In our last essay we studied Acts 19:23-41, which concluded Paul’s mission to Ephesus on his third missionary journey. In this essay we are studying 20:1-38, which gives an account of Paul’s third journey missions to Macedonia, Greece, and Troas, and his farewell to the Ephesian elders. Verse one tells us that once the uproar at Ephesus was over, Paul sent for the disciples. And after encouraging them, he left for Macedonia to fulfill the plan mentioned in 19:21.
Verse two informs us that Paul traveled through the region encouraging the believers. But Luke gives no indication of exactly where he went, or how much time he spent doing it. Knowing Paul he undoubtedly visited Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea, where he had founded churches during his second journey. At any rate, after his travels in Macedonia, Paul came to Greece, which was a word in common usage for the province of Achaia. He stayed there for three months. Luke doesn’t mention the city, but it undoubtedly was Corinth. In 1 Cor. 16:1-9, Paul had explained to the Corinthians his plans to raise funds for the suffering believers in Jerusalem. And in Romans 15:25-27, which letter he probably wrote during this visit to Corinth, Paul explains to the Romans that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were sending money to the Jerusalem believers. It appears that Paul’s intention was to sail for Syria from Corinth; but he heard about a plot to kill him, so he decided to return through Macedonia instead.
At this point in his narrative, Luke pauses to give us the names of those who were traveling with Paul. And it turns out to be a rather large group. Most of these were not regular traveling companions. The reason so many were with Paul at that time was because of the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. In order to assure all contributors that the collection would be safe and not used for unintended purposes, each contributing community sent someone to accompany the money to Jerusalem. Thessalonica must have made a very large contribution, because they sent two people to accompany it. Only two of Paul’s previous traveling companions are mentioned, Timothy and Luke, though Luke is not mentioned by name. Luke’s presence is made known by a new “we” passage. The first one ended when Paul came to Philippi during the second journey (16:10-17); and now we see a new “we” passage beginning at Philippi (20:5-21:18). It appears that Luke had been in Philippi since the team arrived there earlier the second journey. When they returned to Philippi at this time during the third journey, he rejoined the team.
For an unexplained reason, the team (except for Paul and Luke) went on to Troas. Paul apparently wanted to celebrate Passover at Philippi; and after the feast, he and Luke sailed to Troas to catch up with the others. They stayed there for a week.
In verses 7-12 Luke tells only one story from their week in Troas. But it is easy to see why he tells it. No more dramatic event could have been chosen. It is the story of the lad Eutychus.
“The first day of the week” would have been Sunday. This is the first unambiguous biblical mention of Christian worship on a Sunday. Luke says that they met “to break bread.” Scholars are divided over whether or not this was a eucharistic celebration. It most likely was, perhaps along with a fellowship meal. Paul was speaking and “holding a discussion.” The Greek word translated “holding a discussion” is the word from which we get our word “dialogue.” So it is unlikely that Paul was doing all of the talking.
At any rate, Paul prolonged the message and discussion until midnight, because he and the team were leaving the next day. The “many lamps” mentioned in verse eight may have contributed to the stuffy atmosphere in the third story upper room. But for some reason, a young man named Eutychus who was sitting in a window, probably to get some extra air, went to sleep and fell from the window to the ground three floors below.
Paul Immediately broke off his teaching and went down to minister to the lad. Paul took him in his arms and quickly said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him” (v. 10). There has been much scholarly discussion about whether Eutychus was dead or not; but Luke, a physician, says he was “picked up dead.” Therefore it appears that Luke was reporting a miracle resuscitation.
After the incident, Paul returned to the third floor, where he ate a meal, which apparently had not yet been served. And then he resumed his dialogue and continued it until daybreak, because their ship was sailing that morning (v. 13). At dawn, he left.
As you can see from verses 13-17, Paul for unknown reasons went to Assos by land and joined the others on board there. Then, over a period of several days, they sailed to Miletus on a coastal vessel, stopping at several named ports on the way, but not at the big port of Ephesus. Verse 16 tells us that Paul had decided that a stop in Asia, meaning Ephesus, would delay him, and perhaps cause him to fail to meet his goal of being in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. So he stopped at Miletus instead and called the Ephesian elders (overseers) to him there, so that he could see them one last time (v. 17).
Verses 18-38 are an account of Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders. In verses 18-21 Paul began his farewell address by reminding the elders of how he had lived among them. First, he reminded them that he had served the Lord with humility. Second, he reminded them that he had served with tears, because of trials suffered at the hands of certain Jews. And third, he reminded them of his consistent preaching and teaching in public and private, to both Jews and Greeks that emphasized repentance and faith.
Then in verses 22-27 Paul shifts his attention from his witness in Ephesus to his anticipated future sufferings. He tells them that he is bound by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem even though the Spirit has let him know at every place, probably through prophets, that imprisonment and persecution await him there.
Then we get the wonderful testimony of verse 24, “But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.” What a testimony! Paul’s only desire was to fulfill the will of God in his life. He had been called by the risen Jesus “to testify to the good news of God’s grace,” and he considered his life of no value beyond that. If every Christian had an attitude like that, the world in general, and our American culture in particular, would not be “going to hell in a hand basket.”
In verse 25 Paul tells them that they will never see his face again. Luke does not tell us their reaction, but I’m certain that they were upset by that news. And in verses 26-27 Paul declares that he has faithfully shared the gospel and he is not responsible for the blood of those who did not receive it.
Then in verses 28-35 Paul delivers a charge to the Ephesian elders. First, he tells them, “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock.” Obviously Paul thought of the pastoral, shepherding role of elders to be supreme. After all, the “sheep” belong to God, and they were bought with the price of the blood of God’s Son.
Notice that Paul makes an important point here simply in passing. “Keep watch over yourselves.” Clergy today often forget that they cannot care for others if they do not take care of themselves. It is crucial for pastors to take care of their spiritual, emotional and physical health, so that they will be able to take care of their flock.
Second, Paul charged the elders, as they kept watch, to be alert for savage theological wolves, who would come and “distort the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.” Some of these, Paul says, would arise from within their own ranks (vv. 29-30). Therefore he exhorted them to follow his example. During his three years with them, he warned them of these things night and day with tears (v. 31).
Third, Paul commended the Ephesian elders to God and to the “message,” literally the “word” of God’s grace, which would build them up and assure their place among the sanctified. Paul understood what so many today do not, namely, that God’s word is the key to successful Christian living. By committing to it, by reading and meditating on it, we are nourished and strengthened for daily life and problems.
Fourth, Paul returned to his own example. He reminded the elders that he took no money for his ministry, but rather supported himself and his colleagues by working with his own hands. And he quoted an otherwise unknown saying of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Finally, in verses 36-38 we see a very tender goodbye, as Paul was leaving them for the last time.