Exhortations to Christians, Pastors and Missionaries from Acts 20:17-35
Recently I was asked to preach a short message from this passage. Not an easy task as it's loaded with biblical principles! The passage is important to me as a missionary and church planter, but to truly expound it and capture the essence of not just the historical moment but the teaching it would take an entire conference. In the future I pray to expound this more with PMc missionaries at one of our own conferences but for now I want to share some simple comments from my own (not exhaustive) notes on the passage. This is lengthy and not for everyone, but if you are interested my comments (personal commentary) are below. God bless and may your heart be exhorted.
The passage: Acts 20:17-35 [ESV]
Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.3 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by4 the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, fI know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves. and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,5 which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore wbe alert, remembering that xfor three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
A glimpse at my preaching notes with 3 key points:
PT 1 - Vs. 20-21, 27
how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Q: Why would anyone shrink from declaring profitable things or the whole counsel of God?
- It happens all too often in Christ’s church. This ought not be!
Fear of man - result of not fearing/worshipping God rightly and lacking faith in God’s provision
Not wanting to offend anyone - wanting to please others and tickle their itching ears…
Ignorance - foolishness or lack of knowledge of whole counsel of God
Laziness - Paul teaches elsewhere that we are to be laboring in the word and teaching - it takes hard work
Wrong priorities - often pastors today are called to be more than a pastor; CEO style. Their priorities ought to be the Word of God and prayer…
Lack of Clear Vision of Christ’s Mission - to see more churches established the whole counsel of God must be preached. to maintain a club all you need is nonsense and hype…
PT 2 - key verse - Vs 24a -
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
Q: How do you know that you are life as valuable or precious to yourself?
A: If you are afraid to be mistreated, tortured or even die for Jesus you are counting your life as yours, not Jesus’ — it’s really this simple!
PT 3 - key verse - Vs 24b
if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Common Call - All X-stians must know: to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
3 parts: 1) Know Gospel and live according to it 2) Preach the Gospel with mouth 3) Show the Gospel in deeds and behavior
Unique Call - the how, what and where of fulfilling your call: my course and the ministry
Paul’s - apostle and missionary church planter. All of us have a unique part to play in God’s plan. *Know your role and fulfill it with Holy Spirit conviction, even if it kills you!
Summary Statement of passage:
Paul, missionary of the Lord Jesus, set apart by the Holy Spirit, calls a group of elders he established to oversee the flock in Ephesus. Ephesus was Paul’s biggest success story in that from here all of Asia was reached bc church planters were sent out from the first theological school. Paul himself is on his way to Jerusalem to fulfill his personal call from the Lord. The elders make a sacrifice to come to meet with him because they not only respect Paul who led them to salvation, but they love him as a dear brother in the Lord who did so much for them and left them a good example.
Paul commends them to God and His Word. He gives a teaching seminar of sorts and here we have a summary of his main points or key teachings for pastors and missionary church planters. The only recorded teaching from in Acts. He reminds them of his example to them, an example he got from the great Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ. He teaches them what they also are to do and reminds them of the pastoral call in Christ’s church. He also warns them of specific dangers coming their way personally. These dangers are still threats to all pastors in every context today. Verse 24 demonstrates Paul’s heart-attitude, like Christ’s. It’s an attitude of service and dedication to God that comes only through the supernatural work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. All Christians are to have this attitude - to count their life not as dear to themselves, but to do all that is required to joyfully fulfill the personal and common call of testifying to the grace of the gospel of God.
There is great emotion and anguish of heart in this scene. It is intense and we see that in the closing verses of the chapter as they bow down and pray and weep together before Paul departs. Their is a genuine love for each other; it’s a true work of unity by the Holy Spirit and how things ought to be among Christians. Hearts are broken and all are reminded that there is work to be done still before Christ returns. Though we are saved and all is well, we all, as Christians suffer while on the earth where nothing is as it ought to be. We long for Christ’s return, but as we wait we keep faithful to the call; we fulfill our part motivated by the Gospel itself and trusting in the Holy Spirit who continues to build the Lord’s church and make us able to bear fruit for the Kingdom. Paul’s departure reminds us that we are to press on and fight the good fight, no matter the cost.
