Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. But first he forms a team, sees a boy named Eutychus survive a fall, and delivers his very moving farewell to the Ephesian elders. This chapter also begins Paul’s journey to Jerusalem (20:16 to 21:17). Please see the timeline table that harmonize Acts 18-25 and Paul’s epistles
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Paul Visits Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-6)
1 After the uproar stopped, Paul sent for the disciples and encouraged them. He said goodbye and left to go to Macedonia. 2 After he went through those parts and encouraged them with many words, he went to Greece 3 and spent three months. And then a plot against him by the Jews was formed, as he was about to put out to sea for Syria, so he decided to return to Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, son of Pyrrhus; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius of Derbe and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 They went on ahead and were waiting for us in Troas. 6 We sailed from Philippi after the days of the feast of Unleavened Bread. We reached them at Troas in five days, where we spent seven days.
This timeline table between Acts 18-25 and Paul’s epistles shows the harmony between the two bodies of writings, in Paul’s travels.
Paul’s Travels in Acts 18-25 and in His Epistles
|Paul taught the “Galatians” about the collection (1 Cor 16:1)||Paul strengthened “the disciples” throughout Galatia and Phrygia (18:23)|
|Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8)||Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (19:1-20)|
|Many events while Paul is in Ephesus (1 Cor 1:11; 7:1; 16:8, 17; probably Paul’s second visit to Corinth in 2 Cor 2:3; 12:14; 13:2) including both fruit and hostility (1 Cor 15:31032; 16:8-9; 2 Cor 1:8-9)||Paul’s stay in Ephesus lasted over two years (19:8, 10; 20:31), spreading the gospel (19:10-20) and experiencing opposition (20:19; Cf. 19:23-20:1)|
|Apollos is a strong preacher in Corinth and associated with Paul in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:12)||Apollos is associated with Ephesus and preached also in Corinth (18:24-28)|
|Paul plans to visit:
a.. Macedonia (1 Cor 16:5)
b.. Then Achaia (1 Cor 16:5-6; cf. 4:18-21)
c. Judea (Rom 15:25; 2 Cor 1:16)
d.. And finally Rome (Rom 1:11-13; 15:23-25; cf. 2 Cor 10:16)
|Paul plans to visit:
In that sequence (19:21)
|While in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8 Paul sends Timothy ahead of himself (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10); Timothy is later with Paul in Corinth (Rom 16:21)||While in Ephesus, Paul sends Timothy and a companion into Macedonia (19:21); Timothy is next mentioned leaving Corinth (or just possibly Macedonia) with Paul (20:3-4)|
|Paul visits Macedonia (2 Cor 2:13; 7:5-7; cf. 1 Cor 16:5)||Paul visits Macedonia (20:1-2)|
|Despite his delay (2 Cor 1:16-17; 2:1), he plans to visit Corinth (2 Cor 13:1), with traveling companions from other cities (2 Cor 9:4)||Paul visits Achaia (20:2-3) and soon afterwards travels with companion from various cities (20:4)|
|Paul finished his collection in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:26) and writes Romans from Corinth (16:1)||Paul in Achaia for three months (20:2-3)|
|After leaving Macedonia and Achaia (Rom 15:26), Paul presumably carried through his plan to visit Jerusalem (Rom 15:25)||Paul in Jerusalem (21:17)|
|Jerusalem might prove dangerous (Rom 15:31); on the majority of view, Paul’s next letters (e.g. Philippians) are from Roman captivity||Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and detained by Rome’s agents (22:24-23:30)|
|Paul apparently ends up in Rome, though not necessarily by the means he had planned (Phil 4:22; cf. Rom 15:23-24)||Paul uses his Roman citizenship to get his case transferred to Rome (25:10-12)|
|“Although Luke summarizes and often focuses independently on different events, where his itineraries overlap with Paul’s, they agree” (p. 494).
“Luke, who all but skips the collection (24:17), has little reason to emphasize a trip to Macedonia and Achaia (20:1-2), the focal point of which was the collection (Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 16:1-5; cf. 2 Cor 9-9). Luke surveys a span of several months in two verses (20:2-3)” (p. 495).
|Keener, pp. 494-95 (table, slightly edited)|
Recall that my nickname for Luke is “the Omitter” or “the Condenser.” He has his own purposes and assumes the readers will fill in the gaps.
“encouraging”: it comes from the Greek verb parakaleō (pronounced pah-rah-kah-leh-oh). It is related to the noun paraklēsis (pronounced pah-rah-klay-sees), and the Greek in the Gospel of John is paraklētos (pronounced pah-rah-klay-tohs) (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:6). The three words are related and can mean the following things, depending on the context—or they can mean all of them at the same time. What do you need from the Spirit? Here are some options: “counselor / counsel,” “advocate (defense attorney),” “helper / help,” “comforter / comfort,” “encourager / encouragement,” and “intercessor / intercession.”
“disciples”: they are believers in and followers of Jesus. Whenever “disciples” is mentioned in Acts, it refers to Christians. The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
“encouraged”: It is the verb parakaleō, and see v. 1 for a closer look.
“many words”: literally “much word.” This is the versatile noun logos (pronounced loh-gohss), It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
I have repeated these comments throughout the entire commentary. Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level. Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to, also. Paul’s brief speech to the Gentiles, below, also has Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. Yes, the book of Acts is very charismatic, but it is also very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word word, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
Polhill very briefly reminds us of the timeline between Acts 20:1-3a and 2 Cor. 1-7: Luke condenses Paul’s travel in two-and-a-fraction verses. Though Paul went to Greece, that is Corinth, and remained there to ensure that his gospel work was strong, and it was (comments on vv. 1-3a). Polhill further notes that Paul was collecting an offering from the Christians of Macedonia, Asia, and Achaia (Greece) for the Jerusalem church (Rom. 15:25-29, 31). Luke, however, was not concerned about this, so he omitted these details. Why did Luke omit these data points? Polhill is right: to speculate would be to build a federal case on silence. But he does remind us of Luke’s evident purpose, as follows: “It is clear, however, what Luke did want to emphasize. He wanted to show how Paul’s journey to Jerusalem was as foreboding as that of his master [Jesus] before him, how it ended in chains, but how even in the seeming defeat of his arrest in Jerusalem God turned the events to the triumph of the gospel, leading Paul to the capital of the empire, the end of the earth, to bear his witness openly and unhinderedly” (comment on vv. 3b-4). Paul was following Jesus to Jerusalem and in apparent defeat was discovered victory and vindication. Perfectly said. Once again: Luke’s nickname: “the Omitter” or “the Condenser,” to serve his own purposes.
