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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 20

 

 

Verse 1

‘And after the uproar ceased, Paul having sent for the disciples and exhorted them, took leave of them, and departed to go into Macedonia.’

Once the uproar had ceased and everything had quietened down Paul sent for the disciples in Ephesus and exhorted them, encouraging them in the faith. Then he took leave of them and departed in order to go to Macedonia. We know from Acts 20:21 that this had already been his intention. And he had already sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him. Thus while he was wisely leaving, he was not to be seen as driven out. The authorities in Ephesus had nothing against him.


Verses 1-6

Paul’s Visits To Macedonia and Greece And Seven Days in Troas (20:1-6).

It is indicative of Luke’s concentration on the new direction in which events have turned, and his purpose in writing what follows, that he ignores many things of which we would wish to have been apprised. We are reminded again that Acts is not ‘a life of Paul’. His main concern is now to demonstrate that God will so work events that having been faced with false royal rule at Ephesus the Kingly Rule of God will triumph in Rome.

However, in passing we may note that while at Ephesus Paul has been engaging in the Corinthian controversy and has written letters to the Corinthians, of which we have 1 Corinthians, and that now, on these visits so cursorily dealt with, he will be finally reconciled with the Corinthians, writing 2 Corinthians from Macedonia once Titus has arrived, and following it with a visit to Corinth. He will also receive from those involved the Collection for the people of God in Judaea, the collection taken up by the Macedonian and Greek churches of which the Corinthian letters indirectly tell us a good deal. But Luke is interested in none of these things. He wants us to see Paul’s visit to Jerusalem as God-impelled and with a deeper motive behind it. His concern is with the continual spread of the Good News and how Apostolic ministry will reach Rome. Thus these times are rapidly passed over.

From 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 we learn that in fact on leaving Ephesus Paul had stopped at Troas where he had found an open door for ministry, but that he was so constrained by his love and fear over the Corinthians that he had cut it short and sailed for Macedonia where he waited in agonies until Titus arrived with the good news that all was well at Corinth. This need not mean that he did no preaching at Troas. He would have taken any opportunity that came his way while he was there, however he felt. The point is that when this was beginning to be fruitful he left the work to others because of his concern to see Titus with news of the Corinthian situation.


Verse 2

‘And when he had gone through those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece.’

Paul now visits the churches in Macedonia, exhorting and encouraging the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, among others, for we know that more churches have been established through their witness (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Yet this all passes in a sentence. During this period he will have exhorted them also to make ready the Collection for him to take to Jerusalem, and will have written 2 Corinthians. But Luke does not want to interfere with his picture of the inevitable ongoing flow of God’s purposes which will result in Apostolic testimony in Rome, and all this is dismissed without a word.

Then Paul moves on to Greece (the only mention of ‘Greece’ as such in the New Testament, which suggests that here it means more than just Corinth). Here he spends three months, probably mainly at Corinth where he has a joyful reconciliation, although he may also have visited Athens. Again he was here, not only for joyful reconciliation, but in order to accept their contribution towards the Collection for him to take to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-7; 2 Corinthians 8-9), and here he would write his letter to the Romans in preparation for his coming expected visit in which he expressed his hopes concerning the Collection (Romans 15:31), hopes which were to be only partially fulfilled.

But why does Luke not mention the Collection here? He certainly knew of it (Acts 24:17). Probably it was because as far as he was concerned he does not wish to draw attention to Jerusalem as any other than the place towards which Paul was going in order to suffer. As far as he was concerned Jerusalem was no longer important in the forward moving of the work of God. Its sole purpose now was as the fulfiller of God’s will by its treatment of His messenger, just as it had done when it had crucified Jesus. It had rejected its Messiah twice (by crucifixion and in chapter 12), now it would reject Paul.

Paul probably had great hopes for the Collection, monies that were to help a famine ridden Judaea, and were to be an example of the wealth of the Gentiles coming to the Jews in true Biblical fashion (Isaiah 60:9-12). He probably also hoped, with his great love for his people in spite of the contretemps he had had with them, that it would make at least some of them feel more friendly both towards him and the Gentiles.


Verse 3

‘And when he had spent three months there, and a plot was laid against him by Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia.’

The three months of continual ministry in Corinth having come to an end Paul now determined to set sail directly for Syria on a ‘pilgrim boat’ with other Jews and Jewish Christians who were going to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Pentecost, but he learned of plots laid against him by Jews as he was about to set sail which made him change his mind. It was far to easy for someone to ‘disappear’ on a boat journey. So he determined rather to return through Macedonia. The hatred and determination of the Jews to destroy this one man are an indication of the widespread impact of his ministry, and of the sinfulness and hardness of the hearts of some ‘dedicated’ Jews.

At this time of the approaching Feast of Pentecost many Jews would be taking ship for Caesarea and Jerusalem, and thus any ship could be a place of danger, for some had clearly determined to take the opportunity of getting rid of Paul, probably at sea. We may presume that a ‘brother’ or a rare friendly Jew was able to warn him of the danger. The threat of Jerusalem hung over him even there.


