This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 20:17-38. These verses record Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.
Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.
¶ "From Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus, summoning the elders of the church. When they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time. I served the Lord with all humility, with many tears, and with trials which happened to me by the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not shrink from declaring to you all that was profitable. I taught you publicly and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."(Acts 20:17-21).
Called for the elders at Ephesus. After sailing past Ephesus, because he was in a hurry to get on with his journey (Acts 20:16), Paul apparently found himself delayed a few days at Miletus. So he took the opportunity to send for the elders of the church at Ephesus (about 50km north) so that he could speak to them. He'd not seen them for nearly a year, having left Ephesus the previous Pentecost (1Corinthians 16:8).
Paul’s work in Ephesus. Paul makes the following points about his work in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-21):
He was loyal to the church in Ephesus; he stayed there for the whole time that he was in Asia.
He served the Lord humbly, and willingly suffered many trials and cares for the sake of the gospel.
He declared the whole gospel without fear of its opponents.
He taught in public speeches and debates, but also in private house meetings; being more concerned with the size of the opportunity than the size of the audience.
He taught both Jews and Gentiles without any favouritism.
He did not teach "faith alone" but taught the necessity of other things that accompany faith, such as repentance.
¶ "Now, behold, I go compelled in spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself. I just want to finish my race with joy, and complete the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the gospel of the grace of God"(Acts 20:22-24).
Compelled in spirit. There is disagreement as to whether Paul means his own spirit or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, rather than compelling Paul to go to Jerusalem, has been warning Paul, through prophets "in every city", that capture and prison awaited him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). This message through the Spirit would be repeated in Tyre (Acts 21:3-4), and Caesarea (Acts 21:10-14). Therefore the compulsion was in Paul’s own spirit. He deeply felt an obligation to go to Jerusalem, to complete his mission. Perhaps he even thought it appropriate that he should suffer the very persecution which he had once inflicted on the disciples of Christ in that city.
Paul isn't moved. When Paul says, “None of these things move me”, he doesn't mean that he is deaf to the warnings and unconcerned about them. Rather, he means that he will not be moved from his determination, or stop short of fulfilling his duty to Jesus, even though completing that duty may lose him his freedom and perhaps even his life.
¶ "Now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I went about preaching the Kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am clean from the blood of all men, for I didn't shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."(Acts 20:25-27).
The blood of all men. Paul is using a figure of speech here. He means, “If you lose your life it won't be my fault” and of course he is talking about eternal life and eternal death.
The whole counsel of God. The term “counsel” here means not merely advice, but will. Paul had told them all the will of God. He had preached the gospel fully. Even when it brought opposition and suffering to him, he would boldly and bravely teach the whole truth about Jesus.
¶ "Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood."(Acts 20:28).
Elders, Overseers, Shepherds
These same men who were referred to as elders (Acts 20:17), are here called overseers and shepherds (Acts 20:28). These terms are interchangeable.
Take heed to yourselves. There comes a time when disciples must stop relying on others to take responsibility for them, and instead take responsibility for themselves. Having done that, they can then take responsibility for others.
Purchased the church of God. Paul tells these elders to "shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood"(Acts 20:28). It was the local congregation at Ephesus of which they were the shepherds. Therefore the church which God purchased with his own blood is the church seen in each locality, not an invisible church.
¶ "I say this because I know that, after my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that for a period of three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."(Acts 20:29-31).
Wolves will enter in. Here Paul gives the main reason for his exhortation that these elders should oversee and shepherd the church. While Paul was at or near Ephesus, he could protect the church from the destroyers. But now he is departing and others must be the watchers and protectors. Paul knew that even some of the guardians would prove to be false, and would split the church with heresy. This knowledge brought him to tears, and caused him to continually admonish the church to build its defenses.
¶ "So brethren, I now entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are consecrated to God. I coveted no one’s silver, gold, or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine served my own needs and those of my companions. In everything by this labor, I have shown you that you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, who said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”"(Acts 20:32-35).
No one’s silver or gold. Paul here expresses the values that drove his work. He was interested not in earthly money, but in an eternal inheritance among the saints. He worked to make money only so that he and his companions could work to make saints. He lived by the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
The words of the Lord Jesus. Paul attributes to Jesus the saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. We don't find this saying in the gospels. Either Jesus said it to Paul, or Paul knew someone who had heard Jesus say it. Not everything Jesus said was written down, so we do not suppose that this quote indicates a lost record of Jesus’s sayings.
¶ "When Paul had spoken these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. They all wept much, and hugged Paul’s neck and kissed him affectionately. They sorrowed most of all because of his saying that they should see his face no more. And they went with him to the ship."(Acts 20:36-38).
They all wept much. Christians have painful and sorrowful times such as this. We see here the expression of a great love that had grown between Paul and these men. They had always had the hope that Paul would return to them another time, but now they realize that they will never see him again in this world.