November 28, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic D: The Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:14) 

                

                          

Lesson: IV.D.6: Paul's Words at Miletus with the Ephesian Elders (20:13-38)

 

 

Acts 20:13-38 (KJV)

 

13 And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot.

14 And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene.

15 And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus.

16 For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:

20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,

21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.

24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.

25 And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.

34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.

35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

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

37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him,

38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

13 And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot.

 

Paul’s journey resumed with an entourage consisting of the collection delegation, including Luke as biographer, setting sail from “Troas” to “Assos”{1].  Perhaps they took a smaller vessel that ran close to the coast, intending to look for a seagoing ship to Palestine at Miletus.  Paul did not accompany them at first but chose instead to go by foot to “Assos,” an easy journey of around 20 miles—there he would join up with the others.  The boat would have had to go around Cape Lectum in order to reach “Assos,” a longer (nearly 40 miles) and more difficult route than the land route.  This, most likely, made it possible for Paul to catch up with the boat there—he could have arrived in “Assos” not long after it did or even before it did.  Just why Paul did not leave with the boat at Troas is not specified.  He may not have relished the difficult voyage around the Cape, or he may have wished to spend the last possible moment at Troas, or perhaps the incident with Eutychus had delayed him, or he simply wanted to be alone.  Paul needed solitude in which to think over the past, prepare for the future, to tune up his own soul, and be sure he was walking in God’s will.  Then, too, he needed to give final instructions to the elders{2]of the great Ephesian church{3], but first, he needed to think through the best way to bring them together and pray about his last message to those men.  Finally, there is one commentator who may have hit the nail on the head with this remark: “Well, I’m sure it was so that he could witness along the way.  I think as he walked, there were many places along the way where he would stop to witness to people.”

 

 

14 And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene{8].

 

The journey from Troas to Mitylene” is described with exceptional detail.  It seems to have taken about five days’ sailing time, with each port mentioned representing a day’s journey.  They evidently put into port each night.  The winds usually died during the night, and the rocky coastal area was safer sailing during the daytime.  From “Assos” their voyage took them to Mitylene,” the chief city of the island of Lesbos, located on the eastern shore of the island.

 

 

15 And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium{6]; and the next day we came to Miletus.

 

The next day’s voyage took them just off shore of the island of “Chios” (Kios), which was famous as the birthplace of the poet Homer.  The following day they passed by the island of “Samos,” the birthplace of the “founder of mathematics,” Pythagoras.  On the final day they sailed to “Miletus,” a major Asian City in Paul’s day which lay on the south shore of the Latonian gulf at the mouth of the Maeander River.

 

 

16 For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia {7]: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

 

The question was whether to visit “Ephesus” while he was at Miletus and thus indulge a strong desire to see again that great and thriving church, or to hurry on to “Jerusalem” to be there in time for “Pentecost.”  He could not do both, and this time “Jerusalem” won.

 

To some people, this verse presents something of a puzzle, for it clearly says that Paul had decided to avoid stopping at “Ephesus” in his haste to reach “Jerusalem” by “Pentecost.”  Perhaps Paul particularly wanted to be in “Jerusalem” at “Pentecost” because it was the anniversary of the birthday of the church. Chronologically, the reference to “Pentecost” is quite appropriate allowing for the seven days of unleavened bread spent in Philippi, the five days to Troas, the week in Troas, and the five days to Miletus, Paul would have arrived in Miletus about halfway between Passover and “Pentecost” —there were 50 days between Passover (Acts 20:6) and “Pentecost” (v. 16).  When Paul arrived in “Jerusalem”, however, there was no further mention of it being the time of “Pentecost.” 

