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Christian Leaders Need the Gospel

Part 2


“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)


Paul entrusts the Ephesian elders into the strong arms of the living God…

…and to the word of his grace


The word of his grace could be The Word – Jesus. More likely in context it is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). But it amounts to something similar because the gospel is Jesus Christ (Acts 8:35). And the point is that we are entrusted to this word of grace.


I used to read this as saying that “the word of his grace” should be the great theme and centre and power of the ministry of the elders. It will be their gospel preaching which will build up the church. It will be proclaiming Christ which will draw people to him and mature people in him. Their church leadership must be first and foremost a ministering of the gospel.


That is absolutely true and hugely important but I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying in Acts 20:32. He is not entrusting the gospel to them (as in 2 Tim. 1:14); rather he is entrusting them to the gospel. They are being handed into the arms of the gospel. The gospel is to embrace them. Just as the encircling arms of the Father give them the identity and security of children of God, so the encircling arms of the gospel give them the identity and security of forgiven sinners.


This is what Christian leaders need: to know that from first and foremost, and in the final analysis and every moment in between, they are simply small children handed into the arms of God and the word of his grace. Christian leader: before you minister the gospel to others, it is for you. Soak it in. Every day.


Which does two things:


Build you up


In the context, builds you up to be able to keep running the race of testifying to the gospel of the grace of God; to keep watch over yourself and the church of God; to stand up against the wolves who are coming against the church. It’s the gospel that builds you up for that. And it is a very counter-intuitive building up. Building you up by making you like a little child (Matt. 18:1-4); enabling you to deal ruthlessly with your own sin (Matt. 18:8-9); enabling you to challenge the sin of brothers (Matt. 18:15-17); enabling you to forgive as you have been forgiven (Matt. 18:21-35); breaking a sense of entitlement in ministry leadership (Matt. 19:27-20:16); producing servant leadership (Matt. 20:26-28); causing you to cry out as Martin Luther’s last words “We are beggars. That is the truth.” (Matt. 20:30-34).


If we don’t have that identity; if we think we are ‘something’; if we get our security from our role and seniority and competence; if we are justified by the reception of our last sermon; if we get our glory from one another; then we will be unable to properly shepherd the church of God; because we will never be able to face up to our own sin or to the sin of others; we will never be able to serve sacrificially like Jesus; we will never know the joy of forgiveness or the freedom of forgiving; we might actually lose our own soul and become the wolf.


Christian leaders need the embrace of the gospel – to be built up to become smaller; a little child secure in the lavish love of the Father; knowing that my failures are not defining; knowing that my sin, not in part but the whole, has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul!

…and give you the inheritance


The gospel is a title deed for the new creation. It is future focused. It’s not about sorting everything out here and now. It’s about the hope of the resurrection of the dead. Christian leaders need that assurance and that goal more than any earthly reward or target.


And why does it say “among all those who are sanctified”?

  • It could be a subtle Trinitarian reference: God [the Father], the Word of his grace [Christ] and the Sanctification [of the Spirit].

  • It could be a qualification: Those who receive an inheritance through the gospel are those who have been sanctified.

  • It could be defining the inheritance itself: The inheritance consists in those who are sanctified - similar to Ephesians 1:18 (“his glorious inheritance in the saints”).

What is certain is that a large part of the great joy of the inheritance we’re looking forward to will be that it is a gathering of all God’s sanctified people. Personally I don’t think about that very often. I’ve been concerned to centre my thoughts about the new creation on the God who will be there. And that will be the best thing – that God will dwell with us and wipe every tear from our eye; that the throne of the Lamb will be at the centre and we will see his face. But it’s also true that it will be the greatest ever gathering. The largest, most joyful gathering in history. Writing to the Thessalonians Paul’s tells them that they are his hope and glory and joy on the day Christ returns.


Won’t it be great to stand with your church family, and every other church family, and all God’s people who have ever lived, in all their diversity, all made perfect – no more sin, no more tensions or clashes or conflict, just pure, off-the-scale love for one another, enjoying Christ together? We will be there one day soon. And that gospel hope will keep us going when things are far from perfect now.


“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)


_____________

Andy Harker serves the Co-Mission network of churches as Assistant Mission Director, particularly developing the Planting Academy and Pebble Consultancy ministries. He is a sinner saved by grace, married with three secondary age children and a member of Dundonald Church Raynes Park.


Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are hose of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.


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