I don't suppose that during the years of my preaching that there have been very many sermons that I have preached, and probably not any, but what I haven't first asked myself, "What do you think would be the best topic to preach on for that day?" Or I may say, "What part of the Bible do you feel like is more timely for the message of today than other portions of the Bible?" That has sort of been my policy down through the years of my preaching, and I don't know that I have always selected the right sermon for the right day. But I want you to know that I have fervently tried to do that. This week and the thoughts of being invited to speak to this group this morning was no exception. I learned a long time ago if something comes into your mind in the early part of the week, then maybe you had better work on that a little bit and make that the thing that you use to speak on. So, along about Tuesday of this week my mind started drifting to the 20th chapter of the book of Acts and the statement that Paul makes there in verse 32. Now I am going to be using that 32nd verse as the text of our lesson this morning on a sermon that I am calling "Building On The Word of God." If you have your Bible, why don't you be turning to Acts 20 and I would like to read verses 28 - 32. While you are turning there, let me sort of give you the occasion for Luke's recording this in that part of the Acts. The apostle Paul was on the final leg of his third missionary journey. As he was sailing toward Jerusalem, he realized that danger was going to befall him there. He senses that. But as he was passing close by the city of Ephesus, where he had labored for some three years prior to that, he sent a messenger to the elders of the church there and requested that they meet him at a little town called Miletus, some 36 miles of Ephesus. The reason for that was that Paul had some very, very important words to share with those men. Again, the inner sense of Paul must have told him that he would not be able to see those men again after this particular opportunity. So, in keeping with his request, the elders went down to Miletus and much of the latter part of the 20th chapter of Acts deals with the conversation that these men had together with the apostle Paul.
He warned them about false teachers entering into the flock. He told them that from without some would come in and from within their own organization there would be others who would defile the pure gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. That gets us down to verse 28 and hopefully you have your Bible open to that and let's read it together. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend 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 them which are sanctified."
Like I mentioned, it is the 32nd verse that has been rolling around in my mind ever since about Tuesday of this past week. And if you don't mind, for emphasis sake, let's read it again. I am reading it from the King James translation and that is the way we have it quoted on the front of our bulletin for today's service. "And now, brethren, I commend 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 them which are sanctified." I submit to you this morning that these words, verse 32, are very powerful indeed and that they hold wonderful lessons for us. And as far as that is concerned, I consider the message that I have ready for you to be very appropriate for the way things have been happening here at North National.
Let's start out by just taking parts of this 32nd verse and before it is over, we will look at all the pieces, as it were, in this great passage. As I read to you from the King James translation (and I am sure that if you are holding some of the newer translations, you will not find those first three words that I quoted, "And now brethren." Regardless of whether that is in your translation or not, the thoughts that I am going to share with you are to be found elsewhere in the word of God. So I am not complaining necessarily because it might not be in the translation you are holding. On the other hand, what I am seeing here may be the purpose of those translators originally by putting those three words in, "And now brethren." Keep in mind we are talking about a situation involving some men that were very personal with each other; they were very close to each other; and they dearly loved each other. Because of that, I want to mention to you first of all that the word "brethren" suggests a tie that exists between members of the body of Christ that does not and cannot exist anywhere else. There is a certain beauty, a certain dignity, a certain respect, that goes along with my being able to look at you and call you "brother" or "sister" in Christ. We find that the apostle Peter in the closing of his second letter used that same expression as he referred to "my beloved brother Paul." So I am wanting you to see the closeness that must exist.
But not only from that point of view but also from the standpoint of our being in the same family, that we are truly brothers and we are truly sisters in Christ. Because of that, we have that special tie that does not exist with those of the world. Because of this, we are to show, as it were, a different relationship with those of our brothers and sisters than we would those that are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope you don't think for a moment that we are saying that we are not to love everyone. Jesus informs us that we are to love all, even our enemies. Again, there is a different communion between brethren in Christ and those of the outside world, and we can find scripture to verify that thought. In Romans 12, for example, along about verse 10, the apostle Paul said, "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another." In Galatians 6:10, the same writer says, "As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Again, with that same thought, it carries with it every time we say "Bro. Clay or Bro. Scott or Sister Ella or whoever," we are signifying that we have that close relationship with them that exists in the family of God with God being our heavenly father.
