A Vaporous Life of Solemn Testimony
“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” The Holy Spirit had revealed troubled times forthcoming for the great apostle. Still, Paul was constrained to stay the course set for him. As he shared his parting words with the elders from the church at Ephesus, he also imparts wisdom to us.
Paul was fully given to the ministry of the Gospel. His election and calling were sure. In addition, the revelations from the Lord Jesus Himself constrained Paul for the work. The Lord had given Paul a stewardship to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul was a chosen instrument to bear the name of Jesus Christ to the nations, to the Jews, and to kings (Acts 9:15). Jesus also warned of the apostle’s suffering along the way.
Paul’s resume was revealed to the Corinthians (2 Cor 10). At the culmination of his third missionary journey, the servant of Christ had been there and done that. Although he was still a decade from death (A.D. 58), he had learned enough providence in his circumstances to know His days were in the hands of the One he served. He had joined the queue of men of God to suffer for the sake of the elect (2 Tim 2:10). “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself,” is the sentiment of a man who has found value in something outside of this world.
Sinful man loves this world. He gains in strength and stature before the decline begins. It is declension to the end. Death poses a mysterious unknown which makes most people uneasy. In truth, death should be ominous for those who do not have life in the Son (Jn 3:36).
The paradox of the born again child of God is his sense of unworthiness. The Bible says men are not good (Ps 14:1; Rom 3:12), and the royal child knows this for sure. While the unbeliever thinks more highly of himself than he ought, and parades himself in pomp, the Christian ponders the vast separation of man from God. “I am a worm, and not a man (Ps 22:6),” is the proper assessment. The believer laments the state of man, yet he is spirited to testify to the excellencies of Christ. This is the ministry of the Gospel: a vaporous life of solemn testimony.
Paul was called to be a steward of the mysteries of Christ Jesus (1 Cor 4:1). He was a minister of the Word. He preached Christ and Him crucified. He was not ashamed of the Gospel message because he had seen its power to bring spiritually dead men to life. Men are attracted to any number of life courses. They may see a television preacher and decide they, too, would like to have an audience. They imagine a simple transition from their work in the world to the pastorate. What they miss is Paul’s understanding of the stewardship, “and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of His church (Eph 1:22; 5:23). He is the sovereign Lord. Nothing happens apart from His sovereign will being done. He is omniscient in all of the affairs of the church. He is Almighty to move His people to the place of His preference. This is especially true for Gospel ministers. In His providence, He directs the steps of the man of God to his appointed ministry. When Paul intended to travel north at Mysia, the Holy Spirit had him turn west (Acts 16:7–8).
Whether Paul was preaching in the agora, the synagogue, prison, or on Mars Hill, he was where the Lord wanted him. This is sovereign providence. It is a comforting doctrine, when the preacher himself is unsure of his calling to a place or people. The best place in the world is where God wants you, and He will take you there.
The ministry is to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2), but the next place of ministry is sometimes cloaked through divine orchestrations. It is a comfort to know God is at work, and apparently, He is not in a rush. Paul seemed stalled on a number of occasions in his ministry journey. There was the three years in Arabia (Gal 1:17), followed by seeming obscurity for fourteen years at Tarsus (Acts 9–13). When the church at Antioch commissioned Paul, the missionary journeys began (Acts 13). He would go to where Christ had not been preached. His time at Corinth lasted eighteen months (Acts 18). His ministry at Ephesus extended three years (Acts 19). When the Spirit moved him, Paul followed.
There were also stints of incarceration. Two years at Caesarea Maritima was followed by two years at Rome. Prison is not the preacher’s ideal, but God is not hindered by these periods of compaction. Paul’s primary ministry shifted from preaching to writing and counseling when he found himself in jail. For the man of God to minister to future generations, historically, he must write. Writing demands solitude. God has a way of providing this venue.
