Qualities of a Life Well-Spent – Part 1 – Acts 20:1-38
When I was growing up, my mom would say to us, “Your dad has two beloveds.” My initial reaction was, “Aww my dad’s the greatest,” as I assumed he was talking about my sister and I, until she went on to explain, “First: New York Yankees. Second: His garden.” In fact, my job every summer was to water the garden. Sounds simple, but I would get in all kinds of trouble. It was always because either I forgot altogether, was spraying my sister instead of the garden, flooding the garden or killing plants by over-spraying them (like they were those carnival games, where you shoot water at something) or by neglecting plants that were hard to reach and I was too lazy to water them.
I was in control of the garden hose. I dictated how, when and which plant deserved this water. I can be greedy or generous depending on how I felt that day. I can even stop the water altogether if I wanted. In his book Embracing Obscurity, Anonymous (love that! Applying the book title), says a lot of us are like that in our serving of people. Like a garden hose in our hands, “The “flow” of Christ’s love which I [give] to others [depends] on my mood, the health of my career, and even how much sleep I got the night before. Mine [is] a self-righteous, self-gratifying service.” And the garden hose serving is quick and instant. You give your burst of service on Sunday or Friday, but stay in the garage the rest of the week.
In contrast to a garden hose, he says think of a soaker house:
It watered the ground completely indiscriminately. Dozens of holes let the water loose and had no shut-off switch. Life-giving water oozed out all over the place, like it or not! To serve like a soaker hose means to pour out Christ’s love from every pore of our beings, not concerning ourselves with the timing, the effect it might have on our productivity, or the worthiness of the recipients.
When I read about Paul’s life in the book of Acts, I feel like his life is a soaker hose in the hands of God. I feel drained just reading of his constant travels, his long sermons, day and night ministry, investing in people, dodging plans against his life, etc. How does this guy have so much energy? He is constantly pouring out his life for others.
If Paul were here I would say, “How do you feel Paul? Are you drained?” I wonder if he would say, “Drained? No, more like poured out. I want my life to be a life well spent.” The key to this chapter is verse 20. His is a life well spent. The next two weeks we will explore what that means. And if we are going to be a church on mission, God calls us to be soaker hoses in His hands and that comes from believing the Gospel deeper and deeper. If we are not going to be poured out for Him and others, we will be drained by something else. We will be drained by living for people’s approval, drained by our worldliness, drained by addiction to social media and entertainment, etc. instead of being filled and poured out and spent for the Gospel. How do we become a soaker hose in the hands of God for His use? What are the qualities of a life centered and well-spent on and for the Gospel?
- I. Christ-imparting communication
We looked at the riot last week in Ephesus, when the Gospel confronted idols. After this, Paul is on the move (vv.1-2). He heads to Macedonia (northern Greece churches like Philippi and Thessalonica) and to other parts of Greece (like Corinth) to collect an offering to help the poor church in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, he will head to Rome. Lots of people are with him (vv.4-5). Paul is never alone in ministry.
So he collects the offering (this we know from the letters) and wants by Troas (modern day Turkey). He leads a service there and he sermon goes super long. A kid who fell asleep falls from the third story and dies (vv.7-9). This was encouraging to me. Even Paul had people sleep on him. To be fair, I don’t this kid (the word suggests 8-14 years old) was intentionally disrespecting Paul, but because it was late and Paul went on and on, he was knocked out and fell. Paul resurrects him like it’s nothing and goes back to talking (vv.10-12). Luke really doesn’t focus on it. What he does focus on here is the fact that Paul was always communicating with people.
Later he leaves Troas and passes by Ephesus. He wants to see the people in Ephesus, but feels he needs to get the offering to Jerusalem soon (vv.13-16). But he wants to talk to the Ephesian elders. After all, he spent 3 years there. He’s built some relationships and deep friendships. So instead of going to them, he asks the elders to come to him as he is nearby at Miletus (v.17).
What is Paul doing in all these places? In 20:1-2, he’s “encouraging,” which is the root word “parakaleo”—speaking the truth in love. He is “talking,” in 20:7, which suggests a formal presentation of a sermon. In 20:11, he is dialoging with people. In 20:20, he says he was “teaching,” the idea there is of instructing. In 20:25, he says he was “proclaiming,” or publically announcing. In 20:27 he says he was “declaring.”
He’s always communicating. What is the content of his communication? V.21 tell us: “testifying repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In v.25 he calls it, “the Gospel of the grace of God.” In v.27: “the whole counsel of God.” In v.32: “The word of His grace.” He was always communicating the Gospel of grace, which results in repentance and faith in Christ.