The team learned that enemies were going to kill him during the voyage. Paul decided to go another way. Wise move. Don’t be afraid to avoid trouble. Don’t needlessly put your life in danger. Go on a different path. One could ask why God would not send an angel to protect him, but God also gives us wisdom to avoid trouble.
It is a sad fact that some (not all) of Paul’s fellow Jews persecuted him relentlessly because, I believe, they could look into the near future and see that Judaism would remain small, because it had too many rules and regulations, which restrict and oppress people and lead them to self-focus. “Am I keeping the rules just right?” In contrast, the new “sect” called the Way was much better because believing in Jesus pleases God, who bestows his grace on people, so that this faith—as distinct from law keeping—allows one to enter a relationship with God on earth and then into heaven when one dies. The Spirit lives in the believers in Jesus, to empower them to be like Christ and obey the law of love.
These men must have been awesome and powerful. They must have been a great help to Paul. It makes me wonder whether I would go on a missionary journey with Paul. Only by God’s grace.
Sopater is probably the same as Sosipater in Rom. 16:21.
Aristarchus and Gaius were the men who were dragged into the theater at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41), so maybe they felt it best to leave town for a while. But Bruce thinks Gaius is a different person (comment on vv. 4-5, note 20).
Secundus is mentioned only here.
Timothy: there is a short study of him in Acts 16:1. You can click there to find out more about him.
Tychicus: see Col. 4:7; Eph. 6:21; Tit. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:12.
Trophimus: see Acts 21:29 and 2 Tim. 4:20.
Paul was building a good team. It takes teamwork to advance God’s kingdom. Be sure to help out in your local church. Don’t let the pastor and his wife do all the work. In Rom 16:16 Paul says all the churches greet the Romans, and the list of names represent those churches (Bruce, comment on vv. 4-5).
“unleavened bread”: Paul was free from the law, but he was a Messianic Jew, and he honored some of the festivals. What he did not allow was the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 19), with its accompanying wrath and judgments and curses. If a Messianic Jew wishes to honor this or that feast, he is free. If a Messianic Jew does not, then he is free.
“us”: Luke enters the narrative again, as he did in 16:10 in Troas and then on to Philippi (to 16:17). He must have been left behind at Philippi, which is across the water from Troas. Luke has joined the company and writes from the first-person point of view. In any case, they sailed on from there. Luke will hear Paul’s insightful and emotional and famous farewell address to the Ephesian elders later in this chapter.
“Day of Unleavened Bread”: Since it immediately follows Passover (v. 4), let’s cover this feast first.
Time of year in OT: First Month: Aviv / Nisan 14th day (for one day)
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April (second Passover is one month later according to Num. 9:10-11)
How to celebrate it:
(1) A whole lamb by the number of people in household, being ready to share with nearest neighbor; (2) one-year-old males without defects, taken from sheep and goats; (3) take care of them until the fourteenth day; (4) then all the community is to slaughter it at twilight; (5) put the blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes of the houses where the lambs are eaten, with bitter herbs and bread without yeast; (6) that night eat the lambs roasted over fire, with the head, legs and internal organs, not raw or boiled (7) do not leave any of it until morning; if there is any leftover, burn it; (8) the cloak must be tucked into belt; sandals on feet and staff in hand; (9) eat in haste in order to leave Egypt soon (Exod. 12:4-11).
Purpose: Exodus from Egypt and Protection from Judgment:
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exod. 12:13).
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:4-14; Num. 28:16
(2). Unleavened Bread
Time of Year in OT: Same month, 15th to 21st days, for seven days
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: Same month, on the fifteenth day, which lasts for seven days
How to celebrate it:
Exod. 12:14-20 says that the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast for seven days, from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day. On the first day they were to remove the yeast from their houses. If they eat anything with yeast from the first to the seventh days they shall be cut off (excommunicated), and this was true for foreigner or native-born. They must not do work on those days, except to prepare to prepare the food for everyone to eat. On the first days they are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle) and another one on the seventh day.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:14-20; Num. 28:16
Purpose: see the previous section “Passover.”
The people ate a meal together; then they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, at the end, during a special ceremony (see 1 Cor. 11:17-34). If you have a potluck at church, be open to celebrating the Lord’s Supper or Communion at the end.
GrowApp for Acts 20:1-6
A.. Encouragement in the important word here. Do you speak words of encouragement or put downs?
B.. Paul built a team to help him. In your daily walk with God, do have a team around you who can encourage you?
Eutychus Is Still Alive (Acts 20:7-12)
7 On the first day of the week, we gathered together to break bread. Paul dialogued with them, about to depart the next day, extending the word until midnight. 8 Several lamps were in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 A certain young man named Eutychus was sitting at the window, and fell into a deep sleep, while Paul was dialoguing even longer. He was overpowered by sleep and fell from the third story below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul came down and threw himself on him and scooped him up and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him!” 11 He went back up, broke bread, ate, and taught a long time until morning. And so he left. 12 They brought the child alive and were immeasurably relieved.
In this passage we are privileged to view a service which Paul led. Teaching—Meal—Lord’s Supper—More Teaching. Now we know how he did things. What about us today? In a hurry to get out of church? Quick teaching? Don’t take communion or the Eucharist very often?
“break bread”: that’s a literal translation. This is a feast that included the Lord’s Supper or Table, in which they remembered the death of Jesus.
“dialogued”: it is the verb dialegomai (pronounced dee-ah-leh-goh-my), and it means how I translated it. Other translations have “talking.” I like my translation better. Please feel free to discuss Scripture with people and dialogue with those who may not know it or have a deficient understanding of it.
