I have preached this passage before, so it was hard for me to find something that was new and unexpected this morning as I read. Years ago, when I served as an elder at our church, verses 28-35 came to mean a lot to me. So I have spent a lot of time thinking about them and trying to apply them to my life. But this morning, after a few additional read-throughs, I ended up going back to verses 18-27. There was something about what Paul had to say to the elders at Ephesus that impacted me like it never had before. At first blush, it could come across like Paul was bragging. After all, by my count he uses the personal pronouns "I," "me" and "myself" at least 20 times in the span of 10 verses.
"No brag, just fact"
In the 1960s Walter Brennan starred in an obscure TV Western called The Guns of Will Sonnet. He played a crotchety old army scout searching for his son, a gunfighter on the run. Any time Brennan’s character would meet someone, he would tell them that he was a faster draw than his son and then add reply, “no brag, just fact.”
So was Paul bragging or just stating the facts? Based on the events of his life, I think I would say it was the latter. What Paul shared with the Ephesian elders was simply a glimpse into his life that he intended to be an encouragement to these men as they served their flock back in Ephesus. What Paul shares is a seemingly comprehensive list of qualities that characterize the life of any shepherd of God. For that matter, these qualities should probably be found in each and every child of God, whether they are a pastor, elder, deacon, or layman. Check out Paul's list:
He served with humility - Vs 19
He shed tears regularly – Vs 19
He endured trials repeatedly - Vs 19
He shared boldly and profitably – Vs 20
He taught publicly – Vs 20
He testified tirelessly – Vs 21
He ministered faithfully – Vs 24
He sacrificed personally – Vs 22-24
He suffered willingly – Vs 24
He died to self daily – Vs 24
He testified earnestly – Vs 24
He declared wholeheartedly – Vs 27
Paul put it all on the line. Whatever he did, he did with conviction, passion, and determination. He didn't give up, let up, check out, or sell out. He didn't shrink back or cave in. He didn't have a pity party or an early retirement party. He was faithful to the end. He ran the race to win. Paul gave it his all and he gave all he had to give.
The life of a giver
Paul sums his life all up in one sentence: "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35).
Paul was a giver. But am I? Do I give my life away like he did? Am I willing to make the kinds of sacrifices that he did? Suffer for the sake of the gospel like he did? Share boldly and publicly like he did? Testify tirelessly like he did? Serve humbly like he did? What about you?
Father, give me the perspective of Paul. Give me the heart and the commitment of Paul. Let me serve as he did, love as he did, testify as he did, share as he did, teach as he did, even suffer if necessary as he did. May my life be a testimony to the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Use me Father and, if necessary, use me up! Amen