Greg Laurie - How To Live A Meaningful Life
And now we come to Acts chapter 20, where Paul is gonna give his final words, his last sermon to these men, and it tells us how to live a meaningful life, and that's the title of my message, "How to Live a Meaningful Life". And he's saying, "These are things that are important. These are principles that have guided me". And he identifies five categories that describe what a Christian ought to be doing with their life. So, let's read what Paul said, Acts 20, verse 17. "When we landed at Miletus". He sent a message to the elders of the church of Ephesus asking them to come and meet him.
When they arrived he declared, "You know that from the day I set foot in this province of Asia until now, I have done the Lord's work humbly with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews, and I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I've had one message for Jews and Greeks alike: the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God and having faith in our Lord Jesus. But now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don't know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lay ahead. None of these things move me nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy in the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the grace of God". Powerful words.
So, Paul has five categories now of things that he compares the Christian life to. Number one, Paul compares Christians to runners in a race. Verse 24, "I want to finish my race with joy". You know, Paul used this illustration many times in his writings. Apparently, he was a fan of running and races in general. He had a lot to say about this. This was a favorite analogy of his. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, he says, "Remember in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize, so run in such a way that you will win". So, Paul is effectively saying you're like running a race, so run to win. Don't run to lose. Don't run for honorable mention. In sports today with children, sometimes they'll have participation trophies, which means you showed up or you exist. "Here's your participation trophy. Everyone's a winner". No they aren't. You're not preparing those children for real life. There's winners and there's losers, and if I'm gonna enter a race, I wanna win the rice. Run to win. Paul also warns about getting off track in the race of life.
In Galatians 5:7, he says, "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth"? So, the picture he's using is someone cutting in. You ever have someone cut in on you? You're in line, they just walk right in front of you. Or you're in a race, they kind of bump into your lane. Hey, man, this is my lane. And sometimes there are people that will slow us down in the race of life, but we all know certain people that encourage us and some who discourage us. We know people who help us want to be closer to God and people that actually pull us away from God. So, evaluate your relationships, your friendships, and ask yourself the question, "Is this a wing or is it a weight? Does it speed me on my way or does it literally slow me down in the race of life"? Psalm 1 says, "Happy is the man or the woman that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of the sinner, or sit in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the Word of the Lord, and in it he meditates day and night".
Don't sit with the scornful. Don't hang out with the ungodly in ungodly places, leading you to do ungodly things. Paul also warns against looking back in the race of life, looking back. Philippians 3:14, "I've got my eye on the goal where God is beckoning us onward to Jesus. I'm up and running, and I'm not turning back". What does this mean? Okay, if we're in a race, and I'm running, and I'm almost at the finish line, and I turn around to see where you are, I could lose the race over that. It could just cost me a half of a second, and you would go ahead of me. So, you keep your focus. You keep looking forward, sort of like when you're driving your car, and a cop pulls up behind you, you get all paranoid. You're not doing anything wrong. Cop behind me, cop behind me. You're watching them. All of a sudden, boom, you plow into the car in front of you. Keep your eyes on the road, right? Keep moving forward, because the first step to going back is looking back. What does that mean? Sometimes it's thinking about the way your life used to be.
You know, the Israelites would complain to Moses after they'd been in the wilderness after a few years. "We remember the good old days back in Egypt. Oh, we had such great food. We had garlics and leeks and onions". Man, their breath must've stunk, right? "Oh, we had meat, and we had all these great things". You know, they were living in the past. And you might be looking back at your life. "Oh, man, I used to have a lot of fun. Oh, remember the time we did this. Oh, remember this other time"? Hold on now. Look at your life with perspective. Sure, you had a little fun, but it took its toll on you, right? And the devil will sort of glamorize in our minds the past. What the Israelites are failing to remember was they were under the bondage of the pharaoh. They were slaves, and they were beaten, and they cried for deliverance. Now, they're finally delivered. "Oh, we remember the good old days". And you might be doing that. They were not so good.
The Bible says, "Be filled with the Holy Spirit". Sometimes we overly mystify being filled with the Holy Spirit. Let me ask you a question. Do you put gas in your car? And when you put gas in your car, do you have an emotional experience? I doubt it. Or when you plug in your electric car, do you have an emotional experience? If you're standing in water, you might. No, you just put gas in the car, you plug in the car, and then you drive the car. God wants to fill you with the Spirit. And by the way, that phrase, "Be filled with the Spirit," found in Ephesians 5, in the original language speaks of something we should do continuously, as in be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit. So, I'm encouraging you today to say to Jesus, "Lord, fill me with your Spirit today. Give me all the power I need to serve you". And you know what? He'll answer that prayer. Live a Spirit-filled life.
