Saturday, May 13, 2023

2023.05.13 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 20:26–27

Read Acts 20:26–27

Questions from the Scripture text: With what words does Paul emphasize the significance of what he’s saying (Acts 20:26)? What does he testify about himself? Of whose blood is he clean? What has he not held back from doing (Acts 20:27)? What did he declare? How much of God’s intention/counsel had Paul declared? 

What must a minister do to be clear of the deaths of those entrusted to him? Acts 20:26–27 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that a minister must proclaim all that God has intended/counseled. 

Innocent of blood. Behind Acts 20:26 stand Ezekiel 3:16–21 and Ezekiel 33:1–9. God calls a watchman to address the people with words that they must hear and heed, lest they perish. If he sounds the warning, and they hear but don’t heed, their blood is upon them. If he sounds the warning, and they refuse even to hear (and then obviously don’t heed), their blood is upon them. But if he fails to sound the warning (and therefore they neither hear nor heed), then the watchman shares in the responsibility of the guilt.  But the apostle here gives solemn witness (“I testify,” Acts 20:26) that he is innocent of the blood of all. 

This is a serious word for the Ephesian elders and their congregation about how they have received the ministry of the apostle. What have they done with the three years’ instruction to which Acts 20:21 (and now Acts 20:27) refer? The apostle is innocent in his preaching. Are they innocent in their hearing?

And it is a serious word for the Ephesian elders as they return home. Will they be “innocent of the blood of all” in their own ministry? And will their congregation be innocent of their own blood in how they receive the elders’ ministry? Acts 20:26 presents the Christian ministry—giving it and receiving it—as high stakes indeed. They must not only take it seriously themselves as they go back to Ephesus, but they must relay this seriousness. 

When we considered the language of “witness” (“testifying,” Acts 20:21), we were instructed about the love for God’s glory that lies at the core of the ministry of the Word. Now, the language of innocence of blood instructs us about love for eternal souls that lies at the core of the ministry of the Word. Love for others’ souls at the core of ministering, and love for our own soul in how we hear that ministry, and how we heed the word that we hear in it. 

The whole counsel of God. What content is required for a ministry, if the elder is to “acquit” himself well? Everything that God has said. On this side of the completed Bible, we can just say “all Scripture.” When Paul is making that point in 2 Timothy 3:16–17, the logic is clear: if God has gone to the lengths of breathing a word out for it to be inscribed on the pages of Holy Scripture, then that word is profitable. And since God is perfectly faithful and wise in His goodness, we can be sure that He has given us everything we need for every good work. All of the Bible, synthesized in teaching and applied in proclamation, for all of life. 

The elder is at least a watchman like Ezekiel, who must give warnings. But he is more. He is an overseer, who must govern and hold accountable. And he is a shepherd (pastor), who must feed, guide, defend, and comfort. We’ll consider those two roles more in Acts 20:28, but just now in Acts 20:27 it means that they must give all of the Bible, for all of life, to all of Christ’s church.

And we may add one more corollary. This is the complete ministry of the church. It is the Lord Jesus Who has given this ministry (Acts 20:25). And if proclaiming the whole counsel of God fulfills it, we may realize that redesigning or reimagining the ministry of the church to take anything away from declaring the whole counsel of God makes the church and its ministers guilty of the blood of the church of God. And redesigning or reimagining the ministry of the church to add man’s techniques (content would be even worse) to what Christ has instituted in Scripture cannot help but detract from the ministry of the whole counsel of God. 

If the watchman (and his hearers) had a weighty task, how much more the overseers of the church (and their overseen)!

Conquering ministry avoidance. Having received such a weighty and beneficial ministry from the Lord, yet Paul was tempted not to fulfill it. It is sobering for us to consider the way that he words Acts 20:27: “I have not shunned to declare.” The verb means to shrink back from. 

Why would a man be tempted to avoid such a ministry? There are many reasons. Church members (and often church leaders) often don’t approve of such a ministry; instead, they “heap up for themselves teachers” who are “according to their own desires” (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3). Many words that sound otherwise good are employed to express those desires: “encouraging, uplifting, relevant, interesting/not boring,” etc. But the Word of God is by very definition all of those things. 

And many desires are simply contrary to the counsel of God: that preaching or teaching would be less doctrinal, make us feel good about ourselves, not meddle with our lives, not apply to politics or time management choices or some other sensitive area of life… or maybe that it would not take too long or occur too frequently. 

But the faithful minister simply cannot let such opinions impinge upon his mandate from Christ. Surely, such “feedback” can tell him something about his hearers—useful information about their weaknesses and how to employ the “all longsuffering” part of 2 Timothy 4:2 as he employs God’s method for training up appetites and abilities. He might even have to “do the work of an evangelist” to fulfill his ministry (cf. 2 Timothy 4:5). And since there will be many who will not relent, let him also be willing to “endure afflictions” (cf. 2 Timothy 4:5). 

But whatever he does, let him not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. Love for Christ, Who gave him the ministry demands that he not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. And love for souls, whose eternal perishing is at stake in the ministry, demands that he not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. And love even for righteous (“saved”) souls, who may be chastened to the point of temporal death if something is left unheard or unheeded (cf. Ezekiel 3:20, 1 Corinthians 11:30–32) demands that he not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God.

And believers must seek such a ministry. How can they hear it if it is not even there? And if such a ministry cannot be found, let them take heaven by storm with prayers for it. And if they have such a ministry, let them attend upon it to hear the whole counsel of God. And if they are hearing it, let them also heed that whole counsel of God, believing what the Scriptures teach and doing what the Scriptures command. Love for Christ, love for their own soul, and love for the souls of others demands it.

One final word here to heads of households. Perhaps as you have been considering this passage, you have dreaded making application to your own leadership of your family. And it is a weighty responsibility to owe to your own wife and your own children the debt of “the whole counsel of God.” But there is, in this passage, a marvelous provision for you and for them. Even more than your day by day duty to them in the home, you have a duty to them to be a member household of a local church in which this ministry is fulfilled. If none is available, move! If they are so scarce that there is nowhere to move for one, mourn! And if, in addition to a completed Bible, the Lord Jesus has given you a local ministry in which the whole counsel of God is proclaimed, attend! If you, or some member of your family cannot be present for some of it, get from your overseers some way of hearing whatever you are missing. Finally, don’t just hear. Heed. Seek always to be applying all of the Bible to all of your lives in the home.

What is at stake in the ministry of the Word in the congregation? What sort of ministry has Christ mandated upon such stakes? What use are you making of the Bible that the Lord Jesus has provided for you? What use are you making of the preaching and teaching ministry in the local church that the Lord Jesus has provided for you? What use are you making of the ministry in the home that the Lord Jesus has provided for you?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for all of the marvelous ways in which You help us by the ministry of Your Word. Forgive our ministers if ever they should shrink from declaring any part of Your whole counsel. Grant them quick repentance, for love to You and for love to eternal souls. And forgive us for when we treat as optional any part of Your whole counsel that they preach. Help us always by Your Spirit, so that we may have that ear to hear all that the Spirit, Who proceeds from Christ, says to the churches. Amen.

Suggested songs: ARP23B “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH175 “Your Law, O God, Is Our Delight”

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