOW OF


PREACHING:-

hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if
only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—
the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

His was a driven ministry – an unfinished ministry – and all consuming


ministry. And whilst it meant opposition and hardship often it had about it
an inexorable PUSH.

As he says elsewhere

16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.
Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! I COR 9 v 16

And lastly in regard to the WORD

28
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has
made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his
own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and
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will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort
the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard!
Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and
day with tears.

WARNING - this is a WATCHMAN’S MINISTRY

A ministry that faces up to reality of the enemies that confront the flock of
God

It is a shepherd task.

And finally:

SPIRIT verses 22, 23 and 28

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing


what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit
warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has
made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with
his own blood.

Not surprisingly, what we said to the flock arose from words that Paul
clearly addressed to the elders at Ephesus. Words in which he recognised
the rule of the Holy Spirit in his own life and ministry and in the oversight
of the church

We cannot escape it – there is NO MINISTRY other than the ministry


of the Holy Spirit.

He shapes the pathway that Paul takes, He prepares him for the
unknown challenges of tomorrow, and He continues at work in the
congregation when Paul has left them.

We may be selected to serve God in a particular place by the unique


combination of circumstances and sense of conviction that goes to make
up what we term a “call”.
In that we may recognise the part played by individuals and by the church
meeting as a formal decision making body – but the REAL DIRECTION IS AT
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THE SPIRIT’S
CHOOSING.

It is worth expanding on this thought just a little.

What kind of ministry did the Holy Spirit exercise in Paul?

• Compelling
• Warning
• And establishing authority

The Spirit COMPELLS us as ministers of the Gospel

He gives us A CLEAR DIRECTION

He gives us the SENSE OF PURPOSE

The Spirit not only GUIDES – but he gives us the DRIVE to fulfil that
direction.

We notice however that Paul did not know what lay ahead – only that the
Spirit warned him in every place of dangers ahead.

WHY did the Spirit do that?

1. To challenge Paul’s real allegiance

For there would be many who would seek to modify his way – the Spirit
challenges
Paul – and us – to finish a race and complete a task

2. To sharpen his vision and focus his energies

3. To make him depend upon His Lord

Often the voices that Paul heard urged him (like Agabus for example) not
to go
Is there a contradiction here?

Paul’s hearers needed to know that he was not going out of his own sense
of direction – or because of a pet theory about his ministry

See Chapter 21 12
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10
12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to
go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and
breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in
Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be
dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

God’s people will not always see it your way – but you have an obligation
to allow yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit – and to make that your drive
and your direction in your ministry.

So I summarise:

To the church: To the pastor:

BOUGHT LIFE
RULED WORD
VULNERABLE SPIRIT

32
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace,
which can build you up and give you an inheritance
among all those who are sanctified.