So, Paul says, "I want to finish my race with joy". I love that he says joy. I mean, let's follow the Lord, but let's do so joyfully. I've been running this race for over 50 years now, and I'm gonna let you in on a little secret, and this is what it is. It's a joyful thing to serve the Lord, a joyful thing. I love it. And you never want to lose your joy. You know, the Bible says, "You will go out with joy, you'll be led forth with peace. The mountains and the hills will break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands". That's Isaiah 55. Go out with joy. This is why when David sinned against the Lord, he wrote this psalm of repentance. And among other things, he said in Psalm 51, "Restore to me the joy of my salvation, that sinners might be converted to you".
You know, when you sin against the Lord, the first thing you lose is your joy. And the fact is one of the most attractive things about a Christian is their joy, despite their circumstances, right? Not just when things are going well. But they still have the joy of the Lord when things aren't going so well, outwardly at least. And that is why we're told over in the book of Nehemiah. "The joy of the Lord is your strength".
Another point Paul brings up is we must play by the rules. When you're running the race of life, play by the rules. The rules are there. You agree to follow the rules. For instance, if you're running a marathon, you can't take a bus. And some guy actually did this, for real. Read an article where this man was in this marathon, and as he came across the finish line, he wasn't sweating, he wasn't tired. He just walked across, won the bronze medal. Someone said that's how good he looked like that, running this super long race. As it turns out, this guy caught a bus. So, he literally started the race, then went and caught a bus, and then had the bus drop him off at the finish line. He came at the end. They said, "You're disqualified". You can't do this outside of God's rules. He's given us his standards. 1 Corinthians 9:26 says, Paul speaking, "I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should; otherwise, after I preach to others, I myself would be a hypocrite or be disqualified".
So, you want to run this race with joy. There are people that you know and that I know who started well, who crashed and burned, and they haven't come back again, and we pray they will come back to the Lord. So, you want to finish this race with joy. Carry it to completion. I think of Caleb. His story is in the book of Joshua, and so when the Israelites were out of Egypt and they're poised to enter the promised land, they decided to send in 12 spies. Like, what are we up against? Who are our opponents? So, 12 spies go in, among them Caleb and Joshua. So, the spies come back, and ten had a very negative report and two had a very positive report. Ten of them said, "Oh, you don't want to go in that land. Man, the people that live there are like giants. We were like grasshoppers in their sight. We cannot go in there. We will be destroyed". Meanwhile, Caleb and Joshua says, "Oh, let's go for it. The Lord will be with us. It's going to be great". No, no, they listened to the majority report instead of the minority report.
So, now fast forward 40 years, because that's what they were doing, wandering in the wilderness, effectively in circles, and who's still around? Joshua and Caleb, and Caleb in his 80s, as they're getting ready to go into the land, he says, "Give me this mountain. I'm as strong today as on the day the Lord called me". He's 80. He said, "I'm ready to fight". No one challenged him. He was a tough old guy, and they knew he meant business. And why was he still strong at 80 as he was earlier? Because he had wholly followed the Lord his God. And that reminds us that we want to be strong in the beginning, middle, and end of our race. Because you don't know when your race will stop. You don't know when your life will end. You might say, "Well, I have 40 more years". Maybe you do, maybe you have more, or maybe you don't. So, you want to be running it strong each and every day.
You might say, "Well, you know, I'm going to really commit my life to Christ on a deeper level when I'm older, like 50". Some of you laugh 'cause you're older than that. And you know that's not that old. But when you're 20, it sounds pretty old, right? But here's the problem with that. The end of your life is determined by the beginning, the evening by the morning. Don't wait to do it later because the problem is you hit 60 or whatever age you say, "Now I'm gonna commit my life deeper to Christ," I promise you've lived years not walking closely with him, that might be more difficult to change the course of your life at that point than you think. That's why the Lord says to young people, "Remember the Creator in the days of your youth". Start now. I became a Christian when I was 17 years old, and I have never once regretted making that decision when I made it. I've missed nothing.
So, we're runners in a race, but here's the motivation. The motivation for running a race is the reward. I always found when I was running track and field in high school, I ran better if a pretty girl was watching. But I have a better motivation for you than a pretty girl. The Lord himself is watching. He's the one we're running for. And the author of Hebrews, many believe was Paul. We don't know. I think probably it was Paul. But the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:1, "Seeing that we're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let's lay aside the weight and the sin that so easily besets us, and run with endurance a race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now is sat down on the right hand of God".
So, what's my motivation? Look to Jesus. I don't do what I do to impress people. I don't do what I do for the applause of people. I don't do what I do for any other reason. I do it because Jesus has saved me, and I want to please him with every day of my life that he has given to me. We need to look to Jesus. Because you know what? People are going to let you down. You're going to be disappointed in life. You're going to see hypocrites that you look up to as Christians, and they did not deliver, but then you're going to see many godly people that do this so beautifully. But the most important thing is you don't do it for people. You do it for Jesus. Put your eyes on him. Put your eyes on him.