If I could leave any thought with you at all at this particular point in the sermon, let's be proud and thankful that we have brothers and sisters in Christ (and I will talk more about this later) that are able and willing to share some of the problems of our lives, the sorrows of our lives, and the disappointments of our lives. We owe it to each other to call them brother or to call them sister.
Let's go a little further with the 32nd verse. "And now brethren, I commend you unto God." I think this is really the part that has been on my mind all week. I have had several things happen this week. Some sadness in my own family and even my wife, most of you know, has been home sick with the flu, and then I had a funeral last Friday, and this is the part that I am really wanting to convey to you as best I possibly can: the idea of commending ourselves unto God. Why is it that we often think that we can take care of all of our problems on our own? Why is it that we only think of God in cases of emergencies? Why can't we look to God every day, every hour, even in the smallest matter, and then later to be qualified to call upon him in those big matters? But there is another side of this coin that really is the message I want you to hear at this point and that is this. What spiritual relief we have when we have trusted in God all of our lives, and then when situations do develop that we can absolutely do nothing about and we have exhausted all of our resources that are available to us and it might seem as though a dark hour has come upon us, if we can commend ourselves and the word of God to ourselves, I believe that we can have a resolve that again no one else can give.
Even Jesus realized the importance of this. In Luke's account of the crucifixion of our Lord, he gives one of the utterances from the cross and the time that I have in mind was when Jesus was just about to draw his last breath. Do you remember what he said? He said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." I confess to you in the years of my preaching, I have had things that I could no longer do anything about. There was a point in my life, in the history of my preaching, that I just wanted to quit preaching. Circumstances had mounted up strongly in my family and I just thought, "Well, I'll just quit." And then I began to realize that I couldn't do any more about the situation than I had already done. And I commended my life and my preaching to God. There is a resolve that you have when you can do that.
Now brethren, I don't believe the world could possibly touch that resolve of having a peace or a security that comes when you commend yourself unto God because the word of God itself with all of those promises that are contained therein, gives us, as that old song says, a blessed assurance. As we go back to the scene of Paul there with those elders at Ephesus, Paul commended them unto God because he knew there was no higher source than God himself. And thus it must have created another moment of tenderness in that relationship with those men and Paul. Already he had said to them, "after I leave you, you will not see my face again." That is sad, isn't it? But on the other hand, I can also believe that through the word itself that not only Paul spoke, but the receiving of that word which was able to build them up would certainly give them the assurance that while they may not see him in this life, they would be able to see him in the life that was yet to come. And so the verse says, "And now brethren, I commend you to God and the word of his grace."
You can see here that Paul as well as those elders put great emphasis upon the word of God. Actually, and you know this, it is the word of his grace that tells us about God in the first place. I don't believe that the holy Bible came to us down through all the years without the grace of God seeing that we did receive it. In like fashion, I can certainly believe that it is the grace of God and the grace of God alone that can give us that type of faith that will sustain us and will carry us through this life, even to the very end. "From where else could our faith come but the word of God?" Romans 10, 17. So then when the word of his grace is preached or when the word of his grace is taught, it reveals the great plan that God has given, not only the first principles of salvation which are contained in our confessing Christ, our repenting of our sins, our being baptized for the remission of our sins, but the plan of God is that we find that solitude, that we find that peace of mind and heart that he has promised us through his Son being the very "Prince of Peace." Ephesians 2, verse 8 has long been used by some of our religious friends as being salvation by grace only or by faith only. I don't make any apologies because that doesn't change a thing that I have already said. But rather, it just amplifies the grace of God, the word of his grace. You remember that passage, "For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." So when Paul commended those brethren to God and the word of his grace, he was commending them to a multitude of instructions that they could receive and accept and let it become a part of their daily lives. And I commend that same word to you this morning as we continue the thought of building on the word of God.
