Acts 20

Paul leaves Ephesus and begins the journey which will end with his imprisonment in Rome.  He travels through Macedonia to Greece, and then back through Macedonia encouraging and ministering to the churches there.  He returns to Asia and performs an amazing miracle in Troas before calling for the elders of Ephesus to have a final word with them.  This text shows us God working through Paul in a powerful way and also allows us to eavesdrop on what Paul decides are the most important words he can leave with men he will never see again.

After the town clerk of Ephesus dismisses the crowd from the theater and the demonstration for Artemis dies down, Paul – who perhaps has been in hiding during the near-riot – sends for the disciples (meaning all the believers in Ephesus or perhaps a representative group of them).  Paul exhorts them and then leaves.  His three year ministry in Ephesus is effectively over.

He travels from Ephesus to Macedonia and revisits the churches he started on the second journey.  He presumably visits Thessalonica, Berea and Philippi giving them much exhortation.  After he spends time in Macedonia he travels south into Greece and likely revisits Athens and Corinth.  In Corinth he stays for three months, probably during winter, and waits to sail back to Syria and Antioch.

It is during these three months in Corinth that Paul likely writes the letter to the Romans.  He mentions in the letter that he has taken up a collection in Macedonia and Greece that he wants to take back to Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-29).  He later says that he stays at the house of Gaius (16:23), and in his first letter to the Corinthians identifies Gaius as being from Corinth (I Cor 1:14).  These three references point to Paul writing Romans during this time.

Paul intends to sail back to Syria from Corinth as soon as winter breaks and the sea routes become navigable.  However, he finds out that the Jews are plotting to kill him and so decides to travel north by land through Macedonia.  It is possible that Jewish pilgrims going back to Jerusalem for Passover – note verse 6 that shows this takes place before Passover – are sailing on the same ship as Paul and plot to kill him on the way.  There is no way to know if this is what he discovers but the Spirit clearly uses the plot to direct Paul back through Macedonia.

The trip from Corinth to Philippi – the last stop in Macedonia – is 450 miles and likely takes around five weeks.  Paul apparently stays in Philippi while his companions – Sopater, Aristarchus (presumably the same man who was dragged into the theatre in Ephesus (19:29)), Secundus, Gaius (who is from Derbe, which seems to mean he is different from the Gaius mentioned in 19:29 with Aristarchus, and the Gaius – referenced above – who hosted Paul in Corinth), Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus – proceed to Troas.  Note that his companions represent most of the areas Paul has ministered in (except for Greece).  It could be that some of these men travel with him to accompany the offering their churches gave for the saints in Jerusalem.

While his companions go to Troas (across the sea in Asia), Paul and Luke stay in Philippi for Passover.  This is the first time Luke uses the first person us to refer to the group.  It is possible that he has stayed in Philippi since the second journey (16:11-12) and only now rejoins Paul.  He and Paul sail from Philippi (they actually sail from Neapolis, the port city of Philippi) and meet the group in Troas (they sail for five days between Neapolis and Troas, but the trip from Troas to Neapolis on the second journey seemed to take only two days (16:11); one trip was apparently with the wind and the other against it).

In Troas the believers gather on Sunday to eat and listen to Paul teach.  They gather in the upper room of a three story building (which for some reason most commentators think means the second floor as we think of floors).  They likely gather toward the end of the day as Sunday is a work day.  Paul begins to speak and interact with the group and, because he intends to leave the next day, continues speaking to make sure he tells them everything he wants them to know.  His time with them extends past the normal bedtime for everyone and actually goes all the way to midnight.

The upper room is filled with lamps since it is obviously well past sunset.  These lamps have likely been brought by participants who used them to guide their way to the house.  The lamps give off heat and odor as well as light and probably make the upper room very conducive to drowsiness.

Sitting at a window is a young man (he is called a young man in verse 9 and a boy in verse 12 – this means he is anywhere from 12 to 30 years old)  named Eutychus (in Greek his name means ‘Lucky’ – quite the irony).  Eutychus becomes drowsy (and perhaps hungry if in fact they do not eat until after midnight – see verse 11) as Paul continues talking and eventually falls asleep entirely.  When he falls asleep he falls out of the window and dies when he hits the ground below.  The drop is probably not all that far but apparently he hits the ground in just the right way for the fall to kill him.

