MVMT 12: Gospel Pastors

Acts 20:17-38

Acts 20:22-24 – 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.


Let me start with a question. What comes to your mind when you think of your pastors? Let me make a confession. This is a very uncomfortable sermon for me to preach. Because I am going to talk about my role as your pastor. I am going to give you a list of 10 traits that you should expect from your pastors. So you can get your pen and paper out and give me a score out of 10 at the end of the sermon. Okay, don’t do that. Let me tell you in advance. I have never felt more under-qualified in preaching a sermon than I do on this sermon. When you look at the traits of gospel pastors in this passage, you will feel disappointed. Because this list will show you how much I fall short as your pastor. I am no way near the kind of pastor Paul was to the church in Ephesus. So I am giving you permission to feel disappointed at me tonight. But don’t stop there. I also want you to be kind and gracious to me. I realise that I fall short of the list, but I am learning and growing as your pastor. So, even though you might feel disappointed at me, don’t cross me off the list just yet. God is not finished with me yet. And even this week, as I prepared to preach this passage, and as I preach this sermon right now, the word of God is doing its work in transforming me to be a better gospel pastor for your sake.

Now, you might think, “How does this sermon have anything to do with me? I am not a pastor. I am just a regular church attender. This sermon is not for me.” But you are wrong. This sermon is about pastors but it is also very important for you for two reasons. First, you need to know what to expect from your pastors. Because let’s be honest. You do have expectations of your pastors. But oftentimes, your expectation might not be in line with the Bible. So here is a question. What do you expect from your pastors? Let me give you five seconds to come up with a mental list. I am going to read you a list of what people expect from their pastors. “Pastors are expected to be an excellent communicator, strong leader, scholar, counsellor, community leader, fundraiser, career coach, social worker, events coordinator, mediator, IT manager, facilities manager, graphic designer, social media expert, marketing wiz, financially savvy, well-read, relevant, people person, prayer warrior, model spouse and parent, always available, and always happy.” – Roscoe Lilly. Not only pastors are expected to do all of it, but people also expect pastors to be good at all of them.

With a list like that, it is no wonder some people are never happy with their pastors. People expect their pastors to be superhuman and they are always disappointed with their pastor. If the pastor is too young, they say he lacks experience. If he has lots of white hair, he is too old to reach out to the young people. If he is married and has many children, he is having too much fun at home and has no time for the congregation. If he is single, he knows nothing about the struggle of marriage life and he can’t perform a wedding ceremony. If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects to preach the word. If he doesn’t use enough illustrations, he is not clear. If he preaches on the sin of comfort to those who stayed at home, he is cranky. If he does not preach on the importance of the gathering of the saints, he compromises the Bible. If he fails to make every member of the church happy, he is hurting the church. If he makes every member of the church happy, he has no convictions. If he drives an old car, he believes in poverty theology. If he drives a new car, he believes in prosperity theology. If he receives a large salary, he is abusing the church’s money. If he receives a small salary, he is not worth much to the church. No wonder many pastors are burning out in ministry. People have unrealistic expectations of their pastors. I am not saying that you should have no expectation of your pastors. But I am saying that you should have the right expectations of your pastors. That’s the first reason.

Second, every mature Christian should strive for the characteristic of gospel pastors. This list is primarily directed to pastors but it is not exclusively for pastors. As you grow in your walk with God, you should grow in this list. Hear me. It is impossible for one pastor to shepherd the whole church well. Unless there are only less than twelve people in the church. It requires many Christian men to step up into the role of pastors for the church to thrive. The terms that the Bible often used to describe pastors are elders, overseers and shepherds. They are different terms used to describe the same position. I used to have a nickname that I was proud of. In Dallas, people in my church called me “the one-man-church.” It was because I was able to do everything needed to run a church. I can do sound and multimedia, I know how to play the guitar, I can lead worship and I can also preach. I was proud of it. But later I realized that it was a very bad nickname. The church is no place for a one-man show. Men, listen to me. In order for this church to thrive, I need you to step up your game. The pastoral office is something that every Christian man should strive for. So in giving you this list, I hope that every one of you, especially men, would strive to have these characteristics.