VS 17 - Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
Paul is on the move. He is a missionary church planter and servant of Jesus. He was previously in Ephesus where he was forced to flee (Acts 19). Now he is on his was to Jerusalem. He does not want to stop in Ephesus (eager to get to Jerusalem) so he calls the elders to himself.
Note: he does not call the whole church to himself. he calls the leaders he trained to oversee the flock in pastoral ministry. he has a message for them. he cares for them bc he knows the wellbeing of the church body and mission of it to the lost is under their care.
It is very important for elders to be equipped and encouraged in the pastoral ministry - Paul doesn’t want to leave them with no further instructions.
It’s possible Paul also had some kind of revelation, HS insight, as to what challenges would be coming their way (vs 29). If this is so, it would have been wrong to not seek them out to get them a final word of exhortation and warning before he departs. Though he didn’t want to go to Ephesus he was able to arrange that they come to him - and this without a smartphone….
VS 18 - And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,
The elders came. How? on foot. How long? 2 days journey
Paul begins his discourse. This is likely a summary of the whole discourse not the word-for-word discourse. It’s probable that after traveling so far to see him he would have passed at least an entire day with them…
Challenge for us: we that have technology to communicate without traveling… do we make intentions to communicate necessary info to God’s people? Do we have that desire for the wellbeing of Christ’s church? Are we willing to travel (sacrifice) to get the equipping we need for our ministry?
You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time - Paul points out that he has been an example to them. We must take his example, learned from Christ, and also be examples to the flock, to those who come to serve Jesus through our ministry.
Principle 1 and Challenge for us: be an example of God-honoring ministry, missions and church planting!
VS 19 - serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;
Principle 2,3,4 and Challenge for us: serve the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials
serve the Lord with all humility - only by understanding the doctrine of election, salvation and grace can one serve the Lord with all humility. too often we understand these doctrines but still lack humility. this ought not be! we must repent and serve the Lord with a grateful heart, humbled that we have been chosen and brought to life through the work of the HS.
serve the Lord with tears - the Lord Himself was the “man of sorrows”. the sinful world and the damage of sin brought tears to His eyes. as we, His servants, live for Him and obey His call we will face tears. this world is broken and nothing is as it ought to be. if we don’t have tears while serving the Lord, perhaps it’s a sign that our hearts are not in beat with Jesus…
serve the Lord with trials - Paul had constant trials that he endured, including persecutions. In Ephesus he was actually forced to leave (because of the Jews it seems as indicated in the second part of this verse) the city bc of the resistance! We may not personally have this kind of persecution today (many do), but if we are really taking Christ at His word and obeying Him by going and evangelizing, sooner or later we will face resistance. You must expect it and embrace it when it comes. Further, if your persecution is light today (it’s not for many Christians around the world today) you must all the more preach the gospel while the door is open. Hold back nothing! Go!
VS 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,
How did Paul go about doing that mentioned in verse 19? Vs. 20 is his answer.
Principle 5: not shrinking from declaring and teaching truth
to shrink from declaring anything that was profitable - in other words, as Paul mentions elsewhere, he was preaching the whole counsel of God. This is what we are called to do if we are to be faithful and good stewards or messengers.
Why mention this? all too often preachers want to be accepted and they preach only what people like to hear. Paul mentions to Timothy how people want their ears tickled. He also mentions how the man of God must do his homework to be faithful to Scripture - 2 Tim. 3:16.
Too many ministers of the gospel fall victim to temptations to become wonton peddlers of the Word of God - they dishonor the Lord and lead many astray or to false views of God; idolatry in the end.
teaching you in public and from house to house, - One way Paul did not shrink or hide anything from them was by being a good missionary; he committed himself to teaching the Word of God as his primary aim - he did it publicly and from house to house.
Missionaries today are to do the same. Pastors likewise.