When the boy falls everything stops in the upper room as the crowd rushes down to tend to him.  They realize when they reach him that he is dead.  Paul also comes down and immediately lies down on the young man and embraces him (similar to Elijah when he raised the widow of Zarephath’s son – I Kin 17:21 – and Elisha when he raised the Shunammite’s son – II Kin 4:34-35).  He then stands up and tells the onlookers, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.”  The crowd sees the boy is alive and is greatly comforted.

Note that the text does not imply that the boy did not actually die when he fell.  When Paul says, “…his life is in him” he means that his life is in him now that Paul – through the power of the Holy Spirit – has raised him.  The effect on the crowd must be profound.

Paul goes back upstairs and eats with the believers (raising people from the dead really stokes an appetite).  He continues talking to them until daybreak.  This seems incredible at first but actually makes sense if we consider the mood and energy of the crowd after the boy’s resurrection.

The group – except for Paul – leaves Troas and sails to Assos where Paul meets them after traveling overland.  No explanation is in the text as to why Paul goes alone from Troas rather than with the group.  From Assos they sail from city to city along the coast of Asia until they reach Miletus, just past Ephesus.  Paul does not stop in Ephesus probably because he knows he will be detained by the believers there and he wants to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost (no way to know why this is but perhaps he wants to present the offering to the church at the festival).

In Miletus Paul sends for the elders of Ephesus to speak to them one last time.  He knows he is going to Jerusalem and will likely never see them again and so desires to say goodbye and give them a final admonition.  The time it takes to send messengers to Ephesus and bring the elders back could be as long as eight days.  Paul awaits the men probably itching to resume the trip to Jerusalem.

When the elders arrive Paul addresses them.  Luke records the high points of the speech as he does other speeches throughout the book.  Interestingly, this is the only speech in Acts addressed to a Christian audience.

Paul begins by defending his ministry.  It is hard to know if this is because he has been attacked or he simply wants to establish his credibility for what he is about to say.  He tells them that though he was personally affected by the plots of the Jews against him (with tears and with trials), he did not let the threats keep him from declaring anything that was profitable.  He was a slave to Jesus with all humility and proclaimed the whole truth of the gospel regardless of the opposition he faced.

How many people do we know who could say what Paul says in verse 19 without causing us to roll our eyes or raise our eyebrows at their conceit?  Or which of us would ever be bold enough to say these things about ourselves?  Paul’s character apparently is such that no one begrudges the truth of what he says.  He was so humble that they see no problem with him claiming to be humble.  And he is able to claim this even though he was with them for three years and exposed to them the whole time (vs 18).  He had nowhere to hide his true character and yet they accept his words about humility without argument.  This is what it means to live a Spirit-filled life bearing the Spirit’s fruit.

He tells them the Spirit compels him to go to Jerusalem and that he does not know what will happen to him there except the Spirit also tells him that bonds and afflictions await me.  Think about that for a minute.  The Holy Spirit tells him explicitly to go to where he will be arrested and persecuted.  The Spirit effectively makes him go to where all kinds of bad things await him.  This is yet another of the six billion examples in the Bible that God’s ways are not our ways.  God knows that somehow Paul’s arrest and trials and imprisonment will actually help the gospel spread in a way it otherwise would not if Paul remains free.  And though Paul does not know why the Spirit wants him to go to Jerusalem, he knows God will be with him and so willingly goes (even with the expectation that it could result in his death – see vs 24).  Remember that he is even in a hurry to go.  God’s actions and Paul’s response make our complaints about things not going according to our plans seem kind of foolish, don’t they?  [It is noteworthy that Paul makes a final trip to Jerusalem much the same way as Christ (Lk 9:51).  Both went knowing that awful times awaited them and yet both resolutely determined to go even in the face of that knowledge.]

In verse 24 Paul gives the elders his mission statement.  He says his life is not of any value to him except that he wants to finish his course.  He wants to fulfill the ministry Jesus gave to him of solemnly testifying of the gospel of the grace of God.  Nothing matters but the gospel.  And if for the sake of the gospel he must lose his life then that is OK because that is his mission.  His life is not what matters – so what awaits him in Jerusalem is not an issue – what matters is the spread of the gospel and serving his Savior.

