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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 20

 

John Baugh

January, 2010

 

Acts 20 (New American Standard Bible)

 

Key events in Chapter 20

 

- Paul in Macedonia and Greece

He travels through Macedonia
He spends at least 3 months in Greece
He travels back through Macedonia toward Syria

 

- Luke rejoins Paul in Philippi (them/us)

 

- Paul 7 days in Troas

The Late Night Sermon

 

- All but Paul Sail for Assos where they pick up Paul.

- Together, they sail to Mitylene, Chios, Samos, and Miletus,

 

- At Miletus, Paul summons the elders of the Ephesus Church to tell them goodbye and provides the defense of his ministry.

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

 

 1After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.

 

There is something Paul is anxious to explain to the disciples, so he calls them together and exhorts them before he leaves Ephesus. Luke does not tell us what that exhortation consisted of, but he likely challenged them to have courage and to not stop their work in Ephesus, even in the face of pressure from those who would seek to harm them. In fact, he warns Timothy later (in the letters we know as 1st Timothy and 2nd Timothy) to be careful of certain people in Ephesus who had attempted to cause harm to the gospel ministry.

 

 

From 1st Timothy

 

18This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, 19keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  20Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20 NASV)

 

From 2nd Timothy

 

12But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. 14Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. (2 Timothy 4:12-15 NASV)

 

Paul in Greece

 

2When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. 3And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

When he had gone through these parts and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, ... {Acts 20:2-3a RSV}

 

In Macedonia, Paul moved through the districts and cities he had already visited, cities where he had founded churches -- Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and finally he came to Corinth where Luke reports that he stayed for the three months. Verses 2 – 3 probably cover a period of almost a year.

 

Luke reminds us that Paul went into these areas in order to encourage the believers and strengthen their faith. Paul was not one to come into a city, preach and then move on, leaving the people who had responded to his message to struggle on alone. He came to teach them the truth, because he knew the truth would set them free. So he traveled about, and, as Luke says, "gave them much encouragement."

 

 4And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.  6We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.

 

Paul wanted to sail directly from Corinth to Jerusalem, in order to be there for the feast of the Passover. But for some reason he decided to travel overland through Macedonia, Thessalonica and Philippi perhaps to pick up Dr Luke, because verse 5 picks up the “us” pronoun once again, indicating that Luke was back with Paul. At that point, the missionary team sailed on together to Troas.

 

As Luke continues with his story, he mentions the men who were accompanying Paul as he traveled from city to city. These were the men who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. The churches in the areas he had traveled were collecting an offering for the church in Jerusalem and Paul may have asked the men to accompany him so that it would be clear that the funds which had been collected were handled properly and that no one was misusing them in any way.

 

It should also be pointed out that these were men that Paul was making an investment in as disciples, future pastors and church leaders. They were selected to travel with him to represent the churches in their towns, but they were “with Paul” and he certainly would have been using their time together wisely, training them and teaching them from the scriptures. To spend any time with Paul was to attend seminary with the master evangelist of that time.

 

Luke illustrates how time with Paul would be spent in the next section, which covers an incident in Troas.

 

 7On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.  8There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. 9And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. 10But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him." 11When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.  12They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.

 

There are several very interesting aspects of this story. In his writings, Luke presents many of the first records of church activity and he begins this story with another. This is the first mention he makes of the worship of the believers on the first day of the week - Sunday. Early in the Christian era, the church moved the day of worship, shifting it from Saturday (Sabbath) to Sunday, the first day of the week and the day of our Lord's resurrection. As Luke indicates, the church in Troas had gathered to "break bread". After the communal meal, Paul chose to speak to those assembled and share the scriptures with them.

 

Luke tells us that Paul had intended to leave Troas the next day and evidently there was much to share before he left his friends and brethren. His message, delivered in a crowded upper (third floor) room (Luke tells us that it was filled with lamps, which probably indicates it was stuffy and perhaps warm) continued until after midnight.

 

One of those attending was a young man, Eutychus, who had taken a seat on a window sill in the room. He may have not been (probably wasn't) the first person to nod off during a sermon, but he certainly was the first recorded person in Acts to do this. At any rate, Eutychus lost his battle against falling asleep. The Greek word Luke uses for sleep here is the one from which we derive "hypnosis." One might say that he fell into a deep state of hypnosis as Paul droned on. In the second half of verse 9, Luke reports the outcome of his sleeping while situated in such a precarious position (seated in the window sill):

 

…and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.

 

I am told that this has always been a comforting passage to any pastor. Even Paul had people go to sleep on him. Someone has said that the art of preaching is speaking in other people's sleep.

 

Falling from a third floor window to the ground is certainly a long tumble, probably between 25 and thirty feet and Dr. Luke reports that those there found him dead. We should remember that it is a medical doctor writing this story and understand that he certainly was in trouble, even if he were simply knocked out and momentarily not breathing.

Luke continues, telling us that Paul went down and fell on him and while embracing him, he realized that the boy was not dead. He quickly informed the concerned crowd of this fact:

 

10But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him."