 

 

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

 

Verse 17 tells how he “sent” for the “elders” at “Ephesus,” requesting them to come to him at “Miletus.”  We are not told specifically why he chose NOT to make the journey to “Ephesus” instead of sending for the “elders,” but we can speculate. “Miletus” was some 30 miles or so from “Ephesus,” and the main coastal road was somewhat longer. It has been estimated that the time involved in sending a messenger and for the “elders” to travel to “Miletus” was about five days.  Saving time would not likely have been the prime factor in Paul’s avoiding “Ephesus.” If he went to “Ephesus” he would have a two-way journey, he would be hard-pressed to stay, and he might find himself embroiled in further rioting; it may be that it was not safe for him to go to “Ephesus” at this time (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  It also may be that he was tied to his ship’s schedule, with “Miletus,” not “Ephesus” as the port of call.  Or perhaps Paul simply thought that if he visited “Ephesus” there would be no way to tear himself away quickly from the Christians there.  It would be more expeditious to have the leaders come to him; and by calling the “elders” to him he could get them alone, he could make a deeper impression on them, he could save time, and he could still hasten on to Jerusalem. 

 

Paul’s address to the Ephesian “elders” is the third and final example in Acts of his speeches during the course of his missionary work.  The first, delivered in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (13:16-41), was given during the course of his first mission and was to a Jewish audience.  The second, delivered before the Athenian Areopagus (17:22-31), was given during his second mission and was to a Gentile audience.  The “Miletus” address was delivered in the course of his third mission and was given before a Christian gathering.

 

Of all Paul’s speeches in Acts, the “Miletus” address has the most in common with Paul’s epistles.  There are many parallels both in wording and in general thought.  This striking similarity may be due to the fact that this address is not a missionary sermon or a legal defense as with his other addresses in Acts.  It is delivered to Christians—the only address in Acts which Paul gives to Christians—and thus has more similarity to the epistles, which were also addressed to Christians.  In form the address can be characterized as a “farewell address.” It is delivered as a conscious final legacy of the apostle to the leaders of the Asian “church.”  Paul did not expect to return.  As a farewell speech it has much in common with similar speeches in both the Old and New Testaments.  Examples are Jacob’s legacy to his sons in Genesis 49, Joshua’s farewell address to Israel in Joshua 23-24, and Samuel’s farewell to the nation in 1 Samuel 12.  New Testament examples include Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-38; John 13-17).  The most striking parallels to the “Miletus” speech are Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-16 and 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8. Certain common features characterize these addresses: the assembling of the family or followers, the note that the speaker will soon depart or die, sometimes an appeal to the personal example of the speaker, and exultations to desired behavior on the part of the hearers, and often a prediction of coming times of trial and difficulty.  All of these features are present in Paul’s “Miletus” address.  Although delivered specifically to the Ephesian “elders,” it is a suitable legacy from the apostle for all his churches as he left his field of mission and challenged the “church” leaders to continue in his footsteps.

 

The “Miletus” address is not easy to outline.  Basically the speech falls into two main portions: Paul’s relationship with the Ephesians—his ministry among them, his present plans, and his future prospects (vs. 17-27)—and his exhortation to them for their role as church leaders (vs.  28-35).  The following discussion follows a fourfold division: (1) Paul’s appraisal of his past example in ministering to them (vs. 18-21), (2) Paul’s consideration of his future prospects (vs.  22-27), (3) his warning to the “elders” to be on guard against future false teachings (vs.  28-31), and (4) a commitment of their ministry to God and final warnings to follow his example (vs.  32-35).  Verse 17 provides an introduction to the speech, noting the assembling of the “elders” in response to Paul’s invitation.  Paul’s speech follows promptly.

 

 

18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

 

Paul’s speech begins here.  He begins by reminding the elders how he had conducted himself during the whole time that he was with them and ministering to them. 

 

 

19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations [trials], which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:

 

The apostle pointed to THREE basic characteristics of his ministry.  FIRST was the humilitythat had marked his service for “the Lord.” His words and acts, while in Ephesus provided them with a true example of “humility.”  Paul’s language here is reminiscent of his epistles.  He was a plain preacher, one that spoke his message in a way that could be understood.  He often spoke of “serving the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:9; Colossians 3:24)—Jesus—and described himself as a servant or “bond-slave” of Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1). The proper demeanor of a servant is “humility,” and Paul frequently pointed to that quality as a major hallmark of the Christian life (Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 4:2).  He had demonstrated before them the “mind” of Christ— “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who. . .  Humbled himself” (Philippians 2:5; 8). The motive for Paul’s ministry is found in the phrase “serving the Lord.” He was not interested in making money (v. 33) or in enjoying an easy life (vs. 34-35), for he was the bond slave of Jesus Christ (v. 24; Romans 1:1).  Paul was careful to let people know that his motives for ministry were spiritual and not selfish (1 Thessalonians 2:1-13).

