Read: Acts 20:13-38
Luke provides some details about Paul’s travels, from Philippi to Troas to Assos to Mitylene to Chios to Miletus. However, the emphasis of this section is on his ministry, in particular, his leadership style. At a time when there were no examples to lean on, Paul demonstrated how to be an effective evangelist and encourager. He embodied the fivefold ministry he taught in Ephesians 4. My prayer is that we dive into the text and learn from his example, to be imitators of Paul as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) in everything we do. Let’s dive into the narrative before reflecting on this challenge.
Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders
Paul stops in Miletus, not far from Ephesus, because he needs to talk to the elders.
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. Acts 20:16
Paul asked the elders in Ephesus to come to him rather than he going to the city. The tone of his message is one that suggests this will be his last talk with them and he doesn’t want to have any distractions. He reminds them of his methods and like any good PowerPoint presentation, he has three main points (Acts 20:19-21):
- I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.
- I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
- I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
I have to believe each of these points was expanded in great detail as he looked deeply into there eyes. They knew they were called here for a reason. The heavy mantle of moving the church forward was being placed on their shoulders.
I’ve heard lots of life verses from many people over the years. One of the schools our girls went to had the graduating class identify their life verse in the yearbook. I don’t think anyone ever chose this:
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:24
His actions backed up his statement. I pray that this would speak loudly to those who read these words, that Jesus would be our highest priority.
These encouraging words come with a visceral warning:
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Acts 20:29-31
Even from within the fellowship those will arise to divide the Church. Here’s the great challenge. When differences show up, and they will most certainly, are we those who distort the truth and draw people away? Or do we, in the spirit of unity, seek to resolve differences? These are just a few questions we must wrestle with as tensions rise. We are human. We will disagree. Lord, help us to test ourselves against this warning. May we stay far away from those who distort the truth to divide.
Paul closes by reminding them of words from Jesus:
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: red ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35
Never forget this constant theme throughout the Bible: help those in need. If we truly have discerning eyes we would see many who are weak, our hearts would break, and I believe we would find joy in giving that satisfies the soul.
They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:37-38
Lord, I long for a fellowship that is this deeply committed to each other and to your great commission. Paul sets sail from here for the last time.
Evangelism and Encouragement
The commentary I refer to most often, NIVAC, makes an emphatic point that evangelism is coupled with encouragement.
In the Bible evangelism and encouragement are often done by the same person— a healthy combination for anyone doing evangelism. There is no place in the Bible for a specialist evangelist who concentrates solely on his public ministry, leaving personal ministry to others. NIVAC Note
Encouraging is more than merely cheering someone on. True encouragement comes from the heart and is most effective with someone in whom we have invested time with. In other words, we must be willing to develop real relationships with those we are in ministry with.
This is guaranteed to be a messy process. We will likely make mistakes. Tears and heartache are sure to follow, but consider the example of Jesus. Can you for a second imagine the pain He felt knowing that one of the Twelve would become the betrayer? When Jesus wept over Lazarus, the tears were not surprising to those who noticed. It was a statement of fact more than an observation of an anomaly.
My challenge is this, take a risk and commit to developing real friendships with people that are Christ-centered. Seek to be a disciple-maker that models Paul’s behavior. This is not the easy road, not the sit back and enjoy retirement phase. Rather, this is an invitation to heartache and great joy, to disappointing friends and deep relationships. Highs and lows, but I propose it is worth the effort.
NIVAC Note: Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 85960-85962). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.