Dr. Kent Brantly never expected to be making national and international news. Nine years ago he left Texas with his family to serve, not just as a humanitarian, but as a Christian medical missionary in Liberia. As Ebola spread in Liberia he directed an Ebola case management team in a hospital near Monrovia, where he contracted the disease. He was flown to Atlanta, treated, and eventually was declared virus free. Dr. Brantly was motivated by what drove Paul to continue his journey to Jerusalem, despite knowing that suffering and imprisonment awaited him there, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts. 21:13). How deep is your commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ?
Be willing to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. Suffering characterizes the Christian life. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, not only to report on his third missionary journey, but also to present the gifts that the young Gentile churches were sending to the suffering church in Jerusalem. He knew that danger and suffering awaited him, Acts 20:3, 22-23; 21:4. Now in Acts 21:10–11 the prophet Agabus dramatically informed Paul of his impending arrest. “We,” including Luke, pleaded with Paul not to continue to Jerusalem, but he was willing not just to be imprisoned, but to die, if necessary, for the name of Jesus.
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We, at least here in North America, live in what is becoming an increasingly neo-pagan culture. The heart sin of idolatry, the worship of self, is becoming increasingly pervasive. Related to that is the promotion of ethical immorality, nor just as an option to be tolerated and accepted, but something that one is required to embrace. With what has God equipped the church? The seal of the seminary I attended includes a drawing of a pulpit with an open Bible with a sword lying across it. Above it are five Greek words, which translate into our text (Acts 20:27), “The whole will of God.” That was crucial, not only for the elders of the church at Ephesus, but for both officers and members of the church today.
Learn the whole will of God. Pay attention, because God is the author of his word. Paul’s expectation that this would be the last time he would see these men (verse 25) gave additional weight to them. The will of God here refers to God’s revealed will. Behind Paul’s words, behind the passages of Scripture he had proclaimed at Ephesus, lies the work of the Holy Spirit. All Scripture is God-breathed. God holds you accountable for your response to his word. Paul, verse 26, like the prophet, Ezekiel 33:1–9, had faithfully proclaimed God’s word. The church today has a similar responsibility. Your elders are called to proclaim the warnings of the Word—and you and I are responsible to obey. God’s Word is always effective, as Isaiah points out. It never returns to him empty or void.
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Why does a church need elders? How important are they to the life of the church? Acts 20:28–32 helps us see how God expects them to function, and how you and I benefit from their work.
Who are the elders? The office began in the Old Testament. Jethro sees his son-in-law, Moses, overwhelmed by his responsibility in leading and judging, and recommends selecting elders to judge the people. That practice was carried on in more or less formal ways throughout the Old Testament. The office became particularly important at the time of the exile as synagogue worship replaced temple worship—following the destruction of the temple. So when Paul on his missionary journeys planted churches, he soon arranged for the selection and establishment of elders in those churches, Acts 14:23. The Bible sometimes refers to them as overseers or bishops.
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