9. Paul Presses on to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-23:35, 57 AD)

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Rembrandt, detail from ĎApostle Paulí (1657), oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Rembrandt, detail from 'Apostle Paul' (1657), oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (full painting)

After the conflicts Paul experiences in Ephesus on his Third Missionary Journey, we took a breather in Lesson 8 to consider the exact nature of Paul's mission city to city, that is, plucking people from Satan's grasp to serve the Lord Christ -- in a word, spiritual warfare.

But in this lesson, we learn that winning in spiritual warfare doesn't always mean coming away unscathed. Sometimes, the center of God's will for us involves suffering, hardship, and even death. Hard lessons, I know! It is instructive to see how Paul faces these issues.

9.1. Heading Home to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-21:14)

Not long after the riot caused by the silversmiths, Paul decides it is time for him to leave Ephesus. His work here is essentially done; Christianity is firmly established in the province of Asia.

Paul Travels to Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-4)

"1  After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3  There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia." (Acts 20:1-3)

Paul seems to have two purposes in this phase of his mission: (1) to encourage the churches, and (2) to collect the offering from each church to be taken to the poor saints in the Jerusalem church. You'll see references to this collection in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25-26.

In Acts 20:4, Luke gives the names of men from the various participating churches -- Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, and the Asian churches (Ephesus, etc.). To the Corinthians he had written a year or two previously:

"1  Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3  Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem." (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)

We use these verses to instruct our people to give regularly in our churches. Though the verses are in the context of a special offering for the Jerusalem saints, that's okay; the principles are the same.

"5  So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.... 7  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:5, 7)

You've probably heard from the pulpit various exhortations designed to compel people to put money in the offering plate. That isn't Paul's approach. Rather, he teaches them the principles of giving and then reminds them from time to time. That way, giving is from the heart, rather than fulfilling some kind of law, rule, or expectation.

Eutychus Raised from the Dead in Troas (Acts 20:6-12, 57 AD)

Paul is winding up his Third Missionary Journey by visiting a number of the churches. It is now Spring of 57 AD.

"We sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days." (Acts 20:6)

Troas, you recall, is a major port city in the northwest corner of the province of Asia, the city in which Paul had a vision of the Man from Macedonia in 49 AD, some eight years previous (Acts 16:8-10). There is now a church there.

Here in Troas, an incident takes place which is memorable to both the young and bored, as well as to those who themselves have fallen asleep during a long sermon.

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight." (Acts 20:7)

Notice the "we" in verse 7. Luke is present, an eyewitness, and a wonderful storyteller!

Paul continues speaking. He will never see these people again, and they hang on his words.

"There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting." (vs. 8)

The fumes from the lamps make the air warm and stuffy. The story that unfolds bears the mark of being told again and again by Luke as part of the lore of St. Paul and the church at Troas.

"Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up[378] dead." (vs. 9)

Eutychus (whose name means "fortunate") is "dead" (nekros), according to Luke the Physician. Unlike our own time when many or most people die in a hospital, people of that era were well acquainted with the signs of death. My own father died from head trauma after falling from the second story of a building. Falls are devastating. The boy Eutychus is dead. This isn't a story of healing, but of raising the dead.

"Paul went down, threw[379] himself on the young man and put his arms around[380] him. 'Don't be alarmed[381],' he said. 'He's alive!'" (Acts 20:10)

I can imagine the sound of a person falling on pavement, panic in the third story room, people rushing down the stairs, the cry, "He's dead!" and the wailing of mourning. Paul leans down, takes the boy in his arms, and reassures the growing crowd, "Don't be alarmed, he's alive!"

We aren't told that Paul prays for the boy, but I'm sure he does. The story sounds similar to Elijah, who stretches himself out on the widow's dead son three times -- and prays -- "and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. " (1 Kings 17:22b). Also Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-37).

Once the boy is raised from death, Luke explains matter-of-factly:

"11  Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12  The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted." (Acts 20:11-12)

Paul doesn't miss a beat. He eats and resumes preaching until daybreak. If it were I, I would have been too stunned by God's miracle to think of anything else. But Paul has seen miracles and knows he must teach before he must leave. He has a message to communicate and a boat to catch. Amazing!

God even uses raising the dead in our day to bring attention to Christ. As I mentioned earlier, a recent Christianity Today article examined reports of people being raised from the dead, and concluded that God is still doing so in the twenty-first century.[382]

Worship on the First Day of the Week (Acts 20:7a)

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread." (Acts 20:7a)

Breaking of bread, of course, refers to celebrating the Lord's Supper together (Acts 2:42, 46; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:20-34). In the early days, congregations would often meet on the first day of the week, Sunday, in honor of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), often in the evening, because slaves, who make up a significant portion of the church members, can't get off work until evening.

Today, as in ancient days, some sincere Christians worship on the Sabbath, citing the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11). However, historically, among Gentile Christians, Sunday, "the Lord's Day," the first day of the week (Revelation 1:10), becomes the primary day of worship as the gospel moves out of a Jewish setting into a Greek one. Well before the 330s AD, Christians are officially observing Sunday as their day of rest, as opposed to the seventh day.[383] About this time, Eusebius observes regarding the Jewish-Christian Ebionite sect that keeps the sabbath: "They also celebrate the Lord's days very much like us, in commemoration of his resurrection."[384]

There's a lot of debate in our time about the appropriate day of worship. Most Christians around the world worship on Sundays, while some, such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Messianic Jews, worship on the Sabbath. I don't really want to enter into that debate. Paul counsels us not to pass judgment upon one another on "disputable matters,"[385] such as special days and unclean foods (Romans 14:1-12). (For more on this, see Lesson 4.2).

Q1. (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) Why did Christians worship on "the first day of the week"? Why is it called "the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10)? What does it mean that they "break bread" (Acts 20:7, 11; 2:42, 46; 1 Corinthians 10:16)? Why is that important to believers (Luke 22:19)?

Meeting the Ephesian Elders on the Beach at Miletus (Acts 20:13-17)

Map: Paul sails home from Third Missionary Journey (55 AD), showing west coast of Province of Asia (Asia Minor). (larger map)

Rather than returning to Ephesus, which would have taken additional time and long good-byes, Paul sends for the elders to meet him down the coast at Miletus, where his ship has docked briefly.

"Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost." (Acts 20:16)

So his ship skips the port of Ephesus, and travels to Miletus, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Ephesus. He waits there for several days as the elders travel to meet him.

