Friday, July 10, 2009

Present Christ Each One of You to His Neighbor

As a follow-up from the previous two posts (Part 1, Part 2), I want to consider Acts 20:17-38. This passage is a wonderful Apostolic example of loving the brethren as Christ loved them, and is also an example of doing that by being committed to the Word of God. Or, said another way, it is an intersection of (1) loving the brethren by presenting Christ to each other, and (2) reading and proclaiming the Word of God.

This is Paul saying, in effect, "Love each other as I have loved you" (John 13:34):
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

As Paul speaks his final farewell to the elders of Ephesus, he calls attention to how in his many trials and persecutions he never ceased to proclaim the Word of God to them. Indeed, it seems that in his mind the proclamation of the Word of God was the very antidote to those persecutions. See his persecution and his proclamation juxtaposed:

Paul's Persecution
  • v. 19 - He served in humble circumstances.
  • v. 19 - He served with tears.
  • v. 19 - He served with trials that came through the plots of the Jews.
  • v. 23 - The Spirit says that bonds and afflictions await him.
Paul's Proclamation to the Believers
  • v. 20 - He didn't shrink from declaring to them anything profitable (i.e., anything to their benefit).
  • v. 20 - He didn't shrink from teaching them publicly, even in view of these persecutions.
  • v. 21 - He didn't shrink from solemnly testifying to the Gospel of repentance for forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ, either to Jews or to Greeks.
  • v. 24 - He is willing to lose his life to finish the ministry of testifying to the Gospel of grace.
  • v. 25 - He continuously was preaching the kingdom to them.
  • v. 27 - He declared the whole purpose of God to them such that his conscience is clear.
  • v. 31 - He didn't cease to admonish them with tears, night and day for three years.
And so in all the trials and persecutions that he faced, he considered it more profitable to benefit the people of God by proclaiming the Word of God to them. And we must remember that proclaiming the Word of God is nothing other than presenting Christ. And we must also remember that that is exactly how Jesus loved us (Rom 5:8; cf. 1Pet 3:18). So Paul loved these brothers as Jesus loved him.

But then we see in his address that he wants to prepare them for similar persecution: attacks on the very Word of God that he proclaimed to them, and therefore attacks on them.

The Believers' Promised Persecution
  • v. 29 - Savage wolves will come to devour the flock.
  • v. 30 - They will speak perverse things.
  • v. 31 - They will seek to draw the disciples away after them.
What's amazing to consider is that Paul's method of equipping the church to combat the perverse teachings of these savage wolves is to do the same thing that he did -- to proclaim the Word of God to each other. He says that they should be on guard (v. 28; cf, 2Tim 1:14), be on the alert (v. 31), and finally he commends them to God's Word (v. 32), which, he says, is able to build them up -- to fortify them against these attacks -- and to guarantee their inheritance of salvation, to finally protect them from those who seek to draw them away from such an inheritance.

This whole passage is about preparing the church for persecution and attacks by calling to mind Paul's own example of proclaiming the Word, and by exhorting them to wield their Sword (cf. Eph 6:17) against this enemy! Don't miss Paul's strategy for combating this error and protecting the church against these savage wolves. Paul is saying: "Get blood-earnest about digging into the Word of God! Don't despair in the face of these trials! Don't get despondent! GET YOUR SWORD!"

This, friends, is how the Church battles trials and persecution! Listen to Paul's reasoning in Ephesians 4:25:

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.

Why speak truth to each other? Because we are members of the same body! And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (1Cor 12:26). And so in Paul's mind, the way to keep the body from suffering -- indeed, the way to build up the body (Ac 20:32) -- is to speak truth each one of us with our neighbor.

See it elsewhere in Scripture:
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
  • Ephesians 5:18b-20 but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
And in this last one is where they all come together:
  • Colossians 3:16-17 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
This is what the Church is! This is love for each other! The ministry of the Word amongst each other in the body is essential. It is our sine qua non!

But we cannot minister that Word to each other if we don't know it. That means, dear friends, that we need to be in the Word, or we're not the Church. We simply cannot be the Church to one other if we don't do this. We will be no benefit to each other because we would cut ourselves off from Christ, from our benefit. For what does Christ Himself say? "This is how the world will know that you are My disciples: that you love one another as I have loved you." And remember, He loved us by presenting God (or Himself) to us. So if we stop presenting Him to our brothers and sisters, we stop loving them, and so we forfeit that characteristic that Jesus said would characterize His people among the rest of the world.

Paul loved the believers at Ephesus as Christ loved him.

And so after weeks of study, we have these commandments:
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Love as I have loved you.
  • Speak truth each one of you to his neighbor.
The synthesis of those three is:

Present Christ each one of you to his neighbor.

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