Verses 3-16

The Journey to Jerusalem (20:3-21:16).

As we read this section of Acts some of it may seem a little pointless and repetitive. But we must recognise in it what Luke is doing. One purpose that he has in mind is to depict Paul’s journey as a slow, inexorable progress with the final goal in mind. He wants to hang out the suspense as he slowly approaches Jerusalem and the bonds that await him. But a second purpose that he has in mind is to bring out how successful has been the spread of the word. In so many places there is a flourishing church where Paul can meet up with believers. And they are not only believers, they are believers whose love, and faith, and prayers reveal that they are very much spiritually alive.


Verse 4

‘And there accompanied him as far as Asia, Sopater of Beroea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.’

With him on his journey Paul had a number of people from the different churches. These would come with him to Jerusalem in order to bring their greetings to the church from their own churches and in order to help him guard and hand over the Collection. Luke himself possibly represented Philippi. There is no Corinthian representation but it is possible that they looked to Paul, Timothy or Titus to represent them.

‘As far as Asia.’ It is possible that we are to understand here that Paul was accompanied ‘as far as Asia’ by Sopater, and that the remainder went ahead and awaited him in Troas. Sopater may even not have been going with them to Jerusalem.

In total the travellers included Sopater from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia, even possibly from Ephesus itself.


Verse 5

‘But these had gone before, and were waiting for us at Troas.’

These (apart possibly from Sopater) had been sent ahead and were waiting at Troas, quite probably having with them some of the Collection monies.


Verse 6

‘And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to them to Troas in five days, where we tarried seven days.’

Having taken another opportunity to visit Philippi, where he seemingly again met up with Luke (the ‘we’ passages recommence), and observed the Passover (which may explain why he sent his Gentile companions on ahead), he sailed for Troas, a journey which took five days. Travelling the other way it had taken much less (Acts 16:11). This was immediately after the Passover feast (the days of unleavened bread). This distinction between himself and his Gentile companions illustrates that, as Jesus had before him, Paul probably continued to observe the niceties of Pharisaic teaching as well as he could in the circumstances in which he continually found himself. To the Jew he wanted to be as a Jew, to the Pharisee as a Pharisee. He was still a true ‘Israelite’ for the church was the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)

‘After the days of unleavened bread.’ Taken as it stands this can only signify that Paul was observing the feast, otherwise why wait until the end of it when he was in a predominantly Gentile city where there was no synagogue? Together with his sending on ahead of his companions all this points to his observing the feast, as Jewish Christians still did. In what is very much an abbreviated account by Luke this must be seen as significant. We must not portray Paul as always behaving like a Gentile. He would fight every inch of the way against Gentiles having to celebrate Jewish feasts as necessary for salvation (Galatians 4:8-11). But he was himself very much a Jew, even though an emancipated one.

It will be noted that in describing all this we have had to fill in a few blanks ourselves, and even then much is missed out because this travelling and exhorting the churches has in fact taken many months, and valuable ministry has been carried out.

However, from the point of view of understanding Acts we must note that Luke has been deliberately silent on these matters. Having portrayed the false ‘royal rule’ and Satanic activity which has cut short his own activity at Ephesus he is hurrying on to the journey to Jerusalem and Rome. This is now what the remainder of Acts is to be about, the journey under God to Jerusalem and Rome, with its opportunity to witness to Jesus and the resurrection before rulers and its constant revelation of Paul’s innocence as accepted by those rulers, which will result in his triumphant ministry in Rome. Anything else is incidental.

Here at Troas he remains seven days. These seven day stops appear to be significant. They ensured that at least one Sabbath and one ‘first day of the week’ could be spent with the church in question, and probably also indicated a time of ‘divinely perfect’ (‘sevenfold’) fellowship. Compare Acts 21:4; Acts 28:14. In the analysis above and in the introduction this seven day fellowship here parallels that in Acts 28:14. Luke wants us to be aware of the wonderful fellowship that Paul enjoys on his journey to Jerusalem and Rome, both at the beginning and at the end. God’s watch is over him.

It may be that this kind of seven day stopover had become an accepted courtesy when visiting places where there was an established Christian church, which may help to explain why Paul decided to bypass Ephesus because he could not afford another seven days.

On the other hand we must remember that the last time he had visited Troas he had hurriedly taken ship when they had wanted him to stay (2 Corinthians 2:12). Thus it may be that by this he was letting them know that even though he was in a hurry this time as well, he cared enough for them to remain with them for seven days. The seven days would give him good opportunities for teaching and admonishing the elders privately.

Alternately it may simply be that the ship on which they were travelling was unloading and loading, a process which would take seven days.


Verse 7

‘And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow, and prolonged his speech until midnight.’

When the first day of the week arrived the church in Troas met together to break bread. This presumably included a fellowship meal culminating in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This confirms that, as well probably as observing the Sabbath (for the sake of the Jewish members at least), the church was now also observing the first day of the week (Sunday).