Let me give you the context first. Paul was the person who brought the gospel to Ephesus. He was the one who planted the church in Ephesus. He was their primary teacher and pastor. He spent at least 3 years serving the Ephesian church before he left them to go on another missionary journey. And by Acts 20, Paul knows that his time is up. He is on his way to Jerusalem and he knows that once he gets there, he won’t be able to see the church in Ephesus anymore. So he asks the Ephesian pastors to come to him so that he can speak to them for one last time. And this is the only speech in the book of Acts which is addressed to Christian audiences. And it is one of the longest speeches recorded, which means that it is significance. It is Paul’s farewell speech to the pastors of the church that he dearly loves. Paul is using both examples from his own life and exhortations to tell the Ephesian pastors the kind of pastors they should strive to be. There are 10 traits of gospel pastors that I see in this text. Let’s start.

Acts 20:17-21 – 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

First, humility. I wish Paul would begin elsewhere. But the first trait he mentions is humility. And I get a strike already. Because humility does not come naturally for me. What comes naturally for me is self-boast. And I was convicted of it a while back. One of the privileges of being a pastor is I get to preach the word of God. It means that I have audiences who take the time to listen to what I have to say. And after doing this for many years, I become quite good at preaching. You guys might not think so since you listen to me weekly. But when I travel and preach elsewhere, people actually like my sermon. Of course, that is also because I pick my best sermon to preach from. They don’t get to listen to my other not so good sermons like you guys. People would praise me and thank me for it. Now, in the old days, what they would do is they would come up and thank the preacher in person. But not anymore. Today, people thank and praise my sermon by posting it on an Instagram story and tag me on it. Again, I am not talking about you guys. I am talking about other places where I am liked more than I am here. And whenever I received those tags on Instagram, I would smile. It would make me happy knowing that people are blessed by my sermon. And there is nothing wrong with posting a story of a sermon that blessed you. In fact, I encourage you to do that. It can be a good way of utilizing your social media to spread the gospel. The potential problem lies in what comes after. Do you know what happens next? In Instagram, whenever people tag you on their story, a little devilish blue button would show up on your Instagram. That button says, “Add to your story.” Do you guys know what I am talking about?

Now, listen. I am not saying it is always wrong for you to repost other people’s appreciation post of you. I am friends with many pastors who do that all the time and they have no problem with it. I am talking specifically about my heart. What I come to realize is that it is so easy for me to get caught up in believing that I am awesome and forget that it is God who is at work. “Oh, Jonny posts on his Instagram that he is really blessed by my sermon. That is awesome. Praise God. But I think my other followers should also know that Jonny is really blessed by my sermon. So, they will know that I am a great preacher. Let me click that blue button.” What happens is when I click that blue button, I am more consumed about my own personal glory rather than God’s glory. But not so with Paul. Paul says that from the moment he set foot in Ephesus, he is serving the Lord with all humility. Paul understands that his ministry is not designed to serve himself or even the church. His ministry is first and foremost serving the Lord. With another word, the focus of the pastoral ministry is not to show people how great pastors are but how great God is. Paul continues to point people away from him and to the Lord. And that is humility. Humility is not self-degrading. Humility is not thinking that you are worthless, and you are nobody. Humility is rejoicing in the good gifts that God has given you and use those gifts to make much of Jesus. So, humble pastors are not those who think that they have no gift but those who use their gifts to point people to Jesus. It also means that humble pastors do not feel threatened by the gifts of others. They rejoice in the gift of others and maximizes those gifts to serve the Lord.

