Thursday, December 01, 2022

Acts 20:13-38

Acts 20:13–38 (ESV)✞: Eutychus Raised from the Dead, Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

This post didn’t follow the ESV section headings fully; verses 13–16 are part of the previous passage in their headings. It just felt to me like it fit better with this passage.

Prologue: Paul’s Journey

At this point in the book of Acts Paul is being drawn inexorably toward Jerusalem. Verses 13-17 (ESV)✞ show him and his companions leaving Troas and making their way toward that city. His journey will take him past the city of Ephesus but he’s in such a hurry to get to Jerusalem that he decides not to stop there. He is, however, eager to talk to the elders of that church, so he sends and asks them to come to him in Miletus. (There’s a map of his journey here).

The rest of this passage is his speech to them.

Paul’s Speech to the Ephesian Elders

I’ll just go through this bit by bit, but before I do, there was an interesting point from my usual study Bible:

Acts 20:17–35 Paul Addresses the Ephesian Elders at Miletus. Paul’s Miletus address is the sole example in Acts of a major speech to Christians. Of all Paul’s speeches in Acts, it has the most in common with his letters, which were addressed to Christians. Paul held out his own ministry as an example for the Ephesian elders (vv. 18–21), spoke of his future prospects (vv. 22–27), warned of coming heresies (vv. 28–31), and encouraged a proper attitude toward material goods (vv. 32–35).

ESV Study Bible

And now, into the speech…

18 And when they came to him, he said to them:


“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;

verses 18-19 (ESV)✞

The first thing that strikes me about this passage is the absolute terror I would feel at starting a speech the way Paul starts this one: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,” he says, and my brain screams, “Would I want people examining my actions so closely? What would they see?!?” I’m not saying Paul was perfect—or that he was claiming to be perfect—but his conduct was good enough to put in front of others as an example to follow. (This isn’t the only place where Paul sets himself as an example for people to follow, either, it comes up in his letters.)

I hate to keep bringing this up, but this part also includes Paul talking about “the plots of the Jews,” and, again, as a modern Christian I hate including those words in a blog post because there are too many racists out there who are promoting conspiracy theories about this very thing: plots by Jews. To be clear—again—that’s not what Paul is talking about here. He’s talking about the religious leaders who were trying to prevent him from spreading the Gospel in that time and place. He was actively loving reaching out to his fellow Jewish laypeople all along (as he even states in the next section of his speech).

20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

verses 20-21 (ESV)✞

This is the example Paul wants the Ephesian Elders—and, by extension, everyone, including us—to follow: he never stopped preaching the Gospel.

We can take that phrase “anything that was profitable” in two ways:

  • anything that was profitable: If it was profitable, Paul would teach it!
  • anything that was profitable: If it wasn’t profitable, Paul wouldn’t bother with it!

He was so zealous to teach people about repentance toward God and faith in Jesus that he was willing to do so anytime, anyplace: public or private, large groups or small, he seemingly never tired of giving this message.

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.

verses 22-25 (ESV)✞

The main thing to see here is Paul following the prompting of the Holy Spirit: he’s being drawn toward Jerusalem, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen there but it seems like it’s somehow going to be bad—he’s saying here that he’s never going to see these people again—but he’s going anyway because he has to follow the Spirit’s prompting and leave everything else in God’s hands. If He wants Paul to suffer, Paul will suffer, and that’s that.

What I also find interesting, though, is that the Spirit seems to be giving Paul some information, even if it’s only in the form of vague intuitions, but not outright telling him exactly what’s going to happen. The ESV Study Bible mentions this as well:

Acts 20:22–23 Constrained (Gk. deō, “to bind, tie, constrain”) indicates that the Holy Spirit was giving Paul an exceptionally strong sense of compulsion that he had to go quickly and directly to Jerusalem, even though he knew that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him there. Paul must have reflected on the similarities between his present journey to Jerusalem and Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem where he was to die (Matt. 16:21; 20:18; Mark 10:32–33; Luke 9:51, 53; 18:31–33), and wondered if he also would end his life there (see Acts 20:24). the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city. Such testimony probably came to Paul through both Christian prophets (cf. 21:11) and direct revelation from the Holy Spirit.

ESV Study Bible

“Constrained” is an interesting word to use in this context; Paul could have simply ignored the Spirit’s prompting, but he chose to obey instead. (Then again, maybe he couldn’t have ignored the Spirit – we all know what happened when Jonah tried to ignore God’s instructions!)