“word”: one could translate the noun logos to mean “talk,” but while he dialogued I like to believe he also ministered the word of God through the Old Testament. See v. 2 for a closer look. Also click here for a table of Messianic prophecies.
At that link, there is a table of quoted OT and NT verses, but Jesus fulfills more than those quoted verses. He also fulfills major themes and concepts and types and shadows, like all the temple sacrifices, the temple itself, and all the covenants.
This is the first mention in Acts of our Sunday. This shows the importance of this day in earliest Christianity.
Mentioning the torches or lamp lights is a great touch by the historian and storyteller Luke. The atmosphere must have not enough fresh oxygen, so that is why Eutychus sat by the window—to get fresh air. Yet his sound reckoning did not work, for he fell out of the glassless window.
Luke must have met the young man and learned his name. He must have heard the people call his name, which means, by the way, “Lucky.”
“fell”: Luke uses this word a few times in this passage: the boy fell to the ground (v. 9), and Paul “fell upon” him (v. 10), which I translated as “threw himself.” Then the Ephesian elders “fell” on Paul’s neck (v. 37), which I safely translated as “embrace.” Most translations play it safe too.
“threw himself”: as noted, this means he fell upon him.
“scooped”: it comes from the verb sumperiballō (pronounced soom-peh-ree-bahl-loh), and it combines sun– / sum– (with or together), peri– (around) and ballō (threw, or even put, place, lay or bring), so Paul threw both arms around him together, and brought / sat him up.
“Don’t be alarmed”: the present imperative of the verb means that they were already screaming. People cannot make a fuss and scream, when God must act. Such panicky reactions, while natural, do not flow from faith. God can give you faith even during a disaster that just happened.
“life”: it comes from the noun psuchē (pronounced psoo-khay, and the “p” in ps- is also pronounced). It can be translated as “soul.” As Renewalists generally believe, the soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions. Here it means “life.”
We are witnessing a miracle, as the parallel accounts about Elijah, Elisha, Jesus (Luke 7:14-15; 8:54-55), and Peter (Acts 9:40) demonstrate.
Upper Room (20:8): see 1 Kings 17:19; 2 Kings 4:10-11, 32-33; Acts 9:37
In his arms (20:20): see 1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34-35
His life is in him (20:10): see 1 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 4:36; Luke 8:51
Keener, p. 498 (slightly edited)
Many actions are covered in that verse. It shows that Paul loved close fellowship. Some teach that because they broke bread, Eutychus was healed, but the Greek does not allow this idea. The boy was alive when Paul went down outside. Paul talked along time after they broke bread and then v. 12 comes along. Verse 12 is merely a summary statement.
“immeasurably”: The word hides a litotes (pronounced lih-toh-tees), or an understatement that expresses the affirmative by a negative! In this case it is “‘not measurably’ encouraged.” Luke likes litotes: Acts 12:18; 14:17, 28; 15:2; 17:4, 12, 27; 19:11, 23; 20:12; 21:39; 26:19; 27:20; 28:2.
“relieved”: it is parakaleō, and see v. 1 for a closer look.
GrowApp for Acts 20:7-12
A.. It looks like Paul worked another miracle by the power of the Spirit. Eutychus was raised from the dead. Have you heard of modern resuscitations from the dead? If so, what do you think about them?
B.. Do you have a story to tell about your resurrection, whether spiritually or physically?
From Troas to Miletus (Acts 20:13-16)
13 We went on ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, and from there we were about to pick up Paul. For thus it had been arranged that he intended to go on foot. 14 And so he met up with us in Assos, and when we picked him up, we went to Mitylene. 15 From there we sailed off the next day and landed off Chios. And the next day we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided sail past Ephesus, so that he would not spend time in Asia, for he was in a hurry to be in Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
This new direction to go on foot allows Paul to remain behind, perhaps to ensure Eutychus was well. Paul was tracking along the coast, and then he went to islands. He did not stay long in each place, so he must have trusted that the believers on the mainland would be led by the Spirit to evangelize the inhabitants on the islands. This must have happened some time in history, because Christianity got there. I don’t know the history of the spread of the gospel on those islands.
Paul decided to sail past Ephesus, as Luke says, because the Christian community was large there, and they would have detained him a long time. It is okay not to stop by close friends, when the journey has a restricted time schedule. In other words, it is okay to say no, but Paul did arrange to see the elders of Ephesus.
As to the feast of Pentecost, as noted at vv. 5-6, Paul left behind the old law, but he still honored feasts. What he could not allow into the New Covenant was the Old Sinai Covenant (Ex. 19), with its accompanying curses and judgments and wrath.
GrowApp for Acts 20:13-16
A.. In 18:21, Paul told the Ephesians that he would return to them, “God willing.” In 19:1, he did. So God willed it. Here he sailed past Ephesus and landed south, at Miletus, and summoned the elders from Ephesus. Lesson: sometimes God works in roundabout ways. How has God fulfilled your personal calling in surprising ways? Do you have a story to tell?
Paul’s Retrospective on Ministering in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-21)
17 From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.
18 When they reached him, he said to them:
“You yourselves understand that from the first day when I arrived in Asia how I spent the entire time with you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and being tested by what happened to me by the plots of the Jews; 20 how I withheld nothing profitable in announcing to you and teaching you in public and in households, 21 testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
This speech is akin to Samuel’s farewell speech to the nation: 1 Samuel 12.
