FORCEFULLY ADVANCING: The Church In Acts, Part 5

sunset at Miletus

Encouraging Godly Leaders

Acts 20:13—38

Paul had some problems during his ministry in Ephesus.  Yet another riot broke out according to Acts 19:23—31.   This was the exact opposite response any preacher would be hoping for, so he left Ephesus, heading back to Macedonia, where he visited the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica.

At verse 7, Paul and his friends came to Troas, where they broke bread and worshiped with the Christians there.   In Paul’s day, only Jews and Christians kept the seven-day week calendar.  Both religions did this is in observance of the creation account in Genesis and in accordance with the command in the Law to keep the Sabbath day after working for six days (Exodus 20:8—11; Deuteronomy 5:12—15).   The Greek and Roman cultures did not recognize a day of rest and consequently the Jews were often scoffed at for wasting precious time by not working one day out of seven.  You will recall that when Paul preached to Gentile audiences in Athens and Lystra, he expounded on the Christian doctrine of Creation, stressing that God created the material universe in six days, resting on the seventh.

The Jews called the five days of the week by their number; the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day, and the fifth day.  These were followed by the “preparation day” (Friday) and the Sabbath (Saturday).  The very early Christians stuck to this designation of days until the tail end of the first century when the Jewish first day of the week became known as The Lord’s Day, commemorating Christ’s resurrection.

At any rate, Paul was apparently wound up and preached through the night, causing a young man named Eutychus to fall asleep during the sermon and fall to his death out a window.  Without missing a beat, Paul dashed downstairs, ran outside and raised the boy back to life.  Amazingly, he was able to finish his sermon with no more deaths, speaking until daybreak.

This brings us to verse 13, and Paul’s desire to head back to Jerusalem.

1.  Serving God wholeheartedly, 17—24

We’re not sure why, but Dr. Luke and the others sailed while Paul walked.  Perhaps Paul wanted to walk and evangelize along the way, a distance of some 20 miles by foot.  Other scholars speculate that Paul was not a good sailor and prone to sea sickness.  The voyage by sea would have taken much longer as the distance by boat was almost twice as long.

It seems that the ship weighed anchor every evening in one port or another, making it easy for Paul to jump on board.  William Ramsay, in his work, St. Paul the Traveller, observes:

The reason lies in the wind, which in the Aegean during the summer generally blows from the north, beginning at a very early hour in the morning; in the late afternoon it dies away; at sunset there is a dead calm, and thereafter a gentle south wind arises and blows during the night.  The start would be made before sunrise; and it would be necessary for all passengers to go on board soon after midnight in order to be ready to sail with the first breath from the north.

Paul was definitely in charge of this expedition.  Luke shows Paul:

  • Making the travel arrangements, he by foot, the others by boat;
  • Paul decided not to spend time in the province of Asia
  • Paul sent a messenger to Ephesus to ask the elders to come to Meletus.

(a)  Faithful Service, verses 17—21

You 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. (verse 20)

The boat docked at Miletus for a few days, so Paul took the opportunity of sending for the elders of the church at Ephesus to join him at Miletus.  For good reasons, Paul did not want to go back to Ephesus, and Luke records Paul’s “farewell address” to Ephesians with great attention to detail.   These elders would have been well known to Paul for it was his habit to appoint elders to give leadership to the churches he founded.   Luke calls these men “elders” in verse 17 but in verse 28 Paul describes them as “oversees.”  The word “elder” refers to the office while the word “overseer” describes the job of an elder.

To these men, Paul poured his heart out.  This message of Paul is very important to church leaders today because it the only such message preserved, despite all the churches the man established.  Ephesus was likely the most influential church in the last part of the first century, surpassing even the mother church in Jerusalem.  Paul, as foresighted as he was, recognized what this church would eventually become, and he was concerned that its leadership should hold the faith and preserve in sound doctrine.  Obviously the elders heeded Paul’s message since the church grew and flourished in the years that followed.   This personal message from Paul, combined with the ministries of Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) and later John, made Ephesus a bastion of the faith.  Our Lord had this to say to the church at Ephesus—

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  (Revelation 2:2)

But why shouldn’t the church at Ephesus be faithful?  It had faithful elders and was founded by a man who gave them a Christ-like example to follow!