At the end of this lesson we'll consider at length Paul's address to the Ephesian elders, since it so powerfully teaches what it means to be surrendered, sold out, crucified with Christ. But for now we'll continue with the narrative.

After leaving the Ephesian elders on the beach at Miletus, Paul's ship takes him to the thriving maritime and commercial port of Patara in Lycia. His current ship has been suited for island hopping in the Aegean sea, but now he needs a ship designed to cross the Mediterranean. He finds a cargo ship headed for the ancient Phoenician port of Tyre, on the coast of present-day Lebanon.

Disciples in Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea (Acts 21:3-6)

In Tyre there is a Christian community that invites Paul to stay with them while the ship is being unloaded. Notice the prophecy recorded:

"Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:4b)

You recall that Paul is "resolved in the Spirit" (Acts 19:21, ESV) to go to Jerusalem. Prophets in the cities he visits earlier in his trip keep warning him of imprisonment if he goes to Jerusalem (Acts 20:23).

But Paul, intent on obeying God's direction to him, continues south to Jerusalem, greeting Christians at his next stop, the Phoenician port of Ptolemais. The ship's next port is Caesarea, a deep sea harbor city built by Herod the Great. It serves as the administrative center for the Roman province of Judea, and is the normal residence of the Roman governor. After Paul's arrest in Jerusalem, he will be imprisoned here for two years awaiting trial.

Map: Paul's return to Jerusalem at the end of his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 21:1-17; Spring 57 AD)
Map: Paul's return to Jerusalem at the end of his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 21:1-17; Spring 57 AD). (larger map)

Female Prophets (Acts 21:8-9)

There is a Christian community here, also.

"Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9)

The gifts of the Holy Spirit aren't reserved for men only. Just as you see female prophets of Yahweh in the Old Testament era -- Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4-10), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and Anna (Luke 2:36) -- so you see them in the New Testament era (1 Corinthians 11:5). After all, the Spirit is poured out on both men and women at Pentecost:

"17  In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18  Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18, quoting Joel 2:28-29)

We should seek after this gift of prophecy to edify our churches (1 Corinthians 14:1, 5), rather than despise it (1 Thessalonians 5:20).

The Prophecy of Agabus (Acts 21:10-14)

While Paul's party is staying at Philip's home in Caesarea, a well-known prophet, Agabus, comes down from Judea.

"Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, 'The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" (Acts 21:11)

The believers take this as an indication that Paul shouldn't go to Jerusalem -- but that is the wrong conclusion. It is just an indication of what will surely happen when he goes. And, indeed, it comes to pass, just as Agabus prophesied.

"12  When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13  Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' 14  When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lord's will be done.'" (Acts 21:12-14)

Paul's life isn't precious to him, except to do God's will (Acts 20:24). The message for us is this: As you mature in Christ, learn to determine God's will for yourself. Then do what God has shown you to do. Don't be dissuaded by well-meaning friends, however spiritual they may be. If you're still young in the Lord, however, get counsel from your pastor as needed.

Q2. (Acts 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:11) Are the prophecies about imprisonment in Jerusalem in conflict with Paul's leading from God? What, then, conflicts with Paul's leading to go to Jerusalem? Why do you think Paul actively encourages prophecy in the churches he establishes (1 Corinthians 14:1, 5)? Why do you think many Christians despise prophecy today (1 Thessalonians 5:20)?

9.2. In Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-23:11)

Paul Meets with James and the Elders of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 21:15-26)

And so Paul continues on to Jerusalem, staying at the home of Mnason, a Cypriot and an early convert to Christianity. The next day Paul meets with James, Jesus' brother, who is leader of the church in Jerusalem, and all the elders (other leaders) of the church. Paul tells the stories of God's working in Greece and Asia, and the Jerusalem believers rejoice.

Now James presents what is essentially a political problem. Thousands of new believers in Jerusalem are still very much Torah-keeping Jews. Among these, Paul has a reputation of encouraging Jews to live like Gentiles. The accusation isn't accurate, but has enough truth in it that it is believed by many. And Paul hasn't been insisting on Torah keeping among the Jewish members of the urban churches he has founded.

So, in order to convince the Jerusalem Torah-keeping believers that Paul is fully Jewish, James asks him to join in purification rites for some Christian Jews who are completing a Nazirite vow during which they had let their hair grow. James asks Paul to pay their expenses --  the prescribed sacrifices to be offered when their hair is cut off and offered on the altar. The Torah states:

"The Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. He is to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering." (Numbers 6:18)

During his Second Missionary Journey, Paul himself seems to have undertaken a similar vow.

"Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken." (Acts 18:18)

Paul's presence in Jerusalem has made matters sensitive for James, and so Paul agrees to participate this purification, so, as James explains, "everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (Acts 21:24).

"The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them." (Acts 21:26)

A Riot in the Temple (Acts 21:27-36)

All seems to be going well until some Jews who had known Paul in Ephesus recognize him in the temple. They imagine (incorrectly) that Paul has brought Trophimus the Ephesian into the temple, thus defiling it. So they begin shouting in the temple:

"Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place." (Acts 21:28)

A riot ensues. Someone is defiling the temple? Kill him! They drag Paul from the temple and begin to beat him to death. The city is in an uproar.

The Romans, who are charged with keeping the peace in the political powder-keg that is Jerusalem, immediately send a detachment of soldiers into the crowd to stop the riot. They arrest Paul, chain him with two chains, and then carry him back to the soldiers' barracks to interrogate him while they try to quell the riot. Meanwhile, the soldiers are followed by a crowd shouting, "Away with him!"

Paul Testifies in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-22)

Paul identifies himself to the commander of the soldiers as a Roman citizen, and asks to speak to the crowd. Surrounded by Roman soldiers, from the safety of the steps outside the Roman barracks, Paul silences the crowd, and then speaks to them in Aramaic, the common language of Judea in that era.

Paul begins by sharing his testimony, which is recounted three times in the book of Acts, in one form or another (Acts 9:1-18; 22:3-16; 26:4-18). I'll summarize it so you can see the main elements.

1. Identity. Identifies himself as a Jew of Tarsus, trained as a zealous Pharisee, trained under the revered Rabbi Gamaliel (verse 3).

2. Persecutor. Persecutes "the followers of this Way" to their death with official authorization of the high priest and Sanhedrin (verses 4-5).

