Dramatic Farewell Message to Elders at Ephesus — Acts 20:33-38 — Part 3

PREFERENCE FOR SELF SUPPORT IN CHRISTIAN MINISTRY

[Caveat: In certain circumstances]

This will be our final message on the book of Acts.  The remaining chapters detail Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, the various trials which cause him to defend himself, and then his final voyage to Rome after being shipwrecked on the island of Malta.  These stories are mainly historical narrative without a lot of additional doctrinal insight. But as we conclude our study of the Book of Acts today, we come to a truly revolutionary passage in terms of modern day Christian thinking.  You won’t hear this message from the lips of too many pastors and teachers.  You can take courses at the best seminaries in the country and you won’t find many professors advocating for this position.  That means that I must be extremely careful and guarded in what I say today.  We all struggle to be objective when we come to the Word of God and not be overly influenced by our own upbringing and circumstances.  We also must be balanced in giving full weight to the impact of the short paragraph in front of us while at the same time being honest about how this integrates with the rest of Scripture – this is the very difficult discipline of Systematic Theology.

V.  (:33-35)  PASTORAL EXAMPLE OF SELF SUPPORT AND SACRIFICIAL GIVING IN THE MINISTRY

That’s not revolutionary you say … we all appreciate the pastoral example of the Apostle Paul; we understand that for a good part of his foundational ministry he supported himself in tentmaking work; we have no problem with that .  . .  Let me put the thesis to you in a different statement:

3 Exhortations to Spiritual Leaders to Prefer and Pursue Self Support in the Ministry:

Remember Paul’s audience here = pastors, ministers of the gospel, those gifted in evangelism and teaching and counseling

You have to first prefer it … then you have to pursue it – now we are going to have some serious debate and questions regarding where this model is appropriate

My mentality has been more to end up in this position of self support by default; I have always preferred if I could have been supported by others in the ministry; I have been willing to minister diligently regardless of whether I need to support myself or not; but I can’t say I have preferred this position; I certainly did not have the mentality during my years of education that I needed to prepare myself to support myself and my family in secular work.  I thought I was preparing to be supported by others in the full time ministry.

You can see how those who are supported in full time Christian ministry would have a bias against advocating for this position.  But understand that I am NOT saying it is wrong to be supported full-time.  There are other passages that clearly state that those who labor in the gospel ministry have a right to such support.  Paul was willing to give up this right.  There are passages that put the burden on the local believers to support their leaders – especially those who labor hard in the time-consuming functions of preaching and teaching (although those passages need to be scrutinized closely).  The emphasis is never on the Christian worker to pressure others to raise support for his own ministry.  He ultimately must depend on God like each of us for his daily bread; he can choose to support himself if that is a viable option or he is certainly free to make his needs known and accept willing gifts from those who want to free him up for such ministry.

I would use the analogy of marriage here to try to bring some perspective.

-          Remember the teaching of the Lord Jesus:

Matt. 19:10-12  after his severe treatment of the subject of divorce

-          Teaching of the Apostle Paul: 1 Cor. 7:1-9

Both of these point to a superior state – but one that is practiced by only a few; and certainly marriage is held in honor by all and those involved are not looked down upon in any way or despised

But that does not mean that we ignore the teaching regarding what makes the single state superior in some respects and in some situations for dedicated and focused ministry

Let’s see what our text before us this morning clearly teaches

3 Exhortations to Spiritual Leaders to Prefer and Pursue Self Support in the Ministry:

A.  (:33-34a)  Don’t Follow the Selfish Motivation of Counterfeit Spiritual Leaders –

Work Hard to Meet Your Own Needs – Self Support

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.  You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs

            1.  No Materialistic Motivation in the MinistryIntegrity

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.

What would be wrong is to minister from a motivation of selfishness or greed or covetousness or a desire to make merchandise out of the gospel ministry.  Many verses speak to this characterization of false teachers

coveted” – used of strong desire, craving, longing in either a good sense or bad sense (covet, lust after)

1 Tim. 3:1  “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires

            [longs after] to do

Gal. 5:17  “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit

James 4:2  “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder

Does not mean that Paul never refused monetary gifts; in fact in writing to the Philippians he commends them for their practice of supporting him financially:

Phil. 4:10-20  you have done well to share with me in my affliction

Look at the promise that “my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus

Love of money is a root problem

False teachers are characterized by their motivation to exploit others for money and gain a personal following to enhance their own well-being

1 Peter 5:2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness

2.  No Disconnect Between His Teaching and His Life ExampleTransparency

you yourselves know” – open, transparent life before them; three years they had been able to observe him

            3.  No Shrinking Back From Physical LaborDiligence

these hands” – not afraid to roll his sleeves up and do the hard work necessary

Look at the caricature of preachers on TV shows; soft; cannot do any practical labor

Paul worked with his hands at his trade as a leather worker

4. No Excusing Himself from the Universal Responsibility to provide for his own needs [and those of his family] – Responsibility

ministered to my own needs

[acronym = DIRT = Diligence / Integrity / Responsibility / Transparency]

1 Thess. 4:11-12  “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”

2 Thess 3:10  “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.  For we hear that some among you re leading an undisciplined life

Pastors are to be an example to the flock in this area as well; certainly it is hard work to be an effective pastor – yet in this context Paul was pointing to his willingness to work hard with his hands at secular labor

Practical reasons for self support: Shows what circumstances would favor this approach

-          Provides a platform of integrity – puts you above criticism and suspicion

-          Sets the example for believers in situations where a disciplined life is an issue and a godly work ethic needs to be established

-          Gains you more accessibility and a better hearing from those who spend their days working at secular jobs for a living

-          Avoids draining the resources of others so that those resources can be directed to the truly needy – look where the emphasis is in the NT on giving = to the needy

