Recognise the Route and Finish the Race

Transcript Search
Acts: The Final Chapter  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:28
0 ratings

As we saw the Apostle Paul come towards the end of his missionary journey and face difficulties ahead, we learned together about the importance of understanding the route of Christian life and that it is essential that we work to finish the race.

Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →
discipleship is shared words, shared life
Intro me
I want to start with one result from our big annual survey last week - loads of helpful information for us in that survey and we’ll be speaking more about it in the weeks to come but there’s one question I want to focus on this morning as we begin, a question about growing in your faith. We asked how much you agreed with the statement “I feel I have become more like Jesus this year” where 5 meant strongly agree and a 1 meant strongly disagree. Not quite clear whether a 1 would mean I just wasn’t growing, or I felt like things were actually going backwards.
Here’s what you said: and it’s wonderful to hear, from this, that maybe half of us are at that three star level, perhaps feeling like we’ve made a little progress in becoming more like Jesus this past year. And a third of us gave it 4-5 stars, so roughly a third of us feel like there’s some real progress. That’s amazing and so encouraging. But maybe you’re a little less encouraged by how you yourself have been growing - or even discouraged at a lack of progress. Personally, I don’t feel like this last year has been a bumper year of progress for me.
But that was last year - what about the one ahead? Say you want to grow - I want to grow this year. How do we grow? Girth-wise, that’s an easy question: one too many McDonalds. But how do we grow faith-wise? How do we grow as Christians? The insider-term we might use when talking and thinking about this would be discipleship - and as we’ve talked about that over the last while, we’ve been understanding discipleship as meaning learning from someone with the intent to become like them.
So how is it that we learn from Jesus with the intent to become more like him? That’s something I’ve been talking about and thinking about with the team lots lately, something we’ve thought about several times together as a church over the last few weeks as we’ve considered what the bible has to teach us - and it’s something which, as I’ve been studying our bible passage for this week, I think is brought into the foreground again. There are some important things about growth we can learn from today’s passage.
So come with me into the story of the very first churches, recorded for us in the book of Acts in the Bible. We’re picking things up at Chapter 20, following a guy named Paul, one of Jesus’ first followers who’s been a key player in the spread of the church in those first 25ish years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s in the ancient city of Ephesus in modern Turkey and last week we were hearing about a riot there. This week it’s time for him to move on again.
Page 1116 in these blue bibles, Acts chapter 20 - look for that big 20. Page 1116 and Jemimah is going to read for us this morning. Acts 20 and we’re thinking about discipleship.
Acts 20:1–12 NIV
When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Thanks Jemimah - so what do we see there about discipleship? What do we learn about how to press on in this journey we all share of becoming more like Jesus?
Well, I think the most obvious thing in the foreground of what we’ve read today is the centrality of sharing words together - words of encouragement, words of exhortation, words of comfort.
First you’ve got Paul travelling around the region “speaking many words of encouragement” to all the churches in Macedonia before moving on into Greece, verse 2 tells us. And just so you know, it’s probably before he sets out from Ephesus here that Paul writes the first of the letters we have in our bible to the church in Corinth, and then during these Macedonian travels here that he writes the second letter to that church which is in our bibles. Just so you can fit those letters into the story. It also where he reaches the limits of the eastern mission field that he’ll reflect on in Romans 15:19; this is him “completing his work” in this area, ticking it off his list, making himself ready to move on elsewhere.
We get an absolutely minimal telling of what he’s up to in these travels here, no anecdotes or details at all, but it’s worth noticing that as Paul re-visits these churches he started in Macedonia, what he’s up to is described a little differently from when he’s previously returned to churches he planted in the roman province of Asia, further East.
In Acts 14:22, 16:5 and then Acts 18:23 he’s described as strengthening the churches in the province of Asia when he revisits them- here he’s encouraging the churches in Macedonia - or that word can also mean exhorting them, or even comforting them. The root meaning of the word is to call alongside - so Paul’s positioned as the one called alongside - and you can see how that might be “called alongside” to comfort or encourage or exhort, right?
As he comes alongside these churches, there are many words exchanged. They are together, talking. And that’s exactly what we see on the last stop of his travels, as he reaches Troas: many words are shared as he talks with them through the night.
While we’re here in Troas, by the way, this is one of the few times we see a bit of normal church life, rather than hearing just the stories of churches being founded or hearing about a crisis like most of Acts. As we think about that for a moment together, remember we’re just seeing what they did, not being told what we always must do - but still there are some important things to notice.
They’re coming together on the first day of the week, which was Sunday by their reckoning - this is probably the earliest evidence for a regular Sunday gathering pattern like we still have today. And they come together to “break bread” which although it could just mean sharing a meal, in the bible is often used to reference what we call communion: sharing bread and wine to remember Jesus’ body and blood given at the cross.
It seems like that happened as a part of a shared meal - just like the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples before his death, where the pattern for this was first established. You can see that hinted at in v11 because you get Paul “breaking bread” and eating. This doesn’t prove they shared communion every week. Perhaps it was because of their special guest, or the season of the year - v6 gives us a pointer towards Easter time. But sharing a meal seems likely to have been a normal part of church back then, and it’s quite possible they shared communion every week along with that.
