June 2010 – Acts 20:24
By Dr. David M. Berman
Acts 20:24 “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
As one who has studied the Bible for 25 years, I believe this is the most powerful passage of scripture concerning the issue of personal commitment to the cause of Christ as a believer. This is both my favorite sanctification passage, and the verse that most convicts me of my need to do more. The Apostle Paul makes this statement after saying in verses 22-23 the following:
Acts 20:22-23 “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”
The Apostle Paul knew very well that he would encounter resistance to his ministry call to preach the gospel. That resistance would be manifested in persecution and distress. Paul was a man that previously held a position of honor among men. His position as a Pharisaic leader was one that brought him welcome from his countrymen. People looked to him for counsel, wisdom, and spiritual guidance. He was undoubtedly accustomed to being received with admiration. What makes a man turn his back on a comfortable existence? What would be so convincing as to make a man give up his position, wealth, and power? An additional question would be; What would make a man not only give up his position of wealth and power, but also have him endure intense persecution and discomfort for promoting something that made him a target? The answer is his encounter with the one and only living God.
In Second Corinthians chapter eleven verses 24 – 32 we see Paul’s testimony of his trials in ministry:
24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
Paul was whipped on five separate occasions. He received thirty nine lashes. It was said that forty lashes would kill a man. We often read of these things with disconnect from what it was really like. The pain is unimaginable to most people. To have terrible experience once would leave both physical and emotional scars. The Apostle endured this suffering five times.
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
Three times Paul was beaten with rods and once he was battered with stones so badly that they left him for dead (Acts 14:19). Three times Paul was shipwrecked and he spent a full twenty four hours in the water clinging to survival.
26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
He testifies here of the constant dangers of travel and robbers, and the persecution that came by his fellow Jews. He also speaks of the heathen that persecuted him. The Apostle Paul paints a picture here that clearly expresses his trials. Whether in the cities, countryside, at sea, or among those who claimed to be brothers, peril met him at every turn.
27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Pain, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness plagued him, and stalked him as a wolf stalking a lamb.
28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
Not to mention the everyday struggles and care for the work of the ministry in care of the Church.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
Here Paul simply expresses that he is human, has the same feelings as anyone, and has the same weak human disposition.
30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
Paul makes no boast of himself here. He simply makes it clear that he is able to admit his humanity and trust God’s grace. He glories not in his accomplishments but rather in his weaknesses.
31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
The Apostle then proclaims his truthfulness in the testimony of his suffering by proclaiming that God knows that he is telling the truth.
32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
An entire group of guards were under orders to apprehend Paul in the very city that he was on his way to before he was a Christian (on his way to persecute Christians) in Acts Chapter nine when he encountered Jesus.
We understand that Paul experienced discomfort, peril, persecution, lingering signs of his testimony of both physical and emotional pain. Paul was a mere man. He was not a super hero but rather a man who had the same human body as we do. He needed love, kindness, acceptance, finances, food, water, shelter just as all of us. Paul was a man suffered and yet he makes the statement in Acts chapter twenty in verse twenty four that speaks of a man who went beyond his human need in his thinking. Paul looked at life as eternal, and at God as being the single most important power in his life. Paul’s thinking was beyond the daily struggle with an eye toward the eternal purposes of God and thus he gave it all for the cause of Christ.
With this in mind let us look at modern American Christianity and the contrast between Paul’s life and the prevailing American church culture:
1) Comfort is number one in American Churches. Must have comfortable seats, comfortable air temperature, and comfortable surroundings.
2) Comfort must be extended to the ears of Christians as to not offend their personal sensibilities.
3) Church should not be something that calls too much for Christian service because people are busy.
4) Preachers should avoid controversial topics as to not offend those that may be made to feel uncomfortable.
5) Preachers need not speak of Hell, or sin too much since Hell and sin evoke negative feelings and church should be a “positive” experience.
6) Christian bestselling books are those that have little to do with proper theology and mostly are written to “enhance” one’s life through increasing their experiences of “living their best life.”
7) Submission to God’s delegated authority should not be emphasized since church discipline is old fashioned.
8) Only 6% of “Born Again” Christians tithed in 2007 (down from 14% in 2001 according to Barna Research Group). Over 50% give nothing toward the upkeep of the Church ministry that they attend.
As we take a serious look at The Apostle Paul’s life example of ministry and commitment to the cause of Christ, and contrast it to the general attitude (yes there are exceptions) of the American Church, we are left with a sobering reality. This reality can be made more real to us by asking the following question of ourselves:
If we had to endure what Paul did would we answer our trials with the same commitment that he had and would we have written ““But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
If none of those things moved Paul than what did move him? What moved him was a passion for the cause of Christ and the approval of his service before God. This is because Paul wanted to finish his course (2Timothy 4:7). It is true that not everyone is called to the ministry experience that Paul was however every believer is called to committed service to living and preaching the gospel. Serving God is not a trip to the convenience store. Serving God takes a desire to follow God’s will and a decision to act upon that desire even when it is not comfortable to do so. I ask every American Christian to consider our own lives in comparison to the Apostle Paul’s. How do we compare in commitment? How do we compare in effectiveness? How do we compare in tenacity? We must all ask ourselves in light of the move to entertainment and comfort in the American church. I ask myself the question; “What moves me?” I wonder, will you ask yourself the same question?