Acts 20:1-37

Power To Be an Example

2000, J.W. Carter
Scripture quotes from KJV

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In the 20th chapter of Acts, we find Paul ending his third missionary Journey. The focus of this mission was to visit the churches he had started in Asia and Macedonia in a path that would take him North and then West. The focus of the Journey was his three-year stay in Ephesus, a city that he passed through quickly on his second journey and he had promised to return to. At the end of chapter 19, an Ephesian silversmith, who made a living making icons of the Greek god Artemis/Diana, led a near-riot in an effort to discredit Paul and his ministry because of its impact on his business.

Acts 20:1.

And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia.

Why did Paul create such controversy everywhere he went? Certainly Paul did not fit in with the Pagan religious culture. Though he "became all things to all people", he did so to "win some to Christ."

1 Cor. 9:20-23. (KJV) And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

What kind of an example are we to set as Christians? Should we become drunk to gain the drunks? Should we practice immorality so that we can reach those who live in immorality? My family recently had a discussion of the appropriateness of the appearance of a highlighted pianist in a televised full-gospel worship service. She powdered her face white, and wore black lipstick and nail polish. This style of dress is commonly accepted by the alternative rock music community where necromancy (venerating of the dead) is practiced. Consequently, what kind of a message is being portrayed by this person? Usually the testimony of a Christian who takes on the appearance of a person with anti-Christian values is that they are trying to "be accepted," or to "fit in." "The crowd accepts me when they see me because they know that I will accept them." The list of statements goes on.

We see from the life of Paul, and many others who had a great impact on their world for the gospel that it is not necessary to "fit in" in order to demonstrate Christian love and care. Furthermore, when efforts to "fit in" cross the line to the point where your testimony is compromised by unrighteous behavior or testimony, it may be time to reassess one’s motives.

Consequently, we see that when Paul encountered the pagan culture (typified by today’s counterculture) he was able to win many to Christ because he showed them God’s love in the way he accepted them. However, he did not compromise to the point of partaking in their lifestyle, and his refusal to compromise often brought conflict. If our Christian walk is without conflict, then (1) we are walking in concert with the lost world and having no impact, or (2) we are not touching the lost world with the gospel.

Acts 20:2-6.

And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, 3And there abode three months. And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia. 4And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5These going before tarried for us at Troas. 6And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.

It appears that Demetrius got what he wanted anyway. After the turmoil settled down, Paul felt, presumably under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that it was time to leave. He had accomplished what he had come to do, and because of his help, the Ephesian church grew significantly. Obviously, the growth was so significant that it impacted the sale of pagan idols. What kind of influence did Paul have on the Ephesian community as the result of his ministry?

Again we see that Paul did not travel alone. He was always accompanied by others. What did this ministry practice accomplish? Certainly, he was comforted by their presence, and they talked amongst one another and that sharing would have had an influence on their decisions. Their community contributed to the growth of those who traveled with Paul, as evidenced by the later leadership demonstrated by several of Paul’s contemporaries. It also gave them accountability to one another. It is easy to fail to pay a visit to someone when they do not know you are coming. However, if you plan to share the visit with another Christian, most likely the visit will take place.

Note one other characteristic of this text. The form of narrative changes in verse 6. Instead of describing events in the third person, the narrative is in the second person form, "We sailed.." Apparently Luke joined the group in Philippi. The Passover celebration is about to be observed, and the group will be meeting together in Troas.

Acts 20:7-12.

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. 8And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. 9And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. 10And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. 11When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. 12And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

What do you consider a long sermon? 20 minutes? An hour? It appears that Paul spoke to the church at Troas for approximately 12 hours. Paul knew his time with them was short, so he taught them from when they came together to break bread (afternoon) and did not stop teaching until daylight, taking breaks only to eat and minister to those there. The story of Eutychus is interesting. Most likely there was little that was boring about that meeting of the church that day, but a young man can take just so much, and Eutychus fell asleep while seated in the sill of a third story window, probably about 25 feet, to the ground below, probably packed dirt. The fall could very well have killed him. He was lifted up (presumably brought into the assembly) and thought dead. You can probably envision Paul running down the stairs along with everyone else. When he got down to the ground floor where the young man was, he embraced him, and announced to all the people there that the young man was alive. Paul was confident enough in the young man’s health that he went back upstairs with the group and they broke bread together. They ate together and had a time of praise and thanksgiving, probably thanking God for the healing of this young man. Instead of breaking up and going home, they desired to stay until daybreak and continue under Paul’s teaching.

In that one day at Troas, Paul led the church in a 12-hour unbroken revival that included the significant event of the fall of the young man from the third story window. As soon as the meeting broke up, Paul left. Certainly, Paul had to be physically exhausted, even if he was spiritually lifted by the events of the previous day and night. Sometimes when we are called to minister to others, we might find ourselves in an intense and tiring short-term event rather than in one where we have time to build relationships. We probably do not find ourselves in such intense ministry very often. Why not? Most likely, we fill our time with events that serve our own purposes, and we are too "busy" to make time for others. Actually, it is probably this type of person who might find himself/herself staying up all evening and night with someone in need. Still, this is another way we can demonstrate God’s love and be an example for Christ.

