Last week, we learned together that we eagerly give our time to the things that we love. If we love Christ, we spend time with Him. If we love people, we spend time with them. If we love food, we spend our time eating. Amen? The action of taking time to listen to what God would have to say to us is a great testimony regarding our love for Him, a love that He produces within us.
Both teaching and learning are tremendous parts of our relationships with Christ. This is the basic idea of discipleship within the local church. We are learning and also teaching others what we learn. What sort of things are we to learn and are we to teach? Is there a type of teaching that we ought to reject? I might even make the question more basic. I know that I basically desire what is profitable. Since I am created in God’s image, I know that this is a good desire even if I try to fulfill that desire in ungodly ways or let that desire develop into certain desires that are ungodly. Is the Christian faith actually profitable for us?
Acts 20:17-28 HCSB
Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time — serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews — and that I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
“And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
“And now I know that none of you will ever see my face again — everyone I went about preaching the kingdom to. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.
Importance of profitable teaching
Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and he has a schedule to keep so he bypasses Ephesus. When he arrives in Miletus, he sends for the elders in the Ephesian churches to join him so he can speak to them. When he speaks to these elders (the pastors in Ephesus), he describes the attitude with which he preached to them and the type of content he gave to them. He states clearly that he did not shrink away from teaching what was profitable and he did not shrink away from doing it publicly.
There seems to be a great importance when it comes to teaching within the church body. This is not new to us. Throughout the book of Acts, teaching has been presented as important. Proverbs 27:17 states that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. When Paul writes to Timothy, he states that Scripture is profitable for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). When Moses went to Pharaoh, God taught him what to say (Exodus 4:12). God taught the law to the nation of Israel for the purpose of giving and sustaining life (Deuteronomy 4:1). In Job 21:22, God asked rhetorically, “Can any teach God knowledge.” Then, in Job 27:11, Job tells others that he will teach them about God’s power. What Job could not teach God, God taught him and he taught to others. David wrote Psalms asking God to teach him (Psalm 25, 27, 86, 119, 143). In 1 Corinthians 11:14, Paul even states that nature teaches us. It is God’s three-dimensional word. He writes this in the context of differentiating between the genders for the purpose of addressing a question about corporate prayer. In Titus 2, Paul instructs Titus to teach the women to teach younger women and men to teach younger men. This is discipleship!
If we are growing in Christ, we are learning and teaching and learning and teaching and learning and teaching. What is the attitude with which we are to learn and teach and share our experiences? Paul recounted his own attitude as an example to the church elders in Ephesus. So, we also look to his description as an example for us:
- He served with all humility (v. 19).
- He taught with endurance (v. 19).
- He did ministry with perseverance (v. 20).
- He preached both publicly and privately (v. 20).
- He did not show favoritism or discriminate (v. 21).
- He served, staying mindful of the true prize (v. 24).
This applies to every arena of life. We cannot grow in the knowledge and love of Christ if we are not teachable. We can’t enable others to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ if we teach as if we are better than them. If we teach in a classroom, we remember that we are not better or worth more than our students. If we are receiving on-the-job training we choose to be teachable. When someone disagrees with what we believe, we choose humility, not showing favoritism or discriminating against people because salvation by grace through faith is a gift and not one person can boast. We have heard it said that Samuel Colt was the great equalizer. We have also heard it said that death is the great equalizer. The truth is that all people are created equal. We fool ourselves into thinking that one person is worth more than another, and this is a result of human sinfulness. In this world, God’s grace is the great equalizer because it causes us to recognize that we are not worth more than any other person. In all things, we stay mindful of God’s grace and the prize that God has already reserved in Heaven (Matthew 16:19). Yes! We are to be heavenly minded in all things. It is the only way that we can be any earthly good. This does not mean that we “live in the clouds.” It does mean that we pursue the true prize by striving to live Godly lives in every arena of life.
In the same way and at the same time, Paul encouraged these pastors by reminding them the type of content he taught and preached. In the same way and at the same time, we then receive an example of the type of content we should both learn and teach.
- He taught everything that was profitable (v. 20).
- He taught of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ (v. 21).
- He preached the Gospel of God’s grace (v. 24).
- He preached the Kingdom (v. 25).
- He declared the whole purpose of God (v. 27).
- He taught that people should be on their guard against false teaching on this earth (v. 28).
Does this apply to science, mathematics, psychology, arts, relationship knowledge, and trade knowledge? Yes! All of nature and order and existence proclaims the glory of God for our good, that we might profit according to God’s economy. When we try to remove these things from conversation about God, they simply become informational, not benefitting us much. We are to learn and teach things that are profitable, and all of these subjects help us to grow in our relationships with God- to pursue the prize. We learn and teach things that are actually profitable in God’s economy. I do more than merely benefit from Christ’s work. I actually profit, not according to the materialistic economy that the people of the world present us with, but according to God’s economy, which is worth more than any material thing I could possibly try to possess.
We have a tendency to think about heavenly rewards very materialistically because we live in a materialistic world. We focus on streets of gold and mansions in glory. We talk about getting some things that God is reserving for us. While I believe that we will have more materially, God’s economy is one of relationship. Even in John 17:3, John defines eternal life as knowing God. As we know God more, as we grow closer with God, we have deeper life, we are more fulfilled, we experience greater peace, we are more satisfied, we are more content, and there is a spiritual quality that we cannot achieve apart from growing in this relationship. I think that we will continue to grow in our relationships with God forever, always receiving from God deeper life, deeper joy, and deeper peace. God is truly working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Faith in Christ is profitable.
