1. Farewell: Be Warned and EncouragedRelated Media
Paul Summons The Ephesian Elders To Remember His Example
Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders serves as a fitting conclusion to Acts 13-19, and the end of Paul’s three missionary journeys. This speech is an example of the kind of thing he would say upon his departure from a church. It is a beautiful summary of his concept of missionary work and pastoral work.
Paul’s speech to the elders is a virtual pastoral manual. It is the only record of Paul speaking directly to elders.
It records his final words of exhortation, warning, and future predictions. It provides a dramatic description of who they are and what they are called by God to do.
In short, this sermon provides us with an excellent synopsis of the uniquely Pauline, Christianized teaching on church eldership.
For Every Church Elder to Know
Every elder, then, should master thoroughly the content of Paul’s apostolic message to the Ephesian elders.
History amply demonstrates that the truth of Paul’s message cannot be overstated or repeated too often. The appalling, centuries-long failure to stop false teachers from invading churches can be traced directly to disobedience to or ignorance of Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders.
Every new generation of elders must grasp afresh the prophetic message to the Ephesian elders: Guard the church--wolves are coming!
1. Paul Summons the Elders of The Church in Ephesus
As Paul concluded his third missionary journey and headed toward Jerusalem to arrive for the feast of Pentecost (May, AD 57), his ship docked for several days in the harbor of Miletus to unload and load its cargo.
Since Miletus is but thirty miles (48 k) south of the city of Ephesus, Paul seized the opportunity to summon the Ephesian elders to meet him in Miletus for a final farewell. This would take 2 to 4 days.
In Paul’s day, a council of elders pastored the Ephesian church. This is clear from the way in which Luke records Paul’s summon to the elders:
Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders [elders] of the church [singular] to come to him (Acts 20:17).
Many people try to discard this passage by saying there was a city church and there was house churches; in each house church there was one elder. But this is simply not true. Let me answer this theory:
1) When people say to me, “There was one elder per house church,” I say, “No, there were two elders per house church, one deacon, and three widows.” They may ask, “How do you know?” I say, “The same way you know there was one elder per house church.”
2) The truth is this: the Bible says absolutely nothing about how a relationship works between a city church and the house churches. We are not given any information about this.
3) The texts of Scripture outright contradict this theory. According to Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) church by church. According to James 5:14, we are to call the elders (plural) of the church (singular). According to our own Acts 20:17 passage, it is elders in the church (singular), how ever that worked out.
4) Second-century writers, 60 years later speak only of the church in Ephesus, not the churches in Ephesus. And of one overseer, a body of elders, and a body of deacons.
5) Eldership as a form of government is plural. It is shared leadership. This is how the Scripture presents this, in both the Old and New Testament. So even if there was one elder per house church, he would have to govern with the other elders and not make his own decisions.
6) Such a theory cannot be applied today in any way.
2. Paul Presents His Life and Ministry as an Example for the Elders to Follow, Acts 20:18-21
Paul begins this section by calling the elders to remember his living example. Three times in this speech, Paul appeals to their remembrance of past experiences with him (v. 18, 31, 34).
From his letters we know that he expects his converts to follow his model example, just as he follows Christ, 1 Cor. 11:1.
God teaches us much through the lives of people (Heb. 12:1 – The great cloud of witnesses.) For people who do not have literature or possibly cannot read, living examples is one of God’s ways of teaching great truths.
Truths and principles have to be fleshed out in real life. And they stick in the mind like glue. His example was a model for others to follow and to receive inspiration.
A. You Know My Manner of Life and Trials, v.19
The elders are to rehearse his life example. Notice that Paul emphasizes the whole time he was with them, even from the first day. He did not ride in on a white horse to lecture to them once a week. He lived with them day and night. His life was transparent to them.
What Paul wants to emphasize in this section is the manner of his ministry. He will deal with the content of his ministry later.
(1) Serving with All Humility
This is a key Pauline statement. Paul served as a slave serves his master, and he serves Christ and his body with humility. It is the heart of the true, Christian servant.
The great temptation of every servant of the Lord is the struggle with human pride, especially the dangers of religious pride. Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig, said Alexander Sol. Pride saturates our minds.
Paul was not like the Pharisees. They loved the chief seats in the synagogues. They loved the greetings in the marketplace. They loved titles. They loved money. They were very concerned about how people viewed them. They loved themselves. They used their religious position to exalt themselves and to gain advantage over other people. This is why they were such hypocrites (Luke 20:46-47).
Matthew 7 is a brilliant analysis of religious pride and self-righteousness.
How many of the servants of the Lord have used their Christian position simply to inflate their egos and to gain for themselves recognition, privilege, and even money? Jesus is very clear about this – humility is the path of his followers.
