I have four life mottos that are important to me, one wise saying and three Bible texts. The wise saying (thanks Nigel Pollock) is encourage the good wherever you find it. I love Christians with the gift of encouragement (and dislike finding Christians with the "gift" of anti-encouragement!) and want to grow in exercising encouragement myself. The three Bible texts are:
- Phil 1:21 For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain - the most challenging verse in the whole of scripture to my mind
- 2 Tim.2:1-3 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. This verse undergirds everything I want to accomplish in facilitating and releasing the ministry of others for gospel multiplication
But the third text is the reason why I want to release others, and is probably the most important to me. It comes in my Acts reading this morning:
- Acts 20:24 I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace
That is stunning! Let me just ramble enthusiastically about it for a bit and then maybe finish with something a bit more structured. Note well - the gospel is the gospel of grace. It isn't just "avoid hell". It is "gain Christ and all the benefits of Christ." Paul says elsewhere that we reign in life by receiving grace. God's grace ignites spirits, it sets souls ablaze, it strengthens faltering hearts, it forgives the guilty, it lavishes infinite and astonishing blessings. Grace delights the heart, it's like a fountain, it's intoxicating. When I see someone for whom the penny has dropped - that the Christian life is ALL of grace, ALL of Christ, not about me producing anything good in me, but me being utterly dependent and casting myself on Him totally - I very often see someone powerful in witness, clearly enjoying the Holy Spirit, someone who is unashamed and abandoned in their worship, someone who finds Christ amazingly, compellingly beautiful, someone who is free. Ignition On!
Second: the gospel of grace is more important than life. Therefore testifying to it is the most important thing in life and worth doing at the risk of life and with the whole of our life. Every sermon I preach, every training session I give, I try to talk about the gospel of God's grace as well as what I have been asked to speak on. You might ask whether it is legitimate to smuggle grace into any talk on any other subject. I answer "yes" because it is the gospel. The only gospel there is is the word of God's overwhelming grace in Christ. If you ever preach something else as the gospel, beware - Paul says that anything other than the message of grace is another gospel in Galatians 5.
Third: Paul's life is dedicated utterly to testifying to the gospel of grace. Therefore it is interesting to me to know what his life of grace-testifying was like. And in this passage he tells us: "you know how I lived among you... (v18). I note 11 things:
- I served the Lord with humility v19
- And with tears v19
- I was severely tested by plots v19
- I didn't hesitate to preach anything useful to you (that is any matter of living in the gospel of grace) v20. He did this publicly and from house to house
- I declared to both Jews and Greeks that they need to turn to God in repentance and have faith in Jesus v21
- I go where the Holy Spirit is compelling me to go, without regard for personal safety v22
- I consider my life worth nothing v24
- I have proclaimed the whole will of God v27
- I commit you to the word of God's grace v32
- I haven't coveted but have worked hard v33-34
- I showed by hard work that we have to remember the weak v35
More on some of these tomorrow. This testifying to the gospel of grace was no cake-walk. It brought severe opposition, it required a very bright and able man to be very humble. It brought no rewards in wordly terms, in fact the opposite. It meant unstinting concern for people, there was no hiding away in a study somewhere and periodically emerging to give a quick message and then retreat again. It involved compassion and sacrifice and ultimately dying. In fact he was led to that by the Holy Spirit.
Re-reading this passage makes me feel I know so little about authentic testifying to the gospel of grace. I hunger for more. Will that be hard? - definitely. Will it be glorious? - I hope so. Will it be worth it? - more than anything else in the whole wide world. Jesus said that if someone wants to gain the world and lose their soul then they are stupid (Honeysett translation), but if they lose the world for his sake then they gain their soul. This is what he is talking about. I want every believer in my congregation to sell their soul for receiving, living in, and then testifying to the gospel of God's grace in Christ. I want you to do so to. So did Paul. Most importantly, so does God.