3. Appearance. Outside Damascus he is blinded by a brilliant light and hears a voice: "Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me? ... I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting" (verses 6-8).

4. Ananias. He is instructed that he will be visited by a Jew of Damascus named Ananias, who heals his blindness (verses 10-13).

5. Prophecy. Ananias gives him a message from God:

"The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (verses 14-16).

6. Warning. Paul tells of a subsequent trance he had while in the temple, where he receives a message to leave Jerusalem immediately, because the Jews will not accept his testimony. "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles"  (verses 17-21).

The crowd has been listening quietly to Paul's testimony, but when he berates them  for being hardhearted and rejecting God's message, something inside of them snaps. Paul has been accused of defiling the temple by bringing a Gentile into it. So when they hear his words "send you to the Gentiles," it sets them off again, and they begin to chant, overwhelming Paul's words.

"Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!" (verse 22)

Of course, this fulfills Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Jewish people:

"He said, 'Go and tell this people:
"Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears, understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."'" (Isaiah 6:9-10)

This prophecy is quoted by Jesus concerning the Jews (Matthew 13:14-15), and proves as true of the Jews in Jerusalem now, as it does two years later of the Jews in Rome (Acts 28:26-28).

The Roman commander directs Paul to be flogged and questioned, but before this can happen, Paul reminds the centurion that it is illegal to flog a Roman citizen. The centurion tells the commander and they immediately withdraw. The commander had already put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains, against Roman law. Oops.

Paul Appears before the Sanhedrin and Chief Priests (Acts 22:30-23:11)

The next day, the Roman commander brings him before the Jewish Sanhedrin in order to understand the issues. After a verbal skirmish with Ananias, son of Nedebaeus (served 47-59 AD), a high priest with a dubious reputation who has unlawfully ordered him struck, Paul realizes that the leaders are not there to hear truth, but to condemn him. He knows that the Sanhedrin is divided between aristocratic Sadducees and zealous Pharisees. So instead of defending himself, he throws out a controversial statement that he knows full well will disrupt the proceedings.

"My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." (Acts 23:6)

N.T. Wright comments colorfully, "This really put the cat among the pigeons, as he knew it would."[386] The dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees (who don't believe in the resurrection) among the members of the Sanhedrin becomes so violent that the Roman troops go in[387] and physically bring Paul back into the barracks.

The Power of a Christian Witness (Acts 23:11)

Paul may be in turmoil. His situation is precarious, but Jesus reassures him.

"The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'" (Acts 23:11)

Just like the Lord encourages Paul in Corinth when he feels threatened (Acts 18:1), so he encourages him here with a personal appearance -- perhaps in a vision, perhaps in a visible presence (if there's a real difference).

I want to pause here to consider the importance and power of a Christian's testimony. Verse 11 contains two verbs that mean "to testify." The root verb is martyreō (from which we get our word "martyr"), deriving from a legal context: "to confirm or attest something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness."[388]

Jesus had told his disciples that they will fulfill the important role of being witnesses:

"On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." (Matthew 10:18; cf. Mark 13:9; Luke 21:13)

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Of course, the original Twelve personally saw Christ's death and resurrection (Acts 13:31). They are eyewitnesses. But Paul, too, is a witness. God directs Ananias to speak these words of commission to Paul at his conversion:

"The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard." (Acts 22:14-15; cf. Acts 26:16).

Paul is not an eye-witness to the events of Jesus' life, but Jesus reveals himself to Paul many times in appearances and visions. So Paul, too, is a witness. To the Ephesian elders, Paul declares again his commission:

"I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Acts 20:24)

Even while in custody in Rome, Paul continues to be a witness to the Jews of Rome who come to him.

"From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying[389] to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." (Acts 28:23, ESV)

Signs and wonders are God's witness to the truth of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

"God also testified to [this salvation] by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:4)

But what about those who aren't the apostles? You and me? Do we have a command to be witnesses? Yes! Just as being witnesses was the original apostles' mandate (Acts 1:8), so it is ours by extension, just as is the Great Commission, "to make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-19). Thus, Paul directs Timothy -- who grew up in the province of Galatia and had never seen Jesus personally:

"Do not be ashamed to testify[390] about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Timothy 1:8, NIV)

Like Timothy, we aren't personal witness to the historical events of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. But we are witnesses to what Christ has done in our lives -- and we declare the first-hand testimony of the apostles who are personal witnesses to these things.

Sometimes we can be too results-oriented. We want to "win people to Christ," not just "testify," and leave it at that. But we must remember: it is the Holy Spirit who takes the word, the message, and convicts the heart of its truth. Paul tells us:

"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17, NIV)

Or more literally,

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word[391] of Christ." (Romans 10:17, ESV)

What does it mean to be a witness in our day? Yes, witness with our lives. That is a given. But we must also find ways to speak out the message of Jesus where we can. Let me give you an example.

I live in California, a state well-known for its liberal, secular culture. I recently became the president of WASH, a regional watercolor association centered in Sacramento. I really didn't want to be president, but I finally concluded that God wants me in that role, so I've stopped griping about it and have accepted it. I believe Jesus wants me to represent him among my fellow watercolor artists, to be a visible, and sometimes vocal, witness of Jesus' love, reality, and message.

Many people there know that I am a retired pastor, so my life among them needs to reflect Jesus' love. But I've also fashioned a nametag to wear that features a prominent and colorful Celtic cross. I often conclude e-mail messages and public meetings with the phrase, "God bless you." I look for opportunities to pray with fellow members who are going through difficult times. And I sometimes select Christian themes for my paintings. I am there as a witness, a representative of, an ambassador for Jesus the Messiah. And whenever I can, I am looking for words to express my testimony in culturally appropriate ways. It's a work in progress. But it is vitally important that you and I take seriously our role as witnesses to Jesus wherever he places us.

Paul is chosen to be a witness before the Jews, the leaders, and, as we'll see, he also gives his witness before the Jewish king, the Roman governor of Judea, and ultimately, Caesar himself. Does he win them to Christ? No. But he is under orders to be a clear and open witness to Jesus. So are we.

Plot Against Paul's Life (Acts 23:12-35)

Okay, back to Paul testifying before the Sanhedrin. Paul's enemies among the zealous Jews aren't satisfied with him appearing before the Sanhedrin. They want him dead. So forty men conspire to have Paul brought again before the Sanhedrin, and plan to kill him en route. Paul's life isn't safe in Jerusalem.

