Acts 20:1–38 . . .
“Paul’s Fond Farewell to the Ephesian Elders”
The apostle Paul changed the world as few other men have ever done. He spent many years of his ministry in prison, unable to move about freely. He contended with fierce opposition both from outside and inside each church. And yet, after 25–30 years of ministering, he left a lasting impact on the world, not only in his time but for all times. The heart of Paul’s strategy was his unswerving commitment to establish and strengthen local churches.
In our text (especially in today's video of Acts 20:1–38), we see and feel Paul's tearful realization that his time together with fellow disciples and elders was about to come to an end. Their departure's timing appears providential, enabling us to identify with Paul’s sorrowful parting from those he'd never again see in his life, as recorded in chapter 20. In general terms, Paul knows what will happen when he returns to Jerusalem: prison and persecutions. He's also confident that they'll never see his face again. His last words to these beloved saints are just as relevant and applicable to Christians today as they were to those who heard them personally. Let us listen well to what the Spirit of God has to say to us through Paul’s parting words.
Before we read chapter 20's long passage, realize these highlights about Paul and his upcoming plans: (1) This chapter begins and ends at Ephesus, which suggests that Ephesus was an important city in Luke’s mind, and, more significantly, the church at Ephesus likely played a key role in the expansion of the gospel; (2) Paul was determined to reach Jerusalem as soon as possible, and, from there, he planned to go to Rome; (3) he knew that going to Jerusalem would cause him great personal pain; (4) he knew that this would be the last time he'd see his friendly saints face-to-face; (5) Luke has once again joined Paul in his travels (v. 5); (5) although the events of chapter 20 cover a period of at least one year, Luke chooses to focus on two events, each lasting about one week (i.e., Paul’s final words to the saints at Troas [vv. 6–12] and his final words to the Ephesian elders at Miletus [vv. 17–38]); and (6) this is the only sermon in the Acts volume addressed exclusively to the saints.
Paul Tours from Greece to Troas (20:1–6)
With the end of the riot started by Demetrius (that Warren summarized here), peace returned to the church in Ephesus ,enabling Paul to implement his plan to leave. He gathered the disciples, gave them his blessing and his embrace, and departed for Macedonia, choosing to refocus his energies on active ministry. While in Macedonia, he no doubt revisited all the churches he'd founded there on his previous missionary journey. After touring Macedonia and regions beyond, Paul proceeded to Greece, probably continuing directly to Corinth, the normal place to catch a ship for Syria.
His three-month sojourn in Greece may refer to the winter season when no ship attempted to sail on the stormy Mediterranean. By going back to Corinth, Paul fulfilled his promise in Second Corinthians that he'd come to the believers there a third time (2 Cor. 12:14). He journeyed northward in a sizable company of men including Timothy, all the the church delegates, and perhaps others. Not only were they protecting money to be donated to the church, they were protecting Paul. When he reached Philippi, yet another man became his companion. He's not named in today's passage, but the appearance of "us" (v. 5) and "we" (v. 6) signals that Luke had joined the party, perhaps serving as a delegate from the church in Philippi.
Paul’s Sunday Meeting with the Saints in Troas (vv. 7–12)
In Acts, we don't read of Paul doing any evangelistic work at Troas. We know that he received the Macedonian vision while at Troas, but Luke gives us no report concerning Paul’s evangelistic activity in that city. It's obvious that there was a church in Troas when Paul and his associates arrived on board ship. They had seven days to spend with these brethren. When we read “the first day of the week,” we might assume this to be a reference to Sunday; thus, Paul was able to meet with the church when they normally came together for worship. However, this wouldn't be a typical day of worship for this congregation. This was a very unusual meeting, prompted by the fact that Paul would leave the following morning. He continued his message until midnight. In addition to it being a long message presented late at night, all were on the third floor in an upper room; there were a number of torches burning to provide light. All this was just too much for young Eutychus, who was sitting in the room's window opening. One can almost envision Eutychus slowly succumbing to sleep, until he suddenly drops out of the window, falling to his death three floors below.
Racing down to see Eutychus, Paul spoke most clearly: “Don’t be alarmed, he’s alive!” The boy fell to his death and was clearly dead. Paul then “threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him” and the boy came back to life; Paul documented this fact by saying (literally), “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him” (v. 10, ESV).
Seemingly, Paul was “winding up” his sermon when Eutychus fell to his death. The tragedy brought his preaching to an abrupt end. But what a powerful and memorable conclusion his message had: He resuscitated a young lad from death. As the video clip shows well, after they'd broken bread together, Paul and the saints talked until dawn. This “talking” probably wasn't a formal message, but a sweetly shared fellowship of those who'll soon part forever. When morning came, Paul left. The young boy was taken home alive with those who accompanied him and were greatly comforted.
