Acts 20



Through Macedonia and Greece (20:1-6)

1 Paul had sent Titus on ahead of him to Corinth in order to find out about the situation in the Corinthian church. After leaving Ephesus, therefore, Paul went first to Troas in hope of finding Titus (Acts 16:8). But not finding him there, Paul went on to Macedonia. There he finally met up with Titus, who gave him good news about the Corinthian church (see 2 Corinthians 2:1213; 7:5-7).

2-3 Paul spent about a year traveling through Macedonia, during which time he reached as far as Illyricum, that is, modern Yugoslavia (Romans 15:19). After that, Paul arrived in Greece—that is, Achaia, the southern province of Greece. He remained for three months in Achaia—mainly in Corinth—where he wrote his New Testament letter to the Romans.

From Achaia, Paul planned to return by boat to Syria89 (verse 3) and Jerusalem (Acts 19:21). But just as he was about to get on the boat, Paul heard that the Jews of Corinth were plotting to kill him; so in order to get away from them, he changed plans and decided to go by land back through Macedonia.

4-6 Paul’s traveling companions, however, took the boat, and when they reached Troas they waited for Paul to catch up with them. Meanwhile, Paul went by foot to Philippi, where he met up again with Luke; they then together got on a boat going to Troas. (Notice that in verse 6 Luke writes: we sailed.) They left Philippi following the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover).

The brothers mentioned in verse 4 were, together with Paul, taking the collection raised by the Macedonian churches to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. These men were representatives of the various churches in Macedonia, Galatia, and Eph-esus.90 The representatives from Corinth (Achaia) are not mentioned here, but according to 2 Corinthians 8:6,18-24, we can understand that Titus and two other brothers were responsible for taking the Corinthian church’s collection.

Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas (20:7-12)

7 Paul and his companions stayed in Troas for seven days. The last day of their stay was a Sunday, which is customarily called the first day of the week. The believers of Troas had gathered to break bread—that is, they had gathered to celebrate the Lord’s supper. This is the first mention in the New Testament of Christians holding their weekly service on Sunday rather than on Saturday (as the Jews did).

8-10 As Paul was talking on and on, one of those present, a young man named Eutychus, fell asleep. Perhaps the smoke from the many lamps caused him to become sleepy. Whatever the reason, the young man fell out of the third story window and was picked up dead (verse 9). Luke, the author of the book of Acts, was himself a doctor, and so he was able to tell with certainty that Eutychus was dead. But Paul put his arms around the young man, and his life returned.

Let us heed what befell Eutychus and try not to fall asleep in church!

11-12 Then, after celebrating the Lord’s supper and eating a meal together, Paul continued talking until daylight. Shortly thereafter, Paul’s companions boarded a ship bound for Jerusalem.

Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders (20:13-38)

13-14 All of Paul’s traveling companions boarded the ship at Troas, but Paul did not. To reach the next port, the ship had to go around a peninsula of land jutting out into the sea. Since it was quicker going by foot, Paul decided to walk to the next port, Assos; thus he was able to spend an extra day in Troas, before leaving to meet the ship at Assos.

15-16 Ephesus was about thirty miles from Miletus. Because the ship had to stop at Miletus for several days, Paul sent word to the elders of the church at Ephesus to come to Miletus to meet him.

17 Paul was the spiritual father of the church at Ephesus. All the Ephesian elders had become Christians through the preaching and teaching of Paul. Paul himself had baptized most of them (see Acts 19:1-7). For this reason, all of the elders were eager for the opportunity to meet Paul, and they left whatever they were doing and came to Miletus to meet him. A thirty-mile walk was nothing to them!

In Acts 13:16-41, we are given an example of Paul’s preaching among the Jews. In Acts 17:22-31, we are given an example of Paul’s preaching among the Gentiles. Here in this section, verses 18-35, we have an example of Paul’s preaching among Christians.

18-19 Paul reminds the Ephesian elders about his life and ministry among them during the time he lived in Ephesus. Paul had served among them with great humility and with tears. These two things, humility and tears, are necessary for the success of any ministry. Paul’s tears were tears of sorrow shed over the sins of his Christian brothers (verse 31). They were also tears shed because of the suffering he endured for Jesus’ sake. In Ephesus Paul had experienced many trials. He had suffered because of the plots of the Jews (verse 19), and for other reasons as well (see 1 Corinthians 15:30-31; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

20-21 But even though he risked being persecuted, Paul had not hesitated to preach and teach openly whatever was beneficial to the believers at Ephesus. Paul didn’t preach only the pleasant and reassuring aspects of the Gospel; he also preached about the cross of Christ. Even though the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23), Paul had fearlessly preached about the crucified Christ, both to the Jews and to the Greeks. Along with that, Paul told both Jews and Gentiles that they must repent and turn to God (Acts 17:30; 26:20). But it was not enough only to repent; Paul taught that men must also put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wherever he went, Paul by his own life set an example for new disciples to follow (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 4:9). This is why his preaching was so effective. Paul was not like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, who did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:1-3). In many of his New Testament letters, Paul reminded his readers of his life and ministry among them (see 1 Corinthians 2:3-5; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

22-23 For Paul, going to Jerusalem was very dangerous. From the beginning, the Jews in Jerusalem had been trying to kill Paul (Acts 9:29). Nevertheless, in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem. For one thing, he felt under obligation to deliver to the Jerusalem church the collection that had been raised by the Gentile churches. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had given Paul still other reasons for going to Jerusalem, which are not mentioned in the New Testament.

