“And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32
Following the public outrage at Ephesus, Paul prepares to leave and head to Macedonia. Before he does, he encourages the disciples.
Paul then stayed in Greece for 3 months, after which he planned to sail through Syria. His plans were interrupted when he heard news that the Jews plotted against him. He then stayed in Macedonia. Paul and his entourage then traveled to Troas.
In the verses that follow we read of the first account of the believers gathering to break bread on the first day of the week in the Book of Acts.
The story that unfolds is quite fascinating. Paul stayed with the believers and on the eve of departing, he taught them until midnight. While Paul was speaking, a young man, Eutychus, who was in attendance sank into a deep sleep. Only problem is he was sitting on a window seal three stories above ground. The young man we read fell to his death.
Paul laid on the young man and comforted those who were there, that he was alive. Sure enough, he was! The young man’s life was restored to him…and Paul went on to teach until dawn.
The next verses detail Paul’s travels, and brief visit at Ephesus before returning to Jerusalem.
While at Ephesus, Paul gathered the elders and spoke with them. The language in the text conveys a burden that Paul felt in leaving the elders, as well as his fate upon returning to Jerusalem. The Spirit forewarned him that afflictions awaited him there, but he was prepared to suffer for the gospel.
Acts 20:24 witnessed to me,
“But I count life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24
We can agree that we all hold dear to our lives, unless there is a mental illness present. We want to live and we want to live happily, in peace and in communion with others. Yet, sometimes for the sake of Christ, pain-free living is disrupted.
It was clearly the case here with Paul. The Spirit of God prepared him for what was to come, and he knew that though he must go to Jerusalem, he would not be met with ease of life. To the contrary, though he did not know the specific troubles that awaited him, he knew that he would face trials.
Why did Paul welcome his troubles?
…that he may finish the course and the ministry he received from the Lord. Paul understood his call to testify to the gospel of God’s grace, and he also understood that his testimony would not always lead him into convenient paths. At times, he would thread on treacherous waters…and he would need to be willing to surrender all, even his life.
Paul, however, speaking to the Ephesian elders, could claim innocence over the lives of those who chose not to believe the Way. He had preached the gospel unapologetically (Acts 20:27).
To the elders, Paul issued a message of caution. “Be on guard!” he echoed to them one final time. They needed to be watchful over their own conduct and for the congregation they were shepherding. Paul knew that his departure from Ephesus would usher in a new trial for the elders. They would be challenged with remaining faithful, in spite of the luring wolves who would appear, and the doctrines of falsehood that will rise.
Paul then commissioned the elders to the grace of the Lord who would help them in keeping the flock and in remaining faithful and steadfast.
After encouraging them in the faith, Paul prayed with the elders. And they all wept and grieved together, knowing that they would not see him again in the flesh.
My Reaction to this chapter
Normally, this is when I would go into application, but I was moved emotionally reading this chapter. My response to it is quite different from previous chapters, and it took me so long to write because honestly I haven’t been thinking of it in terms of applicability.
I just think of this moment over and over…sitting with Paul, listening to him and knowing that this is the end. Paul had lived with them for 3 years at this point (Acts 20:31). Clearly, bonds of love and brotherhood had formed; and they had grown to deeply love him, as he loved them as well.
The thing with church planting is that there are no guarantees that you will remain with the congregation until it has fully grown and has matured in the faith. Paul, here, is speaking to the leaders of this young church that he has cared for and overseen. He’s been in their midst teaching and preaching the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, he must continue his work and say his goodbyes.
Our family left our home church three months ago for seminary…and I still remember our last Sunday. Though our goodbyes in no way compare to what this young church was experiencing in this chapter, I draw some similarities. I remember the warm embraces, the prayers offered up for us and the charge that we were given as we left to continue the work and take the gospel forward. It is amazing work, humbling to say the least, yet a difficult thing to take on. We were with our church for 6 years and in that time we made friends, served alongside great people, wept with them and laughed with them. They were there for our special moments, joy or sorrow…and we were there for theirs.
It’s a special bond we share with our brothers and sisters.
So this chapter had me all in my feelings, thinking of our relationships, as I thought of the church at Ephesus.
Yet, we also see a faithful servant in Paul. He is leaving, though he is sorrowful about leaving his dear children in the faith. He is marching on with the Lord and taking up the cause of Christ, and continuing in the ministry that the Lord has set before him.
May we be so faithful! Leaving may be hard sometimes, but may we be servants who are willing to leave, so long we are pursuing Christ in our going.
- How has God gifted you to serve? In this chapter, we see Paul and his missionary team traveling extensively. Yet, we also see elders who stay in the planted churches to teach in their current cities. We are not all called to go far. What has God called you to and how has He been preparing you for your ministry? If you’re unsure, I invite you to pray that the Lord would make it clear to you.
- Paul was faithful in his ministry, no matter the trials and struggles. How would you rate your faithfulness to your calling? (If it isn’t what you’d like, please pray that the Lord would forgive you and help you become a better steward of your calling).