 

He had demonstrated before them an example of patient suffering.  The “Jews” had been the plague of his life, persecuting him almost nonstop.  Luke has not told us the half of it in his account of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus.  But these Ephesian elders knew the full story.  It is surprising, therefore, that Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his trials (“temptations”) as a result of the plots of the “Jews.”  The account of his Ephesian Ministry in Acts does not reveal any specific Jewish plot against him, although such plots occur frequently in the overall story of Paul’s mission—at Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth.  The most recent plot was ultimately responsible for his presence at Miletus at this time, causing him to change his original plan to sail directly to Syria from Corinth— “. . . Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. (20:3). [The “Jews” laid wait for him, as he was about to sail to Syria in order to go to Jerusalem; which the “Jews” learned from some unknown source. They planned to take from him, the money meant for the poor in Jerusalem or to kill him, or both. The apostle had learned of the plot, either by divine revelation or from somebody who was in on the secret, and he took steps to avoid their trap.]

 

“Serving the Lord” was never easy for Paul, for he says that he shed “many tears.” The “tears” were not for his own hard times (literally, “trials” or “temptations”), which were on the contrary, a source of joy, but for the suffering of others—for those “in Christ” who faced trials (v. 31; Romans 9:2; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18) and for those without Christ who lived in a world “without hope and without God” (Ephesians 2:12).  We may take his reference to “tears” literally; Paul was no Stoic{4] for whom impassivity{5] was a virtue.  He had served “with all humility” in a world in which “humility” was deemed to be a fault, not a virtue—the character befitting only a slave.)

 

 

20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,

 

A SECOND characteristic of Paul’s ministry was the openness of his proclamations and testimonies.  He kept no secrets, held nothing back—he “kept back nothing that was profitable” “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Whatever was true to the Gospel and helpful to the faithful, he preached both “publicly and from house to house.”  The mention of public proclamations brings to mind memories of Paul’s days in the synagogue of Ephesus and the lecture hall of Tyrannous (19:8).  The reference to houses most likely relates to the house-church meetings of the Ephesian Christians.  In contrast, some were not so open in their witness, i.e., false teachers who advocated hidden and secret doctrines.  Paul warned the Ephesians leaders later in his speech that such would arise to plague their own church (v.  29).  He reminded them of the honesty and openness of his own preaching.  When one was faithful to the truth, there was nothing to hide. 

 

This raises the question of WHAT DID PAUL PREACH TO THE EPHESIAN CHRISTIANS?  To be able to answer the question, we have to explore nearly all his epistles, but especially his epistle to the Ephesians.  The teaching of Ephesians revolves around the Christian’s wealth, walk, and warfare.  Of all Paul’s letters, his Ephesian letter climbs the highest heights, plunges to the deepest depths, embraces the profoundest truths.  Paul “kept nothing back.”

 

 

21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The FINAL characteristic of Paul’s ministry was the inclusiveness of his witness.  He had preached to everyone, both “Jews and . . . Greeks.”  No one had been left out.  This had indeed been the case in Ephesus— This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (19:10).  Paul saw his own special calling as being the apostle to the Gentiles, but he never abandoned the synagogue.  Perhaps more clearly than anyone else in the church of his day, Paul saw the full implications of his monotheism.  God is the God of all.  In “Christ” He reaches out for the salvation of all who will trust in Him.  There is no distinction— Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too” (Romans 3:29).  There is no room for exclusiveness in the Gospel in the sense that the Gospel is for Gentiles and “Jews,” slave and free, and men and women.  The Gospel itself is, however, exclusive in its claims, “for there is no other name under heaven . . .  By which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Salvation is available only in the name of Jesus.