VS 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we declare and teach, we are to testify to all of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus.
testifying - we are to bear witness to the fact that all men and women must repent and believe or have faith in Christ for salvation, trust in Him
2 parts of conversion: repentance and faith
Our primary job as Christ’s witnesses is to make other people know of their greatest need, that is, to be saved. saved from what? their sins and God’s wrath!
It seems so basic and fundamental but the number of preachers and evangelists who miss this is remarkable. It is a terrible thing how many professors of faith lack saving-faith; they simply have not been taught of true repentance and faith. Much can be said on this, but for now it suffices to say that this is another aspect of Paul’s ministry. Something we cannot underestimate, and we must be diligent to do as he.
VS 22 - And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
Having said this we see the purposes of Paul. He is a missionary and he is on the move. He knows these men have a job, or calling, to fulfill so he must leave them in God’s hands (he commends them to God) and rather than stay and oversee them as so many do today, he trusts in Jesus to teach them and guide them while he himself moves on to reach more people and see more churches started.
Jerusalem - Paul felt led to go there. Sufficient for us that he felt led and so he went.
constrained by the Spirit - Principle 6
Q: What does it mean to be constrained by the Spirit?
Here a word study is in order… [ ] to be added later
For now, however, I will say that all Christ followers are to have a strong conviction from the Holy Spirit as to what they are called to do personally for the Lord. Too often Christians have no conviction from the Lord as to what they are to do! This ought not be!
Too often Christians don’t even seek the Lord to know what He would have them do for the Lord! This ought not be!
*A missionary or gospel minister will bear little fruit if he/she does not have this sense of being constrained by the Holy Spirit.
**Any preacher who does not have the conviction from God the Holy Spirit that he must preach the word (i.e. he cannot not preach) then he should waste no time in getting out of the pulpit. He will only hinder God’s people from growing in grace, at best, and at worst he will lead them further away from God and His call for them.
VS 23 - except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
Paul had the conviction (constrained) and was willing to go to Jerusalem or any city knowing that imprisonment or affliction awaited him… He accepted his personal call, remembering Christ's words to all of what it means to be His disciple.
Oh that Christ had more servants like this! Imagine the lost that could be reached if Jesus people understood their great salvation and were not afraid of suffering and dying!
VS 24 - But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
***KEY VERSE: one to tattoo on your heart and remember daily for as long as you live
Principle 7: do not count your life as dear to yourself. desire instead, above all else, to fulfill your call from the Lord at any cost.
common call: testify to the gospel of the grace of God
unique call: to whom and how to fulfill the common call in great commission; your role
VS 25 - And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
Paul knows his end is coming. He assures them they will not see him again.
Such intensity in this meeting! We can imagine it vividly as if happening before us.
Pause for effect when reading…
Principle 8: proclaiming the kingdom
All of us proclaim something with our lives, but few are those who proclaim verbally the kingdom. We ought to! We ought to find ways to be about it either personally or by supporting missionaries who do.
Warning: too many preachers proclaim nonsense today and leave out the gospel or greatly distort it. May the Lord rebuke them. Much can be said about this. Don’t be one of these! Labor to know fully the gospel.
VS 26 - Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
Paul did his part. He obeyed Jesus command and proclaimed the whole counsel of God, not shrinking back. As a result he is innocent of the blood of all - meaning that if they later find themselves in hell, it’s not because he did not warn them. Paul was a faithful evangelist/christian/disciple of the Jesus.
Principle 9: live in such a way that you are innocent of the blood of others; proclaim the gospel with your mouth (and life and actions)! Remember you are born again supernaturally, a new creature and filled with the Holy Spirit - God is in you and you can do all He commands you, truly.
Challenge: Can you say the same? Probably not. What steps must you take or what changes must you make to become like Paul (and Jesus) in this aspect?
VS 27 - for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
KEY VERSE: repeat of verse 20 - it’s very important part of this discourse!
see notes on verse 20.