We note that the prime purpose in meeting was ‘to break bread’. It is difficult to decide whether the emphasis in this statement is on the fellowship meal or the Lord’s Table. They would at this stage probably partake of both. However, the statement in Acts 20:11, which demonstrates that they had been so eager to hear Paul that they had not yet commenced eating, and that Paul did then break the bread and begin to eat, suggests that the emphasis is on the fellowship meal. If both were seen as part of one whole, however, the difference in emphasis is minimal. Fellowship with the Lord and fellowship together went hand in hand

The meeting would probably begin in the evening when work was over and darkness had fallen. They may well also have met early in the morning before work. In a letter to Trajan written from Bithynia in the early second century, Pliny the Younger described Christian practise as he knew it. "They meet regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verse alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god. . . . After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary, harmless kind".

The seven day period coming to an end Paul was ready to set sail on the next day. Being his last day with them he continued preaching until midnight. He had so much that he longed to pass on to them, and such long sessions of teaching were commonplace to him. Compare the long sessions in the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). But we need to recognise also that these early churches too were used to long meetings. It was their general practise, so as to make the best opportunity of their time.


Verses 7-16

The Sign of The Raising of Eutychus: Paul Hurries On (20:7-16).

At this point in the account we are informed of a remarkable confirmation of God’s presence with Paul in the raising from the dead of a young man. The significance of this story is threefold. Firstly it provides comfort and consolation both to Paul and his companions, and to the churches who are anxiously watching his progress towards Jerusalem (Acts 20:12). Secondly it is a sign that God is with him in what lies ahead (as are the later parallel events of being saved from snake bite, and the healing of Publius - Acts 28:1-10). Thirdly it is a reminder that they serve the God Who raises men from the dead. We can compare here Acts 9:36-42. Here was living and continuing proof of the power of the resurrection.


Verse 8-9

‘And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together. And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, borne down with deep sleep, and as Paul discoursed yet longer, being borne down by his sleep he fell down from the third story, and was taken up dead.’

But the weather was hot, many lamps were burning and letting off their vapours and contributing to the heat, (and burning up the oxygen in a crowded room), and even possibly having an hypnotic effect, Paul’s teaching was deep, and the sermon was long, and many who were there had come from a day of hard toil. This was possibly so with Eutychus as well, a teenager who may have gone to sit in the window in order to obtain some air. And being sat on the sill of the unglazed open window on the third floor, and becoming very sleepy, he fell to the ground and was ‘taken up for dead’. What had been a wonderful fellowship evening had suddenly turned into a nightmare. During the preaching of life there had come death, and the life of a promising young Christian had prematurely come to an end.


Verse 10

‘ And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, “Make no fuss, for his life is in him.’

But Paul in the quiet confidence of faith went down and stretched himself out on the young man, embracing him, and then declared that the young man was alive. He may have been ‘taken up dead’ but now he was alive again. We can compare Paul’s approach with similar incidents in the lives of Elijah and Elisha who had both behaved in a similar way (1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34). It was a deliberate imitation which confirmed that he saw the young man as really dead. None there failed to recognise that it was a miracle, and Paul’s imitation of Elijah and Elisha would seem to confirm it. Paul’s confidence was similar to that of Jesus when He had said, ‘she is not dead, but sleeps’ over another who was really dead (Luke 8:52). Like his Lord he did not want to make a great fuss over what had happened. This was not denying that a ‘miracle’ had happened but declaring that with God at work, all was well. Where Jesus is present in the midst of death, life comes. The fact that as a result of it the church was ‘not a little comforted’ confirms that they saw it as a miracle, not just as a lucky escape. It was confirmation to all that God was the Lord of both life and death, and that therefore they could safely leave Paul’s future in His hands. The tragedy had become a huge encouragement for the whole church, especially in view of Paul’s quiet assurance which demonstrated that he expected God to do this kind of thing.

‘His life is in him.’ An echo of 1 Kings 17:23. Paul is following Elijah’s example. Paul may have been thinking of this incident when he wrote to the Ephesians, ‘Awake you who sleep and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light’ (Ephesians 5:14).


Verse 11

‘And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.’

Then Paul returned quietly to the upper room where they continued their fellowship meal and he continued to talk with them until morning. The miracle had given them much to talk about and he knew that he would not see them again for a long time, if ever.

It is interesting to note that the Lord’s Supper was taken after midnight. The early church probably did not distinguish ‘days’ quite as clearly as we do. ‘The first day of the week’ was a guide not a dogma, and we do not even know whether it was reckoned here on Jewish (evening to evening) or Greek reckoning. Originally it would have begun on Jewish reckoning in accordance with the day of resurrection, so that the practise may have continued. If that is so then the whole of the meeting was on the first day of the week. But it is doubtful if the early church would have even thought about it. They would probably simply have seen the first day of the week as extending. (We can only too easily become obsessed with dates and details).


Verse 12

‘And they brought the lad alive, and were not a little comforted.’

And they brought the young man up with them, a living witness to God’s power to raise the dead, and received great comfort from what had happened. With a God like this working through Paul what was there for them or him to fear? They had all had further evidence of the power of life that was at work in the world.


