Acts 20

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).

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.

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