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Unshrinking Declaration

As Paul prepares to leave Asia and return to Jerusalem, he assembles the elders of the Ephesian church to deliver his final words to them. He spends nine verses giving an account of his ministry among them, and another seven verses instructing them on how to shepherd the flock of God now that he is departing.

He begins by characterizing his ministry as one of humility and tears. Paul did not sweep into Ephesus as a great religious guru; he spent his time in Ephesus as a servant, and his labors were accompanied by genuine affection. But the most significant characteristic of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is courage. Paul faithfully delivered the whole counsel of God in the face of trials, Jewish plots, and opposition. Bookending his words, Paul uses this phrase: “I did not shrink from declaring to you…”. It would have been easier, safer, and more popular to shrink. But Paul did just the opposite: he preached everything God gave him to say, and he preached it everywhere he could.

Paul’s message had two main pillars: repentance and faith. Paul’s preaching took a sword and cut the city of Ephesus open, instigating a holy war by publicly attacking her sins and calling her to repent. But he also went from house to house, which can take even more courage. Sometimes a blanket condemnation can be easier to deliver than a personal rebuke. It’s one thing to speak against “greed”, “pride”, or “lust”; it’s another to look your spouse, your friend, or your neighbor in the face and rebuke them for one of these sins. Specific sins are committed by specific people, and it takes courage to go house to house and call for specific repentance. But Paul did not shrink back.

Preaching faith required courage, too. The gospel of Jesus is hard to believe. It’s not easy to convince someone to surrender his life to an undead Jewish carpenter. It takes boldness to preach that God came down from heaven to become a man born of a virgin, who died as a sacrificial victim on behalf of the whole world, who was raised back to life on the third day, who ascended to the throne room of God to be installed as King of kings and Lord of lords, and whose great plan for defeating evil is to ship a short little bat-blind rabbi all over the world as His ambassador.

But Paul never backed down. He never shrank back. He never adjusted a single word of the message in order to make it more plausible or less offensive. He had seen the risen Jesus, and that gave him enough courage to risk his own death a hundred times over.

Out of his great concern for these people that he would have gladly given his life for, he gave instructions to her elders. These men will carry on the work that Paul began, and these words should ring loudly in the ears of every elder, every father, every Christian: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to the flock. The Holy Spirit has given you a sacred trust: take care of the church, the saints that God bought at the cost of His own blood.” Paul poured out his words, his life, his heart, for these sheep, and now he exhorts the elders to follow his example as he commends them to God.

The burden of shepherding God’s flock is not one to be taken lightly. This passage should lead you to thank God for your elders and to pray for them. But while the elders have a unique responsibility to guard and watch over the sheep, such boldness is essential for every Christian. Every one of you has the responsibility to live a holy life of unshrinking declaration, testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.

Courage is something that every Christian needs in order to love others like Jesus did, and like Paul loved the Ephesians: at some point this week, someone you know, someone you love, someone you just met, will need to hear from you about repentance and faith. If you are not watchful and alert, you might miss it. If you are not courageous, you will shrink back. As opportunities come to testify to the gospel of the grace of God, follow Paul as he follows Christ.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 by CJ Bowen