 

Evidently the communion service (the sharing of bread) had been interrupted by this young man's fall and Paul was not finished with his message.

 

11When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.  12They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.

 

Now Luke continues the story:

 

Troas to Miletus

 

 13But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land.

 

Luke has reported earlier that Paul had wanted to be in Jerusalem for Passover and evidently has missed that festival. Now he wants to make it there by Pentecost. For reasons Luke does not share, Paul sends the main party of his group ahead to Assos by ship while he travels by land to that port. Perhaps he wanted to take a group of disciples with him to continue his teaching. Maybe there was someone he wanted to visit during his walking to Assos. For whatever reason, Luke tells us that Paul arranged this traveling plan.

 

14And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus. 16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

 

The journey from Essos to Samos is a three day sail. Evidently, time had become a concern because Luke reports that Paul decided to not stop at Ephesus (so that he would not have to spend time in Asia). He probably knew that he would never be able to just show up in Ephesus and leave an hour or two later and so he decided not to go at all.

 

Farewell to Ephesus

 

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

 

Paul had planned to be at Jerusalem for the Passover, but he had missed that, and so now he was trying to make it for the day of Pentecost; the day on which the Holy Spirit had first come to indwell the Christians, many years before. And so, in order to make good on his desire to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost, he sent word to Ephesus and had the elders of that church meet him in Miletus (on the coast, about 15 miles away from Ephesus)

 

18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;

 

They came, and Paul met them with a great message about their ministry which occupies the rest of Acts chapter 20. In Paul's message, he defends his ministry and challenges the church in Ephesus to move through whatever challenges they will face and whatever problems they encounter.

 

In Paul's message he shares perhaps the most intimate view to be found anywhere in the Scriptures of the heart of this great apostle, of the reason behind his labors, and of his concern for those with whom he ministers.

 

His message was delivered to the elders:

 

The church in Ephesus did not meet in any one building. There was not a "First Church" of Ephesus where Christians gathered to go to Sunday school and then to worship. In those early days of the church, they gathered in small groups which met in the homes of the faithful. The elders who came to meet with Paul were the leaders of those small groups of believers. Today, we would call them pastors.

 

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul speaks of the church in Ephesus which met at the house of Aquila and Priscilla, and there were many others. The teachers of these various house-churches were the elders. They were responsible for guiding and directing and teaching and feeding the flock. These are the ones Paul has summoned to meet him at Miletus.

 

As indicated above, he begins his message with a defense of his own ministry, a ministry that had been under attack for many months (several years) by pagans and the Jews. He speaks to the elders, not in a spirit of boasting, but to make certain they understand the challenges he has faced "serving the Lord with humility and tears and the plots that came upon me through the plots of the Jews". He shares because he knows these are things they must also face.

 

He continues:

 

20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

This is what he did whenever he came into these cities. He carried the gospel message of “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” to any who would listen and devoted whatever time was needed at whatever place was opened to him

 

Paul was devoted to teaching the whole truth, regardless of whatever problem the Truth might bring his way. He was faithful in his delivery, not only in the public arena of synagogue and marketplace, but also from house to house (house church to house church). No group was too small or too insignificant to be worthy of Paul’s attention. The ministry was that important to him.

 

His ministry was practical, easily reduced to two concepts:

 

1 – Repentance toward God.

 

2 – Belief in (faith toward) our Lord Jesus Christ

 

Paul fully understood the basis for the Christian message of life – Repent and Believe

Repentance is looking at the way we have been living – at our past – our old life and changing our mind. Repentance means that we stop thinking and acting and living the way we did in the past.

 

Then we step out in faith. We trust the living Lord who is in us to operate through us as we live the new life through Him.

 

In fact, the way of the Christian life is one of constant repentance and belief. That is the way we are intended to walk through the rest of our post salvation life, since walking is more than a single step. With each new step, as we grow in our faith, we will see new challenges and new reasons for repentance and even more need for faith that God will complete his work in us and belief in the power of Christ Jesus to accomplish the work in us.

 

Then, on the next occasion that comes, we go through the same procedure over again - we repent, and then believe - repent and believe - repent and believe - and we are walking!

 

Now Paul gives another characteristic of his ministry among them:

 

22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

 

Paul has no doubts that his ministry is costly. He knows that he will face dangers, trials, hardships and affliction wherever he goes. He plainly states to the Ephesus elders that everywhere he has gone the Holy Spirit has witnessed to him, both through circumstances and through other Christians that he was heading for trouble and he knew the witness was true. But note also the commitment of his heart. He says that it does not matter. And so he looks toward Jerusalem, not knowing what is there, but content to go in the direction that has been set for him and understanding that he will endure whatever waits for him in that place.

 

Paul reminds the Elders that he wishes for nothing for himself. What he wants is to have God exalted and Christ manifested. Paul says, "I do not count my life of any account (value) as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the Gospel of the Grace of God.” It is interesting that he uses the words of a runner. He wants to finish the course. The runner does not establish the course. However, he does run it with a desire to finish the course. That is how Paul sees his ministry and he reminds the Elders that it is a ministry received from the Lord Jesus. Then he reminds them it is the gospel of the grace of God – The good news of the Grace of God.