Second, tears. It does not mean that pastors need to cry a lot. But it does mean that pastors need to be connected with their people. Paul is connected to his people. The people in Ephesus know how Paul had lived his life during the time he was with them. Paul is not a celebrity pastor. He does not hide in a secret room, eating breakfast, while everyone else is singing, and only show up when it is his time to preach. Paul lives with his people. Paul knows his people. He weeps with those who weep. He struggles together with people. He empathizes with them. Gospel pastors are not afraid to show how weak they are to show how strong Jesus is. One of the curses of social media is that you can think you are connected without being truly connected. You can know what another person is doing without really knowing them. And you also have control over what you want other people to see through social media. You can create the persona that you are living your best life while your house is actually on fire. You can deceive yourself and others by making it looks like as if you are connected while hiding who you really are at the same time.

But Paul is committed to his people. He would not only preach in the public, but he would go from house to house. He is there to celebrate the birth of a loved one and he is there to grief the death of a loved one. Paul is not a professional pastor; he is a relational pastor. It is easy to hide who you really are through email, Facebook, chat and Instagram. But it is a lot harder to hide who you really are in person. Paul is saying, “I came to live with you, eat with you, work with you, play with you, laugh with you, cry with you. I am not controlling what you can see. I came for you to know me and for me to know you. I came to show you who I really am so that I might know who you really are.” Paul is not afraid to be truly known by his people. He is not afraid for people to realize how weak he is because it only shows how great Jesus is. I love the way Timothy Keller puts it. “A humble and weak person will show a crucified saviour better to a listener than a polished, pulled together expert. Because that’s how it happened for us: we weren’t saved by pulling ourselves together, but by admitting we were sinners and calling on the one who was pulled apart for us.”

Acts 20:22-24 – 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Third, faithfulness. I do not know about you but if the Holy Spirit tells me that I will be afflicted and imprisoned when I get to Jerusalem, I take that as a sign that I should go somewhere else. My natural tendency is to avoid trials. If Paul is alive today, people would call him a fool. Only a fool would go to a place where he knew he would suffer. Right? But Paul determines to live for Christ whatever the cost. Paul’s main priority in life is not to keep living. His main priority is to finish the race that God has set for him. His goal in life is not to have a long life but a full life for the glory of Christ. This is extremely radical. With another word, Paul is telling us that it is better for him to lose his life than to waste it. He does not care if people do not remember him. He does not care if he has no legacy to leave behind. He does not care if he dies young. Because he is not building a great name for himself. What he cares about is not success but faithfulness. What God requires from pastors is not success but faithfulness in running the race God has assigned for them.

And let me tell you, it is easier said than done. No one goes into pastoral ministry thinking, “What is the shortest way to success and an easy life?” That is not why you get into pastoral ministry. I get into ministry thinking, “I want to love Jesus. I want to love people.” But then I get a few scars. I get hurt. Dealing with people is extremely painful. So I get a little cynical. And somewhere along the way, that desire to love Jesus and love people turn into self-preservation. “What can I do to not get hurt? Can I get through this without too much pain? Maybe if I just avoid this, maybe if I just avoid that…” Slowly I start to focus on self-management rather than running the race. But Paul is saying, “Don’t do that. Do not seek path with the least resistance. Seek the path that will bring the most glory to God. Do not regard your life as precious but seek to be faithful in your race.” That’s the third trait. And by now, I get three strikes already. If this is baseball, I am out. But praise God this is not baseball.

Fourth, preach the gospel. Paul is clear that one of the main goals of pastors is to preach the gospel of the grace of God. This is absolutely crucial. It is probably the most important trait. Listen. Pastors are not called to preach a relevant sermon. Pastors are not called to preach a self-help sermon. Pastors are not called to preach an interesting sermon. Pastors are not called to preach a motivational sermon. Pastors are called to preach the gospel of the grace of God. And I think this where many Christians get it wrong. When people come to church, many of us expect uplifting, encouraging, funny and helpful sermons. I am not saying that they are wrong but I am saying that is not the job description of pastors. The job of pastors is not to entertain you but to tell you that you need to repent of your sins and put your faith in the perfect work of Jesus Christ. Now, I realize that this is not a good church marketing strategy. People do not like it. People want their pastors to give them the 10 steps on how to overcome the giants in life. And that is why many pastors change their message. Rather than talk about the gospel of the grace of God, they choose to cater to what people want.

