There is a very end of term feel to this chapter. Things do not go according to plan. One student falls asleep in the middle of a lesson. Then Paul exhorts everyone to a vigorous future just like a headmaster at an end of term assembly.
Read Acts 20:1–6.
Question 1: What more does Paul do than the work of an evangelist?
Paul was also a teacher. He taught long and carefully both before people were converted and, as here, after. He was great on encouragement. Some present-day evangelists need to follow his example more carefully!
Question 2: What was Paul’s attitude to danger, as when the Jews, perhaps Jews planning to sail on the same boat as him, plotted against him?
He avoided danger when he could without weakening the gospel. He was quite prepared to put his body and his life into danger when it was necessary, but he took wise precautions when he could.
This is the second ‘we’ passage in Acts. The writer of the book was with Paul for this part of his journey. This is why it is thought right to say that Luke was the writer of this book and therefore of, what we call, Luke’s Gospel too.
Read Acts 20:7–12.
What an odd way of becoming historically famous! Eutychus, whose name means ‘lucky’, may have been a slave, very tired after a long, hard day’s work. This event establishes that Paul is a prophet-like-Jesus. He is a prophet because, as well as prophesying, this is very similar to what Elijah and Elisha were able to do in bringing back to life those who had just died (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4). He is like Jesus because this is similar to what Jesus did on more than one occasion. Note that the episode is bracketed by 2 references to the breaking of bread.
Read Acts 20:13–17.
This is a curious journey. We are not told why Paul went by land while everybody else we are told about took a ship to Assos. Perhaps he needed the peace and quiet of the road to do some thinking, meditating and praying. Or perhaps he had a lot of money on him to take to Jerusalem and reckoned the land route was safer. We are not told. Then although he did not want to stop at Ephesus he asked the leaders of the church in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus and that was a journey of about 45 Kilometres each way. Again we are not told why he did that. But then we come to the account of what he said to them. This is the only account we have of what he said to a group of Christians rather than to those who had not come to faith. It covers much the same ideas as the epistles to Timothy and Titus do in greater detail. We will take it in several small bits to make it clearer what he was saying.
Read Acts 20:18–24.
We might call some of this boasting but Paul lived in a different age and a different culture and this was acceptable behaviour then. He holds himself up as an example of how they should behave and he is, of course, seeking to imitate the example of Jesus.
Question 3: In what particular things is he telling them, and therefore us, to follow his example?
He was happy to live in Ephesus as an ordinary person quite humbly without claiming any special privileges for himself. He worked steadily and devotedly at the task that had been given to him of teaching and preaching. He did not let any apparent obstacles stop him doing what he knew he had been called to do.
It is unlikely that we have been given so great a task or so demanding a one as Paul had, yet we should work away at what ever we have been set to do in the work of the Kingdom with similar humility, steadiness and persistence as he did. That is not always a very easy thing to do. We find it easy to lose impetus and mental strength. Sitting looking at a computer screen, as I am doing right now, week in, week out, is not the easiest thing in the world! So I know very well what the problems are. The race you are called to run is different from my race; the completion of your task will be different from the completion of my task. Let us press on together in the work of the Kingdom, remembering always whose Kingdom it is.
Read Acts 20:25–31.
The word ‘overseer’ is misleading. It comes from the Greek word ‘episkopos’ which is made up of ‘epi’ which means over, and ‘skopos’ which means looking as in telescope and microscope. We get ‘bishop’ from ‘episkopos’ when it loses the initial ‘e’ and is mispronounced. But our main use of the word ‘overseer’ in English is in the management of slavery–not a good connection to make–so it is a rather unfortunate word.
Question 4: An image from slavery is a poor one to relate to Paul’s description of how the elders in Ephesus were to operate. What better image of where overlooking occurs can you think of than that?
My favourite image is of how a mother acts as the baby sleeps and she works around the house. She keeps checking quietly that the baby is all right. She watches over the baby in a loving and caring way. That is the sort of watching over that the Holy Spirit is concerned with in what Paul says. Think ‘watching over’ when you come across ‘overseeing’.
The next verse is tricky. The NIV translates it as ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ but it is equally likely to be ‘with the blood of his own’ that is with the blood of Christ, which fits better with what the rest of the New Testament says. Either way it shows the closeness of Jesus Christ and God the Father and the power of their work in our salvation. Note that the idea that our salvation was purchased is a metaphor and there is no indication who or what it was purchased from. It certainly does not mean that we were bought from Satan–that would give him far too high a profile.
Paul goes on with stark realism to say that there will very soon be people trying to cash in on the infant Christian movement and draw people away from the truth. The latest revision of the NIV correctly says that this will be done by ‘some’ from your number not confining the problem creators to men only! Sadly the number of men and women doing this has increased over the years.
Question 5: How do we know what is the truth to which we are to firmly adhere?
Only by sticking close to the Bible as the written word of God can we stay on course. It does not change from century to century. People’s thoughts and ideas do. Problems of interpretation exist but they are trivial compared with the erratic nature of people’s minds.
Read Acts 20:32–38.
Paul is sometimes presented as a hard character, but this and many other incidents show that that is not correct. He was a very sensitive people person, greatly loving and greatly loved by those he came in contact with. He returns to his main exhortation, which can be summed up in what he says to the Corinthians: ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’. If we do that we will not go far wrong!