 

The description of the Gospel could hardly be more “Pauline” than as stated in this verse.  It is to repent, to turn from one’s former life to God and to “believe,” to place ones trust in Jesus.  Here Paul describes the Gospel as “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s method of visitation was not just to leave a cheery greeting and an invitation to church.  His purpose was to confront people with the claims of “Christ,” with the need for “repentance” and regeneration.  It did not matter to Paul if it was a Jewish home or a Gentile home, a pious home or a pagan home.  His message was to the point: repent and put your “faith” in the “Lord Jesus Christ.”  These are two fundamental elements of the gospel.  In every genuine case of conversion, there are both “repentance” and “faith.”  In many New Testament passages, “faith” alone is stated to be the condition of salvation.  However, “faith” presupposes “repentance.”  How could a person truly accept “Jesus Christ” as Savior unless he realized that he needed a Savior?  This realization is brought about by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, “is repentance.”

 

Commentators sometimes remark that Paul appears to have been on the defensive in his Miletus address.  Such was NOT the case.  Paul was not defending his ministry.  He was presenting it as an example for the Ephesian leaders to emulate.  It is a worthy example for every servant of the “Lord”: A MINISTRY MARKED BY HUMILITY, OPENNESS, AND INCLUSIVENESS AND ROOTED IN THE GOSPEL.

 

 

22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

 

Having reminded the Ephesian leaders of his example during his presence with them, Paul now prepared them for his absence.  Paul was leaving them and was on his way to “Jerusalem, not knowing” what would happen to him there.  He evidently had first decided to take this course while still in Ephesus—After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also” (19:21).  He was going to Jerusalem with the collection, and he did indeed have serious misgivings (premonitions) about how it would be received there and was fully aware that the enterprise involved some personal risk— “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there” (Romans 15:31). Paul had a double concern, not merely his own safety, but the attitude of the church members themselves. Would they be willing to accept the collection which he had gathered through the expenditure of so vast a measure of time and energy? If they did not, it would jeopardize the unity of the church and possibility destroy the Gentile missions he had worked to establish.

 

 

23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.

 

Under the compulsion of the “Spirit,” Paul was going to Jerusalem.  On the other hand, the “Spirit” was warning him “in every city” that hardships, even imprisonment, awaited him.  Some of these warnings were given through other Christians and were reported in the next chapter (21:4, 11). “The Holy Ghost witnesseth” to me probably means that disciples (maybe prophets) in the various cities, inspired by the “Holy Spirit,” had a premonition confirming his own impression of the leadership of the “Spirit,” and that imprisonment awaited Paul in Jerusalem—though he would not know the details until he heard Agabus’s prophesy (21:10, 11). The activity of the “Spirit” could be seen as contradictory here.  On the one hand, Paul was driven on to Jerusalem.  On the other hand, he was warned of the extreme risk in going there.  These messages of the “Spirit” were not at odds.  Paul was indeed being led to Jerusalem.  God had a purpose for his going there.  The warnings prepared him for what awaited him in Jerusalem and assured him that whatever happened, God was in it.  He would be arrested and afflicted if he went to Jerusalem.  He knew it in his innermost soul; he knew it from God; but he was determined to go. He had done much harm to the Jerusalem church in his unconverted days, had made so many widows, so many orphans, so many beggars.  Now he had a chance to relieve the sufferings and hardships of the poor saints in Jerusalem with a handsome gift collected from churches he had planted in the Gentile world.  He felt he had an obligation to go.  He longed to see, with his own eyes, some of the damage repaired, and the “Holy Spirit” respected that.  He allowed Paul to go, but he left Paul in no doubt as to what he could expect. Paul would undergo severe trials in Jerusalem, but through them he would ultimately bear his witness in Rome, which was his own heart’s desire— “God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you” (Romans 1:9).

 

There is a point in verses 22 and 23 over which many great teachers of the Bible differ.  Many good, authoritative Bible teachers believe that Paul made a mistake in going to Jerusalem.  They think that he should not have gone.  However, this testimony which Paul gives is very clear.  I believe that he was entirely in the will of God in going to Jerusalem.  He is saying in effect, “I am going to Jerusalem.  I am bound in the “Spirit” because everywhere I have gone, the “Spirit” of God has shown me the that “bonds” (prison) and affliction await me in Jerusalem.” Now that is different from Acts 16 when he was forbidden by the “Spirit” of God to preach in Asia.  In fact, God simply put up roadblocks which directed him to Europe.  There is no roadblock here.  Rather the “Spirit” of God is revealing to Paul what he will be walking into when he reaches Jerusalem.