-          Eliminates the problematic distinction between professional clergy and laypeople while promoting the NT church governing model of plurality of elders

Objections/Challenges to self support:

-          Distraction — You become entangled with your professional pursuits – certainly a danger of distraction and divided loyalties

            Matt. 6:24No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”

But you can work full time in secular work and still have your priority on the kingdom of God

2 Tim. 2:3-4Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”  Don’t get entangled – serious warning for me …

Certainly when the Lord called His disciples, he had them leave their fishing nets and devote themselves fully to following after Him for those concentrated short years of preparation and training

If the church is in a financial position to do so they might prefer that the spiritual gifts of certain individuals not be limited by outside work obligations – so free those people up to minister – that is the church driving the issue of support rather than the minister lobbying or negotiating for it or making it a condition of his service

-          Expediency argument – how can you accomplish what you need to?  Hard to imagine how the Apostle Paul got so much accomplished during his three years in Ephesus, working hard night and day; it would seem that larger churches need some type of staff to take care of the needs of the flock

-          Quality issue – for your preaching and teaching to be of the necessary quality and depth, you must spend incredible time locked alone in your study – but I can operate just fine from a context of self support – but I can’t spend time in other activities that might be necessary: training other men to be teachers; discipling young believers; counseling; etc.

Transition: 2 Radically different orientations:  The mindset and motivation are key –

-          I want others to minister to my needs; I am a taker; I exploit others

-          I will meet my own needs and even minister to others at sacrifice to myself

I Cor. 9:18 is the key passage where Paul speaks of his right to support in the ministry and yet how he makes his boast in preaching the gospel without charge

1 Thess. 2:9  “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

B.  (:34b-35a)  Follow the High Standard Practiced by the Apostle Paul –

Work Hard to Help Others – Sacrificial Giving

and to the men who were with me.  In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak”

Self Support not for all Christian workers in all circumstances – look at the ones on Paul’s team – they received support from Paul himself!  So it is clearly not wrong to receive support

How can a position of support by others ever rise to the level of helping to support others??

Paul definitely putting his conduct out there as something that should be emulated – not saying that he is the exception – in what manner did Paul work hard??  Not talking about just working hard in preaching and teaching

men who were with me” – Silas, Timothy, Luke, Epaphroditus

Problem with many of us is that we see little purpose in our work

Work ethic is important – but not for the sake of accumulation but for sharing with those in need

We have an obligation to help the weak!

weak” –  Those who are without strength = what word means literally; unable to help themselves; can’t even give anything in return

-          Without financial strength

-          Physically weak, handicapped, unable to work

-          Mentally and emotionally weak

-          Spiritually feeble

Roles might be reversed at some future point; we might be in the strong category right now but in the weak category in the future and in need of help by other believers

C.  (:35b)  Follow the High Standard Taught by the Lord Jesus –

Work Hard to Enjoy the Blessing of Giving – Superior Standing

and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How was Jesus supported in His three year ministry??  Not much insight into this; maybe He had saved up from his earlier carpentry business??  Maybe God provided for Him in ways supernatural??  He certainly depended upon God; He did not go around raising any support;

He certainly set his seal of approval on full-time missionary work since during His ministry His disciples were supported by His followers: “Certain women … and many others … were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Lk. 8:2-3).

These words not recorded in the gospel accounts, but well known saying of Jesus

Jesus backed up His teaching with His example and His life:

-          Gave up everything to come down to earth

  • Phil. 2:7  “emptied Himself

-          Came to minister rather than to be ministered to

  • Mark 10:45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

-          Gives us His riches at His expense = GRACE = God’s riches at Christ’s expense

2 Cor. 8:9  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

Implies that there is some blessing in receiving; don’t shut off support and help when it is needed and appropriate – that would be prideful; thinking that your sufficiency comes from self rather than from God; let others experience the blessing of giving

Cf. as you mature more meaningful to give at Christmas time than to receive

God loves to give good gifts to His children; He is a generous, giving God; you can never out-give God

James 1:17Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Luke 11:9-13  God won’t disappoint His children by denying them good things

God is the expert on Giving – “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross”  Heb. 12:2

So why don’t Christians give??

-          We prefer financial security for the future – fear, anxiety – vs. “Give us this day our daily bread

-          We failed to work hard enough so that we have the resources to share with others

-          We lack contentment with God meeting our needs and want too extravagant a lifestyle; note Paul worked to meet his “needs”; We live above our needs and then above our means

-          We think that people don’t deserve the help – but look at how much we have been forgiven and blessed by God’s mercy

-          We think that what we give won’t really matter since it will not be enough to bail them out – but we need to do our part; cf. soldier rationalizing that his efforts won’t be enough to win the battle; don’t try to shift responsibility to others who we feel have more resources

We should be fighting for the privilege of giving – How much can I give?? Is the proper question

Do you want to be blessed by God?  Have you believed the lie of this world that money is the key to happiness?

(:36-38)  PRAYERFUL, TEARFUL, EMOTIONAL FAREWELL

“And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they were accompanying him to the ship.”

“Blessed be the tie which binds our hearts in Christian love” – these early Christians experienced the emotional depths of fellowship in the gospel

CONCLUSION PART 3:

Remember the theme verse of the Book of Acts as we close our study:

Acts 1:8  “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

We have covered a lot of ground in Paul’s 3 missionary journeys and seen the power of the Holy Spirit at work in amazing ways.

Now in Paul’s farewell address to the spiritual leaders he leaves behind in Ephesus, he reminds them:

PASTORAL MINISTRY MUST FOLLOW THE APOSTOLIC PATTERN

Let’s remember Paul’s example in this important area of self support and sacrificial giving as well.

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