A few years ago, I attended a church conference where one of the speakers said, “Pastors are called to serve the people in the church. How do you know if servants are doing a good job or not? By the satisfaction of the people they are serving. If the pastors do not meet the need of the people and the people are unsatisfied, then the pastors fail at their job.” It makes sense right? When I first heard it, I thought it was awesome. But then I got home and realized how bad it was. Here is my problem. And I am being very honest with you guys. I do not know what you need. And even if I do, everyone has a different need all the time. I am not smart enough to know what people need nor to give answers to their specific needs. And I think it misses the points. Yes, pastors are called to serve the church. But pastors are not the servants of the church. Pastors are servants of God. Pastors are not called to please people. Pastors are called to please God. And Paul is abundantly clear. Pastors are not to preach a message to satisfy the need of the people. Pastors are to preach the gospel of the grace of God. How we have sinned against God and yet God in his grace has sent his one and only Son Jesus Christ to die for us so that we may have life. This is the greatest news in the universe. And the gospel is the power of God that can radically transform life. Pastors who do not preach the gospel has no business being pastors.


Acts 20:25-27 – 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Fifth, preach the whole counsel of God. So yes, pastors must preach the gospel, but they must do so in such a way that declares the whole counsel of God. The whole counsel of God means that pastors have to preach the whole truth and not just partial truth. Pastors do not have the option to pick and choose what they want to preach. Pastors have to be faithful to the text that they are preaching from. And the best way I know how to do it is through an expository sermon. An expository sermon is a sermon where the pastors preach what the Bible says verse by verse, rather than pick and choose different passages and make a sermon out of it. An expository sermon force you to stay in the text, and get the meaning of the sermon from the text, rather than formulating your own thoughts and opinions. An expository sermon also force you to preach parts of the Bible that you won’t otherwise preach from. Like this sermon today. If it is only up to me, I would not preach from this passage. I would preach other passages that will put me on a better light. But Paul is saying, “Pastors, don’t just preach what you want to preach. Preach the whole counsel of God. It is only by preaching the whole counsel of God that you will be innocent of the blood of your people.” Let me explain.

Paul is using an Old Testament language from Ezekiel 33. So, God came to Ezekiel and said that his role as a prophet of Israel was to be a watchman for Israel. What is the role of a watchman? The role of a watchman is to communicate everything that he sees to the people inside the city. If a watchman sees danger coming their way and he warns the people in the city but they reject the news, then the watchman is innocent of their blood. But if a watchman sees danger coming their way and he does not warn the people in the city, then the watchman is guilty of their blood. God will hold him accountable for it. Paul is saying that is the role of pastors. Pastors are responsible to communicate everything that God has said. If you come to this church and you only hear things that are pleasing to your ear and never heard me preach things that are offensive to you, then God will hold me accountable. Your blood will be on my hand. As a pastor, I am not responsible for you to accept the truth. I am responsible for you to know and understand the truth. That is why it is important to teach verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, week after week. Because what you primarily need is not what I think you need but the whole counsel of God.

Acts 20:28 – 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Sixth, gospel-shaped life. This is extremely crucial. For pastors to care well for the people, they must first take good care of themselves. And I am not talking about a little me time here and there. I am talking about taking good care of their spiritual health. Any sin is serious, but sins committed by pastors are particularly lethal. Any wrong doctrine is problematic, but a wrong doctrine among pastors can be deadly. The spiritual health of pastors affects the spiritual health of the church. That is why it is extremely important for pastors to pay careful attention to themselves. A moral failure of pastors causes great damage to the church. And it is happening all the time. Almost every time well-known pastors fell into a moral failure, they came out and said, “I was leading from the place of empty.” With other words, they have forgotten to take good care of their own spiritual health. They are too busy to care for themselves. They might preach the gospel to others but they forgot to apply the gospel to their own hearts. And this is extremely dangerous. Because the fall of pastors heavily damages those who looked to them for guidance.