It’s also an evening meeting - hence all the lamps - which makes sense since Sunday’s a work-day so they can only meet after the day is done. And they’re gathering in an ordinary home - no church buildings at this stage. The reference in verse 9 to the them meeting on the third floor shows us it’s an apartment (yeah, two millennia ago many of the ordinary folk in a city would have lived in a flat - something which feels thoroughly modern, right! The rich tended would have single storey properties even in cities - so since it’s multi-storey, it’s most likely a flat, just an ordinary person’s home). Everyone squeezed in wherever they fit.
But, I can almost feel you worrying, if this is normal church life we’re seeing, does this tells us we need to have an epic-long talk every Sunday? I see you looking at your watches! Should we have a talk that starts at maybe 6pm and doesn’t finish until 6am? Yikes! Well, no. First, remember like I said already we’re just seeing what they did, not being told what we must do. But also notice that Paul is leaving in the morning - this is his last chance to speak to them on this trip. And as we’ll see next week, he thinks it might even be his last chance to speak with them ever. This is not at all normal.
Our English translation makes this sound like it’s one epic monologue, Paul keeping on talking until midnight v7 and than talking on and on v9 and then talking until daylight v11. Sounds like no-one else could get a word in edge-ways; he was just motor-mouthing it - which would make sense if it was your last chance to speak to them maybe ever.
I know we can go on about the details of words sometimes but this is important. When we read about Paul talking and talking and talking, the specific verbs used in the original language are dialegomai and homileo.
Dialegomai is the word from which we get the English word dialogue - and just like with the English word, the Greek verb is explicitly not a monologue: it’s back and forth, not just one person swallowing the whole conversational pizza, but different people taking slices of it. BDAG which is the bees’ knees of epic dictionaries of Greek defines it as “to engage in speech interchange: converse, discuss, argue”.
Homileo, from which we get the English word homily, means to be in association with someone and then to converse - again, it’s got that back-and-forth baked into it. Remember the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus death? This is what they are doing together as they walk along the road before the risen Jesus meets them - talking about everything that’d just happened.
This is why time for discussion and questions is so important to us in our morning gathering - and why the informal time before and after our gathering is so important. We get you coffee and cake not just because we’re nice, but because we want you to chat: to dialogue together, to converse! And this is why small groups are so important to us: a place to continue that discussion, a conversation with room for everyone to play a part.
This passage is well known because of poor Eutychus, the youngster in the window who, as the talking goes on, forgivably falls into a deep slumber, than fatally falls out of the window. But here it reads like the moment there’s a resurrection, it’s time for communion and then Paul’s back into conversation again - v 11.
That’s really surprising because this is a top-drawer miracle, one that connects Paul with the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha who both saw similar things happen (1 Kings 17:21 and 2 Kings 4:34) one that connects Paul with the greatest of the New Testament apostles, Peter who saw something very similar happen with Tabitha in Acts 9:40. Our passage really doesn’t make a big deal of it at all, though. Something that dramatic punctuates this extended discussion but it doesn’t replace it or sideline it. The emphasis is on shared words.
That’s the first thing we learn from today’s passage about how to become more like Jesus, about how discipleship really happens: through shared words. We’re to be alongside one another, talking together about what we believe, why we believe that, what it means for our lives. Encouraging, exhorting, comforting one another. But there’s a second thing we see here too: we see that real discipleship happens through shared life.
Verse 4 that we read today could seem pretty incidental: a who’s who of Paul’s current set of travelling companions - who turn out to be a bunch of the new believers hailing from many of the churches Paul has started in the past few years - and people who, if you traced their names, you’d find many of them showing up in significant roles as time goes on. But why is Paul travelling around with all these people?
One theory holds they are representatives from churches travelling with financial gifts for the believers in Jerusalem - minders to ensure their cash goes where it should. This idea is based on Paul writing about a plan to bring a gift from these new churches to poor Christians in Jerusalem in his letters to the church in Corinth and in Rome (1 Cor 16:1-4 / 2 Cor 8:1-15 / Rom 15:25-28). That’s a possibility - but Luke, the author of this book of Acts we’re looking at doesn’t make any mention of that plan at all and there’s a disconnect between the people mentioned here and the places we know Paul had ask for a gift too.
I think there’s a better explanation, one which fits better with the way Paul almost always travels with others even from the very beginning of his missionary life and all the way to the end of it: I think it’s about discipleship, about multiplication. Choosing to share life together in order to help one another become more like Jesus. See, travel in these days was long and slow. Being together through it would make room not just for occasional conversation, but for huge chunks of life alongside one another.
But it’s not just travel they are sharing, it’s being on mission together: As Paul seeks to share the message of Jesus with those who don’t know him yet, and tries to strengthen and encourage those who do, this team is alongside him through all of that - the highs and the lows. They watch how he acts, how he lives, how he cares, how he speaks in pursuit of that. They share life and share mission so that, when the time comes, they, too, can be sent out to multiply disciples in the same way: sharing words, life and mission.