Before we begin, let’s look at this table of parallels:
Key Terms, Concepts, and Practices
In Paul’s Speech in Acts 20:17-38 and His Epistles
|1||Serve as slave (19)||Serve as slaves (Rom. 12:11; 14:18; 16:18; Col. 3:24; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:2)|
|2||Repentance (21)||Repentance (Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Cor. 12:21)|
|3||Faith in Jesus (21)||Faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16, 20; 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Phil. 3:9; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13; Phm. 5)|
|4||Ministry received from Lord Jesus (24)||Ministry from God (Rom. 11:13; 2 Cor. 4:1; 5:18; 1 Tim. 1:12)|
|5||Grace of God (24, 32)||Grace (Rom. 4:16; 5:21; 2 Cor. 4:15; 9:14 Gal. 2:21; 3:18 and so on)|
|6||Gospel (24)||Gospel (Rom. 1:1, 9, 16; 15:16, 19; 2 Cor. 2:12; 9:13; Eph. 1:13; and so on)|
|7||Kingdom of God (25)||Kingdom (Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:24, 50; Eph. 2:2; 5:5; Col. 1:12, 13; 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:1, 18|
|8||Counsel of God (27)||Counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11)|
|9||Overseers appointed (28)||Overseers (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7)|
|10||Obtained (purchased, redeemed) church (28)||Purchased, redemption of people (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Gal. 3:13; 4:5 (the verb differs by the idea is the same); Eph. 1:14|
|11||Church is ekklēsia (28)||Church is ekklēsia (Rom. 16:1, 4, 5, 16, 23; Eph. 1:22; 3:10, 21 (and so on)|
|12||Blood sacrifice of God / Christ (28)||Blood sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20)|
|13||Warning (31)||Warning (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 4:14; Col. 1:28, 3:16, 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 1:11.)|
|13||Build up (32)||Build up, edify (Rom. 14:19; 15:2, 20; 1 Cor. 3:9; 8:1, 10; 10:23; 14:3, 4, 5, 17; 2 Cor. 5:1; Gal. 2:18; 1 Thess. 5:11)|
|14||Inheritance (32)||Inheritance, inherit (Rom. 4:13, 14; 8:17; Gal. 3:18, 29; 4:1, 7; Eph. 1:14, 18; 5:5; Col. 3:24; Tit. 3:7)|
|15||Sanctify (32)||Sanctify (Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1:30; 6:11; 7:14; Eph. 5:26; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:5; 2 Tim. 2:21)|
|16||He did not covet gold or silver or clothing||He did not use ministry as a mask for greed (1 Thess 2:5 1 Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11).|
|17||Worked with his own hands (34)||Work with his / your hands (1 Cor. 4:12; 9:12; 2 Cor 11:7; 12:13; Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:7-8)|
|18||Remember the weak and poor (35)||Help the week and poor: (Rom. 15:1; 1 Thess. 5:14; Eph. 4:28; Gal. 6:2)|
Paul delivered this speech in a pastoral setting, not as legal defense nor a polemical speech in an uncoverted and sometimes hostile environment. Luke heard it, and it sounds like Paul in his epistles, so Luke was accurate.
In this brief section: while Paul was with them, he was open with them, holding nothing back.
Paul remained in the town Miletus, which is south of Ephesus. The messenger going to Ephesus and the elders coming down from there to Miletus would not take so much time that Paul’s haste to get to Jerusalem would have delayed until after Pentecost. In other words, the there-and-back-again journey was doable. He may not have been able to leave Miletus because the ship may depart without him and Ephesus may not have been safe for him after the major riot (Polhill, comments on vv. 13-16).
The elders from Ephesus reached the town Miletus in good timing.
“church”: In Greek it is ekklēsia (pronounced ek-klay-see-ah) and the meaning has roots in both Hebrew and Greek. It literally describes an assembly or gathering. It literally means “the ones called out” or “the called out” or “the summoned” who gather together.
Let’s look more deeply at the rich term. BDAG has a long discussion, but let’s look at only one subpoint.
By far the most Scriptures where ekklēsia appears comes under this definition: “congregation or church as the totality of Christian living and meeting in a particular locality or large geographical area, but not necessarily limited to one meeting place” (Acts 5:11; 8:3; 9:31; 11:26; 12:5; 15:3; 18:22; 20:17; see also 12:1; 1 Cor. 4:7; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 5:16; Jas. 5:14; 3 John 9). “More definitely of the Christians in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1; 11:22; see also 2:47) in Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1); in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1); Laodicea (Col. 4:16; Rev. 3:14); in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1); Colossae (Plm. 1, subscript). Plural churches (Acts 15:41; 16:5; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 8:18, 23; 11:8, 28; 12:13; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29; 3:6, 13; 22; 22:16); the Christian community in Judea (Gal. 1:22; 1 Thess. 2:14); in Galatia (Gal. 1:2; 1 Cor. 16:1); in Asia (1 Cor. 16:19; Rev. 1:4, 11, 20); in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1).
Please see these posts for BDAG’s fuller definition.
Fellowship is so important for believers. Don’t believe the lie circulating in American society, particularly in social media, that not going to church is good enough. People who skip constant fellowship are prone to sin and self-deception and satanic attacks. We need each other.
This link has a list of the famous “one another” verses, like “love one another.”
Further, since American Christianity is undergoing discussion on the sizes of churches, let me add: the earliest Christian community met either in houses (Acts 2:46) or in Solomon’s Colonnade in Jerusalem (Acts 3:11; 5:12) or a large number in Antioch (11:26), which could hold a large gathering—call it a mega-church—and presumably in mid-sized gatherings. Size does not matter, since it varies so widely.
Moreover, one thing that impresses me about all those above references, is that the apostles, as they planted churches, were guided by the Spirit—always—and they were also deliberate about setting them up and establishing them. Planning is Scriptural. So wisdom says: listen to the Spirit and plan. Listen as you plan and be ready to drop your plans at a moment notice, when the Spirit says so. God will grow the church as we proclaim the good news.
“serving”: it comes from the verb for being a slave, but slavery was different back then. Often people were freed after good service. I translated it “serving,” but one could say bond-serving, meaning a “deep, legal attachment” to God. Paul is simply saying with rhetorical force that he was all in, and he was bound to Christ who purchased him with his blood.
“humility”: it is the long noun—you ready?—tapeinophrosunē (pronounced tah-pay-noh-froh-soo-nay). Yes, it means “humility” and “modesty,” and it is used only here and in Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3; Col. 2:18, 23; 3:12; 1 Pet. 5:5. It combines the word tapein– (humble or lowly) and phrōn– (mind). So we have to have a humble attitude, but don’t allow hyper-humility or excessive humility to creep in, or else you will grovel and crawl on your knees (so to speak) everywhere you go. Rather, humility can stand tall on both legs and walk confidently. If Paul did not have some confidence, then he could never have pioneered a church in Ephesus and ones elsewhere. In Phil. 2:3, we are supposed to have this attitude, and the passage goes on to point to Jesus. We should be like him. He was on a mission and had a purpose. He was not self-focused, so he did not become arrogant or hyper-humble. He was God-focused and mission-minded, so he walked confidently.
