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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Acts 20

 

 

Verses 1-38

Chapter 20

SETTING OUT FOR JERUSALEM (Acts 20:1-6)

20:1-6 After the disturbance had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples. He spoke words of encouragement to them and bade them farewell and departed to go to Macedonia. When he had gone through those parts and when he had spoken many a word of encouragement to them, he went into Greece. When he had spent three months there, and when he was about to set sail for Syria, a plot was made against him by the Jews. So he made up his mind to make the return journey through Macedonia. As far as Asia there accompanied him Sopatros, the son of Pyrrhus, who belonged to Beroea; and, of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius from Derbe and Timothy; and the men from Asia, Tychichus and Trophimus. They went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. After the days of unleavened bread we sailed away from Philippi; and in five days time we came to them at Troas; and there we spent seven days.

We have already seen how Paul had set his heart on making a collection from all his churches for the church of Jerusalem. It was to receive contributions to that fund that he went into Macedonia. Here again we have an instance of how much we do not know and will never know about the story of Paul. Acts 20:2 says that when he had gone through those parts he came to Greece. It must have been on this occasion that he visited Illyricum (Romans 15:19). These few words summarize what must have been about a whole year of journey and adventure.

Acts 20:3 tells us that when Paul was about to set sail from Greece to Syria a Jewish plot was unmasked and he changed his route to an overland way. Very likely what happened was this. Often from foreign ports Jewish pilgrim ships left for Syria to take pilgrims to the Passover and Paul must have intended to sail on one. On such a ship it would have been the easiest thing in the world for the fanatical Jews to arrange that Paul should disappear overboard and never be heard of again. Paul was a man who always walked with his life in his hands.

In Acts 20:4 we have a list of Paul's companions on his voyage. These men must have been delegated from the various churches charged with the duty of taking their contributions to Jerusalem. They were demonstrating thus early that the Church was a unity and the need of one part was the opportunity of the rest.

In Acts 20:5 the narrative turns from the third to the first person again. This is the sign that once again Luke is there and that we are getting an eye-witness account. Luke tells us that they left Philippi after the days of unleavened bread. The days of unleavened bread began with the day of the Passover and lasted for one week, during which the Jews ate unleavened bread in memory of their deliverance from Egypt. The time of the Passover was the middle of April.

A YOUNG MAN FALLS ASLEEP (Acts 20:7-12)

20:7-12 On the first day of the week, when we had gathered together to break bread, Paul, who was about to leave on the next day, spoke to them, and he prolonged his talk until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were assembled. A young man called Eutychus was sitting by the window. He began to be overcome by a deep sleep. While Paul was talking he was still more overcome by sleep and he fell right down from the third floor and was taken up dead. Paul went down and threw himself on him. He put his arms round him and said, "Stop making a fuss, for his life is still in him." So he went back upstairs and broke bread and ate; and he talked with them a long time until dawn came and so he departed. And they brought in the boy alive and were greatly comforted.

This vivid story is clearly an eye-witness account; and it is one of the first accounts we have of what a Christian service was like.

It talks twice about breaking of bread. In the early Church there were two closely related things. One was what was called the Love Feast. To it all contributed and it was a real meal, often the only proper meal that poor slaves got all week. Here Christians ate in loving fellowship with each other. The other was the Lord's Supper which was observed during or immediately after the Love Feast. It may well be that we have lost something of great value in the happy togetherness of the common meal. It marked as nothing else could the family spirit of the Church.

All this happened at night. That is probably because it was only at night, when the day's work was done, that slaves could come to the Christian fellowship. That also explains the case of Eutychus. It was dark. In the low upper room it was hot. The many lamps made the air oppressive. Eutychus, no doubt, had done a hard day's work before ever he came and his body was tired. He was sitting by a window to get the cool night air. The windows were not made of glass. They were either lattice or solid wood and opened like doors, coming right down almost to the floor and projecting over the courtyard below. The tired Eutychus, overpowered by the stuffy atmosphere, succumbed to sleep and fell to the courtyard below. We must not take it that Paul spoke on and on; there would be talk and discussion. When the crowd poured down the outside stair and found the lad lying senseless below, they began to scream in an uncontrolled eastern way; but Paul told them to stop the fuss, for the life was still in the lad. From the next verses we learn that Paul did not go with the main company; no doubt he stayed behind to make sure that Eutychus was completely recovered from his fall.