Paul's nephew hears of the plot, warns Paul in the barracks, and tells his story to the tribune, Claudius Lysias, commander of the Roman military unit in Jerusalem. The tribune, wanting to avoid any rioting, decides to get Paul out of Jerusalem, since he is the flash-point of any disorder. He spirits Paul away to Caesarea overnight along with a letter to the governor explaining the situation. Paul is protected by a detachment of "two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen," an overwhelming military force (Acts 23:23). Now Paul is out of Jerusalem, that hotbed of Jewish unrest, and safe in the Roman palace in Caesarea. There, the governor keeps Paul under guard.

9.3. Crucified with Christ -- Address to the Ephesian Elders (Acts 20:17-38)

We've finished the narrative of Paul's journey to Jerusalem and arrest. But before we conclude, I think it will be valuable to reflect on Paul's amazing words to the Ephesian elders on the beach at Miletus, just before he leaves Asia.

Paul's words on this occasion display his overriding passion to serve Jesus. This is one of the most inspiring passages in the New Testament. Let's examine this passage carefully because it is both energizing and instructive.

But first, I encourage you to read the whole passage right now (Acts 20:17-38). Then we'll discuss it verse by verse.

Paul, speaking to the elders on the beach at Miletus, begins by talking about his ministry in Asia -- especially in Ephesus, the capital city of the province.

"You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia." (verse 18b)

Paul reminds the elders of his manner of ministry among them. Paul has been teaching by example, and he explains that he has been consistent during this whole time. What you see is what you get. Just as I need to live a consistent life before the watercolor artists of Sacramento, so Paul lives before the Ephesian believers. They see him. They know him.

You can't disciple men and women authentically if you don't let them get close and see you as you are. Paul isn't perfect; no one is. He has some rough spots. But his life is worth imitating, for he follows Christ. If we wait until we're perfect to let people get close to us, we'll never disciple anyone.

Just like children imitate their parents, so we need to live before one another with lives worth imitating, since that is the way a Christian lifestyle is passed from one generation to another (Acts 20:18b; 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 13:7).

Paul continues:

"I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews." (Acts 20:19)

Service. "I served the Lord..." (verse 19a). Ultimately, Paul isn't serving people, but serving the Lord! When we serve people first, then we do what they want us to and we let them set the agenda. That's okay when we're just getting started on the path of discipleship. But when we learn to serve the Lord first, then we serve the people in the way He wants and can truly help them. The verb "serve" is douleuō, from doulos, "slave." Thus the verb means, "to act or conduct oneself as one in total service to another, perform the duties of a slave, serve, obey."[392] Being a servant or slave of Christ requires obedience and humility, but is an office of great honor, since the servant's honor is enhanced by the glory of the Lord he or she serves. And we serve the top King of the universe!

Humility. "... with great humility and with tears" (verse 19a). Sometimes we preachers get too full of ourselves and our places of prestige and authority. Paul, on the other hand, will have none of this. He is humble. He weeps openly, unafraid to portray his emotions to all, unafraid of displaying weakness. In modern parlance: he is vulnerable. "Humility" here is tapeinophrosynē, "humility, modesty."[393] The powerful see humility as weakness, but not Jesus. Jesus humbles[394] himself to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8, see Lesson 11.2). So to Jesus' followers, humility is a great virtue (Colossians 3:12; Philippians 2:3; 1 Peter 5:5).

Courage. "I was severely tested[395] by the plots[396] of the Jews" (verse 19b). The Ephesians believers see Paul living for Christ while under constant pressure and persecution -- perhaps even imprisonment for a time. (See Appendix 3. Were the Prison Epistles Written from Ephesus?) We don't like severe testing -- or any testing at all, for that matter. But when we are tested, people see behind our masks to the authenticity of our lives and the reality of our faith.

"You know that I have not hesitated to preach[397] anything that would be helpful to you but have taught[398] you publicly and from house to house." (Acts 20:20)

Comprehensive. "I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you" (verse 20a). For several years I served as associate to a pastor who preached on lots of topics, but hardly ever mentioned sexual sins, and then only in veiled terms. I've also been in churches where sin and the blood atonement are not mentioned; rather they would speak in terms of self-realization and wholeness. We shouldn't have big gaps in our preaching. We need to preach the whole gospel, whether people want to hear it or not. That's the only way to produce well-rounded, healthy disciples!

Public and private. "I ... have taught you publicly and from house to house" (verse 20b). Paul had a public teaching ministry in the lecture hall of Tyrannus that touched hundreds, perhaps thousands at a time (Acts 19:9), but he didn't neglect spending time with people in their homes. The great apostle doesn't hesitate to make house calls. Or perhaps he invites people to talk with him while he sews tents in the mornings.

If people only see the public side of us, they never get to know the real us. They only see an artificial picture of what it means to serve Jesus. Real discipling requires person-to-person contact over time. That's how Jesus discipled the Twelve. There is a place for large audience ministry, especially for evangelism and teaching. But discipleship, that is, transmitting a lifestyle, a way of living, requires one-on-one contact over time.

"I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus." (Acts 20:21)

Two culture evangelism. "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks.... (verse 21a). As you recall, it is Paul's pattern to begin his ministry in a Greek city in the synagogue, win receptive Jews and Gentile God-fearers, and then move to reach out to the Greek-speaking Gentiles of the city. Of course, Paul's background growing up as a Jew in the ancient Greek city of Tarsus makes him at home in both cultures.

Our inner cities often are cosmopolitan, with a number of ethnic communities that differ in subtle, but real, ways. Just because a Guatemalan can speak Spanish doesn't mean he can minister to Puerto Ricans. In addition, youth cultures are often much different than the cultures their parents live within. Don't assume that everyone in your city is of the same culture. Cross-cultural ministry, the ability to minister in two cultures is a wonderful gift, a missionary gift.

Repentance and faith. "They must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (verse 21b). This echoes the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus: "Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:4, 15) Sometimes, in Western cultures we see a version of the gospel: "God loves you, believe in him," without any call to repentance. It sounds good and may be attractive on the surface, but it isn't the whole gospel and doesn't change lives the same way as the whole gospel. A serious call to follow Jesus is a call to forsake our old way. Let's not kid ourselves. Following Jesus requires repentance.

