Our local news is filled with messages about hurricane readiness. Our news is on a countdown to June 1 when we are considered officially in hurricane season. We will have a sales tax holiday on hurricane supplies to encourage people to get ready for the potential storms. The National Hurricane Center always gets on the tv to tell us that it is going to be active season, worse than normal, so you need to be getting ready now. All of this news is to convince us to get ourselves ready.
The apostle Paul is on a mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He is going to new cities and previously visited cities to proclaim the gospel and strengthen God’s people. The record of Paul’s actions in Acts 20 reveals how he was ready for the work God had called him to accomplish. Paul regularly told his audience to imitate him as he imitated Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; Hebrews 13:7). Further, we are also told that one of the pieces of God’s armor that we are to wear is the readiness of the gospel as shoes for our feet (cf. Ephesians 6:15). In this section of scriptures we are going to see five ways the apostle Paul was ready for doing God’s work. These are pictures to help us get ready for being the disciples God wants us to be.
Ready To Encourage (20:1-6)
Acts 20 opens with apostle Paul, after surviving the riot in Ephesus, gathering the disciples in the city and encouraging them. Not only does the apostle Paul encourage them, but he went through the various regions giving many words of encouragement to the people (20:2). The book of Acts take great effort to show how first century disciples were encouragers of one another. Paul encouraged the disciples in his travels (Acts 14:22). Judas and Silas encouraged the people of God (Acts 15:22). Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi (Acts 16:40). Barnabas was called Barnabas because he was such an encouragement.
One of our important works that we must practice with one another is to encourage one another. This was the focus that the writer of Hebrews wanted his audience to focus on when they gathered.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV)
We should want to be together because we know that we are going to be encouraged. We should want to be together because we want to be the instrument to encourage someone else. There are people here who are in need of encouragement. Are you ready to encourage today? Are we ready to encourage love and good works in each other? If we look at church as something we watch but do not engage in, then we are going to miss a key function to our gatherings. This is just one more of many reasons why internet church does not work. Church is not merely about five acts of worship being accomplished. One of the key reasons we are to be here right now and why God wants us here is so that we can encourage each other. Paul knew that that God’s people needed encouragement. Barnabas knew this also. The writer of Hebrews knew this too. We must be ready to stir each other up in the faith for the work.
Ready To Worship (20:7-16)
Second, Paul shows that he was ready for worship. He stays a week in Troas so that he could be with them on the first day of the week for worship. It is on Sunday that Christians gathered to partake of the Lord’s Supper and to hear a message from God’s word. This is what happens in verse 7. They did not do this on Saturday or another day of the week. While we can gather for worship every day, it is on the first day of the week that the memorial of the Lord is to occur because this was the day of Jesus’ resurrection. This makes sense because the apostle Paul declared that when we eat and drink, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
To get a sense of how far the religious world has gone in leaving this clear picture, I will quote Charles Spurgeon, who was a Baptist preacher in the latter 1800s.
So with the Lord’s Supper. My witness is, and I think I speak the mind of many of God’s people now present, that coming as some of us do, weekly, to the Lord’s Table, we do not find the breaking of bread to have lost its significance—it is always fresh to us.… Shame on the Christian church that she should put it off to once a month, and mar the first day of the week by depriving it of its glory in the meeting together for fellowship and breaking of bread, and showing forth of the death of Christ till he come. They who once know the sweetness of each Lord’s-day celebrating his Supper, will not be content, I am sure, to put it off to less frequent seasons. (“Songs of Deliverance” sermon 1867)
Unfortunately, few follow the example that we read here in Acts 20:7 as well as what appears to be the long history of the church. Christians gathered on the first day of the week for the Lord’s Supper and for preaching.
