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BIBLE CHARACTER: Conscientious in Service

Paul’s words at Miletus reveal this trait…..


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Being successful seems very important nowadays. In recent years something of a revolution has taken place in education, and pupils’ test results and the notorious school league tables all reflect the emphasis that is being placed upon success. Beyond school we find the challenge to be successful in the world of employment. Climbing the promotion ladder and going on to bigger and better things are all part and parcel of achieving. You do not need to be a sports-enthusiast to understand that the “successful” football team is the one that wins a trophy or gains promotion to a higher league.


How do we relate such concepts to our Christian experiences? An article described “a successful new church” — but what is it that makes a church successful? Surely nobody would be foolish enough to consider a church successful because of its wealth or its modern building. The world may evaluate success in such ways, but Scripture never regards this as “success”. Could it be the membership, the growth rate, or the number of different activities that take place each week? Is it being “successful” because the unnecessary restraints of the past have been done away with and people no longer have any inhibitions in the services? It is an interesting question to ponder.




Really, an earlier question needs to be raised. We ought to be asking what the Bible has to say about success. You will search the New Testament in vain for any reference to being “successful”. In fact, in Strong’s concordance the word “success” is only found once in the whole Bible — and the reference is a fascinating one. In Joshua 1:8 the Lord told Joshua that the key to experiencing “good success” lay in obeying “the book of the law”. In other words, the only way in which we can remotely consider a church being successful is in terms of its obedience to Scripture. The article about the “successful new church” — with its accompanying pictures — had nothing to say about that church’s desire to be obedient to Scripture.


While the word “successful” is absent from Scripture, the word “faithful” is found frequently. It needs to be emphasized afresh that God is not looking so much for a “successful” church as for a “faithful” church. The early Christian believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). We need to forget about thinking in terms of “success” and try to see things as God sees them. Still today He wants us to continue steadfastly in obedience to His Word.




We have a striking example of conscientious service in Acts 20. Paul had called the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet him at Miletus (v.17). He was certain that he would not see them again (v.25), and the realization of this fact caused them great sorrow (v.38). The words that they heard from the Apostle Paul’s lips on this occasion would therefore be treasured as the last they would ever hear from him. His words reveal to us not only his ministry but also his very heart.


Paul recalled the time he had spent in Ephesus. For more than two years he had faithfully ministered the Word of God there “with all humility, and with many tears” (v.19). Motivated by the Lord Jesus Himself, he had not taken advantage of their kindness or depended on their support (v.33—35). As he remembered his period of service with them he could honestly say that he had declared unto them the whole counsel of God.


What an amazing statement this is! God had revealed His mind and will to His servant. A divine obligation rested upon Paul to “declare” this teaching, announcing these tidings to people everywhere. At Ephesus Paul had not drawn back or shrunk from preaching the truth of God. He may have been thinking of how, at sea, the sail of a ship might be lowered in order to slacken the course — perhaps in order to make the journey less strenuous. In his ministry at Ephesus Paul had not slackened his course to make his message (in today’s popular terminology) more “seeker-friendly”. He had kept back nothing but had declared all that God had made known to him.


We live in a day when many professing Christians have no time for the clear, forthright, and faithful preaching of the Word of God. Although we must not go out of our way to offend, it is vital to be true to Scripture and to preach “all the counsel of God” (v.27). There is always the temptation to avoid a certain passage or topic that is not taken seriously any more, or to refrain from teaching something that many worldly folk would find unpalatable. Paul’s statement is deeply challenging. What a need there is today for true men of God who will not be afraid to preach the whole counsel of God.




Not only did Paul speak of what he had done, however, and of the integrity and humility that had characterized his service for the Lord. He also revealed a burning ambition that lay within his heart.


At this time, Paul was moving on towards Jerusalem. He was acutely aware of the dangers that threatened him and of the bonds and afflictions that awaited him “in every city” (v.23). But to our amazement we discover that “none of these things” moved Paul (v.24). His great concern was not to preserve his own life but to be faithful to the Lord and to finish the course marked out for him. The “course” he was thinking about was the spiritual race he was running. Paul did not want anything to turn him aside. He wanted to finish the race and to finish it well. He did not want to be ashamed when he stood before his Lord but wanted it to be an occasion of great joy. Paul often reflected upon the Judgment Seat of Christ — a subject that is mentioned little nowadays.


In his final epistle, written to Timothy some years later, we find the same phrase used again. Paul tells Timothy, “I have finished my course” (2 Tim.4:7). His earthly life was as good as over. The race had been run. He was looking forward to meeting his Lord and Saviour face to face — and he was thankful for the grace that had kept him to the end.


In the past sincere Christian students in colleges and universities have been known make Paul’s desire their own motto:

That I might finish my course with joy.

It is a good motto for us all to adopt.



Preaching the whole counsel of God helped Paul to remain faithful and conscientious in his service. There are vital lessons here for us today.