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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 20

 

 

Verses 1-38

Finally Paul follows Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia, leaving a field of labor that had been most fruitful. How long he spent in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea we are not told, but he gave them much exhortation. This of course took place well after his second letter to the Thessalonians. Following this, Luke says "he came into Greece." Luke was evidently there, and joined Paul's party when he left (vs.5-6). What places he may have visited in Greece (or Achaia) we are not told: we know only of an assembly at Corinth. This visit was also following his second epistle to the Corinthians. But nothing is mentioned as to how he may have met conditions existing there, concerning which he had been seriously apprehensive (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). But he remained three months in Greece before beginning a trip toward Syria by way of Macedonia again.

Seven names of those accompanying him are listed in this case, from four different areas. This is a lovely testimony to the unity promoted by the Gospel of Christ among those of differing backgrounds and cultures. These seven and Paul left Philippi before Luke and whoever was with him. No doubt Luke, who had previously spent some time at Philippi (after Acts 16:40), was desirous of having a longer visit there, which included "the days of unleavened bread," that is, the week following the Passover. Of course Luke, being a Gentile, would himself attach little importance to this, but his consideration of the consciences of his Jewish brethren is beautifully evident (See Romans 14:1-6).

Luke's journey to Troas took five days, a slow trip compared to that from Troas to Philippi some time earlier (Acts 16:11-12), There they remained a full week with the assembly, ending with the Lord's Day, when the disciples came together to break bread. Though in Jerusalem at the beginning the breaking of bread was observed perhaps every day (Acts 2:42-46), yet evidently it became normal to observe this every first day of the week.

Paul however used the occasion to preach to the gathered saints, continuing until midnight. There was evidently a great deal on his heart at the time. Many lights are spoken of in the upper room where they were gathered. Doubtless the upper room reminds us of heaven, the true home of the Church, with its abundance of light for the instruction of saints. At least it was not lack of light that induced sleep on the part of Eutychus.

In this young man (whose name means "prosperous")we are no doubt intended to see a picture of the Church when it would reach a prosperous state and become weary of Paul's ministry. For when circumstances are hard and rigorous we are usually more awake to the truth, while earthly prosperity tends to make us self-satisfied and insensitive to our need of the full truth of the Word of God, particularly truth of heavenly character such as Paul ministers. Then we easily fall from our high position and suffer drastic results.

Though the Church has been asleep to Paul's ministry, falling and becoming virtually "dead", yet the remedy for such a condition is to be found in Paul's ministry. Paul embraced Eutychus, saying, "His life is in him." Evidently his life was restored through Paul's embrace, a miraculous intervention of God, for he had been actually dead. Thus, in the writings of Paul today there is power as well as grace to accomplish some true recovery from a practically dead condition in the Church. After his revival the breaking of bread took place as well as eating, then continued ministry until the break of day. In these last days God has given some reviving of the truth of the assembly and provides for our present comfort the breaking of bread and fellowship, as well as sufficient ministry until the break of day (the coming of the Lord). This is concluded by the thankful expression, "they were not a little comforted." What reason indeed we have for such encouragement in our day!

Leaving Troas the company sailed to Assos, about 25 miles down the coast, but Paul decided to walk that distance, arranging to meet the others there. It seems that his reason for this is explained in his address to the Ephesian elders soon after, when they had arrived at Miletus and sent for the elders to come to meet him. It was a long distance for them (36 miles) but Paul was manifestly deeply concerned in heart in all that he had to speak to them. His own long walk alone gave time for meditative consideration of these things. He did not himself go to Ephesus, for he was anxious to get to Jerusalem by the time of the feast of Pentecost, when many would be present. He evidently felt that he could make some profitable impression on the Jews, though he had no assurance from God of such results. His love for his own nation evidently influenced him greatly, rather than the leading of God.

Ephesus was of special concern to him, however, and this assembly is particularly a representative assembly (Cf.Revelation 2:1), its name meaning "one desire." He speaks most earnestly to the elders, reminding them of his character and conduct among them from the first day of his coming to Asia. How few indeed would be able to speak as he did of such service to the Lord carried on in all humility of mind, with many tears and trials occasioned by the persecuting efforts of the enemy. He first speaks of himself as being a servant of the Lord. This involves genuine subjection and lowliness of heart.

His faithfulness as a teacher is seen in verses 20 and 21. He kept back nothing that was profitable to them, as some men do in order not to offend, or risk their popularity. No doubt he sought to speak what they were able to bear (Cf.Mark 14:33; John 16:12), for this is godly wisdom, but would not hold back anything just because it might hurt. His teaching was both public and in the homes of the people. His basic message for both Jews and Gentiles was "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." In the proclamation of the Gospel this is a message that does not change.