Bound in the Spirit (Acts 20:22-23)

22  "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships[399] are facing me." (Acts 20:22-23)

Earlier in this lesson we observed that Paul receives instructions from the Spirit to go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21) and that the others try to dissuade him.

Note here that he describes both his certainty about God's will and a commitment to obey. Paul says that he is  "compelled by the Spirit" (NIV), "constrained by the Spirit" (ESV), literally, "bound in the spirit" (KJV) (Acts 20:22). The verb is deō, "bind, tie." This is more than a carefully considered decision -- though it is that. It is what Paul knows from the Holy Spirit to be God's will. Paul is listening to the Spirit, and is obedient, no matter what the cost.

The Spirit has clearly directed him to go to Jerusalem. Sometimes we are tempted to rationalize away God's guidance. "God wouldn't ever want you to be imprisoned. That would end your ministry and that couldn't be God's will...." If we give into temptations based on comfort and avoidance of pain, we can easily miss God's best for us -- and for the Kingdom.

Finish the Race, Complete the Task (Acts 20:24)

Fortunately, Paul isn't dissuaded by well-meaning disciples. Why? Because his life is truly surrendered to Jesus! Verse 24 is well worth memorizing for its powerful impact! Every time I read it I am moved.

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Acts 20:24, NIV)

How Precious Is Your Life to You? (Acts 20:24a)

Paul gives us his life's priorities.

"However,[400] I consider my life worth nothing to me...."

We struggle to render the Greek of this phrase into smooth English. The ESV is more literal:

"But I do not account[401] my life of any value nor as precious to myself...."[402]

Long ago, Paul has made a decision to surrender his whole life to Jesus -- completely, nothing held back. He says:

"I have been crucified[403] with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20; cf. Romans 6:6)

If you have been crucified dead, you don't resist any longer! There's a new life force in you now, many times stronger than your own -- Christ's life.

The word "precious" (ESV), "dear" (KJV) in Acts 20:24a is timos, "of great worth/value, precious."[404] As long as my desires, my will, my life plan, my comfort, my pleasure come first, then I cannot really be Jesus' disciple -- I can only fool myself and go through the motions of a religion.

We applaud the disciples who lay down their nets and follow Jesus when he calls (Mark 1:17-18) -- because we don't really place much value on smelly nets and a life of commercial fishing. But when we read about the rich young ruler of whom Jesus requires that he sell all his possessions and give them to the poor (Mark 10:17-22), we tend to rebel. Money has value! We desire it! We work hard for it! It is precious to us!

Jesus' disciples are amazed at his words to the rich young ruler. Jesus replies,

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25)

Jesus is using a parable of impossibility. He concludes:

"With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)

Jesus also taught about the cross in terms of full surrender.

"23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:23-25)

My dear friend, these passages of Scripture are designed to convict you and me. They contrast our lack of surrender of the things precious to us, with Paul's total surrender. Without surrender, however, we can't function as a real disciple; we only play at it. Paul lives before us true discipleship and challenges us by his example. Paul is the one who declares:

"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13b-14, KJV)

And so to the Ephesian elders on the beach at Miletus, Paul says:

"I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself...." (Acts 20:24a, ESV)

Q3. (Acts 20:24) Our life is valuable to God, of course, and we are to value it. However, what problems result from valuing our life for its own sake? What does it mean to "take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23-25)? What keeps us from doing that? What does it mean when Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20)? Can we follow Christ, if we are actually trying to hang on to our own life?

Christ's Calling for You (Acts 20:24b)

Let's consider the second part of the verse now. I'll be quoting the ESV, since it is more literal and helps us see exactly what Paul is saying:

"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." (Acts 20:24, ESV)

Paul uses the word "finish," teleioō, "to complete an activity, complete, bring to an end, finish, accomplish,"[405] Paul wants to reach his goal unimpeded by selfish rebellion. He wants Jesus' plan for him to come to fruition. Paul uses two word pictures to help us see what he is saying.

1. Racecourse. "Race" (NIV), "course" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is dromos, "course," from dromaō, "to run." The Greek root -drome occurs in English to describe a place of running -- "hippodrome," horse race course; "velodrome", an arena for track cycling. Here Paul seems to be using his analogy of life as a race, where one is running in the games, as he does elsewhere.[406]

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training...  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly" (1 Corinthians 9:25a, 26a)

"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13b-14)

"I have fought the good fight (agōn[407]), I have finished the race (dromos), I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness...." (2 Timothy 4:7-8a)

The writer of Hebrews uses this analogy also.

"Let us run with perseverance the race (agōn) marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1b)

In our passage in Acts 20:24, Paul's "course" or "race" moves from a prescribed racetrack in the games, by extension, to "the carrying out of an obligation or task, course of life, mission."[408] Paul is saying, I don't quit and I don't stop until I reach the goal prescribed for my life by God to be a witness.

2. Ambassadorial assignment, is the second idea here.

"... if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus..." (Acts 20:24b)

"Task" (NIV), "ministry" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is diakonia (from which we get our word "deacon"). There's the basic idea of service, such as waiting on tables. Here, the word probably refers to "functioning in the interest of a larger public, service, office," used of the prophets and apostles.[409] However, it can also mean "mediation, assignment, embassy" in behalf of Jesus. Paul is an ambassador for Christ (Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20), and thus functions as an "embassy" on behalf of the Kingdom of God. This could refer to "a mission abroad undertaken officially, especially by an ambassador."[410] The word diakonia can bear that meaning and that is what I think Paul is getting at here.

Paul is an official representative of Christ, charged with "testifying[411] to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:24c).

There's a real sense in which you have a "course" to follow. You may not be an apostle, but you have certainly been called and sent as Jesus' ambassador to your neighborhood, to your circle of friends, to your workplace, to your church, to your community, to your watercolor club. You have a message you must carry and share regarding the reality of Jesus. You are likely the only "Jesus" that many of these people will see. Represent your King well and faithfully as his ambassador.

Q4. (Acts 20:24b; Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20) In what sense was Paul an ambassador? In what sense are you an ambassador? Why is sharing your testimony important in your ambassadorship?

Declaring the Whole Gospel (Acts 20:25-27)

But Paul isn't quite done.

"Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again." (Acts 20:25)

This shocks and saddens them.