Verse 13-14

‘But we going before to the ship set sail for Assos, there intending to take in Paul, for so he had appointed, intending himself to go by land. And when he met us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene.’

It would appear at this point that Paul wanted to be on his own, for he left Luke and the others to go by ship to Assos while he travelled overland for about twenty miles along a hilly road. The journey by sea was 30 miles and involved the rounding of Cape Lectum against the strong prevailing north-easterly winds. Probably Luke did not know what the reason for this plan was. Perhaps Paul was a little overborne by people wanting to question him about the miracle. Perhaps he wanted a little time alone on a twenty mile hike as he faced up to the warnings about the future. Or perhaps there was someone he wanted to call on before embarking. It may have been Carpus, because he wanted to entrust to him some precious parchments so that they would not be lost by his coming captivity in Jerusalem. As he wrote to Timothy later, ‘When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments’ (2 Timothy 4:13). Or perhaps he wished to spend a few more hours in Troas before taking horse to Assos on the Roman coastal road. Whichever way it was Luke remembers him meeting them again in Assos where he boarded ship and went with them to Mitylene, an important seaport on the island of Lesbos which was favoured by the Romans as a holiday resort. We are not told how long the forty four miles to Mitylene took. Except when necessary in open sea, ships did not usually choose to sail at night unless they had to, as we now discover.


Verse 15-16

‘And sailing from there, we came the following day over against Chios; and the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after we came to Miletus. For Paul had determined to sail past Ephesus, that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.’

Due to the writer having been with the party we have a detailed description of a well remembered journey as they proceed on the voyage. Perhaps the full detail is given in order to stress the emotional tension in which they all were, each one counting the stops to Jerusalem as they went forward with agonising slowness, aware that for Paul there were dark times ahead. We can compare how in the story of Abraham offering Isaac every detail is given in order to prolong the agony (Genesis 22). Or they may indicate to those knowledgeable about that coast the speed at which they were travelling. But Paul is careful not to stop at Ephesus. This is stated as simply being in order to avoid any delay. Had he stopped at Ephesus he might have felt obliged to spend ‘seven days’ there. That would not, however, have fitted in with his plans as he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost. On the other hand he may have determined it because it would have meant leaving that ship and obtaining another, as it did not wish to unload at Ephesus, something which would have caused further delays.

The aim to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost, one of the three great feasts of the Jews, may have been for a number of reasons:

1) It may well have been because he wanted to demonstrate to his Jewish Christian brethren, and even to the Jews, that he himself was still concerned to be a true Jew. By this he was following in the steps of the Master. We remember how the Pharisees, while they criticised His disciples for it, never criticised Jesus for failing to observe proper cleansing ritual. It was a sign that while He did not consider it strictly necessary (He allowed the disciples not to do it) He Himself did so in order to avoid causing offence. As He said to His disciples, ‘observe what they say, just do not do what they do’ (Matthew 23:3). In the same way we have no reason to think that Paul ever dropped his Jewishness even when consorting freely with Gentiles (many Diaspora Jews and Jewish Christians would regularly consort with Gentiles for business purposes and maintain their Jewishness). What he did not allow it to do was keep him apart from them. He tried to steer a middle course.

2) He may have wanted to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem as the anniversary of the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit which had begun the outward movement of the word of which he had been such a vial part.

3) He would see Pentecost, the time of bringing the firstfruits, as the ideal time for arriving and presenting to the Jewish Christian leaders the large sum of money that he and his companions had brought as a gift from the Gentile churches. Doing this while all of Judaea were in Jerusalem, along with many other Jews and Jewish Christians from elsewhere, as a kind of donation of firstfruits, would give maximum publicity to the Gentiles’ generous gift, would give it a special religious significance (compare Romans 15:26-27 where he sees it as the Gentiles partly repaying the debt that they owed to the Jews because they had been made partakers of spiritual things which proceeded from the Jews), and would hopefully warm the hearts of the Jewish Christians, and even of Jews who benefited, towards their Gentile brethren. He may well too have seen it as a kind of fulfilment of Isaiah 60:9-12, with the pilgrim Jews arriving on ships also laden with Gentile treasure, thus revealing to all that the eschatological days of the end were here when Gentiles were to be welcomed as Gentiles, as James had earlier recognised (see on Acts 15:16). The fact that Paul had great hopes that this gift would soften the Jews towards the work among the Gentiles was probably one reason why Paul had been so eager to bring it himself. Perhaps at first he had hoped that it would soften their hearts towards him, although he was to learn from prophecies that that was unlikely.

Chios was a city on the island of Chios and a free port, Samos was an island west of Ephesus, Miletus was on the mainland thirty miles south of Ephesus. It may be that there were no established churches on these islands, for no mention is made of any contact with them, or it may simply mean that they were not contactable in the time available.


Verse 17

‘And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to him the elders of the church.’