Importance of perseverance
Because of sin, there is unhealthy content. There is untruth. We mistake our theories as fact and our hypotheses as proven. Many Christians mistake their theories regarding end-times events as fact. Many materialists assume that an evolutionary theory of origins is itself fact. There are many activists today who assume that certain theories regarding socially constructed gender identities are fact. There will be a day when these difficulties no longer exist because sin will be removed and we will no longer be slaves to human depravity, but there is unhealthy, unbeneficial, and unprofitable content that fills the airways. Instead of profiting from much of the information that is so prevalent, even in many churches, we experience loss in God’s economy.
There is a 2004 documentary called Super Size Me. This last week, I watched it as I studied for this sermon. While I was watching it, a commercial came on for MacDonalds. The entire documentary is about how terrible fast food is for people. In this documentary, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock set out to go one month only eating fast-food. He would also try to only get as much exercise as the average American at that time. He described feeling sickly and gained almost thirty pounds over the course of the month. There are other documentaries that reveal evidence suggesting that some of the most pervasive diseases in our day are preventable simply by moving away from processed foods and consuming a healthy diet- including early onset dementia, type two diabetes (which hurts more people than smoking), and even certain types of cancer. Maintaining a healthy diet physically is important. There are many people who don’t realize the difference because they have always eaten a certain way. There are people who are probably very sick who don’t recognize their sickness because it is normal to them.
What we receive and teach in discipleship is similar. A bad diet makes us unhealthy. Many people don’t realize how bad their diet actually is in discipleship. We need to eat healthily. We need a well-balanced, regular diet of things that are actually profitable for life. Since there is much unhealthy content on this earth, Paul implores the pastors that have come from Ephesus to be on their guard. Later in this story (v. 29-30), he even tells them that men will arise from their own midst to draw away disciples. People are such slaves to human depravity that even those who are raised in the church can be in danger of drawing disciples away from Christ, serving an unhealthy diet. There is a great need for us to be on guard in this world. One day we will be able to pursue the things of Christ without the danger of unbeneficial, unprofitable, and unhealthy teaching and learning. This day has not yet come.
In this, we find the idea of perseverance. It is not that we merely stand with our cognitive shields between us and the enemy that we might remain safe. If discipleship is profitable, if we are teaching and learning something that actually brings about a type of progress in life (according to God’s economy), then we don’t merely endure, but also persevere that we might gain the prize God already has reserved. In verses 20 and 27, we read that Paul did not shrink away from declaring what was profitable, the whole purpose of God. He did not merely hold up a shield and endure, he pressed on so that people might profit by hearing the whole purpose of God. This is also the example that Christ set during His own earthly ministry. He did not merely come to defend right teaching, He came to advance His own kingdom and to actually grant life to those who had earned condemnation.
Perseverance, though, is not our current predisposition. In Genesis 1, God created the world and He created humankind in His image. He instructed humanity to multiply and fill the earth. This is an offensive move. In the beginning, there was no opposition against humanity in fulfilling this purpose. In Genesis 3, humanity sinned against God, became a slave to depravity, and immediately hid from God. This is a defensive move. Over and over again in the Old Testament, we see people fail to accomplish the purpose of God. People are self-interested. They are more concerned with their own security than with the purpose of God. They are concerned more with making a name for themselves and doing what they believe to be right. God is the one who always won the victory for His people. The same is true with us. We become primarily concerned with defense. If I can go to church, try not to sin, and endure the hardships of this life, I will do good! This is not so. This is works-based righteousness. We must endure because there is sin in the world currently, but our purpose is to actually participate in God’s establishing of His creation. We can only experience victory in Jesus Christ. We are dead in our trespasses, unable to participate. Jesus brings us to life. Jesus is our defense. Jesus leads us to actually participate in God’s establishing of His creation forevermore, that we would not shrink away from declaring what is profitable, the whole purpose of God.
This is the doctrine of perseverance. Since this is Christ’s work and He is perfect, He cannot fail. If salvation is a perfect gift, we cannot be disinherited. Christ is always shepherding His people. The Holy Spirit is always guiding His people. The people of God are always being led to participate in accomplishing God’s purpose. What God works together for His glory also works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God preserves and perseveres His people. In verse 28, we read it clearly. All of this flows from the fact that Christ purchased us with His blood. It all begins with Him. He is sustainer. He bought us. He redeemed us. Therefore we are brought into profitable faith, a faith in which we guard against what does not profit. We can guard against unhealthy conflict because Christ bought us. We can guard against unneeded anger because Christ bought us. We can guard against works-based righteousness because Christ bought us. We can guard against placing unnecessary burdens on others because Christ bought us. We can guard against perceiving inequality in our worth because Christ bought us. We did not gain Christ on our own. He bought us, so we have no room to boast or to be condescending of others, period.
Jesus phrased it this way:
“Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40).
We don’t merely endure, we also persevere.
Faith in Christ is profitable.
We don’t merely endure, we also persevere.