Whether in the synagogue, lecture hall, street, house to house, etc. Paul is communicating the Gospel of grace and giving Christ to people. This is the only speech recorded to Christians here and it is all about the Gospel! Let me commend that to you. Whether you are leading children’s ministry, worship ministry, small group ministry, at prayer meeting, counseling people, praying with people, eating with people, etc. communicate the gospel of grace.
I am getting really weary and irritated at so much MOTS preaching (moral of the story preaching) nowadays. I see it more and more in our churches. The story of the Bible points to one person and if we do not give people Jesus Christ, we have failed. To read and preach the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us and what we should do (instead of who He is and what He has done) is to miss the point of the Bible entirely. Small group leaders, parents, when you lead, let all the applications be saturated with the Gospel. Teach the text carefully but give people Jesus. Otherwise, you are giving them OT law. Here is the outline I follow in my preaching, parenting, small group leading, pastoring, counseling, etc.
I. WHAT YOU MUST DO.
“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be.”
II. WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.
“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”
III. HOW HE DID IT.
“But there’s One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the—. He has done this for us, in our place.”
IV. HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.
“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”
Let’s practice. Suppose you read v.35 and see that the application of the text is: “Be generous.” MOTS right here says, “Read the Bible more. Pray. Give to church. Stop eating at McDonalds so much. Don’t you care about missions? If you don’t give to God, He won’t bless you.” When we do this we are saying, “Try harder.” And we will try harder and fall on our face in 2 days. But Gospel centered, Christ-exalting communication says, “We can’t be generous. We are greedy, selfish, stingy sinners. We are generous towards so many other things and stingy towards you and others.” And there was One who was generous for selfish sinners. He had all treasure and became bankrupt so we would be His treasure. He is so generous towards me! I am not generous because I don’t believe that in my heart functionally. But when that melts your heart, you will notice your wallets open, your heart open and your hands open. This is repentance and putting our faith in Christ.
Parents, you have to do this with your kids too. We have MOTS parenting too. The adult version is, “be generous.” The kid version is “Share!” You can scream, “Share!” all you want, but they won’t do it or they’ll do it out of spite. The other day the girls were fighting over something and usually I’m screaming “Share!” but for some reason, I thought this was a good teachable moment. I said to them, “Both of you feel greedy and selfish right now.” And I prayed in my heart, “Lord, how I do show them the Gospel here? Give me words, profound insight that will break their hearts stone and give them a heart of flesh! Do it Lord. Speak, for thy servant is listening!” I didn’t really pray like that, but my attitude was very self-righteous. And the Lord is faithful and reminded me, “Remember the bag of skittles you ate this morning all by yourself without sharing with them? Just share that.”
What?! Great. Thanks for being so faithful, Lord. Thankfully, the Gospel frees us from the need to be perfect parents and gives us freedom to confess our sins to them. “Honey, I am greedy too and I don’t like to share either.” Abbie was confused. “You’re greedy too? How?” I was hoping she wouldn’t ask the specifics. “Ok. I ate a whole bag of skittles without sharing with you.” “You’re greedy and selfish!” It was true. “I am greedy and selfish.” Wait, this is not about me! But aren’t you glad Jesus gave His whole life for us greedy selfish people?” Maybe they still won’t share, but 16,456 times later of sharing the Gospel, the Gospel might just hit them in a new way….just like how it hits us!
If you tell people to try harder, that will drain them and that will drain you because they will not meet your expectations and you will crush them with yours. No wonder we are drained. We live by the law and not by grace.
Listen to some quotes from the great British preacher, Spurgeon:
“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” [7/9/1876; sermon #2899]
“I know one who said …if I preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come. Ah, he will never come while this tongue moves, for a sermon without Christ in it—a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It were a realm of death—a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils. O Christian, we must have Christ! Do see to it that every day when you wake you give a fresh savor of Christ upon you by contemplating his person. Live all the day, trying as much as lieth in you, to season your hearts with him, and then at night, lie down with him upon your tongue.” [3/6/1864; sermon #558]
Yes, it is Christ, Christ, Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel. Christless sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? All their labor is in vain. If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe.”
The only way you can communicate the Gospel to others is if you are communicating the Gospel to yourself. No one talks to you more than you do, so the more you are seeing and savoring the Gospel in new and fresh ways in your life, the more you will be able to be a soaker hose always giving His life giving water to everyone around you. Whatever in our well will come out in the bucket. We teach what we know, but we impart who we are. We’ll look at some other qualities next time.