Arriving in Miletus Paul then sent messengers to Ephesus to request the elders of the church there to meet him at Miletus, which would involve them in a journey of about thirty miles, so that he could give them his final words. This would mean a stop of a number of days in Miletus, which may well have been require for unloading and loading cargo. The finality of the statement, ‘You will see my face no more’, may only signify that he was aware that once he had arrived in Rome, which was his intended destination after Jerusalem, his further intention was to go on to Spain and what lay beyond (Romans 15:24; Romans 15:28). It may simply suggest that he now saw his ministry in this part of the world as completed. Others could carry it through from now on. It need not be an absolute statement. We may often say, ‘you won’t be seeing me again’ when we mean in the foreseeable future. Thus he may simply have been indicating that he intended to go to regions far away and that therefore they must not be expecting to see him again within the foreseeable future. But because he was aware of what they might face he wanted to warn them before he went of the troubles that might lie in store.

The speech is typically Pauline with Pauline phrases and ideas in it. It bears his stamp. We may briefly analyse it as follows:

a Paul describes to them the personal pattern and full depths of his ministry to the Ephesians (Acts 20:18-21).

b He describes what has caused him to want to speak to them and the fate that awaits him (Acts 20:22-24).

c He confirms that he has faithfully proclaimed the Kingly Rule of God to them and has taught them ‘the whole counsel of God’ so that they are fully knowledgeable about His ways and saving purposes (Acts 20:25-27).

d He warns them to watch over the church faithfully because of false teachers who will come among them and rise up among them, so that they must constantly be on the watch in order to combat them (Acts 20:28-31).

c He commends them to God, under Whose Kingly Rule they are, and to the word of His grace (the whole counsel of God) which can build them up and give them their inheritance among those who are made holy by faith in Him, thus fulfilling His saving purposes (Acts 20:32).

b He stresses that he has never personally taken advantage of them in any way while ministering to them (Acts 20:33-34).

a He finally describes what he has shown them in order to make them suitable for their ministry to the Ephesians (Acts 20:35)

Thus in ‘a’ and its parallel he is describing his and their ministerial responsibility to the Ephesians past and present. In ‘b’ he describes what he is to suffer, demonstrating his own willing self-sacrifice, and in the parallel that the same lack of self-seeking could be seen in the way he had behaved towards them. In ‘c’ he lays out the foundation teaching that he had given them concerning salvation, and in the parallel commends them to it so that they will indeed be truly saved. It will be noted that the central feature of his speech in ‘d’ is his warning concerning the troubles that will come on the church, followed by the assurance of His protection for those who trusted Him.

This last makes it significant that according to the introductory analysis above this speech is in parallel with the description of the terrible storms that Paul would later face, from which few would have escaped with their lives had it not been for the undeserved goodness of God and their readiness to trust Him. Thus the setting of the two together in this way was partly in order to give Luke’s readers a picture of the storms and perils that lay ahead for the Ephesian church, and to indicate that their survival also would depend on God’s unmerited goodness, in the same way as it would for Paul and all the people in the dreadful and protracted storm. But the corollary was that if they obeyed God not a man would perish (see Acts 27:30-44), just as none would perish in that horrendous storm if they obeyed God. In view of this it is an indication of the accuracy with which Luke gives us the content of Paul’s words that he introduces no seagoing metaphors into the speech. It must have been tempting to do so. (Although the verb used in Acts 20:20; Acts 20:27 for ‘shunning, shrinking’ can mean ‘reefing sail’, but Paul would be hearing much seagoing language at the time and it is not directly related to the warnings as it would have been if Luke had introduced it).


Verses 17-38

Paul’s Address To The Elders of the Ephesian Church (20:17-38).


Verses 18-21

‘And when they were come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me by the plots of the Jews, how I shrank not from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” ’

We have in these words an overall picture of the dedication with which Paul sought to serve the churches, especially in Ephesus, and what his main message was, ‘repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ’. He had wanted them to ‘change their mind and heart and will’ (repent) so as to see God in a new way as the One, living, invisible, transcendent, holy God Who was Lord over heaven and earth (Acts 13:15-17; Acts 17:24-29), having a change of heart and mind from their old ideas and ways (compare Jeremiah 26:3; Hosea 6:1-3). He had wanted them to ‘turn to God from idols’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). And he had wanted them to recognise in Jesus the One Who was both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36), their divine Saviour, and to put their trust in Him. To any Gentile the idea of Lordship as associated with God would regularly indicate a Saviour.