Acts 20:13-16.

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. 14And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene. 15And 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. 16For 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.

Even as tired as Paul was, he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem. Why? He wanted to be there to celebrate Pentecost. The Pentecost celebration had become important to the early church, and Paul had not been back to Jerusalem in several years. Paul left Troas on foot so that he could visit with people on the way. The other disciples stayed in Troas for another week, and sailed to Assos where they met up with Paul. Notice that Paul purposely avoided stopping in Ephesus. Why? Again, he wanted to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost and had he stopped in Ephesus, he would probably not have been able to get away from such close friends so easily.

Acts 20:17-21.

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. 18And 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, 19Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, 21Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rather than stop in Ephesus, Paul stopped in nearby Miletus and summoned the leaders of the church to come to him. Note that the word for elders, or overseers, refers to pastors. He called the pastors of the church. We must understand that the organization of the first-century church was drastically different than it is today. Today’s churches are social organizations where groups of people, usually of similar appearance and sub-culture, come together in a large meeting place that is jointly owned by its members. The first-century church was poor, and had no such central meeting places where they could regularly meet. The church was divided up into home groups, where each home group had an elder, or overseer, or pastor. (The words are similar in application.)

Why did Paul call them together? We will find later that Paul felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and he knew that something significant would happen there, and that he would never return to Ephesus. This could also have been part of Paul’s motivation to teach for 12 hours in Troas. However, Paul had developed close relationships with the leaders of the home churches while he was in Ephesus for three years. These were his friends, and in many ways, his students. This would be the last time he could instruct them, so his words to them are quite important.

What did Paul say to them? (Read again the quotation by Paul.) He starts by describing the type of ministry he had with them. Why would this be so important? Paul was trying to encourage the elders to be like him, to literally take his place. Paul was not being arrogant or prideful by describing what he had been doing. He was describing these activities so that the elders would be encouraged to do the same. What were some of the attributes of Paul’s ministry that he mentions?

  1. He served the Lord with humility. We think of Paul as a dynamic and powerful leader, yet he typifies his ministry as one of humility. How does one appropriate humility, yet maintain that dynamic power in the Spirit that is necessary to make an impact on others? Remember that humility does not imply any lack of strength or power. The word for humility is the same word as that used to tame a horse, or literally, to "meek" a horse. A horse that has been "broken" is only broken of his wild and uncontrolled behavior. The horse is not broken in either strength or spirit. Likewise, we as Christians must be broken. We must recognize the wild spirit (the worldly sinful nature) and bring it under the control of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to surrender our lives to Jesus Christ. We still maintain our strengths. And, like a horse who can now put that strength to good purpose, the gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God can be used for his purpose. This is true humility. Paul is teaching the elders to be humble.
  2. Paul served the Lord with tears. Even as dynamic and powerful as Paul was, he was willing to make an emotional investment in the lives of others. What happens when we let down the walls of protection around our emotions? When such barriers are removed, we can respond with those emotions, and great grief or joy will often draw tears. Paul is teaching the elders to be open and honest with their emotions as they try to be an example to their congregations and not put up a wall of protection around those emotions.
  3. Paul preached anything that would be helpful. We might think that Paul went from place to place preaching a 3- or 4-point gospel message and going on, much like today’s sermons. Paul’s preaching went far beyond basic doctrine, and included any material that would be most helpful to those to whom he spoke. His ministry focused on the individual needs of those to whom he ministered. His ministry was one that was first based upon agape love, and that foundation found expression through his preaching and teaching ministry, as well as his gifts of encouragement and healing. We can learn from this example by being sensitive to the needs of those to whom God has allowed us to minister, and respond to those needs rather than to our own.
  4. He taught from house to house. Again, the church was organized as home study groups, each with an elder or pastor, usually being the homeowner. Paul did not sit in a central location waiting for those who needed to hear the gospel to come to him. Paul went out to those who needed God. Likewise, God gives us opportunities to share His love with those we meet as we travel through our daily lives. We meet people in a variety of places and have opportunity to express agape love. We should look for such opportunities continually throughout every day.
  5. Paul preached repentance. It is not sufficient to be a nice person and expect anyone to come to the Lord because they are inspired by you. It simply does not happen. We are all sinners, saved by grace, and no matter how much we try to clean up our lives, we are still in need of repentance from sin, and much of that sin is also evident to others anyway. It is necessary that our message of the gospel be clear and challenging. If we do not take the opportunity to challenge lost people to examine their lives and make a decision for Christ, we have fallen short of our calling.

Acts 20:22-24.

And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. 24But 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.

How many of us would be willing to do what Paul is implying here. Somehow, Paul is well-aware that his entrance to Jerusalem will be very dangerous. He does not know what will happen, but he does know that it will include prison and hardship. What does Paul think of such circumstances? Paul believes that following God’s call is more important than his own personal needs. How many of us face prison and hardship if we share the gospel openly? Many Christians around the world are doing just that. Countries such as Communist China, Ethiopia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and many others are persecuting Christians to the point of imprisonment, beating, and death. More Christians have been killed by persecution in the last 100 years than in the previous 1900.