I am not saying that pastors ought to be perfect. If that is the case, no one can be a pastor. We need to understand that every pastor is also a sinner saved by grace. Every pastor has weaknesses. If you look to your pastor as the example of the Christian life, you will be disappointed. Only Jesus can carry that weight. Jesus is the example that you should look to. However, weaknesses and imperfections are no excuse for unfaithfulness. Pastors are not the example but an example of Christian life. Pastors should be a living example of how the gospel transforms life. Pastors should be an example of repentance and growth in the gospel. So when you look at your pastors’ life, you should see a model of the gospel-shaped life. They are quick to acknowledge and repent of sins. They are growing in godliness. They are not a superhero but they are running hard after Jesus. They are not perfect but they live in a manner worthy of imitation. You imitate them as they imitate Christ. The question is, are your pastors worthy of imitation? Which lead me to the next trait.

Seventh, care for the flock. Pastors know that their life is about so much more than them. Pastors take good care of their spiritual health so that they can take good care of the spiritual health of the people in the church. Paul says that Jesus purchased the church with his own blood. That is how much Jesus loves the church. And the Holy Spirit has appointed pastors to care for the church on behalf of Christ. This is both a massive encouragement and responsibility for pastors. It is encouragement because some sheep are really hard to shepherd. There are some people in the church who gives constant headaches and sleepless nights to their pastors. You know who you are. But the encouragement is that they are ultimately Jesus’ sheep. Jesus is the good shepherd who will not lose a single sheep. Jesus has purchased the church with his blood and he will not fail. Pastors can breath knowing that Jesus is in charge.

At the same time, this is a massive responsibility. Because Jesus has appointed pastors to be the means by which he cares for his sheep. Let me explain. If you have been in RSI for a while, then you know that I am a big fan of Timothy Keller and John Piper. I listen to all their sermons and read all their books. And many of you do as well. It is extremely easy to access all of their materials online. But listen. As amazing as they both are, they are not your pastors. God has not appointed them to care for you. I will not be able to compete with their sermons. They are far better preachers than I am. But let me tell you. I am a far better pastor for you than they are. Why? Because I am here with you. I know you and you know me. God has appointed me to care for you, to pray for you, to weep with you, to counsel you. It is my responsibility as your pastor to care for your spiritual health. With other words, I am the best pastor for you. But it also means that you are the best church for me. Pastors are the best pastors for their church and their church is the best church for the pastors. I am not appointed to pastor a bigger church in another city. God has appointed me to care for you. It does not matter how much sleepless nights you give me, you are the best church in the world for me. And if you are tuning in online and you are from other churches, thank you for tuning in. But I am not the best pastor for you. If you are planted in a gospel-centred church, your local church pastors are the best pastors for you.

Acts 20:29-31 – 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

Eight, protect from wolves. There are two kinds of wolves that pastors need to protect their people from. First, wolves from the outside. It means to protect the church from false teachers. And to protect the church from false teachers, there are times that it is absolutely important to mention their names. I know this is contrary to the way many of us think. We used the verse, “Do not touch God’s anointed,” out of context to avoid name-calling and we think that it is very mean to do so. But it is actually the opposite. One of the most loving things I can do as your pastor is to tell you who to stay away from. And the Bible does this a lot. Paul and Jesus call out names a lot and warn the people to stay away from them. So, calling out the names of false teachers is actually a loving thing to do when it is done wisely. However, I should also not be quick to call out names. Just because I disagree with a pastor on a specific doctrine, does not necessarily make him a false teacher. A lot of wisdom is needed before I call out any name.