Note his dedication and constancy:

o ‘From the first day that I set foot in Asia’ - He had wasted no time in delay. He had set to work as soon as he arrived so that not a minute should be lost.

o ‘I was with you all the time’ - nothing else was allowed to hinder his dedication or prevent him giving fully of himself. His whole time was devoted to helping them and doing God’s will.

o ‘Serving the Lord’ - his whole aim was to give himself continually to the service of the Lord in every way possible. This is a typical Pauline phrase and the idea occurs regularly in his letters. Compare Romans 12:11; and see also 1 Corinthians 7:22; Ephesians 6:7; Colossians 3:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:24.

o ‘With all lowliness of mind’ - he served in meekness and humility and without seeking to lord it over them or gain any credit or honour for himself. He did not seek to think of himself above what he ought to think. He remembered that he was their servant, for Jesus’ sake. This phrase is another typical Paulinism (Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12).

o ‘With tears, and with trials’ - in His service he boldly faced suffering, persecution, unpopularity and the fierce hatred of men, together with disappointments and heartaches, not as one who was unfeeling, but as one whose heart was burdened down by love.

o ‘I shrank not from declaring to you anything that was profitable’ - he did not court popularity, but presented every aspect of the truth that he felt would assist them to know Christ and walk with Him truly, even when he knew that they might not like it. His one concern was whether it might be helpful to them.

o ‘Teaching you publicly, and from house to house’ - he took every opportunity for service, both in the synagogues and the meeting house and the marketplace and by going to smaller gatherings held in different houses, and even possibly chatting from door to door.

We only have to consider each of these statements to recognise that here indeed was a lecture on ‘How to be a good elder’. When we read it we must not just say, what a wonderful man Paul was. We must say, ‘Is my life like this. Am I too following in his steps?’ (Philippians 3:17). The same was true for the Ephesian elders.


Verses 22-24

He Describes What Has Caused Him To Want To Speak To Them And The Fate That Awaits Him (22-24).

“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will befall me there, save that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”

He declares that he is not sure what is to befall him but does know that bonds and affliction await him, and that he must necessarily go forward. He cannot escape, for he is already bound by the bonds of the Spirit Who holds him captive, taking him inexorably forward in the fulfilment of His will.

He knows that this is so because in every place that he visits prophets warn him of the bonds and affliction that lie ahead. Luke has avoided mentioning this previously lest it became too repetitive. He will shortly give specific examples. So like Jesus before him, Paul goes steadfastly towards Jerusalem in order to suffer for Christ’s sake, because he knows that only through that suffering can God’s purposes be fulfilled. He will not shrink from anything that will enable him to fully accomplish God’s will, even the ‘much tribulation’ through which we must enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 14:22).

“But I do not hold my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the good news of the grace of God.”

Indeed he does not consider himself at all when making his decisions. He will not cling to his life or count it as of more value than being faithful to God’s service, for he knows that his life is of little value except as it is spent in fulfilling the pathway and ministry that the Lord Jesus has set before him to follow and do. And all this is so that he may testify to the good news of the unmerited favour and compassionate mercy and activity of God (‘the grace of God’). This is his ministry and lifework and nothing else matters.

Paul is not here seeking to arouse great admiration for himself. He is telling them of his own dedication, in order that it might be a call to their hearts to go and be the same. He is hoping for a like response. He is not only saying ‘Pray for me.’ He is also saying, ‘You also must face life with the same constancy’.


Verse 25

“And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more.”

He had proclaimed to them the Kingly Rule of God, both as a present reality and as a future hope. But in view of his future plans which will take him far away he is aware that this is the last time that they will see him. If he survives what awaits him in Jerusalem, God’s plans for him will take him elsewhere (Romans 15:24), so that he will no longer be visiting Asia Minor. Many see this phrase as suggesting a foreboding of death, but that is to read in what is not said. It is rather an indication that he knows that whatever the future holds, it will not be a future in Asia Minor.


Verses 25-27

He Confirms That He Has Faithfully Proclaimed the Kingly Rule of God to Them and Has Taught Them ‘The Whole Counsel of God, So That They Are Fully Knowledgeable About His Ways and Saving Purposes (20:25-27).


Verse 26-27

“For which reason I testify to you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring to you the whole counsel (or ‘will’) of God.”

And this is why he wants them to know that he has fully discharged his responsibility. That he is pure from the blood of all men. That he has done all that he could. That no charge of unfaithfulness can be laid at his door. Because at no stage has he shrunk from, or failed in his responsibility to, the declaration to them of every aspect of God’s purposes, and way, and will, and being. He has shown them all that God has provided for them and requires of them. He has left nothing out.

No doubt it was important to Paul that all recognised that he had done his duty. But it is also a call to them to consider the words of Ezekiel 33:8 and be the same as he was. He has given an example that they might follow in his steps as he follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

He Warns Them to Watch Over The Church Faithfully Because of False Teachers Who Will Come Among Them and Rise Up Among Them, So That They Must Constantly Be On The Watch In Order To Combat Them (Acts 20:28-31).

As the central point in the chiasmus we now come to the idea to which all the remainder is pointing, the dangers that lie ahead for the church as a result of false teachers. He has good cause to recognise this danger. It is this kind of thing that above all has caused his tears. As he looks back to what had already happened to the churches in Galatia (Galatians 4:11; Galatians 4:19) and Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:4) and Syrian Antioch, he knows that at some point Ephesus must face it too. For Satan is ever active. He has seen it too often before not to be aware that it will come. And he wants them to be ready for it. It is no accident that in the larger chiasmus from Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31 (see above) this parallels the almost unbelievable storm described in Acts 27:14-44 which illustrates so vividly what the effects of false words can be in seeking to sweep away the souls of men, and what we must be willing to sacrifice in order to come through unscathed. There men were ready to betray those who trusted in them. And it was only because men listened to Paul’s words that they were prevented. Luke is letting us all know that if we are to come through the storms of life safely we must cling to nothing other than God, but must willingly let all go, so that we may go forward with our whole trust in God and His word alone.


