When all the facts are considered, when all the data is in, the greatest human fact in the early Christian churches is the Apostle Paul.
The son of Jewish parents, he identified himself in Ac 21:39 saying: “I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean [by no means insignificant] city.”
And in defense of himself in this same context he added: Ac 22:1-3 “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you. 2(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) 3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, (a favorite residence of the Greeks and province of Rome, a pagan city and seat of learning under the Graeco-Macedonian empire.) (from Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1998, 2003 by Biblesoft) yet, he continues saying that he was ‘ brought up in this city (Jerusalem) at the feet of Gamaliel,’(a renowned educator) and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.”
Paul, though he would deny it, was the greatest of all the apostles in-so-far as doctrinal teaching in the early churches, and as evidenced in the number of letters he wrote to them throughout his three missionary journeys.
I found it interesting that six of Paul’s thirteen (14) epistles were written during the second and third missionary journeys, four were written during his two years’ imprisonment in Rome and the last one shortly before his death when a prisoner for the second and last time, shortly before his death.
Just as interesting is the fact that none of his epistles were written until 18 years after his conversion! He wrote two epistles to the Thessalonians near the close of his second missionary journey; then five or six years later he penned his great doctrinal letters to churches in Rome, Corinth, and Galatia; after another interval of another four or five years and during his imprisonment he corresponded to The Ephesian, Philippian, Colossian churches,, and one to Philemon a man who owed Paul much. Then after another span of four or five years he wrote the Pastoral letters: Two to Timothy, and one to Titus.
So his letters spanned about twenty years or so. Twenty years and thirteen letters! What an impact those letters have made on every Christian church up to and including today. If even one of the original manuscripts could be found it would be worth on the open market of millions, perhaps billions of dollars. But who could a monetary value on these letters that would even come close to the profit you and I not to mention the millions upon millions who owe their very justification and sanctification, yes even their souls to this servant of Jesus Christ as a result of his pen and parchment? Truly Paul’s Sword of the Lord! [source The New Analyltical Bible by John A Diskson; copyright 1929, published by the International Council of Religious Education.]
Of all the apostles we could say in the least sense of the word that Paul was a man of resolve. Prior his conversion Saul was determined to destroy any notion of Jesus of Nazareth being the Son of God.
Upon his conversion Paul as is now and forever known, turned from persecutor to preacher of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Him crucified. As a man prior to his conversion Saul was full of self. As a converted man Paul was full of the Holy Spirit. Saul’s philosophy prior to his conversion was to preserve the Law. As a converted man Paul’s philosophy was to promote grace.
When he said in Corinthians 4:16 “follow me,” he meant that all who are to be disciples of Jesus Christ should follow his example and live…or die for the glory of Jesus Christ. If any desires the office of a pastor, Deacon, or to be a gospel teacher, a missionary, or evangelist, my advice would be to study the life of Paul and endeavor to imitate his life. If any man has a desire to enter the ‘good work’, he desires a good work, but let that man know that the good work he desires comes with a high cost. Paul knew the cost and was willing to spend and be spent for His Lord and Master. In Paul, who was indeed a preacher, a teacher, a missionary, and evangelist, you will find his life is a tough act to follow…but worth whatever the cost!
PAUL, THE PREACHER
- He was a powerful preacher. Paul’s preaching was always the same in content – Christ and Him Crucified! He preached the same sermon in different ways to the common man or to kings. He preached the same message to all men and whether it was received or rejected it was always with persuasiveness, causing some to weep, become angry, gladly received, even to tremble, but never intended to please any man’s personal taste.
- His preaching was always with purpose. His aim was evangelical but never simply to entertain; always to glorify Jesus Christ and specifically to inform doctrinally for the judgments of men to consider and with the design to reform lost souls.
In this chapter Acts 20:1-16, we hear Luke, Paul’s companion and recorder of Paul’s ministry up to this point give us a background of the events leading up to verses 17-38 where we will hear in Paul’s own words preserved for us, as he begins his touching and immortal dialogue with his beloved friends and disciples, and as it turns out, for our ears to hear and be moved in heart and mind.
Luke, the physician was an added blessing to Paul. Being a physician who better to tend to the wounds Paul suffered in his journeys? Who better, than Doctor Luke, a man who studied the details of the physical man and perhaps the psychological make up of a man’s mind, would be better suited to compose the details of not only the entire Book of the Acts of the Apostles but the person, mind, and works of such a man as the Apostle Paul, and then to publish them in such stark detail that we now read in this narrative?
READ: [comments on chapter 19] then chapter 20 with comment and exposition:
FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF THE APOSTLE: THE IMMOVABLE MAN FOUND IN 20:22-25
- HE WAS CONVINCED IN HIS SPIRIT
“I go bound in the spirit.”
- Campbell Morgan recalls a tale told of that great English actor Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: “I wish you would explain to me something.” “Well, what is it? I don’t know that I can explain anything to a preacher.” “What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.” Macready’s answer was this: “This is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.”
