#DEEPCHURCH - EPHESUS
Read Acts 20:17-38
Ephesus Paul spent three years in the city of Ephesus – his longest stay of any city in Act up until this point. Acts 19 says he set up shop in a place called the Hall of Tyrannus and reasoned (the word connotes back and forth dialog, conversation) with people about the gospel. As a result, Luke writes that “all the residents of Asia” heard a reasonable account of the message of Christianity. For three whole years, night and day (v34), house to house (v20) he spent time with people and taught the Scriptures. in Acts 20:17-38, we have a one-of-a-kind speech in Acts. Instead of being a model of how the apostle Paul communicated the gospel message to those who had not heard it before, it is a speech to a group of Christians - specifically, church leaders. What we have in Acts 20 is Paul’s recipe to follow to create a deep church - a healthy, flourishing church. We find at least three essential ingredients.
1) Deep Teaching - What stands out so clearly in this passage is how strongly Paul emphasizes his focus on teaching: He says in at least 7X in different ways:
I didn’t shrink from Declaring to you anything that was profitable (v20)
Teaching you in public + house to house (21)
Testifying of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord JC (21)
Testify to the gospel of the grace of God (24)
Proclaiming the kingdom (25)
Declaring to you the whole counsel of God (27)
Commend you to God and the word of His grace (32)
Paul isn’t describing 7 different focuses of teaching but his 1 focus in 7 different ways. When we add all 7 of these statements together – we find that Paul’s deep teaching was focused on taking people deep into the gospel; into God’s grace and showing people how the whole bible, all theology/doctrine finds its center in the gospel. What we learn from this is that deep teaching means going deeper into the gospel NOT going beyond the good news of the message of Jesus into theological disputes and doctrinal inquiries.
Paul’s emphasis on deep teaching shows us that a shallow approach to, understanding of, application of the gospel will lead to a shallow faith and a shallow church. We tend to shrink the bible according to our tastes, preferences and biases. Paul says he “didn’t shrink back” (v20, 27). We tend to skim the bible by either focusing on gaining more information or avoiding the hard work of learning and study. Paul says he emphasized wholehearted response (v21 – repentance and faith). It’s deep teaching, reflection and engagement with the gospel that creates a healthy, thriving church & a deep, maturity spiritual life.
2) Deep Tears Twice in this speech Paul points to his tears as signs of the authentic nature of his ministry. In v19 and v31, he says his tears are proof that his leadership was not self-serving but was from God and was out of genuine care. If deep teaching addresses a shallow understanding of the Christian faith, deep tears addresses the danger of having a hollow church and a hollow faith.
What stands out in this passage is the depth of emotion and connection Paul shared with this group of elders from Ephesus. It was something Paul called these leaders to share with and model for the people they led. The person who will teach at you but won’t shed tears with you is someone who is not qualified for leadership in the church. Deep tears are what brings deep teaching to life. We can know something is true – but it won’t penetrate our hearts until it’s brought home to us with deep care and love.
Teaching without tears is too cold to move anyone to change. Tears without teaching is too soft because it never calls for change. Paul embodied the approach of Jesus – deep teaching + deep tears. There was never any teacher as bold as Jesus. There is no other person in human history as caring as Jesus.
Why did Paul cry for people? He tells us in verses 31-32 – it was because of his vision for people as being build up in God’s grace to become holy together with his compassion for the ways people struggled, stumbled and suffered towards this vision. This combination of vision and compassion is what moves us to “gospel tears” and deep, intentional care for the people God puts into our lives.
3) Deep Team The third ingredient of a deep church and a deep spiritual life is deep team. In our study of Acts, we’ve seen how Paul lives and how he leads in the church – He is always working with a team. He was rarely ever alone. His team wasn’t just about finding people he needed to accomplish his goals - his team were people he loved and needed for his own spiritual health and maturity.
Nate Larkin writes, “The church, according to the NT, is not a loose confederation of individuals. The church is a body - a living breathing organism whose members are so intimately connected that they can only move together. On any given day, every member of that body needs help, and every member has some help to give. For years I had been begging God for a private solution to my private problems and he had always ignored that request.” In order to have a deep, thriving faith; we need a deep team in our lives. It’s how God has designed the church and designed us to go deeper into His grace.
What about the sermon stood out to you or impacted you most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
Why is depth of teaching so important for the health of a church? The health of a Christian? What has been most helpful to you for more deeply reading and studying the Scriptures? What are the biggest barriers for you when it comes to deeply understanding & applying the gospel?
When have you experienced the “ministry of tears”? How did this impact your faith? What would it look like to have vision + compassion for your spouse? Kids? Friends or co-workers?
Where in your own life do you most deeper support from loving friends? Share with the group. Use this time as an opportunity to go deeper as a community into the gospel and into each other’s lives.