Verse 28

“Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops (overseers), to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.”

He makes clear to them their prime future responsibility:

o He warns them first to watch for themselves. Only by careful attention to the word of God, and a watchful care for each other, will they be able to steer a sure course, and be faithful undersheperds. The undershepherds must first ensure their own soundness in the faith.

o Then he tells them that as faithful undershepherds they must carefully watch over all the flock, not just the nice ones, but the awkward and weak ones as well. They have a responsibility before God for every single one of them, and must give account for them all.

o He reminds them of their privilege. The Holy Spirit Himself has appointed them as overseers/guardians (‘bishops’) of the flock. Their responsibility is from God Himself, so that they too might be humble, following Paul’s (Acts 20:19) and Christ’s (Matthew 11:29; Mark 10:45) example. Note the plurality of bishops in each city, and that the elders and bishops are synonymous. The church was not monarchic, but oligarchic. They ruled by common agreement as guided by the Holy Spirit, as servants of God’s people, not as their masters.

The Holy Spirit may have appointed them through prophecy, or as a result of general acceptance by the church because of their gifts, or more probably both. This plural oversight is in the end essential in the church, otherwise it becomes a dictatorship and response to ideas can become stilted, or alternately too much emphasis is laid on the minister with the result that he can become like a god, and when he goes many drop away.

o And the reason that they have been made overseers and guardians is so that they might feed ‘the church of the Lord’, not be fed by it. They are to remember that it is the Lord’s church, purchased with His own blood, and that they must therefore as faithful undershepherds be responsible to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) for ensuring that it is properly fed and watched over. Jesus had said to Peter three times, ‘feed/tend my sheep’ (John 21:15-17). This was now the responsibility of all the elders of the churches.

o ‘Which he purchased with his own blood.’ Or ‘with the blood of One Who is His own’. Either way this is a statement of the full deity of Christ, and of the doctrine of redemption through His blood sacrifice, through the sacrifice of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7). He paid a price in death that we might live. See Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 5:25; Hebrews 9:11-14; Hebrews 10:10-14; 1 Peter 1:18-20. The emphasis is on the price paid, not on to whom it is paid, although in the end it is paid to the justice of God. Man had to be bought from under the legal consequences of his own sin, by the payment of the necessary price, and had to be set free from the bondage of Satan. There had to be ‘satisfaction’. In the Old Testament, the idea of redemption often includes the idea of the exertion of power in deliverance. That too lies behind these words. But we cannot get away from an emphasis on the cost.


Verse 29-30

“I know that after my departing grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

He warns that the attacks will come from without and within. Wolves will find their way in from outside, deceitful, lying, thieving shepherds will be found inside. Neither will spare the flock. Men, themselves being deceived, will deceive others. He had already witnessed this himself in the troubles brought on the churches by the Judaisers.

For false prophets as wolves see Matthew 7:15. For the opponents and antagonistic authorities as wolves see Matthew 10:16; Luke 10:3. The consequences of men who have offered themselves as teachers of truth but have in fact simply led men astray are so obvious today that little needs to be said. And the sad thing is that they are often the nicest of men, for it is the art of the con man, even the unconscious con man, to be nice.

That this began at some stage to happen in the Ephesian church comes out in that later Paul left Timothy with them, and one of the reasons for his doing so was in order to deal with some who were seeking to lead others astray (1 Timothy 1:3-8; 1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Timothy 4:1-7; 1 Timothy 6:3-6; 1 Timothy 6:20-21). There would of course have been a number of different assemblies in the large Ephesian church. We must not necessarily see the whole church as affected. But it was clearly an important issue.


Verse 31

“For which reason watch you, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears.”

He reminds them how while he was with them over the ‘three year’ period he had not ceased, often with tears, to admonish them night and day so as to lead them into and keep them in the truth (compare 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18). Let them therefore take the more earnest heed (Romans 11:21; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Hebrews 2:1), and let them follow his example. Let them too learn to weep and admonish.

He Commends Them to God, Under Whose Kingly Rule They Are, and To The Word of His Grace (the whole counsel of God) Which Can Build Them Up and Give Them Their Inheritance Among Those Who Are Made Holy By Faith in Him, Thus Fulfilling His Saving Purposes (Acts 20:32).


Verse 32

“And 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.”

But Paul knows the place of safety and security. It is to be found in God Himself, and in the full teaching concerning His grace (compare Acts 20:24), and of how men are saved through that grace (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense). ‘The word’ is the message preached (compare 1 Corinthians 1:18), but especially as found in the Scriptures and in the Testimony of Jesus, that (then) partly written partly oral tradition of the life and teaching of Jesus.

‘The word of His grace.’ That is, the teaching concerning the unmerited love and compassion of God reaching out in Jesus Christ to all who believe as defined in Romans 3:24; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17; Romans 5:21; Romans 8:28-30; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 2:7-10; 2 Timothy 1:9.