Nothing is more contrary to the Gospel of the cross of Christ than pride, or what Dr. Grounds called BIG SHOT SYNDROME. This is why one of the qualifications for an elder is “not arrogant” (Titus 1:7).
John the Baptists said, “I am not even worthy to carry His sandals.” We are nothing – He is everything.
Let us all seek to be men who are humble, because the proud man is self-deceived and will never be exalted by Christ.
Let us be Phil.-2 leaders and have the attitude of Christ. Humility is reality. Humility draws people;
Pride repels people.
Like our Lord, let us be prepared to wash one another’s feet and follow the example of our great Lord (John 13).
It is so important that our lives and our work and our relationships are marked by humility, not pride or conceit.
(2) Serving with Tears
There are many tears in Christian ministry. There are many heartaches in this life. We face deaths of loved ones, sickness, cancers.
We face failure with people we have spent a lifetime working with, who turn on Christ.
Our life’s work can blow up in our face.
Some desert the faith
Some have their marriages ruined
Some fail sexually
Some face church discipline
Some split the church and families
The problems are endless.
The Corinthians caused Paul terrible heartache and anxiety.
The book of Galatians shows the heartache he faced with his converts.
2 Timothy 1:15 speaks of the Asian defection from Paul.
If you have worked with people, you know there are many tears over so many sad situations. George Verwer calls missions work “messy-ology.”
(3) Serving while Persecuted
No one has faced the persecution that the Apostle Paul faced, especially from the Jews. Read of this in Acts where 40 influential men would not eat or drink till they killed him. He was constantly hounded by his opponents. He had many enemies. Death faced him regularly. Read 2 Corinthians 11.
B. You Know My In-depth Method of Teaching and Evangelism, vvv.20-21
First, he had them remember his example. Now he has them remember his teaching ministry. He emphasizes the thoroughness of his teaching ministry.
Paul makes the very important claim that he held back nothing that was profitable doctrinally. This is a major point in this farewell message. He will leave them, but his teachings will remain. Twice he mentions this point of withholding no truth.
This emphasizes the comprehensive nature of Paul’s teaching ministry.
There is always the temptation of church leaders to avoid certain controversial subjects or to not tell the whole story, like hell and judgment.
Dave Peterson suggests, “that some of the elders may have faced the temptation to water down the message. Paul’s refusal to dilute the truth is highlighted in several of his letters (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2-5; Gal. 4:16).”
More about this in verse 27.
We know that the church in Ephesus was a well-established church. Paul spent three intensive years in Ephesus teaching the church and reaching out with the gospel (AD 53-56). We should not think that the original believers in Ephesus were biblically or historically illiterate. They were thoroughly taught by Christ’s apostle and master teacher of the Gentile churches.
Paul, like his Master, was preeminently a teacher. When people described Jesus Christ, they said, “Teacher.”
In his great commission, teaching new converts to obey all that He taught them is part of the commission. But note carefully, it is teaching them to obey all his teaching, which is much more than cognitive-oriented teaching. This is obedience-oriented teaching.
So, Paul is a preeminently a teacher of the Gentiles.
Elders are teachers, or they are not elders. Please note Titus 1:9. The reason eldership does not work in churches today is because they do not have biblical elders – they have board elders. All elders must know the Bible, Christian doctrine, and be able to protect the church from false teachers, or they are not elders.
Paul is so concerned about this issue that he says to the struggling church in Ephesus, “give double honor to the elders who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17-18).
He taught them in public, which means this was not an esoteric religion that only the illuminati or a private, sectarian group can understand. He rented the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-9) for 2 years to teach publicly for all to come and hear. He would also have used earlier the synagogue.
House to House (Acts 18:7-8)
Some of the best teaching you will ever find for profit will be in home teaching. I had Bible studies for many years in my home, where we could go for hours and we could get very deep into the text. The home setting is informal, relaxed, more conversational, more interactive, and in many ways, impacting on the mind.
(Illustration, Jim Gilliland.)
(2) Testifying both to Jews and to Greeks
- Repentance towards God
What is repentance? D. A. Carson gives a good definition of repentance:
What is meant is not merely an intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance, but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overtones of grief, which results in “fruit in keeping with repentance.” Of course, all this assumes that man’s actions are fundamentally off course and need radical change.
Through repentance, one will demonstrate:
- That he accepts Christ’s evaluation of its fallen condition,
- That he has judged himself according to Christ’s Word to be sinful and deserving of divine discipline,
- That he grieves over his loss of love and displeasure to Christ,
- That he is turning away from sin and returning to his past life of love,
- That he will, by God’s grace, take appropriate action.