But an unusual event is recorded. While Paul is preaching, a young man falls asleep, falls out the window, and dies. Why is the event recorded? One may want to argue that the application is people should not fall asleep in church. Others might say that preachers should not preach for hours until midnight. But look at what happens. Paul puts his arms around the young man and says that he is not dead but alive. Now this has led to some confusion. Was the young man dead or not? Verse 9 is clear that he was picked up dead. So why does Paul say he is alive? You might remember that Jesus did a miracle just like this in Luke 8:49-56. Jairus’ daughter was proclaimed dead, but Jesus said she was just sleeping and they mocked him. Was the daughter dead? Yes, she was dead but Jesus was proclaiming the future, raising her from the dead. Paul is doing the same thing. The young man is dead but Paul is proclaiming what he is doing, raising from the dead. This miracle that Paul performs is a very important one for the rest of this chapter and the rest of the book. It is the same as Jesus’ last miracle on earth: resurrection. Paul is showing the power of God over life. This is important for the next picture of readiness.
Ready To Die (20:17-27)
Paul shows that he is ready to die. Paul gathers the elders of the Ephesian church and tells them about how he has served the Lord, proclaiming the gospel publicly and from house to house (20:20). Paul proclaimed repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus (20:21). But listen to what he says in verse 22. He is compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem but he has also been warned by the Spirit that imprisonment and afflictions are awaiting him. Now if we heard that this was going to happen, would we still want to go? How is Paul able to continue his journey to Jerusalem when he knows that it is going to go so badly for him? Look at verse 24.
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 ESV)
We need to think about these words. Paul does not value his life for his own use. His life is only about finishing the task and the ministry the Lord gave him. Paul’s goal is not to protect his life at all costs. Paul’s goal was not to worry about his own health. Paul did not make decisions to preserve his health. If he did, then he would not be going to Jerusalem. The value of his life is his role in the work of God. Therefore he is ready to die. The only way to be ready to die for Jesus is to think of our lives in this way. My life is for God’s work.
Ready For Wolves (20:28-38)
But Paul has another message for these elders before he leaves. He has gathered them so charge them to be ready with an important task. Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock. Shepherd the church because fierce wolves will come in who will not spare the flock. They are going to speak twisted things and distort the truth, drawing people away from the truth of God. Look at verse 31. Therefore, be alert.
We cannot fall asleep spiritually. We cannot allow ourselves to go into neutral in our walk with God. We need to guard our hearts. We need to watch out for false teaching. We need to be careful that we walk in light and not in darkness. We need to be ready to help those who are going toward destruction, snatching them out of the fire. Watch out. Be alert. Be on your guard. Paul says in verse 31 that he warned them for three years with tears. Just visualize what Paul is stressing. Day and night for three years I spent my time warning you to be ready, to be alert, and to watch out. This message is just as important for us today. Paul wrote these words to the Ephesian church:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15 ESV)
Watch yourselves spiritually. Protect your heart. Be careful with your faith.
Ready To Follow Through (21:1-16)
Finally, the apostle Paul shows that he did not just tell people to be ready to give their lives, but he followed his own teaching. As Paul makes his way to Jerusalem, prophets are telling him along the way that he is going to be arrested and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles (21:11). The people then urge Paul not to continue to Jerusalem (21:12). But listen to what Paul says in verse 13.
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13 ESV)
Paul was truly ready. It is one thing to say that we are ready to die for Jesus. It is another thing that when the time comes to actually follow through with our words. The people continued to try to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but he absolutely refused. So the people finally relented (21:14) and prayed for the Lord’s will to be done. The Spirit told him to go to Jerusalem and Paul was willing to go even though he was told all the along the way that trouble was in store for him.
Think about how these Christians were probably giving Paul all kinds of logical, plausible arguments for why he should not go to Jerusalem. But Paul knew what we must do. When it comes to sacrificing ourselves and giving our lives, we are going to have well-meaning Christians trying to convince us not to do what the scriptures clearly tell us that we must do. We must give our lives for the service of Jesus.
Paul gives us multiple pictures of readiness for the cause of Jesus. As God’s people we need to be ready to encourage one another. We need to be ready to worship so that we can honor God and encourage one another. We need to be ready to help one another from the wolves that try to pull us away from the Lord. We need to be ready to die for Christ and ready to follow through on our confession. We can do this because we know that God has power over life. So are you ready like the apostle Paul? Are you ready to be the disciple that Jesus wants you to be?