And that teaching concerning salvation by the grace of God is not only the means through God’s working of their salvation, but is also the means by which His people might be built up and established and made strong (1 Corinthians 3:10-16; Ephesians 2:21-22; Jude 1:20).

‘And to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.’ And its final end is so that all His own might receive their inheritance, both now and in the future. This inheritance, which consists of all that God purposes for His people, is for all who are ‘sanctified’. In this case to be sanctified means that Christ has been made their sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30 compare John 17:19; Hebrews 10:10), that they are sanctified, acceptable to God in holiness, in Him (Acts 27:18; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 15:16), although it will of course result in practical sanctification (2 Timothy 2:21).

To be sanctified means to be set apart as holy, as totally His as available for His use (2 Timothy 2:21). And the moment the newest believer responds to Christ he is in that moment sanctified for ever. He has become one of God’s holy people. He is called a ‘saint’, a sanctified one (1 Corinthians 1:2), one ‘set apart’. And this because the very holiness of Christ has covered and enveloped him ‘in Christ’. His life is then hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). This sanctification is the work of God (Jude 1:1), of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2) and of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:161 Corinthians 6:11). And all this because of His ‘grace’, His unmerited love and favour revealed to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Thus all who are His will receive their inheritance because they are in Him, and are sanctified in Him.

He Stresses That He Has Never Personally Taken Advantage Of Them In Any Way While Ministering To Them (Acts 20:33-34).


Verse 33

“I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me.”

‘I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.’ How could he even wish to when he was a recipient of Christ’s inheritance? But he wants them to recognise that it was nevertheless true, and that he did not just teach the doctrines of faith. He believed in them and lived by them.

So he points out that he had been satisfied with his inheritance. In no way had he ever obtained any earthly benefit from them. He had not desired or accepted gold, or silver or clothing. He had rather laboured with his own hands to provide himself with the necessities of food and clothing, both for himself and his companions. For what God gave him was sufficient for him. This was in a day when there were many travelling teachers and philosophers who in return for their services expected both. Indeed some in the Corinthian church had actually suggested that the fact that he had not been paid for his preaching demonstrated his inferiority (2 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 11:20).

Paul made a point of never receiving gifts from churches unless he was absolutely certain that they came from hearts that overflowed with genuine love and fellowship, and never while he was working among them. He did not state that it was wrong to do so. He even said that it was his right in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). But he would still not do it (1 Corinthians 9:15-18). Thus this was very much a Pauline attitude. And it was to be seen by the elders as an example to follow as he now makes clear.


Verse 35

“In all things I gave you an example, that so labouring you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, which he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.”

And now he wants them to take what he has done as an example that they too might labour without charge, helping the weak and remembering what the Lord Jesus Himself had taught, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’. Thus they are to be givers, not receivers. For those who give are the ones who will truly be blessed, for they enjoy both the thrill of giving and benefiting others, and the certainty that the Lord will reward them (Matthew 10:42).

This may have been Paul’s interpretation of sayings such as, ‘freely you have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8). ‘Give to him who asks of you’ (Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:30). ‘Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you measure out, in that way it will be measured to you again’ (Luke 6:38). ‘But rather give charitably of such things as you have; and, behold, all things are clean to you (Luke 11:41). ‘Sell what you possess, and give charitable gifts. Provide yourselves with wallets which do not grow old, a treasure in the heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches, nor moth spoils’ (Luke 12:33). The thought is certainly the same. But there is really no reason why Paul might not have known of such an actual saying. We do in fact lack considerable amounts of what Jesus taught, and it has His ring to it.

On these words of Jesus about being more blessed to give than to receive, which epitomised his whole message, he ended his message. He had given them much to think about as to how to conduct their own ministries.


Verse 36

‘And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all.’

Once he had finished speaking Paul then kneeled down and prayed with them all. His action was such as to emphasise how deeply he felt, for it was quite a regular practise to pray standing (Luke 18:11). But he wanted them to be aware that they were before the Lord of all, before Whom every knee should bow (Philippians 2:9-11)


Verse 37-38

‘And they all wept grievously, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they would behold his face no more. And they brought him on his way to the ship.’

And they all responded in like kind. They wept grievously, they hugged him, they kissed him on the cheek and on the arms, and they were filled with sorrow at his warning that they would not see him again. Such a sense of finality on parting always adds to its poignancy. It would seem, however, that it was misplaced, for 1 Timothy appears to suggest that he did go among them again, probably before going to Spain (1 Timothy 1:3).

A Series Of Maritime Stages And Of Prophecies (Acts 20:4; Acts 20:11) (Which Reveal That God Is With Him) On The Way To Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-16).

This passage is paralleled by Acts 27:1-26 which will again depict a maritime journey in stages together with prophecies. But this is on the way to Jerusalem. Then it will be on the way to Rome. In both cases he has a similar agonising journey, and in both cases God reveals through prophecy that He is with him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 20:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-20.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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