There's something very lovely about this simple picture. The impression is that of a family meeting together rather than of a modern church service. Is it possible that we have gained in dignity in our Church services at the expense of family atmosphere?

STAGES ON THE WAY (Acts 20:13-16)

20:13-16 But we went to the ship and set sail for Assos, for there we intended to take Paul on board for he had arranged things in this way, since he himself intended to do that stage on foot. When we met him at Assos we took him on board and went to Mitylene. On the next day we sailed away from there and arrived opposite Chios. On the second day we crossed over to Samos and on the next day we came to Miletus.. for Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so as not to have to spend time in Asia. For he was in a hurry to be, if it were possible for him, in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

Because Luke was with Paul we can follow the journey almost day by day and stage by stage. From Troas, Assos was 20 miles by road whereas it was 30 miles by sea; and the sea journey involved the rounding of Cape Lectum against the strong prevailing north-easterly winds. Paul had ample time to make the journey on foot and be picked up at Assos. It may be that he wanted the time alone in order to nerve his spirit for the days ahead. Mitylene was on the island of Lesbos, Chios was on Samos and Miletus was 28 miles south of Ephesus at the mouth of the Maeander River.

We have seen how Paul would have liked to have been in Jerusalem for the Passover and how the plot of the Jews hindered that. Pentecost came seven weeks later and he was eager to be there for that great feast. Although Paul had broken away from the Jews, the ancestral feasts were still dear to him. He was the apostle to the Gentiles and his own people might hate him; but in his heart there was nothing but love for them.

A SAD FAREWELL (Acts 20:17-38)

20:17-38 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church. When they were with him he said to them, "You yourselves know how, from the first day I came into Asia, I spent all the time, during which I was with you, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and amidst the trials that happened to me because of the machinations of the Jews. You know how I kept back nothing that was to your profit, how I did not fail to announce my tidings to you and to teach you both publicly and from house to house, testifying to both Jews and Greeks repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, look you, I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem, although I do not know what will happen to me there, except that from city to city the Holy Spirit testifies to me that bonds and afflictions await me. But I reckon my life worth nothing and I do not count it precious to myself, so be it that I may finish my course and complete the task I received from the Lord Jesus--the task of bearing witness of the good news of God. And now, look you, I know that all of you, amongst whom I went about preaching the Kingdom, will see my face no more. Therefore I affirm to you this day that I am clean from the blood of all men; for I kept back nothing in my proclaiming to you of the whole will of God. Take heed for yourselves and take heed for all the flock in which the Spirit of God has appointed you overseers, so that you may be shepherds to the Church of God which he has rescued through the blood of his own One. I know that after I have gone away fierce wolves will enter in to you and will not spare the flock; and from your own number there will arise men who will speak perverse things to draw the disciples away after them. Therefore be watchful and remember that for three years, day and night, I never stopped instructing each one of you with tears. And now I hand you over to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance amongst all those who have been sanctified. I coveted no man's silver or gold or raiment. You yourselves know that these very hands served my own needs and the needs of those who were with me. Always I showed you that working like this a man must help those who are in trouble and that you must remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that it was he who said, 'It is happier rather to give than to get.'"

When he had said this he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was great lamentation among them all. They fell upon Paul's neck and kissed him repeatedly, for they were grieved most of all at the word that he had said, that they would see his face no more. And they escorted him to the ship.

It is not possible to make a neat analysis of a farewell speech so charged with emotion as this. But certain notes sound out.

First of all Paul makes certain claims for himself. (i) He had spoken fearlessly. He had told them all God's will and pandered neither to the fear nor the favour of men (ii) He had lived independently. His own hands had supplied his needs; and his work had been not only for his own sake but for the sake of others who were less fortunate than himself. (iii) He had faced the future gallantly. He was the captive of the Holy Spirit; and in that confidence he was able to brave everything the future might hold.

Paul also urges certain claims upon his friends. (i) He reminded them of their duty. They were overseers of the flock of God. That was not a duty they had chosen but a duty for which they had been chosen. The servants of the Good Shepherd must also be shepherds of the sheep. (ii) He reminded them of their danger. The infection of the world is never far away. Where truth is, falsehood ever attacks. There was a constant warfare ahead to keep the faith intact and the Church pure.

Through all this scene runs the dominant feeling of an affection as deep as the heart itself. That feeling should be in every church; for when love dies in any church the work of Christ cannot do other than wither.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 20:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-20.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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