VS 28 - Pay careful attention to yourselves. and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Instruction and Warnings:
Principle 10-14: from here I will stop counting bc there are too many!!!
Pay attention: -
yourselves - they like all pastors after them must guard their hearts and be diligent and disciplined to maintain un upright life that honors God and sets good example to all onlookers
all the flock - the church is full of sheep, some newborn and some not, but all needing prayer and guidance in life and their personal ministry or call. the pastor must pay attention to their needs giving them spiritual food from the Word of God, confronting them when necessary, exhorting them, etc…
the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God - ultimately it is always the Holy Spirit who calls men to be pastors or overseers. men only confirm the call. we must never forget this. HS saves them, gives them desire, gifts them for pastoral leadership always based on the teaching of God’s Word. Their primary task, as emphasized and summarized here, is to care for the church of God.
The church belongs to God, Jesus purchased every member of His church with His own blood. We must never forget this.
Too often pastors fall victim to the thought that the church is theirs because they are the leader. The church is never ours. The people are never ours. They are of Jesus and always will be. We are simply entrusted to look out for them; care for them. We do it only by grace.
VS 29 - I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
Paul speaks specifically to them, perhaps based on a revelation from the Holy Spirit on their behalf. But,
In any case, every pastor must be constantly with one eye open for any ‘fierce wolves’ that may or may not come in among the people of God.
The enemy has no mercy and the church is his constant target. ‘Do not be unaware of his schemes’, as Paul says elsewhere.
VS 30 - and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
A reminder for them and all of us today, that often among our own people there will be those used by Satan or just ignorant and sinful that will in one way or another - draw away the disciples after them.
There is no way to eliminate tares being among the wheat, as Jesus taught us elsewhere
*We must keep watch and be prayerful. We must not be fantasy pastors who ignore the fierce realities of ministry.
VS 31 - Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
Therefore - having said all that now he tells them 2 things
be alert - in other words, open your eyes. don’t lie to yourself while trying to be nice or humble. instead accept the dangerous reality of ministry and be alert - attention to prayer on behalf of the church and who may be dragging people away from Christ with erroneous teaching
remember - Paul’s example (like Christ's) of restless admonition to everyone with tears. The minister’s job never finishes. The missionary knows he must always be on guard for God’s people, especially when church planting.
VS 32 - And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
After having said all this he now gets to the point, an important part of this meeting…
I commend you to God and to the word of his grace - An ordination of sorts
He entrusts them into the hands of Jesus, who is building His church through the HS, really
Too often this does not happen today, even among missionary church planters where it ought to be happening the most.
Important to note is to ‘what’ these pastors are commended: 1) God 2) Word of God 3) grace
All too often these are the doctrines least understood, yet they are the most important. Without a proper knowledge of who God is a pastor will fail, in one way or another. Without a proper knowledge of God’s word he will lead astray God’s people, one way or another.
Much can be said on this, but that is not for here or now.
We will say this about the word of his grace - which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Without this word of his grace - we must assume you will not be built up in your call to pastoral ministry
VS 33 - I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel.
Important to note that Missionary Paul profited nothing from the people to whom he was ministered. We should do the same if we are missionary planters.
Pastors are worthy of their wages and if possible should be supported by the church so he can dedicate him to the Word and prayer. We read this elsewhere in Paul's writings.
***Missionaries should make it clear they are gaining nothing from the people. Their motives must be pure. Too often preaching and teaching from pastors gets watered down bc they have divided motives: they want to preach the whole counsel of God but they don’t want to lose people in the process bc they need to earn an income. In so doing, the pastor fails to obey the above commands from Paul the Apostle.
This is an ever present danger in ministry. The missionary risks the same when on home assignment; he wants and needs the sending churches support so he is tempted to behave or preach differently among them to please them so they keep supporting...
What is the solution? fear God. trust God's provision. ...
VS 34 - You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.
He simply drives home the point mentioned in verse 33 w/ this comment - more proof
VS 35 - In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Paul shows hard work and life sacrifice - CR Rom. 12:1
A good missionary gives good example of Christian living