 

 

24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

 

In verse 24 Paul stated the reason he was willing to face the dangers in Jerusalem.  He was ready to surrender his “life” for the “gospel.”  In his epistles, Paul often stated his readiness to suffer, even to die, for Christ.  The description of his “ministry” as running a footrace is also common in his letters.  The most noticeable parallel is with 2 Timothy 4:7, where the phrase “finished the race” also appears.  The race that Paul was running was the “ministry” he had received from Jesus.  That “ministry” is described as “his testimony to the gospel of God’s grace.” Oddly, that exact phrase never occurs in the epistles of Paul.  One could not summarize the heart of Paul’s message better than to say it is the “good news of God’s grace.” It is the only message that can save the sinner (1 Corinthians 15: 1-8; Galatians 1:6-12).

 

 

25 And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

 

Paul now gave his last farewell to the Ephesian elders.  They would never see his “face” again.  Paul was on his way to Jerusalem.  Danger awaited him there.  Even if he survived the present visit to Jerusalem, he never expected to be back in Asia Minor. This was not an inspired prediction of what was certainly to be, but what the apostle, in his peculiar circumstances, fully expected.  Whether, therefore, he ever did see them again, is a question to be decided purely on its own evidence.  Though he may have gone there after his release from his first Roman imprisonment, he could not at this time have foreseen that possibility.  

 

Paul had completed his work in the east and now turned to a New Mission in the west— in his letter to the Romans he said: “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you” (Romans 15:23). This does NOT mean that Paul was no longer welcome to preach the Gospel in those places where he had labored long and with great success, but that under the rules Paul had laid down for himself relative to “preaching” the gospel only where it was not already known, he had used up all of the opportunities of the kind he sought. Therefore, he planned the mission to Spain, including Rome as a necessary way-station, where he planned to request their aid and assistance.

 

 

26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

 

He concluded this portion of the speech with the statement that he was innocent of “the blood of all men,” because he had proclaimed the full will of God.  As far as Ephesus was concerned, he had fully evangelized and warned that city.  If people remained in their sins, it was no fault of his.  His hands were clean, no “blood” guiltiness rested on his conscience.  He called upon his friends, the Ephesian elders, to corroborate this remarkable claim.

 

 

27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

 

Here he seems to draw from the “watchman” analogy of Ezekiel 33:1-6.  The watchman fulfills his task when he blows the warning trumpet in the face of danger.  Once he has sounded his warning, he is no longer responsible for the lives of those he is appointed to warn.  Paul had preached “all the counsel of God” (the full Gospel), the whole will of God—the entire plan and purpose of God for man’s salvation in “all” its fullness: divine truths of creation, election, redemption, justification, adoption, conversion, sanctification, holy living, and glorification. 

 

Paul strongly condemned those who adulterate the truth of Scripture.  He had called people to repentance.  Now the responsibility rested with them.  Again this remark is not to be seen so much as Paul’s defense of himself as it is an example to the Ephesian leaders.  They were to do what Paul had done before them, herald the gospel and call to repentance.  This is the task of a Christian witness, to proclaim “all the counsel of God.”  Witnesses can do no more.  The response is not theirs but the hearer’s responsibility. 

 

 

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

 

The third section of Paul’s speech exhorts the Ephesian leaders to be vigilant shepherds over the “flock” of God, warning of savage wolves (v. 29) who would arise in the future to prey upon it.  The clear function of verse 28 in this appeal is to give a basic charge to the elders to be watchful “overseers” of their “flock,” and immediately afterwards he tells them “to feed the church of God.” This is the business of the officers of the church.  They are NOT to run the church, but they are to see that the church is fed the Word of God.  It is important to notice, however, that Paul’s first exhortation to the elders called for them to “take heed therefore unto yourselves” (guard yourselves).  Since he would never again meet them on earth, he delivered a solemn charge to the elders that they should first of all “take heed” to their own spiritual condition.  Unless they were living in fellowship with the Lord, they could not expect to be a spiritual guide in “the church.”

 

“The flock” means “little flock,” and it calls to mind the challenge of the Lord Jesus to His own: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  God’s people in the world are indeed a little flock, defenseless and much despised by the world’s great.  But they are infinitely precious to God.

