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Encouragement

Date: Jun. 29, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 20:1-12

Key Verse: Acts 20:2

“He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people… 

When I think of the word encourage, which the dictionary defines as “to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence” in my mind I picture someone like William Wallace from Braveheart, General MacArthur, or this Chinese man at Tiananmen square. According to this definition, to encourage others, usually takes overcoming something difficult, whether it’s a relationship, a stressful life event or any other numerous personal difficulties. And as I was going through this passage, wondering what the heck will I focus on, the theme of encouragement kept popping up. In these twelve verses the author Luke summarizes over two years of Paul’s ministry pretty much in a single word: encouragement. And that’s my hope too, that at the end of service today, you and I may be mutually encouraged through God’s word.

In today’s passage we find that Paul is getting ready to leave Ephesus but before he goes he wants to gather all the disciples together and encourage them. Let’s take a look at verse 1. “When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia.” Building off of the definition of encourage that I mentioned earlier, the word encourage-MENT is the action of giving someone support, confidence or hope. In other words, it means to give someone courage. Now why would Paul have to give the disciples courage before he left? If you remember from last week’s passage, a riot erupted in Ephesus, that started by the silversmith Demetrius, in which nearly 25,000 over stimulated people stormed into the city theater wanting to take action against Paul and the Christian church that had been established there. Thankfully, God worked through the city clerk who calmed the crowd down and sent everyone home. After all the craziness had subsided, Paul knew that it was time for him to leave. But before he went he wanted to give his brothers and sisters courage. Paul knew the strength of the silversmith union, there is evidence even today in Ephesus of how powerful they were. They had a street similar to the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago that was dedicated to all these silver smith shops. And the church in Ephesus was young, inexperienced and small. By themselves they couldn’t stand up against the wealth and power of the established silversmiths. Not only that it seemed like the whole city came out for the riot in protest against the church. By the way, here’s a picture of what approximately 18K people look like that turned out in Grant Park to watch the US play Germany in the world cup. Imagine a couple dozen people having to face a crowd larger than that. And not to mention the crowd is supported by the government. Needless to say, the church in Ephesus needed courage. And it was quite possible that Paul may never see them again. So he gathered them together and through the word of God and through his actions, he gave them courage to fight the good fight and never give up.

After staying nearly three years in Ephesus, Paul decided to move on. This wasn’t a sudden decision as if he was being forced out because of the riot, but he felt compelled by the Spirit to return to Jerusalem. Paul planned to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, which occurred on May 25th, 55 A.D., and was going to head for Jerusalem. However, even though Jerusalem was his final destination, he wanted to visit the all the churches along the way so that he could gather an offering and bring it back with him because Israel, and the region around it, was suffering from a famine.

I want to pause here for a moment and let you know what encourages me about this. The fact that we have a date (May 25th, 55 A.D) and location (Ephesus, modern day Turkey) of where this event takes place. What this tells me is that the Bible is real and full of historic events that have been recorded by eyewitnesses for us to read. So when you read something on the internet or if someone talks to you mocking the Bible saying that it is a made up fairy tale, you don’t have to be discouraged by them, because you can go and look for yourself and see all the eyewitness detail, the dates, and locations and compare that to all the historical evidence that archaeologists have discovered that corroborate the Bible with amazing accuracy and have confidence and faith in God’s word.

Take a look at verse 2. “He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece,” The first six verses from our passage today covers over two years of Paul’s ministry. It just zips right through and doesn’t give much detail as to what was going on at the time. We have to go to the books of 2 Corinthians and Romans to find out further details. And one of the things that I’ve read was before the riot, Paul had sent a letter to the Corinthian church and now he was nervous because he thought that the letter may have been too harsh and rebuking and it might have discouraged the young believers. (2 Cor 2:3-9) So he had sent Titus to go there and check out the situation to see how the people were doing. And then Paul would meet up with Titus at Troas after he left Ephesus. If you remember when Paul first went to Troas, it looked like a good place to start a ministry. It was a port city, with lots of people, but then God gave him the vision of a man from Macedonia calling him over to them. So in his mind, he always wanted to preach there. This time when Paul reached Troas, he found that God had apparently kept the door open for him to preach the gospel there. However, even with this blessing, Paul’s mind had no peace because Titus wasn’t there. (2 Cor 2:12-13) And now Paul was getting more concerned about the Corinthian Christians as he waits for news from Titus. (2 Cor 7:5-7)

So Paul left Troas hitting the next church in line as he hopes to run into Titus. From there he goes to Neapolis and then Philippi. This was the first time Paul visited Philippi since he had been flogged there. The church that had been established there was enduring persecution and deep poverty with remarkable joy. Even though they were poor they continued to give generously but they suffered from false apostles and counterfeit Christians. Paul found that they needed encouragement just like his brothers in Ephesus. Paul strengthened them with the word of God. While he was in Philippi, Paul was encouraged as Titus showed up with good news. The Corinthians had accepted the punishing part of Paul’s letter in the right spirit. It hurt, but they had taken the rebuke in a godly way and began to repent. They had treated Titus with such respect and affection that Paul’s mind was able to rest. However the situation in Corinth was far from perfect. They still needed encouragement because they became unsettled upon the arrival of new preachers, that apparently came with impeccable credentials and they seemed superior to Paul because they charged a large speaking fee. They began to plant doubt in the young Corinthian believers as they were saying that Paul wasn’t a real apostle because he didn’t have any letters of recommendation from Jerusalem, Paul refused payment, and he didn’t even live like a real Jew. This is when Paul had to sit down and he wrote the book of the Bible known as 2 Corinthians.