And that gets us to the next phrase of verse 32. "I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up." The idea here is that the word does just that. When you open your Bible at night in the privacy of your home or when you come into our Bible study programs and classes here or when you hear it being preached from the word of God, if you accept it as the Bible itself says that it is, that it is inspired of God, that all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and if you accept that from the very depths of your heart, there is no way it can do any more than to strengthen your faith. Which one of us this morning would say that we don't need our faith strengthened? Are we any stronger in our faith than the apostles? They came to the Lord on one occasion and said, "Lord, increase our faith in you." The Bible itself continually talks about the importance of our growing and developing and becoming stronger in the Lord and in the power of his might. I love that passage from Ephesians 3, verse 15, where Paul talks about "speaking the truth in love that you may grow up unto him in all things, even Christ." I believe that spiritual growth is more than just knowing the word. I believe it's also being able to have that word already within your mind and already within your heart and allowing that word to become the activating mechanism that soothes our hearts in the time of sorrow or triggers our consciences when we are facing temptations. That is when the word builds you up. That is when you become stronger and stronger in the Lord.
So again, "And now, brethren, I commend you unto God, and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance." Peter calls it, in I Peter 1:4, "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away reserved in heaven for you." Then he also mentions in 2nd Peter 1, after having added those Christian graces to our lives, he says that this inheritance will be abundantly given unto you - "an abundant entrance" he says "into that everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." And so again he gives us an inheritance - the promise of that great place called heaven is found in the word of God. You know, the idea of a heavenly home is a wonderful thought, isn't it. I know sometimes, based upon my own personal life, that I didn't think too much of this as a young person, although we should. But as time goes on and those of us who have reached those golden years, we are thinking more and more and more about the beauty of that heavenly home and we place a great emphasis in that passage from John 14 which talks about in my Father's house are many mansions. It is a wonderful thought to be able to realize that there is a better place awaiting. I appreciated Scott leading us in that last song just before the sermon, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue." That is a wonderful thought, isn't it? It is an absolutely wonderful thought.
But the passage doesn't stop there. This is another part of the lesson that I want you to grasp this morning. This is probably the most beautiful part of it all. He says that the word of God is able to build you up and give you an inheritance "among all them that are sanctified." Sometimes that is misquoted. Sometimes we quote it "among them that are sanctified." But the passage says "among all them that are sanctified." Do we realize this morning what a promise Paul made to those elders there in Ephesus and what a thought to receive an inheritance among men that are already sanctified, that are already gone on, which simply means that when that time comes for us to cross, as it were, the River Jordan, that we will be able to be among all those who have previously obeyed the gospel, among all those that we have known in years past, plus all of those that we never met all the way back to Pentecost Day. Isn't that a beautiful thought? And you know it might be at that time that for the first time in our life we will be able to understand the meaning of "God is no respector of persons." Regardless of what part of the world they came from, if they have been faithful children of God, they are going to be among "all them that are sanctified" and we are going to have to be happy with them or else we will not be happy at all in heaven - we will not even be there.
I think what we are looking at in Acts 20:32 not only gives some powerful lessons but also gives us some hope. But before I bring our lesson to a close this morning, I would like to really finish the rest of that story in Acts 20 and so follow along as we read verses 36 and 38: "And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him. Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship." It was sad parting, wasn't it?
In years past, I have had to say goodbye to a number of people that I thought a lot of and naturally you are expecting me to say family, and certainly that is true. But I remember one time when I left the USS Hewell in Sasebo, Japan, and I left behind two buddies that I knew so well. One lived in one part of the US and one in another. It was a time of rejoicing for me but it was also a time of sadness. I didn't know that I would ever see those men again. We had been that close. Fortunately, I was able to see them years later. I am telling you that to let you see the picture of Paul and those elders. It must have been a sad occasion for Paul but again, based upon the words that Paul gave them, I am sure they realized that in that land of fadeless day, they would be reunited again.
Let me leave you with this thought. Let us not forget that we have this same promise concerning those that we love who have gone on before us in Christ. And so then, "And now brethren, I commend you unto God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you a home among all them which are sanctified." We never know our audience. We never know if there is a need to make a response or not, but if there is such a need today, if you need to confess Christ, repenting of your sins and be baptized, this is a perfect time for that. If you have wandered away and you are not, in your own mind, qualified to inherit that eternal kingdom and would like to be reinstated through the process of prayer, this would be a good time also for you to do that. If there is a need at all, won't you come while we stand and sing?