(b)  A secure future, verses 22—24

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  (verse 22)

Even though Paul apparently had grave concerns or even misgivings about going to Jerusalem, he felt compelled to go by the Holy Spirit.   Scholars are divided about the word “spirit,” however.  Was Paul compelled by the Spirit of God (my view) or did he feel in “in his spirit” that he should go?  The Greek is of no help on this, although in verse 23 Luke does mention the “Holy Spirit”; my own view is that Paul was moved in his spirit by the Holy Spirit to go.  He was concerned for his safety based on his recent experiences.  This second missionary journey was a real eye opener to Paul.  Where before he may have gone on unreservedly, he now recalls the riots and wonders if his life would be in danger.

Life has a way of doing that to people.  Bad experiences make us timid and reserved.  But when God wants us to do something, that “something” may force us to confront our fears.  God is not bound by what binds us; God sets us free from those things if we are obedient.   Paul did not know just what awaited him on his way, but he was pretty sure it was going to be bad.  We discover in 2 Corinthians 11:23—29 a list of the things Paul endured, and we also discover that the closer Paul would get to Jerusalem, the clear the Spirit spoke to him about what was awaiting him.

Despite the seemingly negative future, Paul viewed it as secure because he was facing it in obedience to God’s will.  The reason he could do this is more obscure than verse 24 lets on.  The Greek text behind this verse varies from manuscript to manuscript, and this shows in the different ways it has been translated:

  • KJV, NKJV:  But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself.
  • JB Philips:  But life to me is not a thing to waste words on.
  • NASB:  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.

The sense of the Greek is either that Paul’s life meant nothing to him or that there was nothing in his life worth worrying about.   A simple resolution to this could be that Paul, though concerned about his safety and future, put the will of God ahead it.  Of course his life was important to him, and of course material needs were important to Paul, but he trusted that God would meet those needs despite his circumstances.  That is why Paul’s future was secure; it rested in God, not in the world.

2.  Care for God’s people, verses 25—31

(a)  A clean record, verse 25—27

I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  (verse 26)

In verse 25, Paul expressed a strong feeling that he would never see these men again, although it is highly likely Paul did, in fact years later, revisit Ephesus.   Given his thoughts of impending danger, it was natural for Paul think he would never come this way again.

Paul was a man with a clear conscience.  With all the riots and controversy that followed him, he knew that stood without guilt before man; verse 26 indicates that he had discharged his responsibilities toward them.  If they refused to believe and remain in their unrepentant, lost state, it would not be his fault.

As we seek to serve the Lord, believing we are similarly discharging our responsibilities to both to God and to man, we may see mixed results, as Paul did.  This in no way means we were in the wrong or did anything wrong.  Our burden is to do what God wants us to do; we cannot promise Him the results we expect.

Verse 27 is noteworthy because it tells us what the content of Paul’s sermons was—

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Paul held nothing back when he preached, regardless of his audience, be it Greek or Jew.  Paul may have tailored his messages and used tack when he preached, but he never compromised the message of salvation.   Paul preached the whole Gospel and let the Gospel chips fall where they may.  This is the kind of preaching that results in souls being saved and lives being changed.  Sadly this is the kind preaching that is absent in so many churches today.  Preachers, desperate to fill empty pews, would rather preach on inane “topics” like, “40 Steps to the Holy Spirit,” “How to have a good marriage,” and my personal favorite, “God Can Even Save a Porn Star.”  Instead of addressing the real need of our generation:  salvation by grace through Jesus Christ by the exposition of God’s Word, people who somehow wander into our churches today are serve warmed up, less than mediocre junk.  Paul would be ashamed.

(b)  A Parting Charge and Warning, verses 28—31

Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  (verse 30)

We might refer to Paul as a kind of “general superintendent” of the early church, and the order of Paul’s exhortations is important.  He first tells them to “keep watch over yourselves,” meaning the first duty of the Christian leader is to his own soul for he cannot minister to others unless he himself has taken care of his own spiritual condition.   Then his responsibility is to feed the flock—to shepherd the church.  Finally, Paul ends this section of his message on a dark note:  false teachers are on the horizon.  In fact, it’s not just false teachers he warns them about it is the fact that the false teachers will come from within their own ranks!