"What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again." (Acts 20:38a)

How does Paul "know"[412] that they won't meet again? I am sure that the Spirit has revealed this to him. Sometimes, I've found, that God will show us things -- not everything, but some things. Paul knows this. So these are his last words to these leaders, his last chance to influence them in person (when exactly he writes his Letter to the Ephesians, we're not sure).

"26  Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27  For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (Acts 20:26-27)

Sometimes we have regrets. "I wish I had done that" or "said that." But Paul has no such regrets. From start to finish over these three years, he has proclaimed faithfully "the whole will of God" (NIV), "the whole purpose of God" (NRSV), "the whole counsel of God" (ESV, cf. KJV).  The noun is boulē, "resolution, decision,"[413] or, as Thayer puts it, "counsel, purpose," here, "all the content of the divine plan."[414]

This is tremendously important. So often preachers and teachers and small group leaders have "hobby horses" that they ride.  They aren't comprehensive. They preach about salvation, but not discipleship; or about social justice, but not about finding Christ as Savior.

Now, I discovered long ago that you can't be comprehensive in one sermon -- and if you try, that sermon is guaranteed not to be memorable! But over time, over the three years that Paul has in Ephesus (Acts 20:31), he is able to cover all the important topics of God's plan for salvation, for the message to the Gentiles, and for the Christian life. Over time, our teaching needs to cover it all. That's why expository preaching (preaching through Bible books) often can provide better balance and coverage than topical series designed with clever titles to attract attention. (However, there are certainly times when a topical series is needed in a congregation!)

A Charge for the Shepherds of God's Flock (Acts 20:28-31)

Now Paul brings a charge to church leaders, using the analogies of shepherd, sheep, and wolves.

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

Paul exhorts the leaders to "pay careful attention"[415] (ESV) both to themselves and their own walk with God, as well as to the flock for which they have responsibility. Don't be lax! Don't get lazy! Paul is reminding them -- and us -- of an occupational hazard of church leaders: complacency.

At this point in time, the New Testament church hadn't yet developed much of a leadership hierarchy, so the words elder, pastor, and overseer mean pretty much the same group of church leaders. In this passage the words are used synonymously.

"Elder" is presbyteros (from which we get the name of the Presbyterian denomination). The word refers to an older person, then "an official, elder, presbyter." The word was used by Jews to refer to synagogue leaders as well as to members of local councils in individual cities, and to members of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. It would be natural that Christians would adopt the word to refer to leaders in local churches, since local congregations seemed to follow a kind of synagogue model.[416]

"Pastor" and "shepherd" translate the same verb in Greek: poimainō, "to herd sheep, to shepherd."[417] The word is used figuratively to describe the function of a leader or ruler (Jeremiah 3:15; Ezekiel 34:2, 7-10; Zechariah 10:3). The image of the leader or king as shepherd of his people goes back thousands of years in the Near East.

"Overseer" is episkopos (from which we get the name of the "Episcopal" denomination). In Classical Greek it had the meaning "one who watches over, guardian." The term was taken over in Christian communities in reference to one who served as "overseer or supervisor," with special interest in guarding the apostolic tradition.[418] The KJV sometimes translates it "bishop," but that word has too much technical and later historical baggage to help us understand the concept in the early church. Only in the early second century AD do you see bishops overseeing presbyters in a hierarchical structure in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch.

Stewards. Notice that Paul reminds the elders that the church doesn't belong to them, but to God, "which he bought with his own blood." Leaders are stewards of the property of another and they are held accountable for their service to the owner (Hebrews 13:17).

We have observed that Paul's churches seemed to have multiple elders (Acts 20:28; 14:23).

Watch Out for Savage Wolves Who Steal Sheep (Acts 20:29-31)

It becomes obvious that the Spirit has shown Paul some of the serious problems that will occur in the Ephesian church in the future. He continues with the shepherd and sheep analogy.

"29  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31  So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31)

The "savage wolves" are those who "distort[419] the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." Perhaps you've seen distortions that split churches, that foster unhealthy denominational pride, and separate God's people from one another. The root, when you look at it historically, is not so much doctrine as people whose ego is so large that they either can't admit they're wrong or that some point of faith can't be looked at in more than one way. Paul tells us, rather, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).

The wolves usually come from within a congregation, and thus are more difficult to spot or recognize. They don't look like wolves; they look like sheep.

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:15-16)

They look like sheep, but they act like wolves, separating the flock. I've met some of these sheep-like wolves. Perhaps you have too.

Paul exhorts the elders to stay alert[420] and to remember his constant warnings[421] over the years he is with them against disunity and false doctrine. Church splits are often the result of wolves who focus on divisive issues, slander leaders, and gather a group of people who agree with them.

Church splits sometimes occur over doctrine. The history of the Protestant church, especially in America, is a history of division and rancor. But much of the division is because we come from different church traditions, first forged in Europe and then transferred to America -- and Africa and Asia via missionaries. We must be tolerant of differing opinions within the body of Christ! Yes, we need to hold to the fundamentals of the faith. But we must obey Paul who told us:

"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." (Romans 14:1)

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)

True, we can't all be right. But focusing on the differences plays into Satan's strategy of making Christians look like fighters rather than lovers. God will sort it all out. For now, we live side by side, finding unity in our love for Jesus, and letting our light shine before a lost world.

Another cause of disunity is power. "I want to be in charge." I saw this happen a few years ago. The wolf was a nice, spiritual lady, the church treasurer, who ended up disaffecting one-third of the members and badly wounding the congregation. Be alert, and realize that wolves usually wear sheep's clothing. They often arise "from your own number." So Paul says.

He exhorts the leaders: Be watchful! When you see signs of disunity, deal with it. Some problems go away by themselves, but I've learned the hard way that if you don't deal with signs of disunity, they get progressively worse. Be watchful.

I Commit You to God and the Word of His Grace (Acts 20:32)

Paul has been faithful in his ministry, but he must leave. He gives them this word:

"Now I commit[422] you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)

There comes a time for every mentor to release his protégé to be on his or her own. It's painful, often misunderstood, but necessary to the protégé's continued growth.  We see this kind of release here. 

