Series 39


by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Acts 20: 17-38

In this passage of Scripture, which contains the record of Paul’s charge to the Ephesian elders, we have the portrait of a true servant of the Lord. God has not only made us members of His family, calling us His children (Romans 8:16), but He has called us into His service and He delights to call us His servants (Philippians 1:1). In Acts 20:19 Paul says, “I served the Lord”, and this gives us the key to our present study. What are the characteristics of a true servant?


1. The first mark is A SURRENDERED WILL

The word ‘served’ in verse 19 contains the whole idea of being a slave, or as Paul says in Ephesians 3:1: “…the prisoner of Christ Jesus”. If a man is a prisoner of Christ it means that he has laid down his own will, and now the supreme thing in his life is to do the will of the Lord Jesus and to please Him. Is that true of us? Has there been a time when we have handed over our will to the Lord? Look up Psalm 40:7-8, and compare Acts 9:6 with Romans 12:1-2.


2. The second mark is A HUMBLE MIND

In verse 19 Paul tells us that he served the Lord “with great humility”. Compare Matthew 11:28. If there is one company of people on the earth who should be entirely free from pride it is those people who are the servants of the Lord Jesus. There is no place for self-seeking in the life of the true servant of the Lord. Notice that Paul says that he served the Lord with humility – compare Matthew 20:26-27; John 13:1-15; Philippians 2:3-8. In the Christian worker humility is the greatest virtue. Meekness is not weakness but Christ-likeness, and where there is a humble mind the Devil can gain no ground; but where this gift and grace of humility is missing he very soon gains a place in our hearts and lives.


3. The third mark is A COMPASSIONATE HEART

In verse 19 Paul also tells us that he served the Lord “with tears”. Compare verse 31 and Romans 9:2-3. How this man of tears puts us to shame! How cold we often are! How few know what it means to weep over the sins of others and over the souls of others! – yet Paul knew what it was to shed tears of penitence, of love, of fellowship with the Lord in His sufferings over sinners, and over saints. A Salvation Army officer wrote to General Booth about the hard task that he had in his sphere of service and how he seemed to see no results at all from his labours. The General sent back a message which consisted of two words – “Try tears!” Look up Psalm 126:6, and compare Ephesians 4:32.


4. The fourth mark is A STEADFAST SPIRIT

In verse 19 Paul tells us he was “severely tested by the plots of the Jews”. Did you ever know a servant of the Lord who was not tested, and when reading your New Testament been impressed with the great testings that Paul experienced? We have a powerful Enemy whose whole aim is to get us down, and if we are honest, we admit that one of our chief handicaps is ourselves; so as servants of the Lord we need grit as well as grace! See what Proverbs 24:10 says, and compare 1 Corinthians 15:58. Notice how many times in scripture the Lord says, “Fear not!” and “Be strong!” Why does He say this so often? Because we are often fearful, and when we are fearful we are weak and have no strength.


5. The fifth mark is A CLEAR CONSCIENCE

In verse 20 Paul tells us, “I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you”. This was a great thing to be able to say, but all of us who serve the Lord should be able to say it; compare Acts 23:1 with Acts 24:16. Paul was not perfect; he made many mistakes and often failed in one way or another, but no-one could justly point a finger at him and accuse him. He could look these elders in the face and say, ‘I have done my best’, and they could not prove or say otherwise – see verse 18. Paul had a clear conscience!

  1. (1) Paul had a clear conscience EVANGELISTICALLY, that is, he discharged his responsibility towards the lost. See verse 20 (second part), also verses 21 and 26. What an amazing claim he made! Look up Ezekiel 33:6 and compare 1 Peter 3:15-16. Have we a clear conscience regarding the lost?
  2. (2) Paul had a clear conscience DOCTRINALLY, that is, he was faithful in his proclamation of the truth. Look at the first part of verses 20 and 27. Nothing “helpful” was withheld, and “the whole will of God” was declared. Look up and think about the relevant statement in 2 Corinthians 4:2.
  3. (3) Paul had a clear conscience FINANCIALLY, that is, he was not doing God’s work for personal gain (verses 33-34). No doubt there were many wealthy people in Ephesus, but rather than be in a position where he could be criticised and where God’s Name could be brought into disrepute, Paul would work for his living making tents so that no-one could ever say he was in the Lord’s work for personal gain. See Hebrews 13:18.
  4. (4) Paul had a clear conscience EXPERIMENTALLY,that is, so far as he knew, he was living out before the Ephesians the truth that he taught to them. Look at verse 35: does our conduct agree with our creed? Does our belief behave? Look up 2 Corinthians 1:12.
  5. (5) Paul had a clear conscience SPIRITUALLY, that is, his personal relationship with the Holy Spirit was all that it should be. Verse 22 might be rendered, “I go to Jerusalem under the binding force of the Holy Spirit”. Compare Romans 9:1. Are we utterly abandoned to the Holy Spirit? Are we filled and dominated by Him? Is ours a Spirit-led life?