In fact, I think what we see here is Paul emulating the pattern Jesus established for discipleship. See, when Jesus first called his disciples, Mark’s gospel gives us a twofold purpose statement for that:
Mark 3:14 (NIV)
He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out
Jesus’ pattern for making disciples is to call people to be with him in - sharing words, life and mission with them - and he’s doing that to prepare them to be sent out: sent out to share words, life and mission with others. Jesus’ whole kingdom plan is built upon multiplying disciples. Working within us and through us rather than without us or around us.
And that’s what we see Paul doing here - in fact, Paul himself tells us that’s what he’s doing. Writing from Ephesus, most likely just before the events we’re exploring today, he tells the church in Corinth 1 Cor 11:1
1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Literally, become imitators of me - just as I also have become an imitator of Christ. And in that same letter we see this multiplication pattern laid out when he tells the Corinthians he’s going to send Timothy to them to remind them of his example (1 Cor 4:16-17) How will Timothy do that? By wearing a WWPD bracelet? you know “what would Paul do”? By recounting stories about Paul? No - by being that example himself. Having first been discipled by Paul through shared words, life and mission, Timothy is now in a place to share words, life and mission with them in turn.
Paul often presents himself and his life as an example to imitate, a model for others’ actions in his letters. But how can you imitate someone? If you just wanted to capture their way of speaking, then you could watch videos - perfecting your Bojo impression based on newsclips - or, with Paul, through reading and re-reading his letters.
If you want to capture not just how they speak or their ideas, but their whole way of life, their purpose and heart, though, there’s really no substitute for getting “up close and personal.” You have to see it - rub up against it. You have to be up close, behind the scenes, unvarnished and real; see them through life’s joys and challenges; see their priorities worked out, their face when the chips are down, in order to truly know them and so be able to imitate them. Like the disciples saw and knew Jesus; like this group around Paul saw and knew him.
Let’s take this all the way back to where we started. How is it that we become more like Jesus? I think today’s passage teaches us that’s through sharing words and sharing life. And perhaps some of why we don’t grow as much as we might like is because these things are hard in our modern culture - even in our modern church culture.
Our normal way of sharing words at church - let’s be honest - is to gather and have someone at the front talk at us, then to scatter and forget everything they said. We work really hard on our talks here at Hope City and we’re trying to do a good job with them - but we’re just not that good! So if this all we have when it comes to sharing words, it’s probably not going to make that much difference to our lives or see us becoming that much more like Jesus.
We try and push at this through making time for discussion, for question and response even though that feels difficult and clunky and sometimes even dangerous but surely there’s more! Most of the time my best effort at after-church conversation is “so are you going anywhere nice this year?”-type conversation rather than “how is this God stuff really working for you?”-type conversation. So I want to challenge us as a church to keep on trying to dive deeper in our conversations, to go God-ward, to talk about what the bible is saying to us.
Coffee time is not easy for all of us - but it is important. So if your habit is to leg it just as soon as you can, I want to challenge you to try and change that because shared words are significant. Here’s an idea: pick someone around you and decide today that you’re not leaving before they do. Of course, if you pick someone who also picks you, there’s no lunch in your future. Or how about when you want to go, when you’re ready to head out the door, instead set a five minute timer and stay and work the room for those five more minutes. Chat to someone you know well. Chat to someone you don’t. Chat to someone like you. Chat to someone really different.
We plug small groups a lot - that’s because they’re a really important place for this sort of thing. A setting where there’s more room for everyone to speak. A time when it’s not so loud and busy. Why not try and join us at 5pm today for groups - last chance before the summer - or join one of the midweek groups? And if you’re in a group, why not push for it to be a one that dives deep. You wish other people would share more? Well set the tone by sharing more yourself.
But what about shared life or shared mission? How does that work? How could that work today? In our contemporary individualistic culture, it can feel like it just doesn’t. Like the sort of intensity we read about with Jesus or with Paul is simply impossible, wholly incompatible with real life. I’m an introvert and the idea of spending any more time with people - which is surely what sharing life is going to have to mean - is a bit terrifying, really.
But this is the pattern for discipleship which Jesus has given us, which Paul is working out. Maybe you don’t need to have 12 people come and move in with you, right, or abandon your livelihood and head off to outer Mongolia with a group of travelling missionaries - but you could have someone round for a coffee?
It would be easy to be a hypocrite here so let me be clear: I find this really hard. But maybe I could harness some of that terror of the upper reaches of this shared life stuff and rub my nose in it enough that smaller steps begin to feel more plausible and so a little more shared life start to happen! Even a small step forward here is a step forward.
This is part of how we hope our leadership path could work out: that teams spend just a little more time together as a result of their “shared project” - they share some more life. That I get to share a little more life with our directors and ministry leaders and trainees. Sure, it’s not a three-year full-time walking tour of Israel like Jesus did but it’s something.
Maybe you have a much better idea? Well, I’d love to hear it.
Discipleship happens through shared words and shared life. How could you share some more this week? A few seconds to reflect, then I’ll pray, and then we’re making some time for shared words!
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more