When he speaks of going "bound in the spirit" to Jerusalem, it is his own spirit he is speaking of, not the Spirit of God. So deep was his genuine love for Israel that this urged him forward in spite of warnings given by the Holy Spirit "in every city" that his going there would issue in imprisonment and suffering. Notice that he fully believes that it was the Holy Spirit who was giving these warnings.

But none of these things could move him from his purpose. His devotedness itself is precious, though we may question if it was rightly directed on this occasion. Bonds and afflictions would not diminish his joy, though his course might soon be finished. Also the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus was of such vital, valuable character that it had a compelling influence in his soul to lead him in fervent desire to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. He was not only a servant and a teacher, but a minister and evangelist, and as verse 25 tells us, a preacher. Notice that though he particularly emphasized the Gospel of the grace of God, yet he preached the kingdom of God. There is a fine distinction here: he does not say he preached "the Gospel of the kingdom" (Cf.Matthew 25:14). The kingdom emphasizes the authority of the King, which will be the Gospel preached in the Tribulation period; while Paul's ministry emphasized the grace of God, the special message of the present dispensation.

Though Paul emphasized the Gospel of the grace of God, yet he no less insisted on the authority of the Lord Jesus which is involved in the kingdom of God, for that kingdom has an important present aspect that we cannot ignore. Now he tells the Ephesian elders that he knows they will not see his face again, a fact that gives more solemn weight to his message for them. They themselves could bear witness that he was pure from the blood of all men. None could accuse him of neglect in warning them and presenting to them the truth that would deliver them. He had been a faithful watchman (Cf.Ezekiel 3:17-21), not avoiding the declaration of the entire counsel of God.

The plain, foundational facts he has told them form a solid basis for his earnest exhortations, which begin with his urging them to pay close attention to their own spiritual condition, then to that also of all the flock, for it was the Spirit of God who had given them the responsibility of overseership. They are told to "shepherd" the church of God, which involves both providing food, care and guidance. The sheep had been "purchased with the blood of His own," that is, God's own Shepherd (Cf.Zech.13:7), and therefore of priceless value to Him. This fact should move our hearts in diligent, tenderest care for all the flock of God. We have seen Paul in many characters in this address, and added to these is that of pastor in this verse.

Then he speaks as a prophet, with absolute knowledge that, after his departure from this life, grievous wolves (heartless unbelievers) would infiltrate among the flock, to cause great damage. Nor only this, but men from among themselves (even believers) would take a prominent place, speaking perverted things with the object of drawing disciples to follow them. They would no doubt use the scriptures, but give the Word such a twist that its plain, simple truth would be lost. How sadly both of these things have taken place in the Church, and on how wide a scale in our day!

He therefore presses two things on their consciences, -- "watch and remember." We must be alert to recognize danger when it raises its head, so that it may be properly dealt with. We must also not forget the truth we have learned in the past, by which to meet such things. In this case Paul had spent three years in his instructing and warning the saints. Today we have no less help in his writings, which are as urgent as were his tears.

Now he commends them, not to the Church, nor to specially appointed leaders, but to God Himself and to the Word of His grace. How vital it is that every believer should learn to depend personally and utterly upon God and upon His Word. This is our only real protection, but also it is the vital means of building up the saints, as well as giving an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, that is, set apart to God from all that is contrary to His Word and will. We must not overlook the living power in the Word of God itself. It is our one tangible means of protection and strength in an adverse world.

Now he can honestly appeal to the fact of his own character and conduct among them. He had not coveted the property of anyone, a marked contrast to many popular religious leaders today. They all knew that he had worked to support himself and others who were with him in spite of his having a right to refrain from secular employment (1 Corinthians 9:11-14).

He had not only told them, but had shown them by diligent example that they ought to engage in labor for the support of the weak, not merely for their own support, and in this case to remember the words of the Lord Jesus in saying it is better to give than to receive. This exact expression is not recorded in the Gospels, but the truth of it is evident in many of the recorded words of the Lord, as for example Luke 6:30-38.

When time for parting had come, Paul kneeled down and prayed with them all, a fitting conclusion to his stirring message. They were deeply affected to the point of tears, embracing and kissing the apostle. Their deepest sorrow, however, was not because of the impending danger that threatened the flock of God, but because he had told them they would not see his face again on earth. Too frequently we think more of the Lord's servant than we do of his message. Then they went with him to see him embark on the ship.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 20:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-20.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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