In this verse Paul is reminding the Ephesian elders that he suffered to plant the church. Men who will rise up from among themselves (vv. 39-31) don’t have this authority. So be on the alert!
“teaching”: it is the verb didaskō (pronounced dee-dahs-koh, and our word didactic is related to it). The verb means to instruct or tell or teach (BDAG), sometimes in a formal setting like a classroom or another confined setting, other times in a casual setting. Ministry is not just always about proclaiming the simple gospel, but often in-depth teaching is needed, and sorely lacking in many Renewal churches.
“in public and in households”: the gospel can and must go into different forums or platforms. In Paul’s day it was public marketplaces and in houses. And both can be the right place at the right time even today. Now we can preach on blogs and websites. All of it works together so the gospel can spread.
“testifying the verb is diamarturomai (pronounced dee-ah-mahr-too-roh-my), and it can also mean “bear witness to” or “testify.” In these contexts it always means witnessing or testifying through the power of the Spirit.
“repentance”: it comes from the noun metanoia (pronounced meh-tah-noi-ah), which literally means “change of mind”; however, throughout the New Testament, it means more than that. It means regret and turning around and going in the other direction, and it must bear fruit (Matt. 3:8; Acts 20:21; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Heb. 6:6). It is a radical life change.
However, warning! Heb. 6:1-2 tells us that repentance is an elementary teaching:
1 Therefore leaving the message about the elementary principle about Christ, let us carry on to maturity, not again laying the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God and 2 of the teaching about baptisms and the laying on of hands and the resurrection of the dead and punishment in the next age (Heb. 6:1-2).
“The elementary principle about Christ,” which is a literal translation, but it could also be “leaving the basic teaching about Christ.”
In any case, the main idea is about the Jesus we teach to little children. Or it could mean calling adults and the youth to enter the kingdom of God for the first time. Repent! Follow Jesus! Yes, it is wonderful as a foundation, but we must move on to Christ’s deeper teachings. In our context today, we should teach repentance to an audience where there may be the unrepentant and unconverted, but let’s not harangue the church with constant calls for them to repent. They need mature teachings. Too many fiery preachers (or are probably evangelists acting as pastors) never allow their churches to grow, but shriek about fire and brimstone (eternal punishment). Happily, this seems to be changing, and preachers bring up repentance, but also realize that there are many other doctrines in Scripture.
“faith”: the noun is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or piss-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him.
Let’s discuss the noun, faith, more deeply. These comments apply to the verb, as well: pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh). It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
GrowApp for Acts 20:17-21
A.. Paul persevered through tears and trials and did not shrink back from his mission. How about you? Do you have God’s grace and empowerment to reach your goal?
B.. Paul testified about repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Tell you story of repentance and faith in Jesus. How has this changed your life? Tell your story.
Misgivings about Journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24)
22 “And now consider! I am bound by the Spirit I go to Jerusalem, without knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except in every town the Holy Spirit testifies to me, saying that chains and troubles await me. 24 But on no account do I make my life precious to me, as I complete my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, testifying of the good news of the grace of God.
Paul now prepares them for his absence.
“consider!”: it is the standard Greek (and Hebrew) term that is usually translated as “behold!” It is a way of saying, “listen up!” or “amazing!”
“bound”: it is the verb deō (pronounced deh-oh), and it simply means to “tie” or “bind.” NIV has “compelled by the Spirit,” and NLT: “drawn there irresistibly by the Holy Spirit.” NAS has “bound in spirit.” The problem with the NAS’s translation is that the definite article means the phrase should be translated as the others have it.
It is amazing that in every town the Spirit speaks to him that troubles wait for him. Evidently, the church had prophets or at least prophetic persons in every community. Here is a sample:
We sailed into Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload the cargo. 4 We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to go on to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:3-4)
In this case, the interpretation was wrongheaded. Paul was compelled or bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. It was a “God idea,” not a “good idea,” that comes from the mind of man. Sometimes the two sources of ideas overlap, but often they do not.
10 While we stayed there several days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He approached us and took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem shall bind the man whose belt this is and turn him over to the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the local residents urged that he should not go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart in pieces? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he was not persuaded, we kept quiet and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:10-14)
Note that Agabus did not say, “Thou shalt not go!” He simply informed Paul what awaits him. It is the interpretation of his words that went too far. Please go to Acts 21:4 and 10-14 to find a more through exegesis.
“without knowing”: Sometimes God will lead us towards a future that is very vague and unclear. All Paul knew was that chains and troubles were ahead. Now that’s scary! Most Christians today would rebuke these thoughts and plans. I might too!
“troubles”: in Greek it is the noun thlipsis (pronounced th’leep-sees, and be sure to pronounce the p in ps). It can be translated as “affliction” or “oppression.”
“no account”: it is the versatile noun logos (pronounced loh-gohss), and it can be translated as an “account.” In other words, Paul accounting book was blank measured against the life Christ had for him. In Christ, his accounting book was full. See v. 2 for a fuller discussion.
“precious”: it is the adjective (feminine) timia (pronounced tee-mee-ah), and it means “value, precious, costly, of great worth.” Paul was ready to die for Jesus, if that’s what Jesus wanted. Am I ready to die for the right cause, which is Jesus? I’m not ready to die for an inferior cause, like some vague thing called “justice.” But by God’s grace if he leads us to die for him, then only by God’s grace! Now don’t be morbid and believe Jesus leads to death. No, John 10:10 says he came to give abundant life.
“life”: it comes from the noun psuchē, and see v. 10 for a closer look.
“course”: it is the noun dromos (pronounced droh-mohss), and it means a “race course,” or “course or career.” It is used only here and in 2 Tim. 4:7; Acts 13:25. It is not difficult to imagine a race track or perhaps better—an obstacle course.