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to encourage them to be ambassadors for Christ. Many famous verses are in 2 Corinthians such as “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor5:7) “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (v5:10) “ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (v 5:17) 2 Corinthians is such an encouraging letter. The second half he defends himself against the false apostles, after all Paul founded the church there. From there Paul visited Thessalonica, Berea and it may have been during this period that he visited the west coast city of Illyricum (Rom 15:19) which is modern day Albania as Paul hoped to go to Rome. However he turned around and ended up in Corinth where he stayed three months and was able to deal personally with the deep concerns that he wrote about in 2 Corinthians.

While Paul was in Corinth during the winter months of Ad 56-57, his mind was hooked on the Christians in Rome and it’s here that he writes the famous book of Romans. This is Paul’s closest approach to writing a full book. And according to scholars, if Paul had never written or spoken any other words except for that which is in Romans, Paul would still rank up there with the likes of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, among the greatest intellects of the ancient world and, indeed, of all time. Paul had been able to visit Rome, but he still wanted to be an encouragement to them. He wrote, “ I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Ro 1) By this time Paul had been a Christian for about 25 years, he was in his late fifties, mature and assured of the supreme excellence of his Lord and Master Jesus. The book of Romans contains some of Paul’s profoundest, most difficult and beautiful writing. It has been one of the world’s most decisive books that has withstood the test of time under theological and philosophical microscopes. The book of Romans has encouraged countless people down through the generations. It was foundation of Augustine’s faith and the seed of Martin Luther’s reformation. It was reading Luther’s “Preface to the Epistle to the Romans,” that caused John Wesley’s heart to feel strangely warmed. It contains such famous verses as “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Ro 1:16) and “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”(Ro 1:17) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v3:23) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v6:23) and my favorite, if I could have a favorite: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (v 8:28) Oh my, I could go on and on and on there are so many encouraging verses in the book of Romans. It’s amazing to me that so much in Paul’s ministry happens during this period and Luke records so little. He probably does this because Paul himself is also writing. The Paul of Corinth in 57 A.D., was determined to use every spiritual gift up to the very limit of his faith which he recognized as a gift of God. He hated evil and would not let mockery, discouragement, the malice of antagonists, or imposters loosen his grip on what he knew was good. Instead he blessed his persecutors, and prayed for them, as the Lord Jesus had instructed. He repaid evil with good and not seeking revenge.

           Let’s take a look at verse 3b, “Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.” Paul could not stand the delay any longer, his eyes were focused on Jerusalem. Paul originally intended to take passage just as before on a pilgrim ship from Cenchreae in March of 57 A.D. hope to reach Jerusalem by Passover. But the Corinthian Jews got wind of his plan and made their own plans. The Jews want Paul dead, plus they wouldn’t mind getting their hands on the offering too. Their plan was: all the sailors on that pilgrim ship were going to be Jews and then one night, with a sharp blow there would be a man over board but no cry would be raised. However somehow Paul heard about their plot and he had no intention of dying at sea so he splits their group up and takes the land route. He describes his anguish like this, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.” (2 Cor 11:26) What amazes me is that Paul is under this constant threat and yet his major concern is for his fellow Christians.

By this time Paul has assembled a nice journey team, 9 including Paul. He has representatives from Macedonia (Berea, Thessalonica & Phillipi – including Luke), Galatia (Derbe & Lystra) and the province of Asia, Trophimus is from Ephesus. I find it funny that Gaius and Aristarchus joined Paul after being the ones that were grabbed in the riot of Ephesus. However here we find another encouragement from Paul, he doesn’t work alone. Paul is a team player and knows the importance of a good team. Paul is constantly investing himself into the lives of the people who will share in the work of the ministry with him and even continue it in his absence. We can learn a thing or two from Paul’s life on how to be an encouragement to others.

Finally Paul reaches Troas again. He has wanted to preach here for a long time but he hasn’t been able to do so because of one reason or another. And so he wants to use as much of this time as he possible can. According to verses 7-12, the church meets on the third floor of a building. It’s dark however the room is well lit. Even though Paul has been in danger, he is not afraid, he is not hiding. However the room is getting hotter because of all the people and the many lit lamps so the young man Eutychus moves to the window for some fresh air. But since Paul is going on and on Eutychus falls asleep. Suddenly there is a commotion and a crash, Eutychus falls out of the window and dies upon impact with the ground. Everyone hurries down the stairs wanting to help the young man, they step aside for Paul and he throws himself upon the boy. Take a look at verses 10-12. “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” This reminds me of Elijah when he restored life to the son of a widow of Zarephath (1 Ki 17:21), or when Elisha revived the son of the Shunammite woman (2Ki 4:34) or when Peter raised Dorcas to life (Ac) or when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, or when he raised the widow of Nain’s son. What this shows is the power of life that is in God as he works through his servants. This is the power of Resurrection which is for all who believe. When Paul raised this boy to life he was living by faith in Jesus. And what he said in Romans 8:11 was true, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”When Paul was done, everyone left encouraged. The relatives of Eutychus were comforted, and the whole crowd was rejuvenated, first through the word of God and second through witnessing a miracle. Paul may never see them again, but you can bet this left a lasting impression upon them.

Conclusion – In this passage we see Paul was a man of encouragement. He went beyond his human ability, even suffering, because of his love for Jesus, love for people and for them to know the truth so that they could be saved from their sins. Who have we encouraged lately? Remember William Wallace? Look how he was an encouragement. Remember General MacArthur? Look how he was an encouragement. Remember the Chinese man who stood alone to block a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, on June 5, 1989. Look how he was an encouragement to others. Each of these men instilled courage into others through their words and actions. But the biggest encouragement of all is Jesus Christ, who endured all the shame and pain of the cross and yet tells us, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Please listen to the audio to hear the conclusion of this message. God bless you.

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