Paul left Ephesus, and travelled around Asia and Greece over the next few months. Our scripture passage today starts as Paul asks the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, a city about 30 miles from Ephesus.
Acts 20: 17 – 27 NLT
“17 But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.
18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.”
Paul is an apostle, a special ambassador for God. His primary purpose is to spread one message – “the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus” (v. 21) and “the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (v. 24). Although churches were formed, Paul’s mission was to spread the Word. In chapter 19 we read, “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (v. 10) Verse 20 says, “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”
Paul begins his meeting with the church elders by talking about his own commitment to spreading the good news. He talks about the difficulties he faced – which they would know about – and that nothing could stop him for carrying out “the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus” (v. 24). It looks like Paul is telling the church elders that they should follow his example. God has put them in charge of this church, and they need to take that calling seriously.
I also think it is interesting that there are a group of elders. Today, many churches tend to leave the leadership of a church to a pastor. He/she does have elders or deacons to help as well as other staff members or volunteers, but the pastor seems to ‘run the show’. At Ephesus, there is a group of elders that are responsible for the church. Perhaps that plurality of leadership leads to a more unified group of believers, as the elder group seeks the Holy Spirit’s leading in all areas of the church. In case you are wondering, our new pastor believes church leadership is for staff, elders and volunteers.
Acts 20: 28 – 38
28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
32 “And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them.37 They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. 38 They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.”
Now Paul turns to practical advice. First of all, make sure what you believe is true/right. Paul cautions that people from outside the church will try to convince believers that they are wrong. They will come into the church with false teaching. He also warns that people within the church who most believers would trust will also distort the truth. It appears the motive behind that is “to draw a following” (v. 30) – ahh – popularity and prestige. So for those elders in charge of that church, they are to be on guard about what is taught, and make sure they aren’t motivated by wanting to be liked/popular.
Paul’s next advice hits home to us in the 21st century. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We are so consumed with getting ahead, and acquiring beautiful things – the next gadget. You name it! At the beginning of Acts 18, Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, and ends up staying with them because he had the same trade as them – tentmakers. (18: 1 – 3) Later in the chapter, Paul convinces Aquila and Priscilla to come with him as he begins his second missionary journey. In verse 19, we read that Paul left them in Ephesus.
In chapter 19, we discover that Paul has been in Ephesus for 2 years, and in the verses today, we discover that he has been working at his trade to support himself- and even the needs of others who were travelling with him. Sometimes we think that Paul was just travelling and preaching. He was also working! Just think about that! Imagine the energy it takes to earn a decent living, support others, preach and counsel this new church.
And … he tells us that we need to be most concerned about helping those in need. Wow! What an example for us to follow!
Tomorrow, we’ll start reading through Ephesians. Paul begins with doctrinal statements – the truth we need to know. Then he will give us practical applications of those truths. Get ready to hear what might shake you up a bit.
Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham