Devoted by Abidan Shah, PhD

DEVOTED by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Suppose you were a supervisor (maybe some of you are or have been) and you have two individuals working for you. Both are hard workers, but here’s the difference: The first one works for you based on how much you pay him. If you pay him more, he works more. If the conditions are good, his productivity goes up. He loves it when you come by and pat him on the back. He appreciates it when you brag on him before the other workers. His loyalty towards you and his faithfulness in his work go up especially when he comes to you with some need in his life and you immediately meet that need. But, if all these things don’t happen, his work slows down, his attitude gets sour, his loyalty towards you starts fading, and he even stops working. On the other hand, the second worker works for you rain or shine. You can’t remember the last time you gave him a raise, but you look out the window and there he is plugging away. You haven’t come by and patted him on the back in months. It’s been a while since you bragged on him before others. In fact, he gets hurt, but he still works through the pain. His family and friends turn on him, but he still maintains a good attitude. He gets mistreated by the other workers, but he still gives his 100%. By the way, it just hit you that sometime back he had asked you for some need in his life, but you clean forgot. Yet, every time you see him, he has a smile on his face, no bitterness towards you. Here’s a question: Which of the two workers is dearer to your heart? Which of the two do you trust the most? Of course, the second one. In today’s message titled “Devoted,” we’re going to learn from the apostle Paul, how to be the second worker. Main point: God desires for us to serve him. He especially delights in those who work for him with no regard to material or spiritual benefits in this life. God knows when we serve him from our hearts, in spite of our circumstances. Although he sustains us in this life by his grace, his rewards are waiting for us in the life to come.

Acts 20:17 “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.”

Context: The context of this event is at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. Acts 20:16 tells us that Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost. Nonetheless, he wanted to have one last meeting with the Ephesian pastors. So, he sent word to them to come and meet him at Miletus. Why didn’t Paul stop at the port in Ephesus? Maybe the port was not very convenient for a meeting due to the silting, or maybe because the last time he was in Ephesus, there was a big riot due to Paul’s ministry, or maybe Paul was banned from entering Ephesus. We don’t know for sure. So, the Ephesian pastors had to come all the way from Ephesus to Priene on land, about 37 miles. This was at a time when they didn’t have our modern means of transportation. They would’ve walked on the Roman roads, but it still wasn’t easy. Also, since this was a several days journey, they would’ve had to stay in tents overnight. There were robbers and wild animals along the way. There was nature to contend with as well, maybe rain or heat. Then, from Priene, they probably had to board a ferry to get across the Gulf of Latmus to Miletus, about 7 miles. There is no gulf there now due to the silting from the Meander River, but you can just imagine how messy that must have been. Nonetheless, after three days, they finally arrived in Miletus. Paul has been waiting for them for almost six days: three days for Paul’s companion to get to Ephesus, and three days for the Ephesian pastors to get to him. Acts 20:18 “And when they had come to him…”  Sometimes, when we read a simple statement like that, we don’t think what all went into that!

Application: Would you have made that journey with the Ephesian pastors, or would you have stayed back with some excuse? Would you have waited patiently like the apostle Paul for 6 days at some harbor? We want to take the least costly or the least arduous path. Do you value your comfort far more than what God desires from you? 

When you come to Clearview, do you stop to think about what all has gone into making a service possible? Do you stop to consider the plannings, the works, and the sacrifices that go on day in and day out? How much do you help to contribute towards it?

Now, let’s pay close attention to what Paul had to say to the Ephesian pastors when they got to Miletus (By the way, this is the only message given in the book of Acts to Christians): Acts 20:18 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.” We have to read between the lines to understand what is going on here. Apparently, there was a smear campaign out against Paul. To understand that, we need to understand the context. The “first day” was when Paul stopped briefly in Ephesus during his second missionary journey. Acts 18     19 “And he came to Ephesus, and left them (Aquila and Priscilla) there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, 21 but took leave of them, saying, ‘I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.’ And he sailed from Ephesus.” Paul kept his promise, because, on his third missionary journey, he came back to Ephesus. Acts 19:1 “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ 3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all. In other words, they had their own mini-Pentecost. Paul remained in Ephesus for the next two and a half years. He went from teaching in the synagogue to teaching in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Amazing miracles were done through Paul. Not only people were healed from sicknesses but also set free from demonic possession. We only think of the good things, but all was not good.

Go back to Acts 20:19 “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews.” Let’s start with the first word for humility = tapeinophrosune. This is the idea of being a servant, being humble, and even being humiliated. Add to this dakruon = tears and peirasmos = trials and temptations. Paul does not give a list of all that happened to him in Acts, but he does mention it in some of his letters. In fact, 1 Corinthians was more than likely written from Ephesus. So, if you want to know what Paul was facing in Ephesus, read 1 Corinthians.

  • 1 Corinthians 4         9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
  • Acts 20:20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” Here’s some of the smear campaign – Acts 20       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.’ ”
  • Powerful statement about Paul in Ephesus – 1 Corinthians 15       31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me?
  • Also, 2 Corinthians was written a year after 1 Corinthians. Again, it helps us understand what he was facing at Ephesus.
  • 2 Corinthians 4          8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.
  • 2 Corinthians 6          3 We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. 4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; 6 by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
  • Going back to his time in Ephesus – According to Acts 19, at this point, a riot began against Paul and the church because the worship of Artemis/Diana had fallen to an all-time low. They grabbed Paul’s companions to kill them. Paul wanted to go and speak to the crowd, but the Christians did not let him. In fact, the city officials told him to stay away from the theater. Finally, the city clerk was able to calm the mob down. When everything had quieted down, Paul embraced the disciples in Ephesus and left for Macedonia. Because of this, there was a smear campaign going on against Paul in Ephesus. They were probably accusing Paul of being a coward or insincere or opportunistic. Something similar had also happened to Paul in Thessalonica after he had to be smuggled out of the city because of a mob of Jewish people who wanted to kill him. Unfortunately, some of Paul’s critics accused him of being a coward or insincere or opportunistic.
  • 2 Corinthians 11        23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
  • 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – The Thorn in his flesh

Acts 20:24 “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.”

Here’s the most important point: Acts 20:32 “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.”

The first worker is working for his wages, but the second worker is working for an inheritance.

Invitation: How devoted are you in serving God? What is your role in this body at Clearview? Have you gone through what Paul has gone through? Of course not. When you serve in spite of what is happening around you or to you, you are being like Christ. Are you like Christ? Are you imitating Paul? Are you working for your wages or for your inheritance? Are you saved?

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