This really should be the mission statement of any Christian.  We may not be so dramatic as to say we will die for the gospel since few of us will be called to that.  But we should be willing to give up our expectation of comfort and happiness and a self-directed life for the sake of the gospel.  We should be willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow our Redeemer.  We have the same Great Commission as Paul given by the same Savior.  We should be able to say that our lives are of no account to us except that we want to finish the course and fulfill our mission.  Just like Paul, our lives are not about us.

Paul now comes to the final words he will speak to the elders.  What he says in verses 25-35 is what he wants to leave with men he will never see again.  This is the final charge of a man speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to a group of church leaders before he leaves them for the last time.  It is enormously instructive to read these verses in that light.

It is also important to realize that what he says is applicable to more than just church leaders.  These words are meant for elders but they are applicable to any believer.  Anyone who is in a leadership position either in the church or in a family or even simply as the leaders of their own lives will benefit from what Paul says.  If we substitute the word ‘soul’ for ‘church’ and ‘flock’ throughout these verses it makes what he says applicable to everyone.

He tells them they will not see him again and though his ministry among them is over it is not unfinished.  He faithfully proclaimed everything he was supposed to proclaim everywhere he was supposed to proclaim it (19:10,26).  Thus he is innocent of the blood of any man who did not believe the gospel.  There is nothing in his mission that he did not fulfill in Ephesus.

With that in mind they must now guard what Paul has left to them.  They must diligently keep themselves from falling and guard the believers in their care.  The church Paul leaves to them is the church Christ purchased with His own blood.  There is nothing more valuable and thus nothing more worthy of their diligent protection and care (our soul is purchased with the precious blood of Christ – I Pet 1:17-19 – and thus there is nothing more worthy of our diligent care and protection).

After Paul is gone false teachers will arise from among the flock – maybe even from among the men Paul now addresses – and try to draw members away from the truth.  Therefore the elders must be on the alert and both feed the flock – as Paul did for three years – and guard the flock.  They must work as hard as Paul did and diligently fulfill their mission as leaders (we must feed and guard our souls and work both night and day to stay committed to the truth – there are no vacation days and no time off – the soul that is not fed truth eventually loses its taste for it).

After telling them to be diligent and to work hard he commits them to God and to the gospel.  He tells them that ultimately God will build them up through the word of His grace – the gospel.  They must live on the gospel and live out the gospel.  It is the gospel that determines their inheritance of glorious eternal life.  They must live through the grace of God as they lead and guard the flock.  They must work diligently but only through the grace God provides (we must live on the word of His grace as we diligently protect our souls – we must look at ourselves and the world and others in the light of our inheritance – we must be built up through the gospel and not through the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the boastful pride of life).

Paul finishes by referring again to his example in ministry.  He did not burden them to support him while he was with them.  He did not ask for any material wealth from them at all and was not motivated in any way by greed.  Through the work of his hands he supported himself and those who ministered with him (this could explain, by the way, the sweaty handkerchiefs and aprons that people carried to the sick and demon-possessed to heal them (19:12)).  Even more, by working as he did he showed them that one of the main purposes of work is to help the weak.  After all, Jesus said (though this is not recorded anywhere in the Bible), “It is more blessed to give than to receive.

It is illuminating that Paul ends his charge with this example (it is also notable that these words come directly after he encourages them to live on the gospel – a life rooted in the gospel sees the poor through the lens of the unmerited favor Jesus showers on His children – thus giving to the poor is a natural outgrowth of living the gospel).  The last section of his last words concern caring for the poor.  Paul seems to say that one of the main reasons believers work is to minister to those who are without.  And that as we work we should remember Jesus’ words that it is a higher privilege to give than to receive.  Helping the weak is so important to Paul – speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – that he makes it the final admonition of his final admonition.  There is no way to read these words and come away thinking that it is OK to live normal American lives.  Believers are called to have radically different priorities from the materialistic society around them.

When Paul finishes speaking he kneels down and prays with the elders.  The men are so distraught over Paul’s farewell that they weep aloud and embrace him.  They love him so much that they repeatedly kiss him (thus illustrating how different their culture is from ours).  After the painful goodbye they accompany him to his ship where he will resume his journey to Jerusalem.

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