You might say, "Well, Greg, I know someone, they were a spiritual leader, and they fell into sin, and I'm just not going to be a Christian anymore". Here are my words to you, two words, "Grow up". Just grow up and stop. That's an excuse. Jesus did not say, "Follow my people". He said, "Follow me". Follow Christ. Keep your eyes on the Lord. And that's what kept Jesus going. Because it says, "For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross". Wait, what joy? His disciples have largely abandoned him. John was present at the cross, but Peter was denying him. Where were they? The crowds were screaming at him, and yet he's carrying that cross, and he goes all the way to Calvary to be nailed to that very cross he is carrying. What kept him going? Hebrews says, "For the joy set before him," and I believe that joy was you, it was me, it was us. It was knowing that he would purchase our salvation.
So, we're runners in a race. Number two, Paul compares himself to a steward, a steward. Verse 24, "This ministry which I have received from the Lord". A steward is essentially a servant. A steward owns little to nothing. Everything they have has been given to them by their master. We, too, are stewards in life. Everything I have comes from God. Your career, God gave that to you. Your house, the roof over your head, that came from the Lord. The clothes you're wearing, the Lord gave those to you, too. Whatever form of transportation you arrived here in, the Lord gave that to you. The beat of your heart, that's a gift from God. The breath you're drawing in your lungs, that, too, is a gift from the Lord. It's all a gift, and the Bible says you're not your own. You were bought with a price, therefore, glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are God's.
So, my job is to be faithful as a steward. I'm told over in 1 Corinthians 4:2 it's required in stewards, that they are found faithful. So, I want to do what God wants me to do with my life. You know, sometimes people will say to me, "Greg, thank you for all that you do for so many people". And I'll say, "Hey, I'm just doing my job," right? And I'm reminded of that scripture in Luke 17:10 where Jesus says, "The servant comes to the master and says, 'Lord, we're unworthy servants. We've only done our duty for you.'" That's it, we're just all doing our duty.
Number three, Paul compares himself to a witness, because in verse 24 of Acts 20, he says, "Testifying of the gospel of the grace of God, a witness". So, if there's an accident, and you're there, the officer will come to you and say, "Tell me what you saw as an eyewitness". Now, my job is not to make up something. It's not to exaggerate what I saw. It's not to leave out something that I saw. It's not to make it more entertaining. It's just to state what I saw. "Officer, this is what I saw happen. This guy cut in front of that guy, and this is how this accident happened from my perspective". So, in the same way, I am to tell others what I've seen. John said, "That which we have seen and heard, we declare unto you, that you may have fellowship with God". So, it just overflows from our life, sort of like a sponge full of water. You squeeze it, and the water comes. And you're just full of what you've seen and learned from the Lord, and the easiest thing is for you to just share that with someone else.
But then Paul compares himself to a herald in verse 25. "Indeed, I know that among you, I've gone preaching the kingdom of God, and you'll see my face no more". The word "preaching" means to declare a message as the herald of a king. So, the witness declares what has happened to him. In contrast, the herald tells what the king tells them to declare to others. So, I've experienced it, but now I am to share it. So, Paul says, "I've not shunned," verse 27, "to declare to you the whole counsel of God".
Finally, Paul compares himself to a watchman, to a watchman, because he says in verse 26, "I testify to you this day, I'm innocent of the blood of all men". What does that even mean? "I'm innocent of the blood of all men". This is a reference to Ezekiel 3, where the Lord says, "Son of man," speaking to the prophet, "I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, 'You're under the penalty of death,' you must deliver that message, but if you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins, and I'll hold you responsible, your blood for theirs".
So, when Pauls says, "I am free or innocent of the blood of all men," it simply means, "I delivered the message. I did what God told me to do. I didn't hold it back". And that's what we are to do, as well, deliver the message that God gives us to deliver. Now Paul gives this beautiful insight into what can motivate us. Verse 35, "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus when he said, 'It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.'" Have you discovered this, yet? You know, some people haven't. They think life revolves around them. Everyone should cater to them. Everyone should think about them. And that is the most miserable way to live. You want to discover joy in life? Learn to be a giver. Learn to share with others.
There's three things God has given to every Christian. Number one, talent, number two, treasure, and number three, time. So, he's given you talent. You have an ability. Maybe it's an artistic ability. Maybe you're good at crunching numbers. Maybe you're very organized. Maybe you're a visionary. Maybe you're a combination of all those things. You have other skills. Those are talents given to you by God. Dedicate those to the Lord. Lord, how can you use my particular set of skills for your glory? Then you have treasure. Treasure is what you have financially. Invest your treasures. Invest your money into the work of the kingdom of God. And finally, you have time. You have time every day. You can invest that time for the Lord or not. So, use what God has given to you. And many don't do this, and they're missing out, because we want to finish this race with joy.
So let's recap and close. Number one, we're runners in a race. Verse 24, our objective is to finish the race with joy and run to win. Number two, we're stewards or servants. Our sole responsibility is to please and serve our Master. Thirdly, we're witnesses. We give witness of what we've seen and heard. Fourthly, we're heralds. We declare what the Word is to others. Lastly, we're watchmen, and we have to give this message out to people. And if you do these things, you will live a meaningful life.