Paul entrusts the Ephesian elders to God, of course. And to the "word of his grace." "Word" is logos, the normal Greek word for "utterance, word, message."[423]  Paul is saying that the message he has taught them for the past three years has supernatural power (Hebrews 4:12) to work God's changes in them. He says three things about this word. It is:

1. A message about grace -- a gracious word. Too often we beat people down by quoting Bible verses at them. The message of grace is not a new Law. It is a message of how God has dealt graciously, how Jesus died on the cross for our sins, how he has sent his Holy Spirit to us, how he promises us a future and a hope. Let's not ignore what the Bible says about sin, but not major on that. Rather, we major on grace.

2. A message that will build you up. As we come back to the Bible daily, it builds us up,[424] edifies us, strengthens us, constructs God's work in our lives. Why should you read the Bible daily? To enable God to build you up through his word.

3. A message of inheritance, to "give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." The message of the gospel doesn't just look backward at the history of God's working with men and women. It also looks forward to the culmination, to the coming of Christ, to the resurrection of the dead, to ruling and reigning with Christ in his Kingdom. In his Ephesian letter, Paul, says, "I pray ... that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know ... the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18).

Sometimes Christians are criticized for "being so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good," or believing in, "pie in the sky when you die." These clever put-downs are from Satan to discourage believers from seeking to know deeply and understand all that Jesus has for us.

Paul's Example of Integrity, Hard Work, and Giving Freely to Others (Acts 20:33-35)

Paul points to his own example of financial integrity, as well as hard work.

"33  I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34  You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:33-35)

Christians, especially Christian leaders, typically get in trouble in three areas -- money, sex, and power. Paul points to his own example of financial integrity, as well as hard work. We discuss this passage in detail in Lesson 6.3, in the context of bi-vocational, tent-making ministry.

After sharing with the elders these solemn messages, Paul prays with them and departs for the voyage that will take him to Jerusalem and his destiny (Acts 20:36-38).

Lessons for Disciples

The lessons here are rich.

  1. The churches, at least in Greek cities, seem to worship on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, in celebration of Christ's resurrection on Sunday morning (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Partaking of the Lord's Supper ("the breaking of bread") is part of that weekly celebration (Acts 20:7; 2:42, 46; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:20-34).
  2. Having "resolved in the Spirit" (Acts 19:21; 20:22) Paul goes to Jerusalem, though people with the gift of prophecy in several cities foresee his imprisonment there and try to get him not to go (Acts 20:23). We must seek God, then do what he clearly shows us, not what others might say that could deflect us from God's will.
  3. The gift of prophecy is common in the churches Paul visits and has established (Acts 20:23), with both male and female prophets (Acts 21:8-9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). We should seek after the gift of prophecy to edify our churches (1 Corinthians 14:1, 5), rather than despise the gift (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
  4. Without violating his conscience, Paul is willing to undertake Jewish rituals, such as a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18; 21:26), though he is free from the Law and does not consider it binding on himself or others (Galatians 3:25; 5:18; Romans 6:14).
  5. It is important to God for Paul to testify of what he knows of Christ before commoners and rulers, even though he knows they will not all believe (Acts 1:8; 20:24; 22:14-15; 23:11; Matthew 10:18). We, too, must testify of what we know of Christ and what he has done for us (2 Timothy 1:8).
  6. Paul lives so that his lifestyle and values can be seen by those around him as examples to imitate (Acts 20:18b; 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 13:7). This is an important element of how he disciples people.
  7. Paul's example to his followers is service with great humility (Acts 20:19). We, too, must learn to walk in this kind of humility (Philippians 2:3-4; Ephesians 4:2; 5:21; Colossians 3:12).
  8. Paul's ministry includes both public speaking and teaching, as well as intimate one-on-one ministry. He feels that his house-to-house ministry is important to developing disciples (Acts 20:20).
  9. Paul doesn't cherish his life for its own sake, but for how he can serve Jesus (Acts 20:24a). He has been "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). His goal is to fulfill what God had called him to do (Acts 20:24b).
  10. Paul thinks of himself as a minister or ambassador of the Kingdom of God (Acts 20:24b; Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20).
  11. Like Paul, we must teach the "whole will of God," not just the most palatable parts or our favorite themes. Otherwise we won't produce well-rounded disciples of Jesus (Acts 20:26-27).
  12. In Paul's day the names "overseer," "shepherd/pastor," and "elder" seem to be used as synonyms. Paul's churches seem to have multiple elders (Acts 20:28; 14:23).
  13. Paul warns the leaders to watch out and to protect the congregation from those members who are divisive and distort the truth, who can damage the church, as wolves do a flock of sheep (Acts 20:29-31). Rather than division, we must make every effort to keep unity (Ephesians 4:3).


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Father, I am so challenged by Paul's absolute commitment not to be so protective of his life that it keeps him from full obedience. Teach me afresh how to be crucified with Christ. To take up my cross daily and follow you. Trying not to save my life, but to give it to you. In Jesus' holy name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made." (1 Corinthians 16:2, NIV)

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

"Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9, NIV)

"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." (1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV)

"The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'" (Acts 23:11, NIV)

"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Timothy 1:8, NIV)

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Acts 20:24, NIV)

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:23-25, NIV)

 "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." (Acts 20:28, NIV)


[378] "Picked up" (NIV, NRSV), "taken up" (ESV, KJV) is airō, "lift up, take up, pick up" (BDAG 28, 1a).

[379] "Threw himself" (NIV, "fell" (KJV), "bent/bending" (ESV, NRSV) is epipiptō, "to cause pressure by pushing against or falling on, fall on, press" (BDAG 337, 1b). The word can refer to a crowd pushing (Mark 3:10), embracing a loved one (Luke 15:20).

[380] "Put his arms around" (NIV), "took him in his arms" (ESV, NRSV), "embracing" (KJV) is symperilambanō, "to throw one's arms around, embrace" (BDAG 959).

[381] "Don't be alarmed" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "trouble not yourselves" (KJV) is thorybeō, "throw into disorder," then, with reference to emotional disturbance, passive, "be troubled, distressed, aroused" (BDAG 458, 2).

[382] Craig Keener, "Do the Dead Still Rise?" Christianity Today, June 2019, pp. 46-50. The author is a professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.

[383] Council of Laodicea, 336 AD, Canon 29. "Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ."

[384] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.27.5. Also Ecclesiastical History 1.4.8, regarding the pre-Mosaic believers: "They did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath, neither do we."

[385] "Disputable matters" (NIV), "opinions" (NRSV, ESV), "doubtful disputations" (KJV) is dialogismos (a similar root to English "dialog"). It refers to, "content of reasoning or conclusion reached through use of reason, thought, opinion, reasoning, design" (BDAG 232, 2).