 

The whole idea of an “overseer” or elder or bishop or pastor in the New Testament is implicit in the affectionate term “shepherd,” which is often mentioned when describing our Christian pastors, etc. The term “shepherd” pictures for us the concern and compassion of a man whose life is devoted to his “flock.” A shepherd guides and guards his sheep, grooming them, going before them, leading them beside the still waters and green pastures.  He knows each one by name.  He defends them against wild animals and robbers, fights for them, feeds them, gathers them into the fold.  The Lord Jesus portrayed Himself as a shepherd. 

 

Paul reminds these elders that they are under-shepherds of “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Purchased at such a high cost that the Lord’s people are of infinite worth, and the work of a shepherd is one that comes with awesome responsibility.  Paul reminds them, too, that the “Holy Ghost” had made them “overseers.”  Elders (pastors) are not chosen by popular vote. The “Holy Spirit” does not treat the whole assembly as though they had equal rights and gifts and privileges— “the Holy Spirit . . .  made you overseers.” Only the “Holy Spirit” can equip a man for that work and endow him with the character, compassion, and the compulsion to undertake its arduous and time-consuming tasks. 

 

Never underestimate the great importance of the church.  The church is important to God the Father because His name is on it— “the church of God.” It is important to the Son because He shed His “blood” for it; and it is important to the Holy Spirit because He is calling and equipping people to minister to the church.  It is a serious thing to be a spiritual leader in the church of the living God.

 

 

29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

 

The shepherd imagery is continued in verses 29-30 with Paul warning the Ephesian Elders of a time to come when religious predators would ravage the “flock” of God.  They would arise both from outside and inside the church.  The term “grievous (dangerous) wolves” describes the false teachers from without.  The thought was of heretical teachers, especially of hardline Jewish Christians coming in after Paul had gone and leading the people astray (see 21:21).  This had already happened in Galatia and Corinth, with the preaching of “another gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6), and was threatening elsewhere (Romans 14:1-15:13; Philippians 3:2).

 

The term “wolves” often appears in the Jewish apocalyptic literature and in Christian writings to describe false teachers and prophets.  The early Christian writings appear to be influenced by Jesus’ warning against false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing— “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). To be effective in deceiving God's people, it is essential that false teachers be disguised, hence the "sheep's clothing." This means that the church itself shall be the theater of operations for these destructive teachers. They will appear as ministers, officers, and advocates of religion. The one sure test is their fruits. That which sows discord, divides, debilitates, hinders, or thwarts in any way the true spiritual family of God is to be rejected. The great test is the false teacher's attitude toward Christ. Those who question His authority or go beyond his word are clearly of the evil one. The only proper way in which this admonition can be heeded is for the Lord's sheep to “know” the Shepherd's voice, that is, they must “know” His word and doctrine.

 

What chance does a sheep have against a wolf?  No wonder Paul urged the elders to “take heed” (v. 28). They would need to be on their toes.  They would have to fight these “wolves.”

 

 

30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

 

That false teachers (outside the Church) DID soon arise to prey upon the Asian churches is well documented in Ephesians 5:6-14 and Colossians 2:8 as well as the Letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2:2. The Letters to Timothy, which related to the Ephesian church, confirm Paul’s prediction that some from the churches own ranks would succumb to such false doctrines and “draw” other Christians with them—an implied contrast with the call of the disciple to follow Christ.

 

The Greek word for “perverse things” means “distorted” or “twisted.”  False teachers twist God’s Word for their own evil ends (13:10; 2 Peter 3:16).

 

 

31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

 

By the second century Asia was a virtual seedbed for Christian heresy.  Paul’s warning was therefore timely and essential.  It is not by chance that this section both opens and closes with an exhortation to be vigilant (vs. 28, 31), and Paul’s reference to his “three-year” (a round number) ministry with the Ephesians was not just a reminder of his warnings but also an appeal to be faithful to the sound teachings he had brought them (20:20). 

 

“Therefore watch” denotes one of the prime responsibilities of a shepherd.  The elder of a church must keep wide awake to what is happening in Christendom and the world.  The second part of the verse— “and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears”—reveals Paul’s caring heart.  He loved God’s people.  It hurt him to think of them falling prey to seducers and deceivers.  If to be forewarned was indeed to be forearmed, then Paul would be persistent day and night in warning them.  And if they forgot his words, perhaps they would “remember” his “tears.”