 

The Good News of the Grace of God:

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whomsoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

 

That is the good news of the grace of God. We are not our own. We were bought with a price.

 

25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26"Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

 

At this point, Paul wants to make certain that he understands that his ministry with them is completed. He tells the Elders that he did not shrink (at all) from declaring to them the whole purpose of God.

 

He has given them the Truth. It was presented as truth and he considers himself innocent of their blood in that what he offered (from place to place, house to house with devotion to whatever time or effort was required) was theirs to accept or turn away from. In Paul’s mind They had heard it and knew what God had to say to them. They should have understood the provision for his working, the power of the Holy Spirit that was available to them, how to live in a way that would please God and fulfill their destiny. In Paul’s mind, everything was now up to the Elders (and the other believers). The decision was theirs and the challenge was to move out upon the truth. In Paul’s mind, there was nothing more he could do for them.

 

28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

 

There are three considerations Paul shares with the elders to guide and govern them in their ministry.

 

1 - The first is to be on guard for themselves and for the flock - Paul sees the need for caution and so he provides warnings concerning the responsibilities these Elders have to the believers in Ephesus to protect them from what Paul will call “savage wolves” that will come in and “Not spare the flock”. He even sees that some from within the Elders themselves will rise up and say perverse things in order to draw the disciples away from the truth, toward them.

 

2 - The second responsibility is to shepherd the flock. The primary responsibility of a shepherd is to care for and feed the flock. It is the same for a Pastor. The responsibility for a pastor is to teach the Scriptures, to feed the flock. If the pastor is not doing that, the pastor is failing. Very simply put, it is the truth that changes people. If the Word as given in the scriptures is not being taught then people are not being fed. They are not growing and will soon grow sick and whither away. So the primary job of pastors is to set the whole counsel of God before the people.

 

In Paul's mind, the elders have an important ministry. In their ministry, they are to feed the church of God. Surely Paul understood that nothing is more important to God than taking care of the body of Christ, because the most important thing on earth in God's sight is his church. It was brought into being and obtained with his sacrifice and blood.

 

3 - Paul cautions the elders to watch out for perils and to be alert. He warns them about two sources of danger to the church. The first is from outside and the second from within.

 

First, he tells them that savage wolves will come in among them to devour the flock. Such people are an obvious serious threat. Their attack is open and violent and the elders must be aware and prepared to protect the church from their attack, which is intended to destroy life and security.

 

The second attack Paul warns against will come from within the group of elders and leaders. Paul warns that from among themselves, some will arise and attempt to teach distorted doctrines for their own purpose. They will divide and separate the church into small groups or cliques gathered around specific leaders instead of uniting the church as one body for the Lord.

 

And so Paul tells the elders to be on the alert and to serve the church in the spirit which he himself has exemplified:

 

 31"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32And 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. 33"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. 34"You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

 

Paul suggests that the elders follow his three year example.

 

The elders are to minister in four ways:

 

1 - The first way of ministering is by admonishing with tears, or by "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15).

 

Pastor Ray Stedman told a story about a church that had changed pastors, dismissing one to take on another.

 

Someone asked why they had gotten rid of the old one. A spokesman said, "Because he kept telling the people they were going to hell." The questioner asked, "What does the new man say?" "Oh, he keeps telling them they're going to hell, too." "Well, what is the difference?" he was asked. He said, "The difference is that when the first one said it, he sounded as if he were glad of it. But when the second one says it, he lets you know that is breaking his heart." That is the difference the apostle is talking about -- admonishing with tears, not with harshness, not with judgment, but with concern and care and love, speaking the truth in love.

 

2 - The second way is to use the Word.

 

32And 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.

 

Paul reminds the elders that they have the word, to build up not only themselves, but also the church. God's word is intended to provide an inheritance to the saints (those who are sanctified) in Christ Jesus. An inheritance is all that is provided. It is a wonderful gift, prepared for and presented to Christ's church by the Lord himself. The word is able to lead us to the inheritance and to provide for us if we use it.

 

3 - "Be selfless in your ministry,"

 

33"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. 34"You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

 

Paul reminds the elders that he has completed his ministry in a spirit of selflessness. He was never seeking anything form others for himself, instead he worked (as a tent maker) to support both his ministry and the work of others. In saying this, he reminds the elders to work, not seeking glory, benefit or gain for themselves, but for the benefit of others.

 

4 - He reminds the elders to remember that the Lord Jesus has said, "It is better to give than to receive" and that they should labor so that that they might be able to give (help the weak) and in doing that, receive the better reward."

 

35"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

 

The last paragraph describes Paul's beautiful farewell service of parting:

 

 36When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again And they were accompanying him to the ship.

 

Paul was probably wrong in his belief that he would not see the elders again. In his first letter to Timothy (1st Timothy), Paul indicates he paid another visit to Ephesus. However, at this time, there is no indication that he will ever return and so Luke shares a touching good-by scene of prayer, love and the grief of parting between the elders and their beloved leader with us.

 

 

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