The Acts of the Apostles
Introduction – In this session we will complete Acts 20 and come to the end of this transitional chapter. Acts chapter 20 concludes with Paul’s encouragements to the Ephesian elders. This is the only direct and personal exhortation that Luke records in Acts to the leadership of a church. In Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders, we see Paul in the position of a loving Apostolic Father confirming their faith, warning them about heresies, the motives of the heart, and commending them to care for the people of God.
One can only imagine the concern Paul had for the Ephesian Church. Paul loved them deeply and understood that from this point forward he would never see them again. This is the place where Paul commended them to God and trusted the Holy Spirit to guide them, reveal truth and prosper them. At some point all leaders of faith communities come to the place where we trust in the Lord’s ability to Father His children, and commend them to their own faith journeys. Our time stamp is spring of AD56 to AD57.
a) Miletus – This city was 13 miles south of Ephesus located in the Roman Province of Asia, or modern day Turkey. It is a port city located on the Aegean Sea. This city was a prosperous port city and had an advanced academic community of Stoic philosophers. Miletus was known in history as producing excellent merchant sailors from the earliest recorded histories.
b) As Paul arrives in Miletus for the first time, we can assume that there was a Christian community in Miletus because Acts 19:10 tells us that the whole Province of Asia heard the gospel.
c) Paul sends for the Ephesian elders. In the following verses Luke records for us some of the most beautiful heart felt exhortations of Paul as he moves in the role of an Apostolic Father.
d) Elders – Greek – PRESBYTEROS – an elder/advanced age, metaphorically used for one who is a member of the Sanhedrin, one who is a civic leader in the Roman Empire, and one who helps lead a church. This word is synonymous with Elder, Bishop, and Presbyter. This is the same word that used in Revelation to describe the 24 elders around God’s throne. Acts does not give a clear picture of the titles used in the early church. However, Acts does give us a detailed look at the function of leaders who serve the local church. The title “Elder” is one of position and not age and implies that one is capable to lead with wisdom because of their advanced knowledge of God.
e) Church – Greek – EKKLĒSIA – A civic gathering, similar to a city council audience, the assembly of Israelites (feasts), a company of Christians gathered for worship and teaching for the strengthening of faith, an independent group of Christians who meet for worship and teaching, who are united to the common cause of expanding the Kingdom of God through their faith communities.
f) It is interesting that each of the words for elders and church are first secular words that denote civic duty, and governmental authority in their natural definitions in the Greek. This should remind of us our spiritual authority and our assignment to redeem cities and nations through the extension of the Kingdom of God.
a) Paul speaks to them with the deep emotions of a spiritual father. Paul begins by reminding them of his humility and surrender to the Lord. The mention of Paul’s tears speaks to the tenderness of his heart toward the people he served.
b) Paul mentions that he was severely tested by the Jews. This is a reference to the synagogue show down mentioned in Acts 19:8-9 and the riot in Ephesus at the end of his ministry there.
a) Paul models for us the responsibility for leaders to teach the church every nuanced facet of truth contained in the Scriptures. The word for “helpful” in the Greek is actually SYMPHERO which means for the common good, or that which is expedient for all.
b) Paul mentions two areas of proclamation that he had access to in Ephesus. The first is the public platform, which would have been the synagogue and the Hall of Tyrannus. The second was the intimate gathering of home fellowships. One thing we can glean from the First Century Church is their love for one another and their sense of community and commitment to each other.
c) Paul reminds them of the essence of our faith, which is repentance from sin and faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Every true disciple of Jesus Christ lives from the cross.
a) Paul is being compelled/bound by the Holy Spirit. Greek – DEŌ – to bind, fasten to, to be bound to a spouse. Paul says plainly he does not know what will happen in Jerusalem. We see a glimpse into the life of trust that Paul developed by being led by the Holy Spirit. Paul knew from experience the things he wrote as he said things like the “Holy Spirit cries out Abba, Father”, or “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”, or “the fellowship with the Holy Spirit”.
