Keeping Back Nothing
The Apostle Paul had a burning desire to preach the gospel of the grace of God. In fact he said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
He said he was not ashamed of the gospel and proved that by preaching it at every given opportunity.
He preached in synagogues to the religious, he preached at Mars Hill to philosophers, he preached in courtrooms, and he preached in churches. He not only was faithful in preaching the gospel, he warned against those who would preach another gospel.
Grace was a theme that was always on his heart. In the beginning of the Roman epistle he writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and toward the end of the epistle he writes, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” This expression is repeated in several of his writings. He speaks of being justified by grace, grace abounding, and the riches of grace. He obviously embraced the truth set forth by John, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
In Acts chapter 20, we read that while Paul was on a trip to Jerusalem by boat, he stopped in Miletus and called for the elders of the church of Ephesus to meet him there. Having established this church and labored there for a time, the church held a special place in his heart. He had a message to deliver to these leaders and begins by reminding them of the time he spent with them and of the example he had set for them in “all seasons.”
The apostle was not one who was unpredictable, depending on his feelings in the moment. He was a committed servant of Jesus Christ and served as he admonished Timothy “in season and out of season.” There is a lesson here for all of us. There is a tendency to slack off in our efforts if we are struggling with discouragement, but if we are finding our strength from abiding in Christ we can be consistent and persevere in serving no matter what the challenge of the moment may be.
Paul faced much opposition throughout his ministry—mentioning specifically here the “lying in wait of the Jews.” Between the persecution from without and the care of the churches which weighed heavily upon him, he had served with many tears. In this day when there is often a prevailing spirit of complacency, how many times are you moved to tears because of your deep concern for the advancement of the kingdom of God?
Keeping Back Nothing
Paul then declares, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you” (20:20). If it was truth, Paul preached it. He made no compromises.
His concern was not to please men, but to please the one who had called him to the ministry.
Over the years I have talked to several men who said, “I believe the doctrines of grace but I can’t afford to preach them, my people would not tolerate it.” Of course those who may be in error on any point must be dealt with gently, and Paul took that approach. “We were gentle among you,” he said, “even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
Paul loved Jesus Christ; he loved him too much to hold back on preaching his gospel.
Paul loved the people to whom he ministered; he loved them too much to hold back anything that was profitable to them. So he taught them publicly and from house to house. He did not rely only on his efforts to preach publicly, but spent time with people individually to be sure they were sufficiently taught.
He did not hold back any doctrine or any exhortation which would be beneficial.
In spite of the fact that preaching is losing favor in some churches today and is being replaced with musical programs and dramatic performances, the whole idea of preaching came from God himself. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). But there is also need for personal instruction, small group settings, and counseling. Paul writes in the Roman epistle, “I…am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (15:14). With the influence of the world making such an impact on so many today, people often need specific help regarding how to apply the messages they hear from the pulpit.
Repentance Toward God
Then Paul reveals, in his address to the Ephesian elders, something of the content of his teaching: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). And this same message is what he calls “the gospel of the grace of God” in verse 24. Clearly, then, in Paul’s mind there was an inseparable connection between preaching “grace” and preaching “repentance” and “faith”.
Paul preached repentance. To repent is to change one’s mind — and one’s mental change then results in a change of action.
We often think only of the sweet promises, and eternal securities, that the word grace implies often times in Scripture; but Paul reminded the pastors in Ephesus that a necessary part of preaching grace is preaching repentance.
John the Baptist preached repentance. Jesus Christ preached repentance and declared that he came to call sinners to repentance. After his resurrection he said that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Peter called on men to repent on the day of Pentecost. At Mars Hill Paul preached, “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commendeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
With the popularity of the health, wealth, and prosperity message — and the self-esteem, feel-good-about-yourself “gospel” — there often is little said about repentance. But no matter what the popular trends may be, God’s truth does not change. So if we are going to preach the gospel of grace we must call on men to repent.
Faith Toward Jesus Christ
An idea that is gaining ground in some circles today is that there are many roads to heaven. They speak of it like spokes on a wagon wheel, all leading to the same hub. But no matter what man’s reasoning may be, the words of Jesus still stand: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
He did not say I am one of many ways but I am the way.
You may be called narrow and bigoted for believing that, but the message was not popular when Jesus delivered it and we cannot expect it to be popular today. Any so-called gospel which leaves out the truth of faith in Jesus Christ is not the message Jesus taught and not the gospel proclaimed by the apostle Paul.
Listen to some of the words of Jesus: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “All men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which sent him” (John 5:23). “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
There is no salvation for anyone apart from Jesus Christ and there is no gospel of grace save that which lifts up the name of Jesus and with John the Baptist cries, “Behold the Lamb of God." We see this clearly in John’s first epistle: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:10-12).
Paul knew that repentance had to be granted by divine grace. And Paul taught that faith is the gift of God. Yet he did not fail to call on men to repent and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
A good example of biblical repentance and faith is seen at Thessalonica, when the gospel came to them in such power that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). And the apostle Paul could then conclude that they were the elect of God, because they had “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost” (6).
No matter what the criticism, no matter what the opposition, the apostle Paul refused to compromise the core message of the gospel of grace: “repentence toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” To the church at Corinth he wrote, “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The religious Jews stumbled at the message of Christ; the cultured Greeks considered the message to be foolishness. But to those who were called by the Spirit the message made sense and was joyfully received.
There may have been a time that the gospel meant nothing to you, was perhaps even foolish to you; but if it now makes sense and you have received it, you can give thanks for this great blessing of grace. If you have not repented of your sin, may you do so today. If you have not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, may you trust him today. And what a comfort then to read, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”