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People Are the Ministry

February 11, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 20:1–16

People Are the Ministry – Acts 20:1–16

PRAY & INTRO:

In Acts 20, we catch up with Paul working to complete this third missionary journey. Even as Paul’s travelogs show his intent to make his way back to Jerusalem, the emphasis remains on people as the purpose for all of these efforts.

It’s not just missionary work that focuses on people. Care for people is a top priority of Christ’s servants. All Christian ministry is about people. Ministry IS people. People are the ministry. Truth and tasks are well and good, but they lose their purpose without a heart for the people involved.

People submitting to and growing in Christ is the purpose of ministry. Ministry’s purpose is people.

Through all the busy activity and movement of ministry, and the planning and strategy, we must not lose sight of people. Though we rightly emphasize word-based preaching, teaching, and counseling, we must not forget that Christ impacting individual’s hearts with his truth is our purpose. The salvation and development of people is the heartbeat of the ministry.

Let’s see how Paul’s missionary work in Acts 20 reminds us of this.

Acts 20:1–6 ESV

1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5 These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

In Paul’s missionary travels around the Aegean Sea and back again, we’ll observe four ways we are reminded that people are at the center of our ministry.

In Christian ministry, plans must be flexible and people must be focal.

In ministry we must  focus on people and be flexible with our plans. 

As we said, even as Paul’s travelogs show his intent to make his way back to Jerusalem (a plan made clear back at v. 21)… the emphasis remains on the people as the purpose for the journey.

So we observe Paul encouraging the believers in Ephesus before departing for Macedonia. And wherever he may have stopped in Macedonia [map], he spent time with people in order to give them much encouragement.

The verb parakaleo is repeated here and used again at v. 12: it means to encourage, exhort, comfort, urge. Paul is encouraging the believers; encouragement strengthens people. Encouragement is like coming alongside someone to give medicine when they are sick, to give nourishment when weak, to give reinforcement when they falter, to give nutrients to fortify their roots and help them to withstand life’s storms, to increase their maturity so that they too can be effective in witness and in ministry to the body of Christ.

And from the pattern we see in Paul’s life, what would Paul primarily be using to accomplish this encouragement for strengthening them? Teaching the life-giving word of God among them, with a clear emphasis on the gospel of God in Jesus Christ, and applying it to the specific situations of their lives with them: counseling.

So as Paul comes to spend a little time in Greece, probably most of which was spent wintering in Corinth, what would you expect Paul to be doing? Proclaiming the gospel and strengthening the brothers. (When he isn’t teaching and counseling people in person, he’s writing letters to others. Paul seems to have written the letter to the Romans during this time in Corinth.)

But it is also undeniable that the greatest source of struggle and trial in ministry is also people. While at times this comes unintentionally, by the simple fact of our sin spilling on one another, there will be times when there is deliberate attempt to derail, to discourage, to sabotage us. And often such is motivated by jealousy. 

Just so, in Paul’s case in Corinth, the plot against him by the Jews means it’s not safe to get on a ship leaving from Greece to Syria, because the small confines of a ship would make it easy for perpetrators to carry out his murder. He’ll have to go around and catch another ship from Asia Minor.

Even though some seek his life, Paul is still patient with people, still prioritizes people. Why? Because he remembers Christ’s patience with him: 1 Tim 1:15-16

1 Timothy 1:15–16 ESV

15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Missionary work especially helps us to see plainly that… Plans and strategies, programs and structures, all take a back seat to people. (Paul’s missionary work and travels display a necessary flexibility and a focus on people…) Whatever our ministry endeavors, we must remain patient and intentional with people, because ministry is about God being glorified in people’s hearts and God making progress in people’s lives.

So we are patient with people, but we do not cease to persuade the lost to submit to Jesus Christ. And to encourage the believers… to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, to stand fast in faith, and to support one another in the journey. 

As we’ve seen, plans must be flexible and people must be focal.

Continuing on, we see that even Paul’s strategies for success revolve around people.

Healthy strategies for ministry success are designed around people and depend on people.

I’m arguing here that these seven companions demonstrate how Paul’s strategies for ministry are both designed around people and depend on people.

Just so, there are two important things to know about Paul’s seven companions:

1. They are representing their churches in taking financial gifts for the church in Jerusalem to meet the needs of the poor there.

  1. Paul is always planning for his eventual departure. So instead of building a system in which everybody depends on him and looks to him, he raises up and trains believers to be missionaries and leaders in their communities and out from their communities.

Although it isn’t stated directly in our text, we know more about this program of gifts for the poor in Jerusalem from the letters Paul wrote during this season. This collection for the saints is described in his letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:1-4), and mentioning it in his letter to the Romans as being for the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-26). So these seven are representatives of their respective church’s who are contributing to the needs in Jerusalem, who can ensure the money’s arrival and use for its intent.

Now several if not most of these men have a longer-standing ministry relationship with Paul as well, reminding us that Paul prepares other people for ministry in the future, or to reach people where he cannot, and to remain in ministry where he cannot. And again, they will carry on when he is gone.

We know nothing else of Sopater other than that he is from Berea and Pyrrhus’s son. And we know nothing more of Secundus the Thessalonian, but his fellow Aristarchus had been traveling with Paul and got caught up in the riot in Ephesus, along with Gaius who had also traveled with them previously from Macedonia. If this is the same Gaius, he’s actually from Derbe, back in Galatia, as is Timothy, whom we know to be from Lystra and in whom Paul invests a great deal of intentional discipleship. From Asia, the region of Ephesus, come Tychicus and Trophimus, the latter of whom will get pulled into false controversy in Jerusalem when the Jews accuse Paul of bringing him, a Gentile, into the temple (Act 21:9), and he is mentioned in a much later letter to Timothy. Similarly, Tychicus is name-dropped numerous times as someone who safely conveys letters to churches from Paul, which also means he can be trusted to personally convey the spirit and intent of the letter, and to take word back to Paul from the church.

