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Acts 20:16-38 – Farewell to the Elders of Ephesus

Summary

On his way to Jerusalem, Paul stops in Miletus for a last encounter with the leaders of the Ephesian church. Knowing he will not see them again, he defends his ministry among them, exhorts them to good and steadfast leadership, and provides a rare glimpse into the affection he shares with those who lead the local communities.

Analysis

Carrying funds for famine alleviation gathered from Jewish and Gentile believers around the Mediterranean, Paul hurries to get to Jerusalem to deliver his collection. In order not to be delayed in Ephesus, he meets the elders of the Ephesian Christian assembly in Miletus. He delivers a farewell speech that describes his ministry, his hope, and his faith. He also offers a prophecy of what is to come, a warning to the elders to be as Paul himself has been: alert to danger, not self-seeking, working to support the needy with generosity. These continue to be the ideals for all leaders of congregations and evangelists. The qualities are important for distinguishing religious charlatans from those who truly serve God and share God's good news with God's people. The passage is extraordinarily poignant, for Paul and the elders pray and grieve at the prospect of not seeing one another again. They all know what Paul faces, a sign to the reader of how things will go. And yet, there is no attempt to hold Paul back, no sign from Paul that he hesitates to go. It is a wonderful passage that marks the end of Paul's life as a free evangelist and shows the convictions and practices that mark a true evangelist.

Acts 20:16-38

16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

17 From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. 18When they came to him, he said to them:

‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. 20I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus. 22And now, as a captive to the Spirit,* I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 24But 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.

25 ‘And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. 26Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God* that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.* 29I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. 35In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

36 When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. 37There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.

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