“ministry”: it is the Greek noun diakonia (pronounced dee-ah-koh-nee-ah), and it means, depending on the context, “service,” “office,” “ministry,” or “aid, support, distribution.” The NIV says “task” here. Yes, we get our word deacon from it (1 Tim. 3:10, 13). It evolved into a position at church for a man (or woman) who did practical service, to help the pastor, so he (or she) could focus on the Word of God. But this does not limit the deacons’ service away from the Word, as we have observed with Philip and Stephen, who preached the gospel. Paul meant the term more broadly than practical service, though it meant that too for him. It was his entire apostolic ministry.
“received from the Lord Jesus Christ”: Paul got his ministry from Jesus himself (Acts 9:1-19); Gal. 1:11-24; 2:6-10). His authority depended on no one else.
“testifying”: the verb is diamarturomai, and see v. 20 for a closer look. In this context it means that in town after town the Spirit spoke prophetically through the prophetically gifted—prophets, in other words. This is more evidence that the charismata or gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 were in operation, and in the Corinthian passage Paul was merely summarizing what he had seen in all of his churches. The entire book of Acts is very charismatic, even though Luke does not mention the fulness and power of the Spirit in every other verse. He expects us to assume it because of apostolic authority and the Spirit’s love for the people of God.
“good news”: it is the noun euangelion (pronounced yew-ahn-geh-lee-on, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Used 76 times in the NT, it combines eu– (good or positive) angel (message or announcement, and yes we get our word angel from Greek). The gospel announces salvation through Jesus Christ—a new “sheriff” is in town or on earth. Or if the sheriff imagery is displeasing to some, then the King of kings and Lord of lords has arrived, and he has a new revelation about God’s love for humanity and a new path right into his presence. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), so charismatic power is built into it. It announces the coming of the kingdom of God or a new way that God relates to the world, though it has roots in the OT (Mark 1:15). The gospel brings out a response in people, positively or negatively (Matt. 26:13; Mark 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:14a; 2 Cor. 2:12). (Personally, I believe that humans have enough free will to resist the gospel until the day they die, but they do not have enough free will to strut into salvation without the Word or the gospel communicated in some fashion, even in a dream about Jesus, which is happening in the Muslim world). The Greek word is described as the “gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24) (as distinct from the law of Moses), the “gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13), and the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:19).
It is the good news about Jesus, not the bad news about him.
“grace”: it comes from Greek noun charis (pronounced khah-rees) and has these meanings, depending on the context: graciousness, attractiveness; favor, gracious care, help or goodwill, practical application of goodwill; a gracious deed or gift, benefaction. In some contexts, it means “exceptional effects produced by divine grace,” in other words, empowerment to accomplish a task.
Let’s go deeper, by repeating part of what I wrote in the post Do I Really Know God? He Is Gracious. Mounce in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words teaches us about the Hebrew and Greek words. The Hebrew noun ḥen (pronounced khen) “describes that which is favorable or gracious, especially the favorable disposition of one person to another” (p. 302). The Greek noun further means “the acceptance of and goodness toward those who cannot earn or do not deserve such gain” (p. 303). The verb in Hebrew is ḥanan (pronounced khah-nan) and means to be gracious, “to show mercy favor, be gracious” (ibid.).
Here is a quick definition. God’s grace means he gladly shows his unmerited goodness or love to those who have forfeited it and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation.
Good news! We do not have to suffer condemnation for our past sins because God hands us his grace.
GrowApp for Acts 20:22-24
A.. Paul was constrained by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Is God compelling and carrying you to complete your mission? If so, what is that like?
B.. Paul preached the grace of God. What does God’s saving grace mean to you?
His Charge to the Elders (Acts 20:25-31)
25 “And now consider! I know that all of you among whom I have traveled, proclaiming the kingdom, shall no longer see my face. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of anyone’s blood, 27 for I have not hesitated to announce to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Guard yourselves and the entire flock, over whom the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, shepherding the church of God, whom he had acquired through his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure ferocious wolves shall come in to your midst, not sparing the flock. 30 And from among yourselves men shall arise, speaking seductive things so as to draw disciples away for themselves. 31 Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years, night and day, I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.
In his absence, Paul charges the elders to watch the flock and guard against wolves.
“Consider!”: see v. 22 for a closer look.
“kingdom”: Jesus spoke often about the kingdom of God. He ushered it in, and at the birth of the church in Acts 2 it is now about to expand beyond Israel. It is for everyone who receives him into their hearts and becomes his followers. When that happens, they enter into his light; receive clarity; enjoy an intimate relationship with the Father through Christ and the Spirit; live a consecrated life through his resurrection power and in the Spirit and by his power. And so the kingdom makes all the difference in the world—by creating a new world, a new kingdom, he creates a new you, a new life.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
Paul is saying that the Ephesian elders and the church they are about to lead have received everything he had to offer. He explained to them the basics of the gospel, and even judgment. See the epistle to the Ephesians, which Paul wrote later, for a rundown of the doctrines and ethical imperatives Paul must have taught.
Bruce: “Like Ezekiel’s trustworthy watchman, he has sounded the trumpet so that all the province of Asia had heard. If there were any who paid no heed, their blood would be on their head: Paul was free of responsibility for their doom” (comment on vv. 25-27).
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. 5 Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’
7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for[a] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved. (Ezek. 33:1-9, NIV)
“whole counsel of God”: “counsel” is the noun boulē (pronounced boo-lay), and BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it defines the term thus: (1) “that which one thinks about as possibility for action, plan, purpose, intention”; (2) “that which one decides, resolution, decision”; (3) it can even be a council that takes up proposals and deliberates, council meeting. Here it is the first definition. It is used 12 times, and 9 times in Luke-Acts. He favors this word. Believers need the fullest teaching of the Scriptures and God’s ways, not just the Happy Highlights. See v. 21 which discusses repentance, which is an elementary teaching. People need to go beyond these elementary teachings, and v. 21 is parallel to Heb. 6:1-2, which lists more elementary doctrines that disciples need to move beyond.