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

verses 26-27 (ESV)✞

Did every person Paul shared the Gospel with become a Christian? No, not at all. But it’s not Paul’s job to “make” people into Christians; it’s his job to share the message of Jesus Christ with people and then let the Holy Spirit work in them. Having done so he was “innocent of the blood of all,” whether they believed or not.

The ESV Study Bible notes give some additional context:

Acts 20:26–27 For Paul’s claim to be innocent of their blood, see Ezek. 33:1–6 … . Paul is saying that he is not accountable before God for any future doctrinal or moral error that might come to the Ephesian church, for (giving the reason why he is not culpable) he did not shrink from declaring any part of the teaching of the Word of God. The whole counsel of God refers to the entirety of God’s redemptive plan unfolded in Scripture. Even though some parts of God’s Word were unpopular or difficult, Paul did not omit any of them in his preaching. In refusing to pass over teachings that might have offended some, Paul gave a courageous example that is a model for all who would teach God’s Word after him.

ESV Study Bible

That Ezekiel quote is this:

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.”

Ezekiel 33:1–6 (ESV)✞

This passage is using the metaphor of watchmen – men who are supposed to be on the lookout for enemies and raising the alarm if the land is about to be under attack. If a watchman sees an enemy approaching and raises the alarm but the people ignore that alarm, then their blood is on their own head – it’s their own fault. Whereas a watchman who sees an approaching enemy and doesn’t raise an alarm is himself to blame. Just like Paul: if he hadn’t been faithfully preaching the Gospel he’d be blameworthy, but since he has been faithful in spreading the message, he is not.

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

verses 28-31 (ESV)✞

At first this sounds like what Paul was just saying: the elders at Ephesus should follow his previous example and care for their flock. But he’s going a bit further this time: they’re not entering a period of stasis, they’re entering a period where it’s going to get harder to teach “anything that is profitable,” because wolves are coming. What does Paul mean by “wolves” here? What are these people doing to do that is so bad that he uses that language? They’re going to “speak twisted things.” In Paul’s view, the most dangerous thing that can happen in the city of Ephesus—and maybe in any city, or maybe he has specific concerns about this city—is that the people get led astray by false teachings.

He might have simply been thinking things through and reasoning as to what was about to happen, or, as the ESV Study Bible posits, he may have been told by the Spirit:

Acts 20:29–30 Paul showed remarkable insight into the future situation of the Ephesian church (probably through a revelation from the Holy Spirit). The letters of Paul to Timothy, who served Ephesus a decade or so later, attest to the presence of false teachers who were ravaging the church for their own gain and who had indeed come from within the church, in fact, from among the elders themselves (from among your own selves). (See 1 Tim. 1:19–20; 4:1–3; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17–18; 3:1–9.)

When we think about “wolves” we usually think of shysters who are preaching false teachings for money—often a “health and wealth” kind of Gospel—but my biggest worry is that “wolves” are not always intentionally misleading people. Any Christian who attends church regularly has encountered situations where fellow Christians are trying to teach or explain something that is “off.” They’ve misunderstood something, or haven’t fully read the passage in question (or other relevant passages), or whatever. They’ve just got it wrong. In many cases this isn’t a problem, and further conversation can bring them back on track. The danger is when these views become too prominent, either because the local church doesn’t have adequate preaching to counter these false teachings, or because the false teachers develop too much of a following, or both.

When we get to 1/2 Timothy maybe we’ll see which was happening at Ephesus in Timothy’s time.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

verse 32 (ESV)✞

Every once in a while, when we’re getting admonitions from the Scriptures about something we’re supposed to do, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that God Himself is able to build us up through the Word of His Grace, and that He is the one who gave us an inheritance.

Paul doesn’t just say “do as I did.” He says, “I was able to do what I did through God’s Grace, and you have that same Grace!”

33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

verses 33-35 (ESV)✞

This is an interesting passage because some Christians will read it and see an emphasis on personal responsibility and working hard while others will read it and see an emphasis on caring for the poor and needy. Paul is saying both: work hard, take personal responsibility for yourself, so that you can help the weak, because it’s more blessed to give than to receive. If you’re able to work, and support yourself, you should be doing so, you shouldn’t be hoping for others to take care of you. But you should also be taking care of others, who aren’t able to work and support themselves.

There is no place in Christianity for laziness, but neither is there a place in Christianity for people who refuse to care for others.

After this speech Paul prays with them. They’re sad because he’s said he’s not going to see them again, but they accompany him to his ship to send him on his way to Jerusalem.

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