Here is a real insight into the inner workings of Paul’s mind.   He could have warned them about the impending persecutions under Nero.  He could have warned them about dangers from outside the church, but instead, Paul warned the leaders of the Ephesian church that the greatest danger the church faced was going to come from within:  the false teachers would come from inside the church.  The greatest peril that faces the church in every age is a gradual, almost unnoticeable descent into apostasy.   J.B. Philips translates Paul’s warning this way—

Yes, and even among you men will arise speaking perversions of the truth, trying to draw away the disciples and make them followers of themselves.

Some think Paul was referring to the Judaizers who were already hard at work trying to make Christians over into their own image.  This is possible, but I suspect Paul was referring to all kinds of false teachers, including Gnostics and those preaching the Gospel for their own gain.  That the Ephesian elders put into practice what Paul had said is evident given what Jesus said about the church in Revelation.

3.  Love sacrificially, 20:32—38

(a)  Holy Inheritance, verse 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.

There is nothing better than to commit someone to the Lord, as Paul has done.  Only the “word of his grace” is sufficient to build someone up in faith and keep them in the faith.  The Gospel has an innate power to strengthen and establish believers because it came from Christ.

The “inheritance” Paul speaks of is for those who have been “sanctified,” that is, “set apart.”  This refers to those who are personally sanctified; those who are actively living lives distinctly different from those in the world, but also to the Church as a whole, as it has been set apart by God to holy and distinct from the world.

Although he does not discuss what the “inheritance” consists of here, Paul does, in his letters, refer to the treasures believers have laid up and to rewards they will receive.

(b)  Material Matters, verse 33—35

I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.  (verse 33)

Even though Jesus taught that those who preach the Gospel deserved to receive an income for doing so (Luke 10:7, see also 1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:18), Paul never took advantage of that right.  He refused to be a burden to any congregation, although he never refused a monetary gift.  These Ephesian elders had seen Paul working and providing for his own needs and they would be able to testify, if need be, that Paul never once took advantage of them.  Paul practiced what he preached—

If you will not work, you shall not eat.  (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Greed has ruined the life and ministry of many ministers.  But Paul was determined that would never happen to him and he also wanted to head off any criticism of his ministry by his Judaisitic opponents.  He, in effect, was taking away any ammunition from them.

The end of verse 34 provides us with a small glimpse of the character of the great apostle.  He was great, not only because of his towering intellect and profound teachings, he was great because he worked to provide for his own needs, as well as the needs of his friends—

You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.

(c)  A final prayer, verses 36—38

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down and prayed.  The love and devotion these elders had for Paul was obvious and matched only by Paul’s love and devotion for them.  The Ephesian elders wept loudly and Paul, like a good father, embraced them and kissed them.   The verb “kissed” is a compound, meaning literally, “to kiss fervently, kiss affectionately.”  The word is also in the imperfect tense, meaning they “kept on kissing fervently.”  In other words, we might say that these men found it most difficult “to let Paul go.”  In fact, we read this—

Then they accompanied him to the ship.

These men realized they may never see Paul again; the end had come.  They escorted Paul to the ship; apparently the meeting took place in the city someplace, and watched him sail of.  By the good graces of God, these men probably did meet with Paul again, after his release from his Roman imprisonment.

Conclusion

There are a number of valuable lessons in this story.  First, we see the respect that these elders had for their elder, Paul.  He was the “head elder in charge,” and these men traveled a distance to meet with him.  They respected Paul and they respected his position.

But Paul had earned their respect; he was not lazy in his work habits or his spiritual habits.  He expected the same from these men.  Just as Paul saw to his own spiritual condition, so he expected them to; (1) make sure they were right with God in every way, then, (2) make sure the members of the congregation were right with God.

Ultimately, though, Paul knew that only God could build up this church, as He builds up every church, through the preaching of His Word.  The Word is no weak instrument.  It is the power of God unto salvation, and it is by this very Word the God is building up His church today and preparing it for a glorious future.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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