b) The Holy Spirit speaks to Paul, and we should ha an expectation that the Holy Spirit would speak to us. Paul had so developed His trust in the Lord that he was willing to trust the Lord even in the revelation of hardship and prison. Through Paul’s first imprisonment he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Through his imprisonment Paul penetrated even Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). Paul preached to the Sanhedrin, ministered to governors and a king. Acts 9:15-16 – But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
c) Paul reached the place of ultimate surrender to Christ, because he proved it by
his trust in Christ. Paul had so died to himself that he became God’s chosen vessel. Colossians 3:3 – For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 6:14 – May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
d) As Paul continues, we see the concept that each one of us have a unique life path that only ours to live. Paul frames this truth by using the word race and task. Greek – Race/Course – The Greek uses the word DROMOS – which literally means course, or life path and not race. Greek – Task – DIAKONIA – the ministry or service to God. All Christians have this in common. Each one of us has a unique life path and a service to our Lord that is married to our life path.
e) Paul describes the gospel as the “gospel of grace”. Greek – CHARIS – grace, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech, good will, loving-kindness, favor, the experience of the merciful lovingkindness of God towards His people. As we present the message of Jesus to people, we should present it in a way that puts forward the centrality of the grace of God displayed in Jesus Christ, Messiah.
a) Notice that Paul preaches the gospel of grace and the kingdom. Grace is always includes being under the authority of kingdom of God.
b) Our message is life or death to the world. 1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
c) “Whole will/counsel of God” – It is our responsibility to disclose the whole heart, emotion, truth and intentions of God to people. All of God’s counsel is embodied in the Scriptures.
a) Paul gives us keys on the function of local church leadership. 1 – Watch yourselves. 2 – Watch over the flock. 3 – True local church leadership is appointed by the Holy Spirit. 4 – Be shepherds. 5 – We are bought with the blood of Jesus. 6 – Protect the Church from those who have agendas that are not alignment with God. 7- Keep your doctrine rooted in truth. The Ephesian church was challenged by false apostles to point where they were worn out. See Revelation 4:2
b) The offices of Church government are servant leadership roles, and are grace from the Lord. Ephesians 4:11-12 – So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up – 1 Peter 5:1-4 – To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
c) Paul reminds them of his sincerity towards them and his humble tenderness. The Scripture is translated” tears”. But the Greek is literally “a tear”, and that implies deep emotional connection, not that Paul was weak.
a) Paul commits to the Ephesian elders the care for their church and the defense of Christianity. In the same way, Paul’s words speak to us today and remind us that we are the ones responsible for truth in our generation.
b) The word of grace has the potential to build us up and give us an inheritance in Christ. Greek – Build Up – OIKODOMEŌ – to build a house/structure, to build up from the foundation, to grow in God’s wisdom, affection, grace, virtue, holiness and blessedness.
c) Inheritance – Greek – KLĒRONOMIA – an inheritance, what is given to one as a possession, the eternal blessedness of the consummated kingdom of God which is to be expected after the visible return of Christ, the share which an individual will have in that eternal blessedness. Ephesians 13-14 – And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:18 – I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, Hebrews 9:15 – For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
d) Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that ministry is never money motivated. See 1 Timothy 3:1-44 & 1 Thessalonians 4:11- and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,
e) Paul exhorts them to help the weak. The word in the Greek means weak in terms of physical sickness, weakness in the body, or poverty. The context is helping those who lack power in any area of their lives. Good ministers of Jesus Christ have a justice heart, because the gospel is the declaration of restoration for the whole person which is the fullest expression of justice.
f) Paul quotes Jesus. It is interesting to note that is this quote is not contained in any of the gospels, but was a commonly known thing that Jesus said. John 21:25 – Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
a) Luke invites us to witness this very moving farewell in our imagination as he describes their departure. Paul love the Ephesian Church and they loved Paul.