And the doctor Luke is obliquely referenced as well, since he begins to say “we” again when the team passes through Philippi on the return journey and he joins them. How influential does it appear that the Apostle Paul was in the faith and development of doctor Luke?

So not only do these men represent Paul’s strategy for the gifts to Jerusalem, but they represent Paul’s intentional strategy to expand ministry beyond himself and to replace himself and prepare future generations of the church.

The same should be said of us, that our strategies demonstrate a healthy desire to replicate faithful followers of Jesus, and that all our strategies are designed with concern and care for people in mind, and with a healthy realization that carrying them out will depend on those people. - If you are interested in ministry strategy and have never read the book on the subject by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, you should: The Trellis and the Vine.

Let’s shift our attention back to the travel details of Paul and companions, some of whom make their way to Troas before, while Paul and Luke come after the Passover, the days of Unleavened Bread. So it is in Troas, where they stay for seven days, an on the final day of that brief stay, we get a glimpse into one of the more unique episode in Paul’s ministry.

Acts 20:7–12 ESV

7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

What should we take away from this? - Long-winded Preaching Can Be Deadly - Unless you’re prepared to raise people from the dead, don’t preach past midnight. Never choose the open window seat when sleepy. Because the episode has a happy ending, the jokes write themselves.

The humor of it isn’t lost on us, and I’m sure wasn’t lost on Luke and Paul’s other companions. I imagine this being one of the favorite stories to relate to others, and one that garnered a lot of laughs and sideways glances at Paul when the crew reminisced about their journeys together.

But in the context of our discussion, I actually think there is a helpful point to be made from Paul preaching long and young Eutychus falling to his death, only to be restored to life.

Preaching Christ is hollow indeed if our heart isn’t for the individuals who hear.

Paul prolongs his preaching and fellowship in Troas all night because he cares for them and has only the one day left. - It was the first day of the week, Sunday, and Paul plans to depart on Monday, so he preaches late precisely because he cares so much for them and has only one last day there. Paul could have been selfishly inclined to shut it down earlier because of a big day of more travel ahead, but instead I picture them asking questions and Paul pursuing the answers that are found in Christ Jesus and in his word.

Now in an upper room at night, probably around April on the Mediterranean, it shouldn’t have been too hot, but there were undoubtedly a lot of bodies packed in, plus it says there were many oil lamps in the upper room. So Eutychus, a lad—between the ages of like 8 and 14, would have found a window to be a good seat for both seeing Paul and getting a little breeze.

But since Paul prolonged his message (logos, word, speech) past midnight, Eutychus, whose name means lucky or fortunate, was apparently not so lucky. Eutychus not only fell asleep but fell out the window. The result of the fall from the third story window, which might actually be the 2nd story window by the way we account for floors versus other cultures, is that he must have fallen very awkwardly and died. He was taken up dead (not “as dead” but dead), something doctor Luke would have understood well.

So Paul’s words to them would seem little comfort at first: Bending over him and taking him in his arms, saying, “Don’t worry, for his life is in him.” But because the result is that the youth was taken away alive, they end up being greatly comforted (parakaleo). In fact, even though Eutychus’s mishap undoubtedly brought the sermon to a close, Paul continued to eat and talk with these dear ones in Troas until daybreak.

It’s not enough to love the truth and want to spread the truth; we do so precisely because we care about those who hear. Our desire is that they should be changed by Christ and conformed to Christ, for their own good and God’s glory.

So too we are not just concerned for people generally, but for people individually - Eutychus is not less important than the seven men/delegates traveling with Paul. The young Eutychus matters. Each individual Paul interacts with matters.

Finally, as Paul and company take their leave of Troas, there are various travel notes, and mention of an interesting decision to bypass Ephesus.

Acts 20:13–16 ESV

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

(Pentecost being 50 days after Passover)

Here’s the map again to give you your bearings in the Aegean Sea with the places referenced.

To track along with what we’ve been saying, this section shows that…

When choosing what to pursue and what to bypass, we maintain caring concern for the people involved.

In the WAY that we handle all these things, we maintain caring concern for the people involved. Granted, such can be challenging, even awkward, but people are the ministry.

So here, even NOT going to Ephesus is because Paul knows and loves the people there and knows that it will delay his travel too long. He will not just skip the beloved Ephesian church entirely, but will instead call the elders to him at Miletus. When they come, his love for them and the Ephesians is abundantly clear in his impassioned conversation with them, which Luke must find important, because he will include it in great detail.

So even though Paul must in this case hasten to Jerusalem for Pentecost, he does not ignore the fact that there are others impacted who bear the cost of the decisions he is making. We too must aim to be considerate and intentional, knowing there are people who bear a cost for the decisions we make. Even when we are doing what we sincerely believe is right and for the greatest health of the church, the personal cost to people is perhaps the consequence that hits home the most.

Because to us, like Paul…

Conclusion: People Are the Ministry

Christ came to restore individual people to God through saving faith in him. His church, Christ’s Bride, is a collection of individual people who are being made to be more like Christ and who are actively serving him as members of his body. So people are the means of ministry, and people are the ministry.

A commitment to Christ’s work in people should be central to our word-based (gospel) ministry. The commitment of ministry is to see people who are committed to the Lord. Our commitment to Christ means we are committed to people.

PRAY

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