I was impressed by the rhetoric of the Republican nominee for President last Thursday evening. Whether or not he will be able, if elected, to do all that he says he needs to do for our country, he spoke with great energy, believing everything he said. He spoke for 75 minutes, longer than any other Presidential Nominee ever! If for no other reason one has to admit that he laid it on the line.
The spirit as I said last Lord’s Day, in this verse is Paul’s. He was convinced within his own spirit to go to Jerusalem. Necessity was laid upon his spirit – he was bound, he had no choice. This was his course that had begun on the Damascus road and he will finish it – all signs pointing to Jerusalem!
During WWII, brave soldiers posted signs along the road ways in Germany – each sign giving the number of miles to a given city. The signs gave the distance that must be travelled – a course to follow – but also gave each man the knowledge that the way would be heavy with danger and each man knew he may be harmed, even killed on the way, or upon arriving at his destination.
So it was with Paul. He knew his course would lead eventually to Jersulem. He knew the dangers but not the specifics. He set out not knowing the things that shall befall me there.
Though his friends begged him not to take that road he was like a man possessed; it was like the choice was made not by him but came by a much higher power, on he could not resist; He was spiritually powerless to resist the call. He was convicted, convinced, and committed – His destiny was irrevocable – His course was “set” before him. Paul was ‘bound in spirit.’ His ‘spirit’ meant his reasoning, his mental disposition was such that in his own mind he was compelled as by an irresistible force. I get the sense that he was not only under the compulsion of his own spirit, but willing to face whatever consequence there might be.
- HE WAS COURAGEOUS IN HEART Be thou strong and courageous Joshua 1:7.
But Paul was not moved by blind faith nor shaken in his personal faith in his Captain and Commander. He was a soldier of the cross; a man with a cause – he had the Sword of the Spirit the word of God –undeterred, fearless. He preached Christ and Him Crucified saying: Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Being interested in all things concerning the Second World War, I came across a comment on courage by Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a pilot in that conflict and put in charge to train young pilots for a mission to bomb Japan in order to show the Japanese war lords who considered that the distance was too great for the Americans to reach their shores. It was explained to Rickenbacker that it was a suicide mission and only volunteers would be asked fly the mission. First they had to be trained to take off in bombers load with munitions, and for the first time, from the deck of an aircraft carrier. Second, they had only enough gas to complete the mission but probably not enough to reach safe territory should they run into trouble along the way. Reaching the shores of Japan they dropped their load on their targets, destroying some of Japan’s most strategic war industries. Many, including Rickenbacker did not make it back-some crashing in the Sea. Yet knowing the danger before their mission stout hearted men, willing to die for their country, volunteered to see it through. Rickenbacker said later regarding this heroic mission and the men who flew it: “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”
I am bound to add that no less courage is required of those who hear the Call of God, and go ‘bound in their spirit’ hope against hope to go, give, and if necessary die for the great cause of Jesus Christ. I must also add that more than a little faith is required as well.
Vs. 22 —Bound…not knowing the things shall befall me there (Jerusalem). Was Paul afraid? We will have to wait until we see him in heaven to know. But, Paul was human. I must believe than he knowing only that the Holy Spirit told him that he would in every city be subject to danger – surely Paul had to be concerned – still he went!
Others, perhaps his own disciples thought him reckless, although I don’t want to put words in their mouths – they knew that from their first meeting and the testimony of his life while with them, his humility and the tears he shed, and the temptations he faced without quitting, and how he profited them by his teaching and his courage when contending with the Jews – and especially his demonstration of faith in God notwithstanding they had to know that to try to discourage Paul would avail them nothing. If you want an easy life in the service of the King and if it is the glory of men you desire, you will fall short of any reward of glory from God.
Of the five crowns given to believers—Paul sought them all. He knew from his faith that by grace he would be given:
- IMPERISHABLE CROWN, [1 Co 9:24-25[ Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible;
- THE CROWN OF REJOICING — For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? [1st Thess. 2:19] in anticipation and expectation of the Return of Jesus Christ would be his;
- THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS or the imputed righteousness of Christ would be his [2 Timothy 4:8-9] Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
- THE CROWN OF GLORY– [1 Peter 5:4] 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
- AND THE CROWN OF LIFE.[Rv 2:10] Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. The Apostle wanted to gain each one, not just some, but all.
- 3. HE HAD CALMNESS OF MIND.
Vs. 24 But none of these thing move me; neither do I count my life dear unto myself.
Caroline Norton wrote:
For death and life, in ceaseless strife, Beat wild on the world’s shore, And all our calm is in that balm – Not lost but gone before.
The Apostle knew Him who had gone before. He knew that Jesus had conquered both death and the grave…He knew that in his Lord’s example, though ill winds might indeed blow against him –He knew the One who had gone before and conquered!
To be as selfless as the Apostle Paul is to want to advance the cause of Jesus Christ and not to promote himself is admiral. Paul however considered that whatever his accomplishments in life might be, he counted that by comparison to what his Lord had done to be trash, refuse.
His goal was not to be the most admired or well-known servant in the kingdom of heaven…
Not to be most accomplished in the minds of others…
Not to be the leader of some other great movement…
Not to be the be the pastor of the world’s largest church…
Not to be considered by man most likely to succeed as an evangelist…
Not to be the MVP [most valuable player] in the war against the devil and sin!
