Author: Ron Graham
In Acts 20:31-32, part of Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, we find three ways in which God helps us.
¶“31Therefore watch, and remember that for a period of three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. 32So brethren, I now entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are consecrated to God” (Acts 20:31-32).
Paul used three words that seem to stand out as keywords. I hear you say, "Of course they stand out Ron: you've highlighted them!" Even if they weren't highlighted, I think they would still stand out as three words that carry Paul’s deep concern for God’s people in Ephesus.
God’s people in every place need to watch and be watched over; to warn and be warned constantly; to teach and be taught the word of God. For God’s sheep are always in peril from Satan, and they need these things to keep them safe.
The word watch suggests God’s guardianship of his people. Paul, earlier in his speech, said to the elders, "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd God’s people whom he called out and purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
God has a plan for guarding his people. He is not going to purchase them, call them, and then leave them unprotected! Their Shepherd is always watching and guarding them. "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28).
Jesus is assisted by shepherds in the congregations of his people. These oversee and guard the flock, just as was the case in Ephesus. Furthermore, all Christians must prayerfully watch and be on guard, both for ourselves and for each other. "Be watchful in all things" (2Timothy 4:5). "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful therein..." (Colossians 4:2).
The word warn suggests God’s discipline, encouraging us to remain faithful. In our text, Paul says, "for a period of three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31).
We may hear warnings from God by reading them ourselves in the Bible, or by hearing them from preachers. They prick us, like a goad pricks a beast of burden, to urge us onward, mixing fear with our faith.
When I was a boy, my family's mode of travel was a horse and jinker. The horse was named Donald. When we were going away from home, Donald would walk slowly and even stop. Dad would touch the whip on the jinker shaft and Donald would trot for a while. But coming home, Donald would want to gallop, and have to be reined in.
We are like Donald. We need goading at times. At other times we just need to know that we are on our way home. We are encouraged by God’s promises, and also by God’s warnings.
We have a God of both grace and wrath. "May we have grace to let us serve God acceptably with reverence and fear; for our God is also a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Warnings like that spur us on. We must "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off." (Romans 11:22, ESV).
Finally Paul commends God’s people to God’s word. "I now entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are consecrated to God" (Acts 20:32).
Paul knew the power of the word. He earlier said, "I didn't shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). He knew how important it was for people to be "filled with the knowledge of God’s will" (Colossians 1:9).
Like prayer, reading and hearing God’s word, and studying it carefully, is high priority for every Christian. It is our guide for life, a lamp to our feet to help us walk in God’s path.