Scripture reading – Acts 20
In recent weeks, we studied Paul’s epistles to believers in two major cities of the 1st century: Corinth, to whom the apostle penned two letters (1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians), and Rome. Today, our chronological Scripture reading returns to the Acts of the Apostles, as we again examine Luke’s record of the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys.
The Setting and Background of Acts 20
Acts 20 continued the narrative of Paul’s third missionary journey (which began in Acts 18:23-28). Paul’s arrival and ministry in Ephesus was readily received by some who had been disciples of John the Baptist (19:1-3). When those men heard John had been the forerunner of Jesus Christ whom Paul preached (19:4), they believed and “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5).
Then, as was his custom, Paul “went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (19:8). Yet, though many believed, some “were hardened, and believed not,” and stirred up the people against Paul (19:9), and he withdrew from them. Paul spent the next two years preaching in that region, “so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10).
By “special miracles,” God authenticated Paul’s ministry and message in Ephesus (note, the miracles described in verses 11-12 were for a special time, and confirmed Paul’s ministry as an apostle; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4; Acts 2:22). Nevertheless, the apostles’ ministry was not without its enemies, who attempted to “ride the coattails” of Paul’s preaching, and identify with him, though they were not sincere believers (19:13-16).
While there was opposition, nevertheless after hearing Paul’s teaching, many were stirred (19:17-18) and turned from idols, rejecting their pagan ideas along with their books of spells, and “burned them before all men” (19:19). In fact, the estimated value of that which was destroyed was “50,000 pieces of silver” (supposing a silver coin was equivalent to one day’s wages, this was an enormous sum, 19:19). What was the effect as believers set aside their old paths and ways of sin? Luke wrote, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” (19:20).
Then, “Paul purposed in the spirit” to depart and journey through “Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem,” and eventually to Rome (19:21). Before he was able to depart Ephesus, he found himself in the midst of a riot stirred by wicked men who had seen their livelihoods as silversmiths threatened and diminished (19:23-28). Paul’s bold condemnation of idolatry (19:26), and the powerful effect of his preaching not only threatened the commerce and trade in the worship of the Greek goddess Diana (19:27), but set the whole city in an uproar (19:28-41). Two of Paul’s fellow ministers were caught and taken into an outdoor theatre, and Paul would have rushed to save them, but was hindered by other believers (19:29-32). Stirred into a frenzy, for two hours the people of Ephesus cried out, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (19:33-34).
Finally, “the town clerk” (similar to the mayor of a city) appealed to the people, and reasoned with them, saying, “ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly” (19:36). He called upon those silversmiths who stirred up the people, to bring their case to the law, where their cause would “be determined in a lawful assembly” (19:39). When the riot was passed, Paul took leave of the believers at Ephesus.
Paul realized his presence in Ephesus was endangering the lives of believers; therefore, he departed from Ephesus, and made his journey through Macedonia (known today as the Balkans). Retracing his earlier journeys, Paul traveled south to Greece (20:1-2), where he encountered Jews who plotted against him (20:3). Thereafter, God wonderfully and providentially blessed Paul with a mission’s team that accompanied him through Asia (20:4). Among his traveling companions was Timothy, his beloved “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), who would one day become the pastor of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3).
Paul’s Final Challenge to the Church Leaders of Ephesus (20:17-38)
The balance of Acts 20 recorded Paul’s final challenge to the pastoral leadership of the church in Ephesus (20:17-38). This Scripture passage is exceptionally moving as we see the apostle’s passion for preaching and ministry (20:17-27), his love for those to whom he ministered (20:28-32), and his example of self-sacrificing service (20:33-35).
Paul’s Testimony (20:18-21)
Paul boldly declared to the Ephesian elders his devotion to those to whom he had ministered, saying, “I have been with you at all seasons” (20:18). He had been with them in times of rejoicing, and persecution. He had served the Lord among them in humility, in tears, trials, and when threatened by persecution (20:19).
Paul declared, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you” (20:20). He had not pandered to their carnality, nor shirked in his duty to boldly declare the holiness, sovereignty, love, and judgment of God (20:20). He had not played politics with the Gospel, but had preached Christ “both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks,” and called upon them to repent of their sins, and come to the “Lord Jesus Christ” by faith (20:21).
Paul’s Last Testament to the Ephesian Elders (20:22-27)
Reflecting the soberness of a man who understands his days of freedom and ministry are ending, Paul confessed it was the Spirit of God that was driving him to Jerusalem (20:22). He did not know all that would befall him, but the Holy Spirit had revealed he would be bound and suffer persecution (20:23). Nevertheless, he was willing to suffer, for he had dedicated his life to Christ and was determined to finish his course and ministry with joy (20:24).
Announcing he would never again preach or fellowship with them (20:25), Paul stated to the elders what should be the motive and goal of every preacher and believer: “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” (20:26-27).
Closing thoughts (20:26-38) – I wonder, how many believers will go to their graves and confess, “I have done my best, and my hands are unsoiled with the blood of any other soul.” What a powerful, driving passion. Paul had not retreated from declaring “the [whole] counsel of God” (20:27).
Unlike many preachers of our day, his life was a testimony of selfless sacrifice (20:33-34), and he exhorted them 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” (20:35).
What about you? What will be your spiritual legacy?
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