Paul was pressing forward to the danger zone, “so that I may finish my course.” Paul later wrote to Timothy that he had finished his course (2 Tim 4:7). He had run the race and fought the good fight of faith. He also wrote to the Philippians about his anticipated departure from this world of trouble (Phil 1:21). Every day we draw nearer to our eternal home, and for this reason it is wise for us to redeem the time, with as much ministry as God permits.
Paul’s course was ordained for him. His good works had been prepared for him beforehand (Eph 2:10). The course was a wild adventure of personal sacrifice and salvation for others. Paul poured himself out as an offering, and God accepted his living sacrifice (Rom 12:2). We must consider many of the same things Paul dealt with in following Christ.
God had given Paul great knowledge of Judaism. He afforded him Roman citizenship, even as a Jew. He opened the door of education for Paul to move from Tarsus to Jerusalem as a boy. Nothing God provided in Paul’s upbringing was wasted in his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). A life of ministry may be brief or elongated, but it is entirely designed for the glory of God.
Paul was like Moses in his weak oratory skills, but he was also like Moses in his authorial prowess. Men of God have strengths and weaknesses, and they must exercise both in their course. The Gospel minister must know what he is about. Paul stated this succinctly, “to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).”
Jesus’ transition for His disciples into apostles, from learners to missionaries, is recorded in Acts 1:8, “And you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.” To testify solemnly is to bear witness. The Greek word brought into English is, “martyr.” This is too quickly and exclusively ascribed to Christians who die from persecution for their faith. Yes, these dear souls are martyrs, but we must enlarge the meaning of the word to include every Christian who evangelizes with the Gospel.
The Gospel is the Christian message. It is everything we know of Christ Jesus, our Lord. It is good news for those who believe our report. Paul was a witness to the Gospel in his own life. He had personally experienced the power of God unto salvation. He had also experienced the power of God in the ministry. His reliance was entirely on the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2).
The Gospel is the Gospel of grace. Grace is what God does in His providence toward His people. God saves us by His grace (Eph 2:8–9). Grace is the work of God in matters where we are unwise and lacking power to achieve. When it comes to the Christian life it is all grace. This includes the ministry afforded to us. God graciously extends unmerited favor to His chosen people. We call it, “amazing grace.”
The Gospel of the grace of God is our treasure in earthen vessels by the Holy Spirit. Being vessels of mercy, prepared for glory, suggests our lives have meaning and purpose. We have treasure to dole out to the people of the world. These are the unfathomable riches of Jesus Christ. We minister this wealth of heaven by proclaiming the truth of God’s revelation to all people. We are poor but making many spiritually rich.
The ministry is received from the Lord. We give away what has been given to us. We lack nothing in the process because all the things we need, like food and clothing, are added unto us. Blessed is the man who has singularity of purpose. The world is an amusement park of endless distractions. The Gospel preacher is wholly devoted to one objective: give the treasures of Christ to others.
Seeing how few receive the gracious gift of heaven reminds us of the essential work of the Holy Spirit. He inspires the proclamation of Christ, and He also opens the hearts of those enabled to respond to the Gospel message (Acts 16:14). The economy of salvation belongs entirely to the will and work of Almighty God in three Persons.
In conclusion, we must have this same spirit in us that constrained Paul. God’s grace is sufficient for us. He has granted us eternal life in Christ by His sovereign will. God has given us a Gospel to proclaim, which is to be valued above absolutely everything else (Phil 3:8). Rare is the man who displays the treasures of Christ in full devotion. Here is our prayer: that God would fill men in the manner of the great apostle, and those who followed him, as he followed Christ.
What greater joy and pleasure could be attained in this vaporous existence than to offer one’s life as a living sacrifice to God? You must choose each day who you will serve. With each passing day, our investments upon the earth succumb to entropy, while our investments in eternal habitations increase in value. A life expended here leads to an exuberant eternity there. May God grant you this grace for living and serving Him with your everything, for His glory, and for your joy.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 23, 2021