None of these ambitions could be attributed to Paul who called himself –The least of all the apostles; the least of all the saints.
Paul’s goals were much higher — his was simply be in the race [1 Co 9:24-27] Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
In [Philippians 3:10-14] he expresses his strongest desire: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. 12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
What encouraged Paul the most was that though the world even to this day sees him as a fool who had it all and gave it up to be a fool – a fool he was but a fool for Christ’s sake. Paul’s greatest ambition was to be in heaven with the One who gave himself for him – to sit at the feet of the One who died for Him.
Finally…the fourth distinguishing characteristic of this immovable man of God:
- HE WAS CONSISTENT IN HIS LIFE
Vs. 24 – …None of these things move me, neither count I may life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
Martin Luther the Reformer delivered a brief, simple, but expressive eulogy upon a pastor at Zwickau, Germany, in 1522 named Nicholas Haussmann. Luther said: “What we preach, he lived,”. O’ that this could be said of we ministers today!
Paul’s journeys took him through the valley of the shadow of death; through the deep valleys of danger; through the Vale of Baca or the valley of weeping or of tears. Many begin but are soon discouraged by what the world might call the “negatives” of Christian work.
Paul’s experience called upon an internal power – the Holy Spirit. And a prevailing purpose for his life – a holy purpose – to serve His Master was Paul’s only ambition…Paul’s life was anything but ordinary, that’s for sure! Someone has written: “A man can stand almost anything except a succession of ordinary days.”
Ralph Barton, one of the top cartoonists of the Twentieth Century ,[drew caricatures of famous celebrities] left this note pinned to his pillow before taking his own life: “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, from house to house, visited great countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day.”
Paul’s days were lived in extraordinary times; His own life was an extraordinary life –which began in extraordinary circumstances; his ministry was extraordinarily successful as he persuaded many men into the Kingdom of God. In the end, while in a damp and dirty dungeon, chained to walls, awaiting certain death; his spirit unchained, he sang hymns unto God rather than curse the day and rue the night.
He would object to our praise of his life saying rather that we should give praise to the One who is the giver of life. He would quiet the tongue of any who would call him the Great Apostle of Grace, but would prefer to be one thought of as a chosen vessel who loved the Grace of God. He would deny that it was any bravery on his part when faced with extreme adversity, but say that rather than bravery it was by grace through faith given him by the Holy Spirit who convinced him to continue to fight the good fight to run the final lap; to finish the race and receive the crown of victory.
Personally, I have had many failures in life; have offended many I suppose; had my share of valleys; shed some tears over disappointments— that others have brought; and my own disappointments in myself. I like Paul have been called many things – the most kindly thing was being called a fool – other things are not appropriate in mixed company.
But, I would never put myself are the same lofty level as Paul. I could not say that because of the gospel that I die daily; Nor could I say–For thy sake I am killed all the day long; he would say the He is accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Just to know Paul from God’s Word is enough for me to be encouraged by his life – I sincerely want to be as much life Paul as I am able and to ‘follow’ or imitate him in his testimony. A battle I fight every day; a battle I often lose, nevertheless, fight I! Like Paul the greatest fear I have is that after preaching to you, I myself might become a castaway.
I have even desired to seek a way out of ministry at certain low spots in my work. I think of David who in his troubles lamented: Ps 55:1-11 Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication. 2 Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise; 3 Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me. 4 My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. 5 Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. 6 And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove ! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. 7 Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. 8 I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. 9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city. 10 Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof: mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it. 11 Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
But now…I will ask you…Will you find profit in Paul’s life or only defeat in this life? When faced with similar challenges that Paul faced, how do you deal with them? How will you deal with them? Will you deal with them, or will you seek the ‘better life?’ Which is not a better life at all but a mirage. Will you read about his life? Have you learned anything about living a Christ-like live today? Will you not rise up from a life being wasted and resolve to live a life profitable to both yourself and to Christ? Will you hope even against hope and take God at His word? Will you men stand up and be counted for God? Will you ladies submit yourselves to the Lord? Will you resolve to be more faithful to Christ? Even what appears at times to be too full of stress? Even against all odds?
Remember these four marks of Paul, the immovable man:
- HE WAS CONVINCED IN SPIRIT
- HE WAS COURAGEOUS IN HEART
- HE WAS CALM IN MIND
- HE WAS CONSISTENT IN PURPOSE
I hope and pray that we all may draw some benefit from Paul’s example of life and witness. The things he accomplished we can do also. We have the same God, worship the same Son of God, and are led, guided, and enabled by the same Spirit of God. if we hold to the same prevailing purpose as Paul, now given to each of us. Just think, we could turn the world upside down.
Only a Christian can live as Christ, as Paul lived and gave himself for Christ. It will take Conviction of our spirits; Courage from our hearts.; Calmness of our minds; and Consistency in our purpose.
You will notice our purpose is singular. We all have our spirit, our heart; our mind, but we all have but one purpose – to glorify God and to enjoy him now and forever. AMEN