“Finishing the Race with Joy”
Series: The Church on Fire!
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Take your Bibles and open to Acts, chapter 20.
We are returning to our series of messages through the book of Acts. Our series is entitled, “The Church on Fire” and we’ve been studying about how the church grew like wildfire spreading from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. You’ll remember that the key verse to the book of Acts is found in the first chapter of the book: in Acts 1:8 Jesus says to His followers: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
By the way, our ministerial staff is blessed to have with us tomorrow two missionary consultants from the International Mission Board to help us crystallize our Acts 1:8 strategy. We want to do the best we can in leading First Baptist to fulfill Christ’s commission to us.
So the year is about AD 62 and Paul is on his third missionary journey. Some of you have Bibles with Paul’s missionary journeys detailed in maps in the back. Paul is on his third missionary journey and we’re going to be reading about his adventures in Acts 20. Since we’re studying the entire chapter this morning I want to read just one verse before we pray and begin our study. Let me read to you a verse from the middle of the chapter. Paul has been talking about the dangers that he has faced and will face as he continues his work of spreading the Gospel. And it’s with this knowledge of danger that he makes this statement I want to read before we pray. It’s found in verse 24.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
24 “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul likes to refer to the Christian life as a race. In Philippians 3:13-14 he talks about, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,” he says, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” And in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 he talks about “finishing the race” to receive “the crown of righteousness.”
A couple of weeks ago Michele and I ran our first half-marathon up in Indianapolis. I honestly never thought I would find something like that so fun! But it really was fun. Our goal was simply to finish the race. We just wanted to finish the race. And what an awesome feeling it was to cross that finish line and to thank God for the ability to run. We finished our race with joy.
So Paul uses this running metaphor here in chapter 20 to refer to living for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says in that verse we read a moment ago, verse 24, that his sole desire in life is to “finish the race with joy.” So I want to talk about how we can do that. I want to talk about living out this Christian life. How can we finish our race, the Christian race with joy?
I. We Must Love the Truth [1-16]
In the first sixteen verses here, Paul illustrates the kind of love we’re to have for the Word of God, the Bible, and the glorious Gospel it proclaims. Our love for the truth of the Gospel means that two things will necessarily follow. First:
A) We have a passion for People (1-6)
The first six verses are something of a travelogue, verses describing the details of Paul’s journeys. But it’s really more than a travelogue. When you read these verses you get a feel for Paul’s passion for people, those with whom he is ministering and those to whom he ministers.
1 After the uproar had ceased (you’ll remember that the “uproar” is that riot in Ephesus where everybody was shouting, “Great is the goddess Diana!”), Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia.
2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece
3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia — also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.
5 These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas.
6 But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.
You get a sense of Paul’s passion for people. We’re continually reminded that the Christian life is not all about us. It’s about our investing our lives in others, looking outwardly as we look upwardly to God. If we love the truth, we have a passion for people. Also, if we love the truth:
B) We have a passion for Preaching (7-16)
That is, we love to hear and share the Word of God. I love this story in the next several verses. Watch what happens when Paul is preaching in Troas, verses 7 and following.
7 Now on the first day of the week (that’s Sunday. We’ve been gathering together for worship on Sunday since the first Sunday Christ rose from the dead), when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
So they gather together for worship on Sunday afternoon and Paul is preaching until midnight. Imagine if I did that today! “Thanks for joining with us. Open your Bibles; lock the doors. We’re going till midnight.” Watch what happens.
8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.
9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
The phrase “young man” connotes a boy anywhere from about age 8-14. He’s sitting in a window while Paul is preaching. Luke, the writer, says there were many lamps there. You can imagine this: the lamps burning up oxygen and emitting an odor conducive to sleep. Eutychus is trying to get some fresh air and even by the window he gets drowsy and not only falls asleep, but falls out the window. Luke, a doctor by trade, gives us the added detail that Eutychus fell to his death. But remember that God used the apostles in unusual ways during the early days of the church.
10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” (God resurrects Eutychus through the Apostle Paul in the same way God raised a girl named Tabitha from the dead through the Apostle Peter back in Acts 9).
11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed.
12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.
By the way, Charles Spurgeon warns: “Remember, if we go to sleep during the sermon and die, there are no apostles to restore us!”
It’s remarkable, really. I mean, Paul’s love for preaching is so great that in spite of this momentary interruption, he just picks up where he left off and goes on now passed midnight, preaching until daybreak! Preachers are used to preaching through interruptions. Sometimes people will come up to me later and apologize for a cell phone going off or a baby crying and I’ll tell them that I sort of get into a zone and just preach through the interruptions. And while I’ve had a phone ring or a baby cry or something like that, I’ve never had someone die on me—not yet anyway! But Paul takes the cake here. He’s just preaching away and then this fellow falls out of the window. Paul’s like, “Put your finger right there in the Bible. I’ll be right back.” He goes down, brings the boy back to life, climbs back up the stairs and says, “Okay, we left off at verse 4.” And then it’s off to another location to preach the Word:
13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. (Paul is going to meet them at Assos. He’s making the 20-mile journey on foot, no doubt taking time to talk to God as he goes along.)
14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene.
15 We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus.
16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.