Since we do not face such persecution, what is it that we fear that keeps us from obedience to the call to share our faith and make disciples? Paul was willing to face death. We can face a little bit of embarrassment or rejection.

Acts 20:25-27.

And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. 26Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Paul knows he will never return, but is confident that he is innocent of the blood of all men. Why? If God places us in a position to win a lost person to Christ, and we fail to do so because of our own fears, we are responsible for the blood of that lost person. Our failure necessitates the testimony of someone else to do the task God has called us to. Should the person die without someone else filling in for us, the person will spend eternity separated from God, all because we did not care enough or love enough to set our own pride aside. Paul knows that he is not guilty of this sin. He knows that he took every opportunity to win people to Christ without regard to his own personal emotional or physical safety. We can learn much from this statement. We can come to understand that our calling as Christians is a life-and-death matter to those lost people whom we meet.

Acts 20:28-31.

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. 29For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Paul instructs these church leaders to watch over themselves. This refers to the vigilant maintenance of their own conduct and faith. This advice certainly applies to all Christians. Self-control and self-discipline are fruits of the Spirit that should be evident in every Christian. A Christian who lacks either, and who has allowed his/her life to get out of control needs our love, our encouragement, wise counsel, and any help we can provide to help the person find peace.

He also told them to watch over their flock. We are each responsible for a flock, whether we carry a label of Pastor, Elder, Overseer, or not. God has placed each of us as salt and light in a dark and wicked world, and those who we come into contact everyday are part of our flock. All Christians are ministers of the gospel.

Paul also talks about the necessity of the vigilance needed to maintain the truth. We live in a world that has a culture contrary to the truth. The primary verbal and cultural battle on this planet centers around the rejection of God’s Word. If we turn our faces and ignore it, we will find ourselves immersed in that evil culture. Examples of inroads in the church are all around us. The Catholic church has an official position that homosexuality is intrinsically acceptable, it is only the practice of homosexuality that is wrong. Consequently, they are dealing with a large number of priests who are dying from aids (at least 750 according to NBC news.) Abortion, the willful killing of unborn babies, is considered acceptable by fully half of the people who claim to be Christians. The predominant post-modern religion of today’s society teaches that each person can define their own truth, and even that is sweeping the church. Many Christians are more concerned about what the scriptures mean to them rather than what the author was intending to communicate to his audience. Without normative truth, there is no truth at all. We, as Christians, must vigilantly protect and propagate truth. Just as Paul warned Christians of this every day of his ministry, we should be warned also.

Acts 20:32-35.

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. 33I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. 34Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 35I have showed 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.

Here is another description of the example that Paul gave us in his own life. Paul was not a vocational preacher or pastor. He did not work full time for the church, drawing a salary from them. Paul was more like the members of a modern church than like its pastors. Paul worked in his own vocation in order to support himself and did not draw a salary. Not only did he take care of himself, but he was often giving to help others. Paul’s life was exemplified by giving. For those of us who are in vocational ministry, we should never fail to thank the congregation for their support of our ministry through their giving so that we do not have to work a second job. For those of us who are in non-clergy vocations, we can look to Paul as an example of one who worked hard at his vocation so that he could preach the gospel and minister to others unencumbered by church employment. The laity has more opportunities to minister than a pastor ever does. A pastor’s calling is to the edification and preparation of the church to reach the lost world. It is the laity of the church that is to be reaching that lost world as they are the salt and light that is mixing with it. Also, many lost people will see the witness of the clergy as less sincere as that of the laity. When a pastor comes to call, it is ""is job."" When the laity comes to call, it is because ""they care." This may certainly not be the true motivation of the caller, but it can be seen by the lost this way. As a lay minister, I have had many opportunities to minister to church members who would not go to the pastor.

Our ministry as Christians is to be one of giving. What can we give? We can return to God a portion of all that he has given us, including our time, our resources, and the expression of our abilities.

Acts 20:36-37.

And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. 37And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, 38Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.

With this we come near to the close of Paul’s third missionary journey. He has only to travel to Jerusalem through a few towns where he will spend a little bit of time, encouraging the church, and being admonished by them to avoid Jerusalem because of its impending dangers.

We see in Paul both an example of Christian witness, and receive from him the imperative to be examples ourselves. Each of us is a model to those around us of what it is we profess to be. If we profess faith, we are a model of that faith. It is important that the model we are, and the model we profess, are the same. This is integrity.

Our testimony and witness must be both open, inclusive, and comprehensive. Our light is not to be held under a bushel, but should shine before all men without reservation or compromise. It should shine to all people without any regard to their worldly social classification. The gospel we present should be clear, unconfusing, and uncompromising. We must challenge the lost to come to faith.

Christians should model a total commitment to Jesus Christ, one that puts personal pride and self-concerns under the authority of God. When people see us they should see someone who is totally committed to their faith.

Christians should be models of generosity, giving of their time, abilities, and resources for the purpose of furthering God’s work on earth so that none who come into our area of influence, or our flock, would be lost.