“Holy Spirit”: Paul must have prayed to find out from God who should be the overseers of the church. The Spirit revealed them to Paul. Bruce: “It may be implied that their commission to take pastoral responsibility for the church had been conveyed through prophetic utterances, in which the direction of the Spirit was recognized … If they commission was received through prophetic utterances, they received it no doubt because they were known to be those on whom the requisite qualifications for this work had been bestowed—and bestowed by the same Spirit whose will was declared by prophetic utterances” (comment on v. 28). Recall that Paul and Barnabas were prophetically appointed as missionaries after prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-3). The sweep of the book of Acts is very charismatic, without announcing it at every other verse.
For systematic theology:
“acquired by his blood”: the verb “acquired” comes from peripoieō and means “acquire, obtain, gain for oneself” (in middle voice). It can mean “save or preserve for oneself.” It is used only here and in 1 Tim. 3:13.
This verse supports the deity of Christ and the Trinity. The only person of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who acquired the church by his blood is Jesus. And the only antecedent to the pronoun “he” is God. In other words, “he” refers back to God in the previous clause. Therefore Jesus is God in the flesh. However, it could be translated as “he acquired by the blood of his own (Son).” So be cautious in using it to prove his deity. There are other verses, noted at the links, below.
Quick teaching about the Trinity in the area of systematic theology. The Father in his role as the Father is superior to the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son in his incarnation and role in the redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
“wolves”: they are people who do not want to help people, but who help themselves to people. They lead people astray. Now what are the seductive people and things that lead people off the path of Jesus? In Paul’s days the wolves might be legalistic Messianic Jews who imposed circumcision on people as necessary for salvation. Or the wolves might be pagan Ephesians who found out that Christianity is growing, so they steal some elements of the “Way” and transform them into Christo-paganism. The fancy word for that is syncretism or mixing the gospel of Jesus with pagan teaching, like flesh is bad, and only the spirit is good. John the Apostle had to deal with this false teaching called proto-Gnosticism, in the Greek east in his first epistle.
Shepherds, watch over your flock! Don’t allow wacky teachings in to their midst!
“draw … away”: it comes from the verb apospaō (pronounced ah-poh-spah-oh), and it used only four times in the NT: here, Acts 20:30; Matt. 26:51; Luke 22:41. It combines the prefix apo– (away, from) and spaō (to draw as in draw a sword or a lot from a helmet). And it means as it does here: “draw,” draw away, attract,” and “be parted” or an extra-strong goodbye.
“disciples”: see v. 1.
The imagery of wolves has an OT foundation:
7 Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. (Ezek. 22:27, NIV)
Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her rulers are evening wolves,
who leave nothing for the morning. (Zeph. 3:3, NIV)
Paul is saying that he is the one who paid the price to plant the church at Ephesus. When men arise among their own community and seduce people away, they do not have the same authority as he did. He spent night and day in tears shoring up their faith.
“warning”: it is the verb noutheteō (pronounced noo-theh-teh-oh), a word only Paul uses in the NT: Acts 20:31; Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 4:14; Col. 1:28, 3:16, 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 1:11. It means, yes, “warn,” and also the synonyms “admonish” or “instruct.” It combines the word nou– (mind) and thē (to put or place), so it really means “put in mind.”
Peterson expounds on the application of vv. 29-31 for us today:
The church of Ephesus certainly had to deal with heretical forces after Paul’s departure (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:15; Rev. 2:1-7) However, the warning has a wider application for Christian leaders to attract others to their own way of thinking, to satisfy a deep-seated need for approval or popularity (Cf. Gal. 4:17-18). Pastors need to be realistic about the way sin can manipulate itself in distortions of the truth and create destructive divisions among Christians. Paul’s solution was for the elders to watch out for themselves.” (comment on vv. 29-31)
GrowApp for Acts 20:25-31
A.. Paul did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. Do you read Scripture to find out who God really is?
B.. Paul warns of false teachers, fierce wolves, infiltrating the church. Are you alert to teachers who take you away from God’s grace and draw you away from the church to themselves?
Final Admonition (Acts 20:32-35)
32 “And so now I entrust you to God and the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you the inheritance among everyone who is sanctified. 33 I did not covet gold or silver or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my needs and to those who were with me. 35 In all respects I showed you that by laboring in this way you must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’”
Paul commends them to God, reminding them that while he was with them he worked during his ministry, so the elders must not covet gold or silver or clothing.
“word”: it is the versatile noun logos, and see v. 2 for a fuller look.
“grace”: it is the noun charis, and see v. 24 for a closer look.
“inheritance”: it is the noun klēronomia (pronounced klay-roh-noh-mee-ah), and it combines klēr– (drawing lots or any piece of land, portion, or farm) and nom– (law, rule). It is used 14 times in the NT, and in the synoptics Gospels it really means inheritance or land from a father or a guardian to the heir (Matt. 21:38 // Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14). In the other passages it is salvation (Acts 20:32; Eph. 1:18; Heb. 9:5). Saving inheritance is not given by the law, but by faith (Gal. 3:18). It is the reward of the believers (Col. 3:24; Eph. 5:5). Peter says it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter. 1:4). Best of all, the Holy Spirit is the deposit of our heavenly inheritance. Our inheritance is our Spirit-filled life down on earth and our Spirit-filled life in heaven. So there are heavenly and earthly aspects to the term.
“sanctified”: it is the verb hagiazō, and it means to “make holy” or very awkwardly “holy-ize” or “holy-fy.” Paul’s theology of salvation and sanctification from his epistles works out like this: (1) salvation comes by the born-again experience, which is produced by the Spirit. This happens instantly. (2) Salvation, in a package deal, must include God declaring you to be righteous and holy. If he did not do this, then we could never achieve the right level of holiness and righteousness by our own efforts and works to make it into God’s pure presence when we die. (3) After we are saved and declared holy and righteous (the distinction is logical, rather than chronological), the Spirit breaks sin’s dominion and power and control over our lives so that we can embark on the long, daily journey that every believer is sent on, by the leadership of the Spirit. This third step is called sanctification.
Salvation and sanctification are linked, but distinct. Don’t confuse the two, or you will work yourself to death—to an early grave, because you can never do enough to be holy enough.