From Troas to Miletus (vv. 13–16)
Paul left the saints in Troas, still chomping at the bit to reach Jerusalem before Pentecost. For some unstated reason, Paul went on by land, while the others stayed on board ship. He'd arranged to board ship at Assos. That ship seems to have been on a “milk run,” stopping at various ports along its way toward Caesarea (see 21:8). We ought to wonder why Paul would have taken a ship that would have endured repetitive delays if he was in such a hurry to reach Jerusalem. The only reasonable answer is that all such ships would typically have had delays for unloading and offloading cargo and supplies, making repairs, and exchanging seamen. The ship that Paul chose likely had the shortest travel time; thus Paul endured the delays because they were least available at that time.
The ship passed by Ephesus, which seems to have been at least part of the reason why Paul took it. When it made port at Miletus, it was to have a one-week layover. So Paul sent word to Ephesus for the elders there to join him at Miletus, some thirty miles away, where he met church leaders for what he thought would be his last time with them. His message was of great importance to them; and it's vitally important to us as well. The remainder of our lesson will focus on Paul's hearty-yet-sentimental farewell address to the Ephesian elders.
Paul’s Final Words to the Ephesian Elders (vv. 17–38)
Our passage is one of the outstanding texts in Acts. It conveys Paul's impassioned final words to the leaders of the Ephesian church. [Get a tissue now!]
Notice, first of all, that Paul’s words look backward and forward in time. He looks back over the years that he spent with these men, drawing upon his conduct and teaching, along with God working in their midst (vv. 17–19). Then he looks forward to his own fate and the dangers that lie ahead, seeming to spell out his death or at least his imprisonment; thus his “farewell” to these leaders. He also looks forward to the dangers that lie ahead for this church and to these men in particular. He therefore warns them of these dangers, focusing on God’s resources for all of them (vv. 20–25).
Paul's words are those of man with deep affection. What he spoke to these elders was received with the same love and affection they had for Paul. These are words that are "tearfully delivered" and "tearfully received." Paul was able to talk to these men as he did, because they knew him well, just as he knew them intimately. He spoke to them frankly, out of love, as they listened with their hearts full of love for him, through whose ministry (no doubt) they've come to faith.
The message and the man are very much inter-twined. Paul’s conduct and his content are inseparable. As such, he moved back and forth from his practice to his preaching. He also wanted his teaching to work itself out in very practical terms, thereby moving from his teaching to the lifestyle that it required.
Paul’s goal was to “finish the race and complete the task” that God had given him to do. So far as Ephesus and Asia were concerned, Paul was content that he'd fulfilled his missions there. Thus he could leave, never to return again, if that was God's will. He was innocent of the blood of all men there because he hadn't held back from proclaiming the gospel, nor had he failed to teach the saints the will and counsel of God (vv. 26–27). He was able to leave them because he knew that his work there had been completed. There was still work to be done elsewhere, and so he must press on, even though suffering awaited him.
It wasn't just Paul who was in for trials and tests. Dangers awaited the church at Ephesus, as well as these elders. His words of encouragement also had to include words of admonition and warning. These men had to be on guard, not just for the flock but also for themselves. They were appointed as elders by the Holy Spirit; as such, they were to shepherd God's entire flock, which was threatened by “wolves.” These “shepherds” were to guard the flock, protecting it from those "wolves" who'd seek to do them harm (vv. 28–31).
In addition to the “word of God’s grace” (v. 32) and the direct involvement of God in these elders' lives, they also had the example of Paul to draw upon as an illustration of the kind of motivation and lifestyle that should characterize them, one that directly opposed that of the “savage wolves” mentioned above. He had a ministry marked by a servant’s spirit; his ministry came at great cost, not to the sheep, but to himself; he was free from lust for their money or possessions (v. 33); he worked with his own hands, supporting not only himself but those who traveled with him (v. 34); his ministry didn't require money from others, and so he was free from the time-consuming process of raising funds, and from the temptation to misuse money so as to personally gain from his ministry; his ministry was characterized by giving, not by getting; his strength wasn't used to prey upon the weak but to support them; his life was lived on the principle taught by our Lord: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (v. 35).
At the end of his exhortation, Paul knelt in prayer with these men. From the beginning of Acts to the present, there was nothing more important than “the ministry of the Word and prayer” (see 6:3–4). Paul had ministered the Word to these men; they then needed to pray. Once again, Paul’s dependence, and that of these elders, was entirely upon God. So they called upon Him for His grace.
- Q. 1 What does it mean to "keep watch" (v. 28)?
- Q. 2 In our passage, we see Paul more as a loving friend than a hearty missionary. In your eyes, which person-type is he?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 20.]
† Watch the video clip of Acts 19:40–21:5, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Through Macedonia and Greece
20 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. 4He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.
Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas
7On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders
13We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. 14When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. 15The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. 16Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
17From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
22“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.23I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.24However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
25“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
32“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
36When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.