But second, pastors also need to protect their people from wolves from the inside. Wolves from “Among Us.” It means that there are times that I must apply church discipline. If there is any of you who lives in sin and refuse to repent after being rebuked privately, then I have to draw the line. I will have to rebuke you publicly and even suspend or possibly remove you from the church membership. Once again, a lot of time we think that church discipline is unloving and mean. But it’s the opposite. Think about it. Parents, if you see one of your children playing with a sharp knife around his siblings, would you stay quiet and look the other way? Of course not. It would be extremely unloving to act as if nothing happened. Church discipline is a way for pastors to protect the church from the wolves among them. It is very loving for the church and also for the person who is being disciplined. And in my time with you, I have given church discipline a few times. And it has never been easy. It breaks my heart every time I do it. But I have too. Not because I am mean but because I love that person and I love the church. The hope is for the person to come into true repentance before it is too late.

Acts 20:33-35 – 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Ninth, give more than receive. It means that pastors are hard workers. They are not lazy and greedy. Paul knows that he is entitled to receive money from the church. He writes on how important it is for the church to support their pastors. So, it is right for the church to pay their pastors well. However, it is wrong for pastors to live with a sense of entitlement. The relationship between pastors and the church is not an equal give and take relationship. The relationship between pastors and the church is one where the pastors give more than they receive. Let me put it this way. I am grateful that the church provides a parking spot for me downstairs. But let’s say that one day the church is packed and someone takes my parking spot. My attitude is not supposed to be, “Who dares to take my parking spot? Don’t they know that it is my spot? Tell them to move their car right now. It is the RSI pastor’s parking spot.” That’s entitlement. As a pastor, I should have no problem walking more if it means that you can walk less. Pastors help you carry your burden so that your burden is a little lighter than before. Pastors sleep less so that you can sleep more. Pastors weep more so that you can weep less. And in doing so, they do not demand you to do the same for them. Pastors are not doing what they are doing to get something back from you but because they know that it is more blessed to give than to receive.



Acts 20:32 – 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Tenth, trust in Gods grace. You might think, “How on earth anyone supposed to be a pastor with all these expectations?” The answer lies in the gospel of grace. Paul commends the pastors to God and the word of his grace. God is the ultimate Shepherd and Protector of his church. God is the one who will not fail to give inheritance to his church. God is the one who will sanctify his church. Get this. God and the word of his grace are what build the church. Pastors are simply the means by which God chose to do it. The power and provision come from God. This is what gives me assurance in pastoring. Not that I can do it, but God will not fail to shepherd his church. My role is simply to trust the word of God’s grace. My role is to faithfully preach the gospel of grace and point you to Jesus. And every time I feel the weight of pastoring on my shoulder, I look to the gospel of grace.

Just like Paul, Jesus was set on going toward Jerusalem. Just like Paul, Jesus knew that affliction and pain were waiting for him at Jerusalem. But unlike Paul, Jesus had no support. When Paul left for Jerusalem, he had his friends supporting him, hugging him, kissing him and praying for him. But Jesus was forsaken by his friends and entered his trial alone. Paul had the confidence that God was with him but Jesus was forsaken by God at the cross. At the cross, Jesus experienced infinite cosmic of loneliness for us so that we may know that we will never be alone. Jesus became the loneliest man in history so that we can say confidently in every situation, “God is with us.” This is the good news of the gospel. This is the good news for the church. And this is the good news for every pastor. Jesus has purchased the church with his precious blood and he will not fail.

Discussion questions:

  1. Prior to this sermon, what expectations do you have of your pastors? Why is it important for us to have the right expectations of our pastors?
  2. From the 10 traits, which one does not surprise you at all? Why?
  3. Which trait surprised you the most? Why?
  4. Preaching the gospel and preaching the whole counsel of God are the most important two traits of gospel pastors. Agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer.
  5. What are some things pastors can do to pay careful attention to themselves?
  6. Take time to pray for your pastors.

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