We cannot be effective servants of God if we do not humbly acknowledge our need for Him, guard our relationship with Him, and become careful students of His Word. Paul’s example is a model and inspiration to us.
Many of you have traveled to different parts of the world. I have done the same. In fact, the desire to begin Wisdom International began as I stood in a pastor’s little makeshift office in a village in Kenya, East Africa. He had two worn-out commentaries on a couple books of the Bible, and that is all he had to help him study the Word of God. I am a little embarrassed that I have several thousand volumes to help me, but our desire has been to use every means possible to put into print every lesson we teach and offer it for free. Today, people living in several hundred countries around the world access Wisdom’s materials every single day. And I am grateful that God has allowed our teaching to be translated into the Swahili language, the language of that pastor in Kenya.
Here in Acts 20, Paul is on the move again. He is continuing on his third missionary journey. Verse 1 tells us that after the uproar at Ephesus in Asia Minor, Paul “departed for Macedonia”—that is the northeastern part of the Greek Peninsula. Then we read, “When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months” (verses 2-3).
It is not long before trouble catches up to him. A plot to kill Paul becomes known, so he changes his plans and instead of sailing back home, he travels overland back through Macedonia.
I don’t know if you have missed a connection at the airport—I certainly have—but it is so frustrating to lose a few hours of precious time. Well, Paul loses more than a few hours because of this plot on his life, but he is going to gain more ministry opportunities as a result.
For one, he will have more time to teach a group of men traveling with him; verse 4 lists a number of them, including Timothy. So, this is not wasted time at all.
When Paul reaches the Greek city of Philippi, Dr. Luke joins him. Luke, the author of Acts, changes the pronouns here in verse 6 from “he” to “we”: “We came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.”
Now Luke records a miracle in Troas; verse 7 sets the stage:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
By the way, here is the first mention of the church gathering to worship and hear the preaching of God’s Word on Sunday. Things are changing. The church is no longer constrained by the Old Testament law that set Saturday as Israel’s Sabbath; the church is not Israel, and believers are now beginning to call Sunday “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). While you can worship on any day, frankly, Sunday has become the special day for the church to worship, in honor of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday—and the creation of the church, which also took place on Sunday.
Paul is preaching a rather long sermon here. It is now midnight, and the church is gathered in an upper room. A young man named Eutychus is sitting on a window sill. Verse 9 tells us, “Eutychus . . . sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer.”
I must tell you how encouraging this is that somebody slept through the apostle Paul’s preaching, because people certainly sleep through mine. But this becomes more serious than someone starting to snore in the sanctuary. Luke continues, “And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.”
Dr. Luke was probably the one who confirmed it. You can imagine the terrible accusations and discredit that will be heaped on this little church.
But Paul does something unusual here. Verse 10 says, “Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’” Verse 12 adds, “They took the youth away alive.” How is that for a sermon illustration to conclude the worship service?
The remainder of chapter 20 then gives us Paul’s farewell in Miletus. He is anxious to reach Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Day of Pentecost and revisit the scene where the Holy Spirit descended and the church was created.
Verse 17 records, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Paul has invested a lot of time and effort in starting and teaching the church in Ephesus; and the elders in that church travel the thirty miles to Miletus to meet with Paul.
As Paul speaks to them, he happens to give us a wonderful job description for every pastor/elder/church leader to this day. This is a biblical ministry worthy of imitation.
First, Paul says that he had served “with all humility and with tears and with trials” (verse 19). I know people today who entered the ministry assuming it would be one triumph after another. Paul says his ministry was one trial after another—and a lot of tears.
But he says in verse 20, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.”
His ministry is a model of teaching and preaching. And that requires study and prayer. You cannot teach someone something you do not know. I often tell my students at Shepherds Seminary that they need to be willing to spend hours in their study for just a few minutes in the pulpit. The last thing you want is for the pews to be full and the preaching to be empty.
Then the apostle says that he’s “constrained by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem (verse 22). Apparently through prophetic warnings, he knows that “imprisonment and afflictions” await him there, but he is still determined to go.
I wonder how many of us would remain in the ministry if God promised us only more trouble. Paul is willing to go where God wants him to go.
Look as his perspective here in verse 24:
“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.”
Wow! What a model for ministry to this day.
Paul then warns the elders in verse 28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves.” When a church leader falls, the whole church suffers. Be careful.
Next, Paul tells them to “care” for the flock. The word for “care” here is poimainō, from which we get poimēn, the word for pastor. It also means to pasture. A pastor then is literally to lead the flock to green pastures and feed them.
Paul adds a warning here in verses 29-30:
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
This has been the history of the church—attacks from without and false teaching from within. How we need faithful, alert, courageous shepherds today.
Paul now mentions his example in verse 33: “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.” He is saying, “I wasn’t in it for the money. I wasn’t interested in fleecing the flock but feeding the flock.”
And with that, they all kneel down there before the ship weighs anchor. They know they likely will not see Paul again in this life, and they weep together. What a tender sight this is, and what a wonderful testimony to pursue—that people would be glad when we arrive to serve them and sad to see us go. And so, they say their farewells to their spiritual mentor and friend.