Paul Bids Farewell to the Elders From Ephesus
Before Continuing On His Journey
[Acts chapter 20, verses 13-24]
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week as we left off at verse 12, the apostle Paul had just left Troas after bringing a young man back to health after a fall of some 3 stories. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on “the first day of the week” (see verse 7). You can tell that Paul was one tough dude, as it relates in verse 11: “Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.” So Paul healed the young man who fell three stories, went upstairs and ate before talking until dawn. Only after that did he leave to go to where he was going next. So after being up for 24 hours straight, Paul embarked on his journey without stopping to rest first. He was a driven man who was on a mission from God – literally.
This week, as we take up where we left off, there is a brief description of where Paul and those traveling with him traveled to next. So let’s begin right there, starting at verse 13: “13) We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. 14) When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. 15) The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. 16) 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. 17) From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.”
“We” in verse 13 referred to the men who had accompanied Paul as he was spirited out of Ephesus following the riot that had occurred there (see chapter 19, verses 23-41). This includes the apostle Luke, who is the author of the Book of Acts. Paul left his traveling companions to sail around the coast without him while Paul walked the Roman road from Troas to Assos, presumably alone (see Acts 20:13–14). The thirty-mile walk and the two days that it likely took him to travel would have given him ample time for meditation as he reflected on his life and ministry thus far – the many places God had called him to go, the many churches he had helped to found, and the many new brothers and sisters in Christ whom he loved dearly. The solitude also likely gave him time for prayer as he prepared for the conflict and persecution that awaited him in Jerusalem.
So Paul’s compatriots, “…. went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene.” Now Mitylene was only about 60-70 miles from Assos, with both being situated on the western Turkish coast. Continuing in verse 15, it reads, “The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus.” The total distance of that journey, counting all points in between, was about 340 Km, or about 211 miles.
“16) 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. 17) From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.” So Paul has the rest of the men meet him at Miletus. By now Paul and all the others have been co-workers in the ministry, and co-founders in the early Church, for at least the previous year and a half. Since they knew Paul very well and had come to admire him for his integrity as well as his considerable teaching and writing abilities, Paul did not want to set sail for Jerusalem without saying goodbye to them first. Yet, he could not go back to Ephesus to do so since he was probably wanted by the authorities there by that point in time. So Paul called for a meeting, and that’s where we will move on to, starting at verse 18.
“18) When they arrived, he said to them: ‘You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19) I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20) You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22) And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23) I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24) 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.’”
Paul had served everyone in Ephesus, in his own words, with “great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.” These words are ever so true, and they highlight the grit, the raw determination, and strength of mind and heart to get the job done to which God had sent him. He was indeed severely tested “by the plots of my Jewish opponents”, even to the point of existential threats made against himself. Paul had even gone from house to house witnessing to people as he tried to lead everyone he could to the Lord Christ Jesus. This is precisely what he had been doing during his overland journeys as he traveled throughout Asia Minor, mainly in what is modern Turkey today. Except, he did it all on foot. It has been said and written that the apostle Paul walked at least 10,000 miles during his first three missionary journeys, with the rest of it spent sailing on ships through the vast waterways that comprise the eastern Mediterranean area.
“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” The apostle Paul preached equality; first, with respect to race and/or nationality, and second with respect to religion. I’m certain that Paul did so because he picked it up from the apostle Luke, who had by then already written to this effect back in Acts chapter 2, verses 42-47. Moreover, the equality Paul preached and taught was unconditional in nature, just as Christ died unconditionally for each of us – provided we are willing to embrace his salvation, and to live our faith in Him as a lifestyle. “22) And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23) I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”
Verses 22 and 23 testify to Paul’s integrity as well as his faithful obedience to the Holy Spirit of Christ. We should all do so well, or even to aspire, to have the level of obedience, personal integrity, and the sharp focus that Paul had. He knew that he was in for a hard way to go, and that he would be imprisoned for an undetermined length of time. Paul had no way of knowing that he would be locked up multiple times for his faith and how he lived and taught it, off and on, for the rest of his life. “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.”
Jesus said during his time here on earth, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10: 39) Paul, who was coached by Luke, Peter and probably the other Twelve as well, had undoubtedly been taught this by those distinguished men. For that reason, I’m pretty sure Paul was thinking of those very words when he wrote what he wrote in verse 24 of Acts 20. His statement closely parallels the words of Christ as related by the apostle Matthew. Paul would testify “to the good news of God’s grace” until he drew his last breath, and his words ring true to this very day. And next week, when we return for part 3, we will be witnesses to just how loved Paul really was to those in Ephesus, as he bids those who have come to meet with him a final farewell. God willing, I will be back then to teach you even more, as the Lord continues to teach me.
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