Read the Passage: Acts 20
Travels in Greece (20:1–12)
In Acts 19 we studied Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus, which filled up most of the time on Paul’s third missions journey, which lasted from AD 53–57. Toward the end of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, before the civil riot that is recorded in Acts 19:23–41, Luke reported that “Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21). Paul had even sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia to prepare the churches there (i.e. Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth) for a relief offering for the churches in Palestine. Acts 20:1–6 records that Paul spent three months traveling and ministering in Macedonia, before eventually having to depart on account of his knowledge of planned persecution by the Jews. Note that seven of Paul’s traveling companions are listed in this passage, which included Luke, who had likely been ministering in Philippi.
Continuing to show parallels with the ministry of Peter, who had raised Dorcas to life (cf. Acts 9:36–43), in Acts 20:7–12 Luke reports that God used Paul to bring about the raising of a young man named Eutychus who had tragically died during one of Paul’s messages. Early churches met in homes. Apparently Eutychus had fallen asleep due to fumes from multiple oil lamps, Paul’s lengthy message, and the late hour of his teaching. While this was an extraordinary event, this passage contains two other important pieces of information—namely, (1) that believers were worshiping “on the first day of the week” and (2) that believers were together “breaking bread” (Acts 20:7). Note this is the first mention of Christian worship on a Sunday (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2; Heb. 4:9–10; Rev. 1:10) and the first mention of Gentile believers observing the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 2:42, 46).
Ministry in Asia (20:13–16)
Acts 20:13–16 records Paul’s stops in Galatia on his way to Jerusalem, as he ministered in several coastal towns on the way to Jerusalem. Recall that when in Philippi in Macedonia Paul had intended to travel straight to Jerusalem in Syria, probably in order to be there for the Passover; yet, because of the Jews’ plot against his life, a longer route through Galatia was a more practical and wiser course. Paul, however, still wanted “to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). Therefore, Paul passed by Ephesus, knowing that a stop there would have necessitated a lengthy stay and further delay his reaching Jerusalem. However, Paul was compelled to minister to the believers in Ephesus. Thus, Acts 20:17 reports that Paul disembarked in Miletus, a city roughly 30 miles south of Ephesus, and summoned the elders of the church to briefly meet with him.
Exhorting the Ephesians (20:17–38)
Paul summoned and met with “the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17) of Ephesus, who are later referred to as “overseers” (Acts 20:28) who shepherd the church. Clearly, these men whom Paul met with in Miletus were pastors of the church in Ephesus. In Acts 20:17–24, Paul’s message to the elders touched upon two main themes. First, by way of encouraging the church leaders in right conduct, Paul reviewed his own example in Ephesus, as he reminded them that he served God with humility, faced trials and persecution, and proclaimed the gospel publicly and privately (cf. Acts 20:18–21). Second, Paul told the elders of his plans to travel to Jerusalem and informed them that he knew that persecution awaited him. Yet, Paul stated he was “compelled by Spirit” (Acts 20:22) and went to discharge “the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24).
As he continued instructing the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:25–38 Paul reminded the church leaders of his general ministerial example. Paul’s rationale here was not to give a personal self-defense, but to encourage the elders to imitate him. Paul reminded them that he had faithfully preached the gospel (cf. Acts 20:25–26), that he had taught the Bible (cf. Acts 20:27), that he had warned believers and unbelievers alike (cf. Acts 20:31), that he had not coveted money (cf. Acts 20:33), and that he had labored for his own support and for the care of others (cf. Acts 20:34–35). Further, in concluding his teaching, Paul told the Ephesian elders that he would not see them again (cf. Acts 20:25, 38), exhorted the leaders to faithfully shepherd the church (cf. Acts 20:28), and warned them that false teachers would arise within the church to attack believers (cf. Acts 20:29–30).
- Why did Paul face persecution in every city in which he ministered? What is it about the gospel message that provokes a hostile response from some people?
- Why was Paul so desirous to repeatedly re-visit the cities in which he had earlier ministered? Given the constant persecution he faced, was this a wise practice?
- Given the infinite possibilities for ministry, and the finite availability of resources, how do we decided when, where, and to whom we should minister?
- Why do you think Paul was determined to visit Jerusalem, since, as he told the Ephesian elders, he knew that persecution awaited him there?
- How could Paul be sure that false teachers would both attack the church, and arise from within the church? Is this still happening today?