Event(s): The Ephesian elders are exhorted
Today’s Text: Acts 20:13-38
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 21:1-16
Still drowsy from staying up all night talking, Paul and the team get ready for the next leg of their journey.
Acts 20:13 “intending himself to go on foot.” The distance between these locations was about 30 miles. Everyone else sailed, yet Paul decided to go it alone, walking. Jesus did this often. He pulled away from the crowd for moments of solitude, to connect with the Father. As we continue to read on in chapter 20, we can hear, in Paul’s words, that he most definitely received comfort, guidance and empowerment through the Holy Spirit on this remote journey.
It is healthy and necessary to surround ourselves with others who can encourage us and strengthen us in our walk with God, but some things – many things, actually – we will only discover in those moments we set aside with God, alone.
Acts 20:16 “he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem..on the day of Pentecost.” In chapter 19, verse 21, we read that Paul had purposed in the Spirit to make it to Jerusalem in time for Passover. Now, we read that he is arranging his plans in order to make it back to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. Notice how Paul prioritized the house of God; it was central to him and he arranged his life around it with intention and urgency.
“The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.” Ephesians 1:23a MSG
Acts 20:18 “when they had come to him, he said to them…” “Verses 17-25 makes up Paul’s emotional farewell address to the Ephesian elders. In its written form, this passage also became a permanent word of warning and instruction to all the Gentile churches that Paul had established.” –New Spirit Filled Life Bible
Acts 20:23 “except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” Paul had most likely received several prophetic words, from different people, in different cities that all matched up. These were words of warning, yes. But as Paul received them, he did not use them as a reason to avoid what lie ahead, but to prepare himself and strengthen himself in the Father. This requires discernment.
Sometimes, God gives us warnings so that we can avoid certain situations (such as when Paul stayed out of the theatre in Ephesus in chapter 19). But other times, as in this case, it is in His mercy and grace to make us aware of a challenge that lies ahead that we must face. In these situations, His peace and strength fortify us and we face the challenge with boldness, knowing it may be hard, but He’s with us in every step.
Acts 20:24 “none of these things move me..” This entire verse captures what is perhaps one of the most powerful declarations Paul ever made. In the face of coming adversity, he makes it his primary goal to finish his assignment with joy – not just survival. He does not count his life dear to himself – meaning, he’s willing to pay any cost, even death if necessary, to accomplish and finish what God has called him to do. What a revelation of living for eternity.
Acts 20:27 “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Had Paul only focused on the grace of God without placing an emphasis on personal responsibility to confront and address sinful patterns in one’s life, his message would have declared only “half the truth” of the Gospel. He would have been found guilty of sowing deception.
The message of grace does not overlook sin – it empowers righteous living. And when it comes to proclaiming the truth of God, it’s not just about what we are saying; it’s what we are not saying that matters as well. Yet all we say must be prompted by love, never condemnation.
Acts 20:28a “take heed to yourselves…” “Verse 28 is rich with lessons about leadership in the church. 1.) Take heed to yourselves means pay close attention. Leaders must first guard themselves before they can oversee the church adequately. 2.) Church leaders are not self-made. They are appointed by the Spirit. 3.) Overseers is from the same Greek root translated “overshadow” in Luke 1:35. An overseer is one who covers and protects the flock. 4.) The church belongs to God. He owns it because He bought it. What God does through the leaders of the church does not belong to them. In contrast, Paul warns of false leaders in vv. 29-31.” – New Spirit Filled Life Bible
Acts 20:30 “from among yourselves men will rise up…” When it comes to health and vitality in the church, there are challenges both from within and from without. Persecution may come from without, but God graces us for it. We are not against the world; we are here to reach the world for the sake of the kingdom and the glory of Jesus Christ. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). And if we walk in love, wisdom and humility, and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church will never be overcome by an outside force. We have been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the gates of hell will not prevail against us (Matthew 16:19).
Unfortunately, what Paul is warning about here in this verse is that which can come from within. Notice he says from among yourselves. These were believers….leaders, actually, he was speaking to. “It is the arrogant and self-serving that are a threat from within.” [–NKJV Study Bible] Paul warns these leaders to keep watch. Not to develop a spirit of suspicion, but to keep watch. In other words, leaders (and this goes for the church as well as our families, our business, our schools, etc.) should not become so focused on what we’re here to accomplish that we don’t pay attention to what’s going on in our own backyard.
Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Giving is one of the acts by which we identify most with Jesus. Giving of our finances, of our time, of our energy, of our attention, of our gifts, of the food at our table.
It was Paul who wrote the words that we so often quote: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Yet what we often don’t realize is that those words were spoken in context to living a generous life and being able to do all things whether living in abundance or scarcity. In all truth and love, it is fear that blocks us from living in the freedom of generosity. The pathway to freedom is not to “force ourselves” to give to the point we hand things over begrudgingly; the answer that unlocks our freedom to live generously is to trust. Because wherever we are experiencing fear is an indication of where we need to trust God more.
One of the best ways to raise our level of vision for living generously is to take some time to quiet the reasons and roadblocks that often keep us from doing it, and instead, imagine how our lives would best express the freedom of generosity. What kind of “giver” are we? When we think about the possibilities of living generously with our time, energy, talents, treasure, and resources, what (or who) immediately comes to mind as to where we would aim that gift? What pulls at our heart strings? Where do we see a need that maybe other people don’t even notice, but when we see it, we wish we could do something about it? These are very good indicators of where the Holy Spirit within us is already guiding us to make a difference. Even if it’s in a small way, what action step can you take to start stirring and growing this gift within you?