So if we love the truth we will have a passion for people and a passion for preaching. I’m grateful to pastor a church that has a love for the truth. I like pastoring a church where people have their Bibles open, following along, as we learn together from God’s Word. I’m glad to pastor a church that believes we must do more than social ministry as we fulfill the Acts 1:8 Commission, more than just build buildings and give people food and water, but that we are sharing the Good News of the Bible with people so that they might be transformed by the Gospel.
So this takes us naturally to the second main point. If we love the truth then we will live for the truth.
II. We Must Live for the Truth [17-27]
When Paul stops in Miletus he calls for the church leaders from Ephesus to give them what he believes will be his last sermon and in this last message we see the heart of a man who lives 100% for the truth. He lives for the Lord and His Word.
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.
18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, (you know how I lived)
19 “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;
20 “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,
21 “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (that is, I preached the Gospel. I preached Jesus Christ and how we all must live for Him.)
22 “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,
23 “except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.
Paul is saying, “God is leading me to Jerusalem.” He says, “I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem.” That is, “I am being led by God to do this.” But look: Paul says, “And while I’m going, I don’t know what I will face.” See that in verses 22-23? “I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.”
Sometimes God leads us right through difficulties. We’re like, “Hey, why am I going through this hard time?!” and God is just there, guiding. How many of you think God knows what He’s doing? Yes, He knows what He’s doing. He’s guiding. He’ll get you through what you’re going through. Look at this in verse 24:
24 “But none of these things move me (what things? The things he just said he knows he will face, chains and tribulations. He’s like, “It doesn’t really matter to me; no sweat”); nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
What an incredible statement! Here’s a guy who shows us how to live our lives; how to live for the truth. He says there in verse 24: “I do not count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy.” I do not count my life dear to myself. I am not living for this world only. The worst thing that can happen to me is that I will be killed for serving the Lord. No big deal! I do not count my life dear to myself. We’re tempted to count our lives dear to ourselves, but the Christian life is not about preserving ourselves, pampering ourselves, and praising ourselves. The Christian life is not a life lived inwardly. The Christian life is a life lived upwardly to God and outwardly to others. Real life begins when we get our eyes off of ourselves and on God and others. Real life begins when we share the Gospel with others. Real life begins when we regard our workplace and our school as our mission field. Real life begins when we take that mission trip to another city, another state, and another country.
25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.
26 “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27 “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
Paul says, “I have not shunned,” the word means to “shrink back” or “retreat.” He says, “I have not shrunk back from my duty to declare to you the whole counsel of God,” that is, “I have given you the full counsel of God in His Word.” I preached the good and the bad. I left nothing out.
This is why Paul can say in verse 26, “I am innocent of the blood of all men.” I believe he’s drawing upon the imagery of the watchman in Ezekiel 33:8-9 where God says,
“When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”
As your pastor I too have this obligation to preach to you the whole counsel of God, warning, admonishing, encouraging you to live for the truth. If I do not, and you die without Christ, your blood is on my hands. But if I preach the truth and encourage you to live for the truth and you refuse to do it, point to the person who is to blame. Right.
Now this takes us to the final point. We must love the truth and we must live for the truth. Thirdly:
III. We Must Learn the Truth [28-38]
28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to 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.
29 “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
Here again we find the pastor’s primary role and responsibility. Remember that Paul is addressing the church leaders, the ministers there in Ephesus. He says, “You are to shepherd the church. Care for the flock because savage wolves are coming. False teachers are coming and they don’t care for the flock. You must feed the flock the truth. Teach the truth because false teachers are coming.” False teachers are coming from without as “savage wolves” entering the sheepfold and they are coming from within:
30 “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
31 “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
So the pastor’s primary responsibility is not to be busy about this or that, but to spend the greater balance of his time in the Word, learning the truth and teaching the truth to the church. Paul says, “Remember: that’s what I did for the three years I was with you. For three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”
I love this picture of Paul’s preaching in such a way as to warn them with tears in his eyes. What a pastor’s heart!
Ray Stedman tells of a certain church which had dismissed their pastor and gotten a new one. He said that someone asked a church member why they had gotten rid of the old pastor. The member said, “Because he kept telling the people they were going to hell.” To this, the questioner asked, “What does the new pastor say?” The member said, “Oh, he keeps telling them they’re going to hell, too.” The person asked, “Well, what is the difference?” The member said, “The difference is that when the first one said it, he sounded as if he were glad of it. But when the second one says it, he lets you know that is breaking his heart.”
32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
That’s the Gospel Paul is talking about (v.24). I commend you to God and the word of His grace; the Gospel; the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is able to build you up and give you and inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Then Paul makes these closing comments:
33 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.
34 “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.
35 “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
While Paul could have received money for his ministry and sometimes did, he so wanted to avoid the ways of the false teachers that he supported himself while in Ephesus. Now look at this touching closing:
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him,
38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.
We must love the truth, live for the truth, and learn the truth. Paul says it’s all about God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance. We were created to learn, love, and live for the truth of the Gospel and share that Gospel with others.
Brothers and sisters, remember that God in His infinite love did for you what you could not do yourselves. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus Christ righteously fulfilled the perfect demands of the law, perfectly living the life you cannot live yourself. And then Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment and penalty for your sins. This is the Gospel, this is the truth, about which we’ve been studying. This is the truth you and I must receive.
Receive Christ and begin running the race of the Christian life. And keep running the race. Don’t stop. Run so that you may finish the race with joy!
- Stand for prayer.
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