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Acts

Preparation

Acts  20

Sometimes the life of a great Christian says more in action than in words. Such a passage we have today:

(Acts 20 NIV) When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. {2} He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, {3} where he stayed three months. Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. {4} He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. {5} These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. {6} But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. {7} On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. {8} There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. {9} Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. {10} Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!" {11} Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. {12} The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. {13} We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. {14} When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. {15} The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. {16} Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. {17} From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. {18} When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. {19} I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. {20} You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. {21} I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. {22} "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. {23} I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. {24} However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. {25} "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. {26} Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. {27} For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. {28} Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. {29} I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. {30} Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. {31} So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. {32} "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. {33} I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. {34} You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. {35} In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" {36} When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. {37} They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. {38} What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

The Inner Life Displayed

Note, in verse 28, that Paul tells these shepherds of the church are to keep watch first over themselves. Paul's life displays that inner watch.

View of Life

It is an extraordinary thing. Paul considers his life "worth nothing." It is a view which needs to be examined. His approach to life is that of someone who is completing an appointed task - preaching the Gospel. If and when he completes that task, all is well; life itself is a trivial consideration compared to the mission that God has given him.

How can this be? Most of us cling tenaciously to life through pain and suffering (even though God may be using that pain and suffering to bring us to the realization that we shouldn't). We see living itself as the goal; he saw living as a means to the goal. How could he ignore what we see so clearly?

Perhaps it is because he saw something else clearly: the Resurrection. If we really believed in the Resurrection, what would our attitude be towards death?

Innocent of the blood of all

The phrasing seems curious, but remember that Paul is steeped in the Old Testament. He is recalling a passage:

(Ezek 3:17-21 NIV) "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. {18} When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. {19} But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. {20} "Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. {21} But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself."

Such a warning will make a man very thorough. Note two things about Paul:

·         He proclaimed ALL the Gospel. He did not leave out the unpleasant pieces, or those which were politically incorrect.

·         He proclaimed the Gospel to ALL. Despite the prejudices of the time (which were every bit as severe as in our day) he spoke to all, as those who could become the sons of God.

This is what it means to be innocent: you did the best you could with what you had - you held nothing back from anyone.

No favorites

There is a singleness of purpose to Paul. His purpose is not to favor his friends, or influence others for his own gain, but to preach the Gospel.

·         Why does he preach all night? So that he might not neglect the people of Troas might hear as much as possible.

·         Why does he avoid Ephesus? So that he might not be delayed in the Spirit's purposes.

In both instances we see that Paul has a single purpose, and whether or not the people be favorites or a new audience, he must do as he is commanded to do.

Solitude

In verses 13-14 we see Paul going on alone. There seems no reason to do so; he will meet the ship at the end of the walk. But recall that our Lord often went out alone to pray and to commune with God.

It is a picture of the Christian walk. On this pilgrimage we call life, we must sometimes walk alone - with God. Thus we are strengthened in prayer and communion.

Actions

Sense of Urgency

It is curious how our reactions to an event change with time. Contemporary writers see in this passage a long and obviously boring sermon - after all, the young man fell asleep during the message. (It happens in this class too). Chrysostom, writing many centuries ago, sees it differently. He notes that (from a people who would normally go to bed with the sun) that they were so zealous for the word that they would stay up all night to hear it. It seems Paul's sense of urgency was contagious. If he was willing to teach all night, they were willing to listen. (There's an example in here someplace).

Humility and tears

How few of us are passionate for Christ! Perhaps it is because we are not humble; in our self-assured pride we put Christ in a little corner of our lives marked "Religion - open on Sundays only." Not so the Apostle; passion for Christ drives out pride. Note the humility of the man:

·         His humility is in words. He has not hesitated to preach anything needful, even his own conversion story. Nor has he hesitated to preach to large audiences or small (house to house).

·         It is also in action. The people of Troas, unknown to him, are not too unimportant to preach to; the people of Ephesus not too important to pass by.

Material things

It is an interesting phrasing: Like Samuel in the Old Testament,[1] he proclaims to one and all that he has taken nothing. But he exceeds that:

·         Not only has he taken nothing, he has worked with his own hands to provide for himself - and his companions!

·         Far from taking, he has not even coveted (desired) what they have.

How is this? Perhaps he sees clearly what is important and what is not.

Reaction to attack

A wise Frenchman once said that it takes more courage to appear a coward than to appear a hero. There is a plot by the Jews; what does Paul do? Attack? Call the police? No, he goes on his way. Why?

·         So that the occasion for evil might pass - why give the Devil a helping hand?

·         So that his attackers might have another chance to hear the Gospel from another person. Any personal issues would thus be eliminated.

Indeed, Paul exhibits prudence in this - he takes seven other men with him.

Farewell Instructions

Paul also gives the elders at Ephesus some farewell instructions - and these are profitable for us as well.

Keep Watch

There are two senses in which we are to keep watch:

·         First, we are to watch over ourselves. Notice that this is mentioned first; if we do not do this, how can we watch over others? How then shall we do this? There are two ways. First, in prayer, meditation and study, we must watch over our own spiritual lives. Second, we must watch over each other, being submissive and accountable to each other.

·         Then we are to watch "over the flock"- over those whom God has committed to us, whether those be a study group, a family, or just the friends we know. Those appointed as elders (overseers in this translation, also bishop) have specific responsibilities. But anyone appointed a shepherd understands this: the shepherd takes complete responsibility. If the person is in your charge, you cannot say, "not my job." You can always ask for help - but you cannot leave it alone.

Warnings

Always - throughout the history of God's people - the weeds are in with the wheat. The false prophets here may be the Nicolaitans.[2] If so, it appears that a sect arose which promoted the doctrine of "antinomianism" - the idea that grace exempts a Christian from following moral law, so eat, drink and be merry. But whatever the problem was, we see two sources for it:

·         Those from the outside. In our day these are those who have their own version of reality, and quote the Scripture as it suits them. Start with the answer, and work back to the verses to support it.

·         Worse are those from the inside. These betray the trust of the church and lead many astray. But, says our Lord, "by their fruits you shall know them." Be on guard!

The preventives

How, then, shall we prevent these evils from happening while fulfilling our duties? Paul again tells us. He commits these elders:

·         He commits them first to God. Here again is the inner life of prayer, meditation and communion which inoculates the Christian against the wolf bite.

·         He then commits them to the word of grace. There is no substitute for regular, sustained study of the Scripture.

And what is the result of this?

·         They are built up in this life, becoming strong.

·         They receive an inheritance (it is more blessed to give than to receive) in the life to come.

Shepherds, watch yourselves. Build yourselves up, and receive the inheritance to come.


[1] 1 Samuel 12:3-5

[2] Revelation 2:6

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