“covet”: it comes from the verb epithumeō (pronounced eh-pee-thoo-meh-oh), and it means “eagerly desire,” “long for.” It can perhaps be translated as “lust.” The thum– stem means a high-spirited mind. It can even mean “anger.” But “covet” is best here. The Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent) is a third-to-second-century, B.C. translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. In the Ten Commandments, the last one say not to covet. It is the same verb there as here in v. 33.
Too much covetousness has infiltrated the American church. Yes, pastors and leaders of parachurch ministries can get salaries, when the donations come in from Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper (Acts 18:5; 1 Cor. 9:14; Gal 6:6), but massive salaries which enable these leaders to buy luxury items that Joe and Jane could never afford is wrong. Church planters must be willing to work, as Paul said he did in Corinth (Acts 18:3).
Coveting silver and gold is the way of sinful human nature, but what about clothing? Why would Paul or someone else have to resist the temptation to covet it? Clothing was expensive and difficult to make.
“these hands”: he surely held them up when he said those words.
This is a great definition of prosperity. God gives us material possessions so that we can be a blessing to those who are weaker and needier. We must be a conduit through which God’s money and possession can flow. Wise, old saying: “If God can get it through you, he will get it to you.”
These words of Jesus did not make it into the four Gospels, even in Luke’s gospel. This shows that numerous of his sayings circulated around the early church, and we have only a fraction of them, as John said at the end of his Gospel (21:25).
“must”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. In this context, Paul is saying it is a divine necessity to help the weak and poor.
“weak”: it is the verb astheneō (pronounced ahss-then-eh-oh), and it means, depending on the context, “be weak, be sick.” The prefix a– is the negation, and the stem sthen– means “strength” or “strong,” so literally it means “unstrong.” NIV translates it in this way, as it appears throughout the NT: sick, weak (most often), lay sick, disabled, feel weak, invalid, sickness, weakened, weakening.
Paul does not always work when the circumstance is right (18:5; cf. Gal. 6:6), but here he had to demonstrate that he did not rob people out of his greed. Paul’s enemies must have been criticizing him and distancing the flock away from him. So Paul is driving home the point that his motives were honorable.
GrowApp for Acts 20:32-35
A.. God’s grace can build you up. How has it worked in your life?
B.. Paul did not covet gold or silver or clothing. Do you belong to a church that is modest in its appeal for funds? Or do you belong to a covetous church?
Tearful Departing (Acts 20:36-38)
36 And when he said these things, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 There was a lot of weeping from all of them, as they fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him. 38 They felt pain, particularly at the statement which he had said that they were no longer going to see his face. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
This is a very, very moving scene. Luke witnessed it with his own eyes. The Ephesian elders and Paul were “tight”; that is, they had a very close relationship. When I translated it, I admit I got a little “dust” in my eye, so I needed a small tear to get the “dust” out.
When it says “embracing,” it literally says “they fell on Paul’s neck.” Their embrace was strong and tender.
And kissing does not mean on the lips, it was just on the cheek. It is easy to see that Paul’s neck was moistened with tears.
Finally, “felt pain”: it is the verb odunaō (pronounced oh-doo-nah-oh), and it is used only by Luke: 2:48; 16:24, 25; and here. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it says, “to experience mental and spiritual pain, be pained, distressed.”
It is touching to see how they felt the strongest stab of pain at his words that they would never see his face again. Very moving.
Well done, Luke, in your portrayal of the scene.
I like how Bock sums up the entire speech:
The key to all of this is found in what Paul commends to them as he departs: God’s grace and God’s word. Both the attitude and tone of grace and the content of the word serve as protections for the church. In fact, in many ways, the subject of the speech is not so much Paul as what God has done through him. … If one is open to God, then such ministry is possible, even though it can be fought with danger.” (comment on vv. 36-38)
GrowApp for Acts 20:36-38
A.. They prayed in public, at the beach. Have you ever attended an outdoor Christian meeting? What was that like?
B.. They felt pain at Paul’s departure. How have you recovered when someone left your life, never to be seen again?
Observations for Discipleship
The raising of Eutychus was a miracle. I love how Paul ran downstairs to scoop him up in his arms. Then he told the small crowd around him, as they were weeping and wailing, to stop. Faith cannot operate in a panicky, unpeaceful environment. God can give you peace when disaster strikes or bad news hits your ears. Please read Phil. 4:6-10:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:6-10, NIV)
Those verses promise peace as we think on wholesome things. That section is one of the best verses in the entire Bible to have peace and no anxiety.
God cares for his flock, and Paul expresses this beautifully in his speech to the Ephesian elders. Bad teachings circulated throughout the history of the church, and we can see that God has eventually purged them out or at least shoved them aside when the church united in council and decided things. For example, in the earlier church, particularly in the second century, Gnosticism arose and claimed that God does not like the world or human flesh, so people needed to rid themselves of bodily urges and focus on the spirit. This has led to all sorts of distortions. One way is extreme asceticism or self-denial of natural desires. The other path was to indulge the passions, as if the bodily urges need to be pacified and completed. The earliest expressions of this wacky teaching emerged in Paul’s epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians, but especially the first one. Paul had to write against it. The wacky teaching is also referenced in John’s first epistle, where he refutes it. Never be afraid to refute bad teachings or at least not allow it in your flock.
So how does this relate to your growth in Christ? You may become a church leader. You must follow Scripture to sweep aside false teachings.
One such false teaching is, oddly, that Scripture does not count for much. These teachers want to find the “word of God” in the Bible and purge out the husk. The problem is they don’t know where to draw the line between the “Word” and the rest. Their motive is to get away from harsh, fundamentalist teaching, but as the saying goes, they throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Another teaching is that it is all grace and nothing but grace, to the exclusion of moral law. So, people can love and have sex and marry any partner they want because “love is love.” Of course, they scrap moral law, which permeates the New Testament, so they can do as they please. The balance is grace and truth, not grace alone, or truth alone. If truth sits by itself, it can be harsh and cruel. If grace sits by itself, it can be sloppy.
If this application upsets you because it is not very mystical, then there is another side of your relationship with God. Yes, your growth in Christ depends on sound biblical teaching.
Four-part series on how one should not practice lawlessness, particularly for church leaders:
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.