Remember that Paul is talking to people who were once idolaters and believed in many gods. They must repent and completely turn away from polytheism, and turn to the only true living God.
And with Jews, we know that John the Baptist’s first words were “Repent.” The Old Testament covenant people of God needed, above all, repentance. They were not ready for their Messiah.
- Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ
Repentance emphasizes the negative aspect of the response to the Gospel, and faith, the positive side of salvation. These two qualities are two sides of the same coin.
Dave Peterson writes this, “Genuine faith demands repentance, and sincere repentance will continue to flow from saving faith” (p. 565).
I want to make a comment about this title – a short side bar. Too many people to day just say, “Jesus.” Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Now, there is nothing wrong with saying Jesus, but there is something wrong if we never call Him Lord or Christ or Christ Jesus. Here Paul gives Him His full title. He is not just Jesus – He is the Lord, He is the Christ. Let us be careful of this overuse of His earthly name.
I want you to notice that our belief is in a Person. Romans 1 says, “The Gospel of God… concerning His Son.” (Rom. 1:1, 3) The Gospel is about the Son of God and His redemptive work.
We are not believing in some abstract, theological propositions or philosophical guess work or speculations. We are believing in a Person – the most wonderful Person who ever lived, who God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He is the reason for breathing. Actually, Christ is our life.
His life is recorded in four Gospels for all the read and study and evaluate.
3. Paul Declares His Total Dedication to the Gospel Mission, Acts 20:22-24
Going to Jerusalem
Paul shifts gears now, and turns to his up-and-coming travels. Paul is going to Jerusalem. He is at this time carrying the offering from the Gentile churches.
As he travels, the Holy Spirit through prophets warn him that imprisonment and afflictions await him. The Holy Spirit was not prophesying prosperity and health and success and long life. This is the perfect time to run and hid under one bed or get out of ministry. NO, he is faithful to his call and will fact death if he needs to. He is a man of courage and faithfulness. He is fearless.
It is in this context that Paul states his amazing dedication to the Gospel.
Here is one of the most inspiring statements in the New Testament.
Nothing matters to Paul more than the completion of his task of spreading the message of Christ crucified. Paul is willing to lose his life for the sake of the Gospel.
Paul duplicates his Master’s own determination to complete His mission as laid out by His Father. How many of us can say this? I find this very convicting.
First, he says, “I do not account my life of any value not as precious to myself.” Here is a man who is so dedicated to the Gospel, that his own future life, his own reputation, his own comfort, his own securities are of no account to him. On a scale, his own life is out weighted by his commission in the gospel.
You can feel his conviction! You can feel his energy, his unction.
Paul uses two images.
(1) One is to run the race and complete the course. This is a marathon, a cross country race.
(2) The other is to accomplish the commissioned ministry he received from Christ. In this, he follows the Lord Jesus.
Message Received From God
Notice that the ministry is something he received from the Lord Jesus.
He did not sign up to be an apostle. Christ took the initiative and reached down and saved him.
The Gospel was revealed to him from heaven. It is a revelation. He is the messenger, the emissary. He did not make up this message. He is not a novel theologian, a clever rabbi.
I don’t think anyone would ever think up the Gospel, or think up being “in Christ,” or “adoption,” or “the body of Christ made up of Jew and Gentile,” “one new man, one new humanity.” It must be by revelation. This is brought out in the book of Revelation.
Testifying to the Gospel of the Grace of God
His ministry is to testify to the good news of the grace of God.
In Acts, the word “Gospel” (euangelion) is used only here and in Acts 15:7. The verb, however, “to evangelize” (euangelizomiai) is used often.
The grace of God is a major theme in Paul’s letters. Paul’s gospel is not the gospel of human merit or works or law-keeping. We are saved by Grace. Sinners before a holy God need grace.
Paul could never get over God’s grace in giving his Son to undeserving sinners.
The older you get the more you will appreciate God’s grace. This is why it is good news.
In Acts 15:11, Peter also speaks of the Gospel as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” that is for Jew and Gentile on the same basis Paul gives (Acts 15:11). There is an important point here. Paul and Peter preach the same Gospel of God’s grace.
Most often in Acts, the Gospel is called “the word,” although there are other, different phrases for it.
Paul was the most gospel centered man who ever lived. His ministry is gospel centered. He was not ashamed of the gospel.
Oh that we might love to preach the grace of God in the Gospel!
Acts: Luke reports that as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” In addition, “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:10-11, 20). Paul’s impact upon Ephesus was so influential that the message of the gospel threatened the city’s economic stability and religious worship, resulting in a city-wide riot and Paul’s eventual departure from Ephesus (Acts 19:1-41).
Paul is an example to follow. He is inspiring. He moves people. People without convictions or passion don’t influence people or move people.