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Paul’s Concern For the Souls of Men

One of the greatest tragedies of the church today is our apparent apathy toward the souls of men. We can become so caught up in the material aspects of our daily lives that we all too often lose sight of the spiritual condition of those around us. As Jesus Himself lamented, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).  

The apostle Paul was a man who saw the need to respond to the Lord’s appeal for laborers. The extent of Paul’s concern for lost souls can be seen in all of his efforts and writings, but this article will focus upon the first few verses of his address to the elders of the church in Ephesus recorded in Acts 20:17-21.

17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,

19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;

20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,

21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Paul Endured Hardships in His Work

Paul’s work was not easy. He enjoyed much success in the three years that he was in Ephesus (v. 31), but he also endured great hardships. During this time, Paul shed many tears with them (v. 19). These tears were not for show. He sincerely cared for them, and for the fate of their souls.

In addition to the tears, Paul was also with them in many trials (v. 19). Paul was opposed in his work of spreading the gospel in Ephesus. Luke does not record these plots by the Jews in the book of Acts, but Paul alludes to them in his letters to the church in Corinth.

“If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts in Ephesus, what advantage is it to me?” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

The evidence of Paul’s concern for their souls is seen in the hardships that he endured for their sake.  No man would endure such hardships unless he truly cared for those who benefitted from his labors. What hardships have we endured for the cause of Christ and for the souls of men?


Paul Taught Everyone

Paul knew that the gospel was for everyone. While in Ephesus, Paul testified “to Jews, and also to Greeks” (v. 21). Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). When Paul arrived in a new city, it was his practice to first go to the Jews, then to take the gospel to the Gentiles – to anyone and everyone who would hear it. Everyone has a soul, and so everyone was in need of the gospel.

We may not deal with the Jew/Gentile distinction which posed such a problem in the First Century, but many of us struggle with the way that we view people who are different from ourselves. Paul did not care about a person’s race, gender, level of education, economic or social status. He took the gospel to everyone who was willing to listen.

How about us? Is there anyone whom I would not want to be saved? Is there anyone whom I would rather not see as a member of the congregation where I attend? Do I realize that the gospel which has saved my soul is a gospel for all?


Paul Taught Everywhere

Paul’s teaching efforts were not limited to the pulpit on Sunday morning. He taught the gospel every time and place that he had opportunity.

“How I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (v. 20).

“Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (v. 31).

Paul certainly knew the value of public preaching (Romans 10:14-17, 1 Corinthians 1:21), but he also understood that this was not the only time and place that the gospel could be heard by those who were lost. Paul spoke the gospel in synagogues, schools, marketplaces, public forums, in houses, in governor’s palaces, on ships, and on the riverside.

Some brethren have the idea that they have “hired” a full-time preacher to do their evangelism for them, but the gospel was spread when the “rank and file” members went out preaching the word (Acts 8:4). Other brethren want to give their preacher office hours, but the gospel is not confined to a 9-5 schedule at the church building. Many souls have been saved due to efforts put forth around a kitchen table, in a living room, in the break room at work, etc. Are there times and places where you can talk or study with people? How about at work, school, enjoying a hobby or a mutual activity, opening your home for a Bible study?


Paul Taught Everything

Paul told the Ephesian elders that he had “kept back nothing that was helpful” (v. 20). The phrase “kept back” is translated from a Greek word that was used to refer to the act of lowering a sail. Paul did not hold anything back, but gave them everything that was needed to secure their soul’s salvation. In verse 27, Paul said, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”  

Some people claim that John 3:16 is the “gospel in a nutshell,” suggesting that it is all that one needs. On the contrary, Jesus commanded that disciples were to be taught to observe all of His commandments (Matthew 28:19-20).

Others falsely claim that the only thing that Paul preached was the fact that Jesus was crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 15:3-4). This is not true, for Paul taught the same thing in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17), and in Ephesus he had taught the whole counsel of God.

Since all of the gospel is needed, it is the preacher’s task to declare the whole counsel of God. Balance is essential. Over a reasonable period of time (Paul was in Ephesus for three years) a church needs to hear all of the teachings of the Bible, and this teaching needs to be repeated for emphasis (2 Peter 1:12-15).

Do we insist that the whole counsel of God be preached? Are there any truths of God’s word that we try to “avoid” when talking to our friends? Are there any doctrines that we seek to “hide” from those who visit our assemblies? 


Paul Sought the Proper Response From His Listeners

The gospel is of such a nature that it elicits a response from man. For Paul, preaching was not an academic exercise, nor was he simply trying to win an argument. Paul taught with a purpose, helping his listeners towards a specific goal – “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21).

The proper response to the gospel is for man to turn to God for salvation and accept it by responding to the conditions set forth by Jesus Christ. Man is free to accept or reject the gospel, but the preacher/teacher must encourage his listener to respond in obedience. He does more than just set forth the facts of the gospel, he encourages the proper response. “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’” (Acts 2:40).

Some of our brethren have actually stopped extending invitations at the end of their sermons, or they extend invitations that are so generic that no one would know what they needed to do even if they wanted to do it. This effort to make the gospel more desirable to the “un-churched” is actually a disturbing trend away from the distinctive kind of preaching that we can read about in the New Testament. Like Paul, we need to “persuade men” to obey the gospel and “implore” them to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:11, 20)

Do we encourage others to become Christians? Do we set a positive example of Christianity with our daily lives, or do we act as if our lives are miserable? Do we practice what we preach, or does our hypocrisy give sinners an “excuse” not to become Christians? Do we encourage our children to obey the gospel, or do we discourage their interest in spiritual matters by encouraging their involvement in worldly activities?  



Paul was perhaps the greatest evangelist of all time, but his success is not a secret. He was busy taking advantage of every opportunity to declare the whole counsel of God to everyone, calling upon them to obey the gospel. His care for the souls of men is shown in the fact that he was willing to suffer personally for their salvation. We must do the same.