While Paul was at Corinth, he had written to the Romans asking them to pray that he might be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea (Romans 15:31). And on his way to Jerusalem, Paul had heard repeated warnings from his brethren that he would surely face prison and hardships when he got there (verse 23). At every stop the Christians urged Paul to turn back and not go to Jerusalem (see Acts 21:4,10-14).

24 But Paul was not afraid of persecution or death. He was willing to give up his life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ (Acts 21:13; Philippians 2:17; Colossians 1:24). Paul had only one goal in life, and that was to finish the race and complete the task which the Lord Jesus had given him (see 2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul had no care for either bodily life or bodily death. His only concern was that Christ be exalted in [his] body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).

25 Even if he was able to leave Jerusalem safely, Paul did not plan to return to Eph-esus and the province of Asia. He had decided to go from Jerusalem to Rome,91 and from there to Spain92 (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:23-24,28). Therefore, no matter what happened to him in Jerusalem, Paul believed that he would never again see his Ephesian brothers.

26-27 If the people of Ephesus chose to condemn themselves by refusing to believe in Christ, Paul was not responsible, because in Ephesus he had faithfully proclaimed to all men the whole will of God (verse 27). Paul was innocent of the blood of all men; that is, he was not guilty of causing their eternal condemnation. He had warned them; he had shown them the way of salvation. By rejecting Paul’s message, they had brought condemnation upon themselves (see Acts 18:6).

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock. The leaders of the church must first of all keep watch over themselves! Satan seeks to attack leaders more than others. If a leader falls to Satan’s attack, great harm comes to the flock, that is, the church (see verse 30). Church leaders are appointed and equipped by the Holy Spirit to be shepherds of the flock. Therefore, they need to remain filled with the Holy Spirit. Let these Ephesian elders remember how the Holy Spirit had come upon them when Paul laid his hands on them (Acts 19:1-7).

In the New Testament, there is very little difference in meaning between the words overseer93 (1 Timothy 3:1) and elder (Acts 14:23; 20:17). In New Testament times, overseers and elders had basically the same position in the church. They were also called pastors (Ephesians 4:11). In the New Testament, all these names are used more or less interchangeably94 (see General Article: Church Government).

The leader of the church must “feed the flock” (see John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). He must follow the example of Christ, the greatest shepherd of the sheep (see John 10:11-15). Christ laid down His life for the sheep. He bought the church—that is, each believer—with his own blood. He died in order that we might live.

29 False teachers and false leaders are like wolves (Matthew 7:15). Not long after Paul’s meeting with the Ephesian elders, such “wolves” did begin to come into the church (1 Timothy 4:1-2; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-19). Some time later, Paul wrote to Timothy: … everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me (2 Timothy 1:15), and that included the Christians in Ephesus! And finally, the Apostle John wrote to the church at Ephesus these words from Jesus Himself: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:4-5). And not many years later their “lampstand” was indeed removed: the church at Ephesus ceased to exist!

30 Even from among the leaders of the church, false prophets and false teachers rise up (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 3 John 9-10).

31  So be on your guard! (see 1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Peter 5:8 and comments).

Paul says here: “… for three years I never stopped warning each of you.” According to Acts 19:8,10, Paul worked in Ephesus for two years and three months. Paul was in Ephesus from the end of 52 A.D. until the beginning of 55 A.D. Therefore, Paul here calls it “three years.”

32 Paul commits the Ephesians to God and to the word of his grace. Paul will no longer be with them, but the word of Christ which Paul has taught them will remain with them (John 15:7). That word will build [them] up; it will cause them to progress in the Christian life. Even mature leaders need constantly to be strengthened and built up.

Today we have with us that same “word of God’s grace.” The leaders of the church at Ephesus had to keep that word in their memory. But we have that “word of grace” in written form: the New Testament. As long as we read it and obey it, that word will build us up, and give all of us who are sanctified an inheritance in heaven—that is, eternal life. Only the sanctified will receive an inheritance in heaven (see Hebrews 12:14; General Article: Way of Salvation).

33-35 Paul again of fers his own life as an example for the Ephesians to follow. He labored to support himself with his own hands. He did not covet anyone’s silver or gold or clothing (see 2 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).

Jesus Himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (see Matthew 5:42; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 and comments). This saying of Jesus is not recorded in any of the four Gospels. Jesus said many things which are not written in the Bible (see John 21:25).

Paul wrote many times in his letters about helping the weak (see Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2). Paul even wrote concerning a converted thief: He … must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need (Ephesians 4:28).

36-38 Then, after praying with the Ephe-sian elders, Paul boarded the ship and sailed for Jerusalem.