[386] NT Wright, Paul: A Biography, p. 358.

[387] We're not told where the Sanhedrin was meeting, but I would guess it was on neutral ground, not in their normal room in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple complex, where the presence of a Roman commander and troops would have been seen as intolerable.

[388] Martyreō, BDAG 617-618, 1b. Diamartyromai is derived from martyreō, and means, "to make a solemn declaration about the truth of something, testify of, bear witness to" (originally, under oath) (BDAG 233, 1).

[389] Diamartyromai.

[390] "Testify" (NIV), "testimony" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is martyrion, "that which serves as testimony or proof, testimony, proof," here, "consisting of a statement that is brought out as testimony" (BDAG 619, 1b).

[391] "Message" (NIV), "word" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is rhema, "that which is said, word, saying, expression, or statement of any kind." It can also carry the idea of "command(ment) order, direction," as perhaps here (BDAG 905, 1). Sometimes you hear teachers contrasting rhema with logos, but don't take too much stock in that. Occasionally, there is a difference in meaning between the two words, but usually it is only slight.

[392] Douleuō, BDAG 259, 2aβ.

[393] Tapeinophrosynē, BDAG 989.

[394] Tapeinoō, here, is "to cause someone to lose prestige or status, humble, humiliate, abase," done especially to slaves (BDAG 990, 2a).

[395] "Tested" (NIV), trials" (NRSV, ESV), "temptations" (KJV) is peirasmos, which can mean both "test, trial," (as here), as well as "temptation, enticement" (BDAG 973, 1).

[396] "Plots" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "lying in wait" (KJV) is epiboulē, "secret plan to do something evil or cause harm, a plot" (BDAG 368).

[397] "Preach" (NIV), "declaring" (ESV), "proclaiming" (NRSV), "shewed" (KJV) is anangellō, "to report," then, generally, "to provide information, disclose, announce, proclaim, teach" (BDAG 59, 2).

[398] "Teach" is didaskō, "to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting, teach" (BDAG 24, 2).

[399] "Hardships" (NIV), "afflictions" (ESV, KJV), "persecutions" (NRSV) is thlipsis, literally, "pressing, pressure." Here, metaphorically, "trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation" (BDAG 457, 1).

[400] The KJV begins verse 24 with the phrase, "But none of these things move me," but one doesn't really find Greek words that would suggest this translation. The ESV and NASB are the most literal renderings of the best Greek text.

[401] "I do not account my life" (ESV), "count my life" (KJV) is literally, "of no account do I make (poieō) my life (psychē)." Logos, "word" has many shades of meaning. Here it means, "computation, reckoning," a formal accounting, especially of one's actions. It is a term used in commercial terminology (BDAG 60, 2a).

[402] Following the Greek word order, it reads: "But of no account (logos) do I make (poieō) the/my life (psychē) valuable (timos) to myself...."

[403] "Crucified" is systauroō, literally "to fasten to a cross in company with, to crucify together with, crucify with," here in a transcendent sense of identification with Christ's crucifixion (BDAG 978, 2).

[404] Timos, BDAG 1b, d.

[405] Teleioō, BDAG 996, 1. It derives from telos, "the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome" (BDAG 998, 3).

[406] Otto Bauernfeind, trechō, dromos, prodromos, TDNT 8:233-234. Dromos is used in Greek literature to refer to men, horses, clouds, journeys, etc.

[407] Agōn, "athletic competition" transfers to the moral and spiritual realm, "a competition, contest, race," then, generally, "a struggle against opposition, struggle fight" (BDAG 17).

[408] Dromos, BDAG 261, 2.

[409] Diakonia, BDAG 230, 3.

[410] "Embassy," Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary (2003), 2b.

[411] "Testifying/testify" is diamartyromai, "to make a solemn declaration about the truth of something, testify of, bear witness to," generally, to state something in such a way that the auditor is to be impressed with its seriousness" (BDAG 233, 1).

[412] "Know" is eidō, oida, here, "to have information about, know" (BDAG 693, 1).

[413] Boulē, BDAG 181, 1b.

[414] Boulē, Thayer, p. 1012.

[415] "Keep watch over" (NIV, NRSV), "pay careful attention to" (ESV), "take heed ... unto" (KJV) is prosechō, which, in non-biblical writers has the primary meaning "have in close proximity to" and "turn one's mind to." Here it carries the idea, "to be in a state of alert, be concerned about, care for, take care" (BDAG 880, 1).

[416] 1 Timothy 5:17-20; Titus 1:5; Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1, 5.

[417] Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2; John 21:16. "Be shepherds" (NIV), "to shepherd" (NRSV), "care for" (ESV), "feed" (KJV) in our passage uses the verb form, poimainō, "to herd sheep," then, figuratively, "to watch out for other people, to shepherd," of activity that protects, rules, governs (BDAG 84, 2aβ).

[418] 2 Peter 2:25; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7.

[419] "Distort" (NIV, NRSV) is more literally "speaking twisted things" (ESV) or "perverse things." The key word here is diastrephō, "to cause to be distorted, deform," then, figuratively, "to cause to depart from an accepted standard of oral or spiritual values, make crooked, pervert" (BDAG 237, 2).

[420] "Be on your guard" (NIV), "be alert" (NRSV, ESV), "watch" (KJV) is grēgoreō, which means, literally, "to stay awake, be watchful," and then, figuratively, as here, "to be in constant readiness, be on the alert." Jesus, Paul, and Peter all exhort to watchfulness (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; 1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 3:2-3; 16:15).

[421] "Warn" (NIV, NRSV, KJV), "admonish" (ESV) is noutheteō, "to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct, admonish, warn, instruct" (BDAG 679).

[422] "Commit" (NIV), "commend" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is paratithēmi, literally, "place beside, place before." Here it carries the idea, "to entrust for safekeeping, give over entrust, commend," entrust someone to the care or protection of someone" (BDAG 772, 3b).

[423] It isn't helpful to say Jesus = logos, "Word" in John 1:1, so here Paul is referring to Jesus. Take it in context.

[424] "Build up" is oikodomeō, "construct a building," then, figuratively, "to help improve ability to function in living responsibly and effectively, strengthen, build up, make more able" (BDAG 696, 3).

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