When last have a group of people wept because of your departure, or rejoiced because of your arrival? Those are end-game results and do not occur by accident. They are both the consequent of painstaking, consistent hard work on your part to serve and minister to others to the point where your value to them is recognized, felt and appreciated. Such was the achievement of the Apostle Paul, and he was not shy in laying out the precise reasons for his endearment to his friends. Let us dissect the unchallenged claims of Paul.
Speaking to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus, Paul said, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia” (Acts 20:18). Perhaps because he had a point to prove. Perhaps he had to visibly compensate for the atrocities he committed before his conversion. And perhaps because of his negative high profile past, he was subjected to more scrutiny than the other Apostles. Or perhaps because Paul was at his very core, a man of integrity, who was dedicated to his cause, whether it be good or bad. Whatever the reasons may have been, the result was that Paul diligently and consistently lived an exemplary life with the full awareness that all around him were looking on and scrutinizing him. This placed him in the position to be able to say… “You know how I lived…”
In Acts 20:19, Paul testified to what every person present could attest – “I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.” Paul had a unique relationship with the concepts of humility and boasting. It was almost as though he were proud of his humility. He says he will not boast, but says he has more to boast of than anyone else (Philippians 3:4-6; 2 Corinthians 11:16-33)… and he did. Now he says, “I served the Lord with great humility…” And he did. And even more importantly, his audience agreed with him.
The life of this Apostle was anything but a bed of roses. In fact at his calling, Jesus told Ananias, “I will make clear to him how much he must suffer and endure for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16) At his farewell, he was able to remind the Ephesian Elders of the tears he shed during his service to them as a result of the fierce opposition he encountered from the Jewish leaders. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, Paul lists the perils and sufferings that he has sustained for the Name of Jesus, and the Ephesian Elders were aware of most, if not all of them.
Paul labored in the preaching of the Word, and did so extensively. In Acts 20:20 he stakes his claim to having been a prolific teacher, not just when the Church was gathered, but from house to house, or as we would say, in the small home groups. Preaching the Word of God in a way that leaves no room for being ashamed requires study, prayer and diligence. The advice that Paul gave to Timothy, his Son in the Faith, in 2 Timothy 2:15, he applied first to himself.
Note how Paul is able to use sweeping generalizations. He speaks of, “the whole time I was with you from the first day I came to you.” (Acts 20:18). Now in Acts 20:35 he says, “In everything I did…”
In Acts 20:33-34 Paul declared that his integrity was intact. Not only did he not covet anything that belonged to anyone else, but he labored with his own hands to supply his needs, and not only his needs, but also those of his companions. We know that Paul was a tent-maker and on one occasion we are specifically told that he did this kind of work while ministering (Acts 18:3) It was no doubt to this that he referred in Acts 20:35. He could point to the way he conducted his affairs as a model for how Believers in Christ should behave.
His final recorded words in Acts 20:35 are worth special attention as he makes a significant quotation of Jesus, not recorded elsewhere in the Bible – “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Paul used his own life as the illustration for the quotation. He freely and lavishly gave of his time, his energy, his love, his devotion and his substance to those to whom he ministered. And when he did receive, as receive he did, he went out of his way to emphasize that in receiving he was making it possible for the giver to receive a blessing. “For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account” (Philippians 4:16-17). Following this verse is perhaps one of the most sought-after blessings in the entire Bible, but many totally disregard the clearly stated context and conditions – “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19). This was the blessing that Paul pronounced on the generous Givers (Philippians 4:18).
A final thought on giving is that we must first receive before we can give, and we all have received. David got it right in 1 Chronicles 29:14 – “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
May God keep our minds so focused on all that He has given us, that we would willingly give of ourselves to others for the furtherance of the building of the Kingdom of God.
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