 

The Ephesian elders would “remember” Paul’s “tears.” His was not cold, logical, factual teaching alone.  His was teaching baptized in love and feeling and hot “tears.” He thought of how defenseless and vulnerable so many of God’s people would be once the wolves descended on the fold, and he wept.

 

 

32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

 

Now the apostle informed the elders of something very wonderful: “I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace.” Paul will no longer be with them, but he “commends” them into the mighty hand of his Lord and to the enlightenment and power of the “Word,” which is able to “build them up” with a view to the great “inheritance” of the “sanctified.” It is “a message about “grace.” But this message is able to “build . . .  up” the believer, that is, to bring the believer to maturity in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9-15; Ephesians 4:12) and “give” him or her “an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Romans 8:17).  The Bible is the source of spiritual growth (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 1 Peter 2:2) for all Christians.  Even the most advanced Christians are capable of growing, and will find that “the word of his grace” helps their growth.  And since the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), its leaders must be familiar with that truth.

 

Notice that the leaders, no less than the rest of the congregation, are subject to the authority of God’s message (the Scriptures).

 

The reference to “them which are sanctified” reflects Paul’s favorite designation of Christians as “the saints,” “them which are sanctified,” i.e., “Set apart” as God’s people in Christ.  He likewise often spoke of the future life of the Christian in terms of sharing in an “inheritance.”  Paul passed on the banner to the Ephesian elders to continue to lead the church after his departure, urging them above all to be faithful to His Gospel in the light of the coming threats. 

 

Paul was going away.  He could not stay to chase away the wolves.  The flock would not be left defenseless, however; they had God.  He would still be there.  And they had God’s “Word.” If they would cultivate a knowledge of God and His “Word,” they would become strong.  God’s “Word” had the power to protect them.  It had strengthening power to “build them up”; it had securing power to guarantee their “inheritance”; it had sanctifying power to set them apart by God’s “grace,” with all other saints, for Himself.  There Paul took his stand.  He had done all he could.  Now it was up to God and up to them.

 

 

33 I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.

 

There was, however, one matter of personal conduct which was of prime importance that he had not yet mentioned; and he ended on this note.  In a real sense he ended as he had begun (vs. 18-21), pointing to his own behavior in ministry as an example for them to follow.  Paul’s detachment from material gain is well-documented in his epistles.  He never used his ministry as a “mask to cover up greed” (1 Thessalonians 2:5).  At Corinth he supported himself with his own hands (Acts 18:2; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:12-15; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 12:13).  The same was true at Thessalonica (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

 

 

34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.

 

Verse 34 would indicate that he followed the same pattern of self-support at Ephesus that he had in other places.  In his epistle, Paul exhorted his Christian readers to follow his example and work with their own “hands,” not being dependent on others (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:9).  Paul was certainly quite willing to roll up his sleeves and work as the occasion demanded, and he was generous to share what he made with others of the Lord’s servants.  That not only helped them, but it taught others to support those busy in the Masters service.  I wonder if he raised his “hands” when he said, “these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me,” as he did when he appeared before Agrippa in chains (26:29).

 

In the Miletus speech Paul gave the additional incentive that such hard work put one in the position to help the weak.  In his epistles he showed a similar concern that Christians help the weak and needy, and that they share in one another’s burdens (Romans 15:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Ephesians 4:28; Galatians 6:2).  Greed is a universal human problem, and church leaders are not exempt (see the exhortation in verse 28 for church leaders to “watch yourselves”).  That greed among church leaders was a real problem in Asia Minor seems to be attested by the Pastoral Epistles in which Paul insisted that a major qualification for church leaders would be their detachment from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11).  It may well be that the false teachers were particularly discernable by their greed (1 Timothy 6:3-10). 

 

 

35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

 

The word rendered “showed” means “to forewarn.”  We find the word, in the Lord’s parable of the builder and his foundation: “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).  Paul’s “words” contained both example and exhortation. God expects the rich to help the poor, the strong to help the “weak,” and the healthy to “support” the sick.

