Acts 20:13-38 Parting Words Regarding The Ministry.
Here Luke includes himself when he says, “we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot” (v. 13). It was 20 miles from Troas to Assos. We are not told why Paul wanted to travel on foot. Perhaps he wanted to visit with some disciples along the way. In any case, they do meet up again and sail to Mitylene, and then to Chios, Samos, Trogyllium, and Miletus, along the coast, about 30 miles south of Ephesus. Paul did not want to return to Asia because his goal was to return to Jerusalem, “if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (v. 16 Cf. 18:21; 19:21; 21:4; 24:17). However, even though he did not divert to Ephesus in Asia, he did send for the elders from there (v. 17).
In his discussion with the Ephesian elders Paul reminded them of his conduct while with them, “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews” (v. 19). What is equally interesting is his comment that he “kept back nothing that was helpful,” teaching publicly and from house to house (v. 20 Cf. v. 27). Some things that are helpful may not be easy to hear, including the need for “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21). The need for repentance is never easy to hear, but neither was “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” The gospel of Christ crucified and risen, was “a stumbling block to the Jews and to the Greeks foolishness” (I Cor. 1:23). Luke’s account up to this point has shown this to be true.
On top of all this Paul was determined to return to Jerusalem, even though he did not know what would happen to him there, except that the Holy Spirit was warning him of “chains and tribulations” (v. 23). However, Paul would not be moved from finishing his race, surprisingly “with joy,” and the ministry which he received from the Lord (v. 24a). His ministry was “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24b). For Paul and the early church, the gospel was good news because it was and is “the gospel of the grace of God.” There is no such thing as a gospel that is not all of grace. He also called this “preaching the kingdom of God” (v. 25). Paul was sure that he would not see them again, so he wanted to reiterate that his conscience was clear, that he did not hold back from declaring “the whole counsel of God” (v. 27).
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (v. 28 Cf. I Pet. 5:2). There is a lot of very important truths packed in this verse. Firstly, Paul warned them to take heed because as he would go on to say, savage wolves would come in among them, “not sparing the flock” (v. 29). Wherever the ministry of the word is engaged, the devil is there to oppose it. Secondly, he addresses these elders as also being bishops or overseers, showing that, as Presbyterians have always maintained, the titles of elder and bishop are interchangeable, each speaking to the specific tasks involved. Thirdly, part of overseeing the flock is to shepherd them.
Shepherding a flock provides an interesting analogy. A shepherd is engaged in all the things that we see in Psalm 23. The shepherd leads the flock to where they can find true sustenance, guards against them being led astray, and corrects them when they sometimes do go astray. The reason for all this is very simple and yet profoundly important-the church has been purchased by the blood of the lamb! Sadly, Paul also had another warning-there would even be those who once numbered themselves among them, but would depart from the faith and seek to lead others astray (v. 30-31). Again, the gospel is “the word of His grace” (v. 32a Cf. Heb. 13:9). This alone is able to build us up, and give us an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (v. 32b).
Part of Paul having a clear conscience rests on the fact that he did not covet anyone’s “silver or gold or apparel” (v. 33). Paul, as a tentmaker, not only provided for his own needs, but also for those who were with him (v. 34 Cf. 18:3). In so doing, Paul sought to forgo what was his right, so that the elders of Ephesus and others, would see by his example that they should “support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (v. 35). After he had finished, Paul “knelt down and prayed with them all” (v. 36). This shows us the absolute necessity of prayer. They also wept with great sorrow, because they knew they would see him no more (vv. 37-38). This was no doubt, a heart breaking departure (Cf. 21:13).