When we are drained by our idols, we have nothing left to give. We become garden hoses instead of soaker hoses. We control what we want give ourselves to, who gets our energy and attention, how long we want to serve, etc. By the way, it was not that Paul was never tired or didn’t rest. There’s a good tired, where you know you spent your life giving away on something worthwhile. There’s a bad tired, where you don’t know why you’re tired as you feel like you are running around like a gerbil in a cage.
Drained is if you feel like someone or something took something of yours unexpectedly and you were left empty. “Well spent” is not when someone takes something from you, but you freely gave it away to benefit others. A water bottle can be drained if you didn’t close the cap tight enough and you left it in your backpack. But a water bottle is well spent when you drink it to quench the thirst or give it to someone who’s thirsty. A soaker hose will never say, “I’m drained.” Why? The water doesn’t belong to it. It is a job is to stay connected and stay holey, open to give and serve.
How did Paul become like that? Was it because he was a powerful speaker? No he says, “When I preach, it was with fear and trembling, not in man’s wisdom.” Did he have a dynamic personality? Actually he was short and bald and unimpressive. People made fun of him. Maybe he was an extrovert, but that can only take you so far. Was it because he never struggled? This chapter is full of his tears.
What was it? It was the because of the life giving, ever flowing spring of the Gospel that seeped out and poured out of Him as he stayed connected to the fountain. Anonymous says, “If God has ‘turned on the water’ in our lives, filling us with His life-giving springs, why would we hold them back from anyone? For fear of running out? Doesn’t He have an infinite supply of living water?
Where did Paul get this idea of being well-spent for ministry? Listen Jesus in John 10:17, “No one takes my life from me. I give it away freely.” The Lord could easily say of us, “All you do is take and take and take from me. You are completely selfish. You add no value to my life at all, but I keep absolutely loving you and will always love you forever and ever and give myself to you.” If you knew that a love of this magnitude given by a person of this magnitude was really, really yours and if this love was living and moving in your heart moment by moment, what kind of person would you be? He willingly gives to you and I. In fact, He willingly gave it all for you and me.
So what do you need to be a soaker hose? Look at the overflowing, life giving fountain opened to us. Behold the Son of God, thirsty and dying so we can be refreshed and alive. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus turns water into wine. The wine was so good everyone commented on it. “Woman, my time has not yet come,” He told His mother. On the cross, the time was here, and the wine has gone bad. Jesus is offered sour wine that fails to soothe the pain or delight the tastebuds. He gave us His best and then took our worst.
Later in John’s Gospel, we see Him meet the woman at the well, a Samaritan who offered Him a drink. Jesus turned the tables and said, “Drink from Me and you’ll never thirst again.” Little did she know that the only way for her to never thirst would be for Him to experience her thirst by dying in her place.
Then in the middle of John’s Gospel, Jesus stands up at a celebratory feast and says: If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink! Streams of living water will flow from the one who drinks from Jesus’ well. This is the One who turns water into wine, who offers water that quenches thirst forever, water that never runs dry. Yet now, He thirsts. His lips are parched. His throat is raw. He is thirsty, so you don’t have to be.
When the Gospel is moving in our heart, we realize we don’t have things taken from us. Why? Because we have given it all away. How do you take from someone who has given it all away to the Lord? You can’t. We can spend our lives for others because Christ spent His life for us. We can say with the hymnwriter:
Alas! and did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die,
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for sins that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here Lord, I give myself away:
’Tis all that I can do.
Anonymous (2012-09-20). Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s
Everything (Kindle Locations 1167-1178). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Keller, K. From Tullian Tchividjian, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2012/11/05/moralism-vs-jesus-centered-preaching/ accessed 19 October 2013.
http://kellerquotes.com/christ-centered-gospel-motivated-sermons/ accessed 19 October 2013.
All quoted from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/08/04/preach-christ-or-go-home%E2%80%94and-other-classic-spurgeon-quotes-on-christless-preaching/ accessed 18 October 2013.
Inspired from Glenn Packiam’s sermon, “A Life Well Spent,” http://www.newlifechurch.org/sermonPlayer.jsp?mediaid=3679 accessed 18 October 2013.
Adapted from Wax, Trevin. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/03/28/behold-the-son/ accessed 18 October 2013.
Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/104#ixzz2i782uBva accessed 18 October