 

The saying of Jesus with which Paul concluded his address is probably the most well-known: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul applied this rule to the specific problem of greed and covetousness among church leaders.  The opinion of the children of this world, is contrary to this; they are afraid of giving, unless they can count on getting.  The minister is to be a servant, a giver and not a taker.  Greed has been the downfall for many a servant of God.  This word of the Lord as applied by Paul is sound ministerial advice with which to defeat the evil influences of greed in one’s life.  It does not suggest that people who receive are less “blessed” than people who give.  (The beggar in Acts 3 would argue about that!) It could be paraphrase, “It’s better to share with others than to keep what you have and collect more.” In other words, the blessing does not come in accumulating wealth, but in sharing it.  After all, Jesus became poor that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).  One of the best commentaries on this statement is Luke 12:16-31.

 

The one who leads the flock of God should focus on the needs of others, and be more concerned with giving than with acquiring.  Paul had begun his address by listing the qualities of his own ministry as an example for the Ephesian leaders to follow.  He concluded with a final quality he had sought to model.  Perhaps he held it off to the end because he saw it as the most essential of all for a legitimate ministry. “. . . remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” was one of the Lords proverbs, part of the common knowledge of the Christian community in Paul’s day, doubtless derived from the oral teaching of the Lords disciples and not recorded elsewhere.  Not everything Jesus said and did is recorded in the gospels.  John says the world itself is not big enough to contain all the books that could have been written about the Lord Jesus (John 21:25).

 

Jesus’ life was one long example of giving, and Paul’s was a close second.  This same attitude will make our explanation of the Word ring with sincerity, conviction, and authority.  On this practical note Paul ended this great dissertation on what it means to be a New Testament pastor or elder.

 

 

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

 

Paul’s address concluded, the apostle and the elders joined together in prayer.  The prayer surely included a commitment of the elders to the Lord in their leadership of the church in Paul’s absence, and for Paul’s safe journey and deliverance in Jerusalem.

 

Observe Paul’s position in prayer— “he kneeled down.” I don’t think I kneel as often as I should when I pray.  I have pledged to do better.  I think it shows respect for God, and humility in the presence of my Creator. He deserves our respect as much as He does our love and obedience.

 

 

37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him,

 

There was a lengthy and emotional farewell, the elders embracing and kissing the apostle.  Their embracing is described literally as “falling upon his neck,” language reminiscent of the patriarchal narratives. 

 

 

38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.

 

Their sorrow was greatest over Paul’s statement “that they” would not “see” him again (v. 25).  This expectation of the Ephesian Elders need not be understood as a hard and fast prophecy that Paul would never again visit Ephesus.  The Pastoral Epistles indicate a further ministry after his release from imprisonment at Rome.  It does, however, like 20:22, 24, reflect the expectation that serious troubles and possible death lay ahead for Paul.

 

When all the “good-byes” were said, they accompanied him to the ship where they probably gave him food and provisions for the journey.

 

This section provides a transition between the Miletus speech and Paul’s narrative of his journey to Jerusalem, which follows immediately (21:1-16).   On the one hand, it concludes Paul’s Ephesian ministry with its final farewell to the leaders of the church.  For that matter it is the conclusion to his entire ministry in the east.  From now on the focus would be on Rome.  The ominous tone set by the Elders concern over not seeing the apostle again would continue and even be heightened in the course of that journey.

 

 

 

 

GENERAL NOTES:

{1] Like Troas, “Assos” was located in Mysia.  It was south of Troas and somewhat east at the mouth of the gulf of Adramytium.

{2] The word rendered “elder” is presbyter and refers to a mature person who has been selected to serve in office.  The qualifications for this office are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

{3] The “Church” is the ecclesia, the called-out company of people.

{4]“Stoic” is a word used for a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion.

{5] “Impassivity” means unsusceptible to or destitute of emotion.

{6] “Trogyllium.” A peninsula jutting into the Aegean Sea between Samos and Miletus.  Whether the ship actually stopped there is unclear, since many Greek manuscripts do not mention “Trogyllium.”

{7] “Asia” was the Asian province of which Ephesus was the chief city.

{8] “Mitylene” is the chief town of the island of Lesbos.

 

 

 

 

 

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