The great commission is given to all believers of Christ. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Act 1:8) It says we will be witnesses but it seems that day in, day out for most (me included) the gospel doesn’t go out. There is a struggle to declare the “reason of hope that lies within”. Is there really hope that lies within? Have we idolized the lives we live over the reason we live? How does one become, like Paul, “innocent of the blood of all”? Paul meets with the elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20:17-38 to have one final conversation with them before he went to Jerusalem. We find here some points that if we would listen too (ears that hear) and apply to our hearts and actions, I believe we would be able to combat the struggle to proclaim Christ. Paul draws these elders to remember how he lived his life, of which, they all witnessed. He's serving the Lord in humility even through trials and persecution, but yet he didn’t shrink from declaring Christ to everyone. Not just Christ, but repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (17-21).
Is there really hope that lies within? Have we idolized the lives we live over the reason we live?
Let’s stop here for one second. The trials and light afflictions we face do they hinder the truth of the gospel in our lives. When life is tough do we shrink from declaring Christ? Do turn inward and begin to self focus? In my head I think, I’m struggling to see this hope that is within me at this moment, so what am I going to share with someone else. Have I made my God smaller then my problems? Am I blinded to what He is doing around me? Could it be that by sharing Christ in the midst of struggle with all humility someone might believe there by strengthening our faith? It seams Paul’s focus was on sharing faith no matter where he was, no matter the trail, no matter if that same faith was drawing him to more persecution and affliction in Jerusalem. Let’s read on. (22) Paul, constrained by the spirit with no doubt in his mind says “I am going to Jerusalem” This same constraint caused him to count his life as valueless. (24) Ok let’s pause again.
What are we constrained to do in our lives?
Constrained, great choice of words don’t you think. What are we constrained to do in our lives? Work, eat, watch tv, hang with friends…..what about sharing the gospel? Are some of these things idols that have constrained us from a focus on the gospel and the sharing of it? I’ve become constrained by my work and other things and you know where it shows up? In my speech. Funny how speech is needed to declare Christ. Wow so my idols keep me from sharing the gospel because I am running my mouth about less important stuff. Acts 1:8 had it right: “I will be witness,” but not always for what I should be. Paul goes on to say “I take no account for my life…. If only I may finish my course….to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Might that be our prayer, may our lives be characterized by a focus on our course set by God to share of his love. Our lives, jobs, families… are a part of our course but should not be idolized or hinder our testifying of the gospel. He then says that he is innocent of the blood everyone, because he didn’t shrink away from the gospel. (26-27) This brings us to the reason we are having this conversation.
So far, Paul is innocent of the blood of all because the gospel was always going out of his mouth and in his actions. If we could ask each person he came in contact with, they probably would testify that Paul told them about repentance towards Christ, The Gospel. Some would even say that he was extremely hurting and as they saw it struggling in life but had a hope in Christ which caused them to take a hard look at this person Paul called Christ. This brings up the question, if day in, day out I don’t open my mouth about Christ when all is said and done, what would the people I came in contact with say about the Christ I have hope in? See it doesn’t matter what they say about me and what I’m doing. It only matters what they say about the Christ I love. Do they even know I love him? Do they know he wants a personal relationship with them also? So at times I find myself sharing my Christ, my relationship with him and sharing about what he is doing at my church and in my community but never extending the opportunity for the person I am sharing with to also know Christ for themselves. Too much about me and what God is doing for me, need more of what Christ has do for them. Less talking more listening to make that connection! Let’s read on.
See it doesn’t matter what they say about me and what I’m doing. It only matters what they say about the Christ I love. Do they even know I love him?
(28-32) Paul warns the elders of the church of Ephesus. Pay close attention, Be Alert!! First to your self then to the community Christ has called you too. There are those who seek to attack you and the community. They are fierce as wolves and they come from outside and inside of the community. They seek to distort the truth. Ok let’s talk for a second. There is only one source of truth the word of God. By listening to and applying that truth we know how to pay close attention to ourselves, our community and can help guard against distorted truth. This same message of kindness and love of God is what helps us grow. So Lets wrap this conversation up. (33-38) Paul says “I never wanted anyone's silver, gold, or clothes.” He worked hard to provide for himself, those who were with him and most importantly to be able to help the weak. At times I am so absorbed with my life and what I am doing that I don’t even give thought to those that don’t even have hope around me. This whole thing boils down to the phrase “Innocent of the blood of all”. When all is said and done, can I say I have done all that I can do, said all that I could say. Do those around me know of repentance towards Christ? Am I determined or constrained to the Gospel or to the things in my life? Is my focus for working for me and providing for me or for the sake of the weak? We are called to be disciples who are making disciples but do we live a life that doesn't shrink from that responsibility.