ACTS CHAPTER 20.
The Journey to Macedonia and Back to Miletus. Acts 20, 1-16.
The second visit to Macedonia and Greece: V. 1. And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia. V. 2. And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, v. 3. and there abode three months. And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia. V. 4. And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. V. 5. These going before tarried for us at Troas. Paul had intended to make a trip to Macedonia and Achaia, chap, 19, 21. That the riot in the city materially hastened his departure, or that the work of the Lord in Ephesus had come to a standstill or even received a severe setback, is not included in the text, 1 Cor. 16, 8.9. Not one of the disciples had been harmed in the tumult, and the speech of the secretary of the city must certainly be considered favorable, although in a negative way, rather than anything else. After the uproar had ceased, after the last excitement attending the riot had died down, which may have taken days and even weeks, Paul decided that the time for departure had come. So he called a special meeting of all the disciples of Ephesus, for there must have been other house congregations besides that of Aquila and Priscilla, 1 Cor. 16, 19. At this last service he gave them a farewell address of admonition and encouragement; he then took leave of them with the usual form of salutation and started on his trip to Macedonia. Sailing up the Segean Sea, he landed at Troas, where he had expected to meet Titus, 2 Cor. 2,12.13. But since he did not find him, he lost no time in pushing on to Macedonia. Here he made his missionary journeys in the accustomed way, visiting all the districts where congregations had been established, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea. in all these cities his words of encouragement and admonition, of which he was not sparing, tended to establish the brethren in the faith and in sound Christianity. He even extended his journey over into the borders of Illyricum, west of Macedonia, Rom. 15, 19. But then he turned southward into Greece, or Achaia, where his principal errand was to the congregation at Corinth, some trouble there requiring his attention. He made a stay of fully three months here, intending after that to make the voyage directly to Syria. It was most likely at this time that he wrote the letter to the Galatians and also that to the Romans. But his plans were crossed by the enmity of the Jews, who plotted against his life, either by waiting for him at Cenchreae or by hiring assassins to murder him aboard the vessel. Paul therefore quickly changed his mind and his plans and traveled overland through Macedonia, in order to embark in one of those harbors. He was not alone on this trip, but had a number of companions, six of whom, with Luke as the seventh in Philippi, traveled with him all the way, while two went ahead to await his coming in Troas. There was Sopater, or Sopater Pyrrus, of Berea, there were Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, there were Gaius of Derbe and Timothy of Lystra, there was Luke of Philippi; and finally, there were Tychicas and Trophimus, both of them probably from Ephesus. As one commentator explains, the discovery of the Jewish plot altered Paul’s plan, and that at the last moment, when delegates from the various congregations had already assembled. The European delegates had intended to sail from Corinth, with Paul, and the Asian from Ephesus, but the latter, having received word of the change of plans, went as far as Troas to meet the others, and accompanied them the rest of the way. Note: In all these accounts the loving intimacy between Paul and the Christian congregations is evident, a splendid example in these days of indifference and selfishness.
Paul at Troas: V.6. And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. V.7. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. V.8. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where they were gathered together. V.9. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep; and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. V.10. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him. V.11. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. V.12. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted. Paul and his companions from the European congregations, including Luke, celebrated the Passover in Philippi. After the festival they sailed from the harbor of Neapolis, but on account of adverse winds did not reach Troas until the fifth day, whereas with favorable winds the trip could be made in two, chap. 16, 11. 12. In Troas all the delegates that were to represent the various congregations in Jerusalem, in bringing them the collection which Paul had ordered, were now together. Here Paul made use of the “open door” of which he speaks elsewhere, 2 Cor. 2, 12, remaining in the city as long as he dared without endangering his plans as to the time of arrival in Jerusalem. On the first of the Sabbaths, on the first day of the week, the disciples came together for services, mainly to break bread, to celebrate Holy Communion. Here we have the first reliable account of the choice of Sunday as the day of worship. Because the faith of the Christians is based upon the resurrection of the Lord, they chose this day, not from necessity or by divine command, but to hear the Word of God and to use the holy Sacraments. It was an evening service, since Paul intended to leave in the morning. Paul himself addressed the assembly in a long didactic sermon, prolonging his address till midnight. It was his desire to give the disciples all possible instruction and admonition while he was still with them. Luke relates that they had many lights in the upper chamber of the house which served as their place of worship, not to guard against the suspicion of sinful practices among the Christians, but simply as a bit of vivid description, and to account, at least in part, for the sleepiness of the young man, whom the many lights, with their fluttering flame, undoubtedly made drowsy, as well as his effort to follow the words of Paul closely. This young man, whose name was Eutychus, had chosen the window-sill as his seat and was there gradually borne down, overcome, by sleep. Nobody seems to have noticed him until it was too late; for his sleep finally became so sound that he lost his balance and fell out of the window of the third floor down to the pavement below. The noise drawing the attention of the assembly to the accident, they hurried down, but only to pick up the young man dead. But Paul, who had also come down, stretched himself upon him and held him closely to the warmth of his body. After that he told the anxious brethren not to make any outcry, since his soul was now in him. It was a miracle of bringing a dead person back to life, much like that of the Shunammite’s son, 2 Kings 4,33-35. Paul then returned to the assembly-room, celebrated the Holy Communion with the brethren and apparently also the feast which was held by the early Christians in connection with the Sacrament. After the close of the regular service, the apostle still spoke to the assembled disciples in a more informal way, explaining to them many points upon which they were in need of information. Until the dawn of the new day the meeting lasted, when Paul set forth on his trip southward. But the disciples of Troas brought the boy alive and well, and were filled with great consolation and strength of faith. They realized that it was the power of God in Paul that had performed this miracle, and that this work therefore testified to the truth of Paul’s preaching. This same doctrine is the basis of every Christian’s faith to this day.
From Troas to Miletus: V.13. And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul; for SO had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. V.14. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene. V.15. And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus. V.16. For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia; for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. The companions of Paul went down to the ship and embarked without him, sailing down to the city of Assos on the Adramyttene Gulf. The distance by water is about forty miles, while the trip overland is only about half as far. Paul had so ordered it, intending to make the trip afoot and to have them take him into the ship, to pick him up in the evening or on the next day. Paul was worn out with the labors and the excitement of the past weeks, not to speak of the constant menace due to Jewish hatred. A small journey afoot, therefore, though it was made after a night without sleep, would give him the opportunity to be alone in prayer with his Lord, besides affording the diversion of constantly shifting scenery along the way, a relief for body and mind. Note: There is much room for thought here for such as can read between the lines, both as to the burdens borne by a faithful preacher and to the necessity of solitude and recreation at times. When Paul had joined his companions on the ship at Assos, either the same evening or the next morning, and had been picked up by them, they went on to Mitylene, a harbor on the eastern coast of the island of Lesbos, where they anchored for the night, the channel being somewhat dangerous to navigate in the dark. The following day they made good headway, being able to reach a point near the mainland opposite the island of Chios, where they anchored for the night. Their next station was the island of Samos, south of the Caystrian Gulf, and southwest of Ephesus. To reach the island, they struck directly across the gulf and thus did not land at Ephesus. From Samos they crossed to the mainland, having some delay at Trogyllium, probably to take on or unload a part of the cargo. But from there it was only a short run to Miletus, the port at the mouth of the Maeander, a populous and important city, with a large inland trade, where the vessel was to stay for several days. The trip from Troas to Miletus had thus taken from Monday morning to Saturday evening. And Paul did not take the time to stop off somewhere and take a coastwise boat to Ephesus, for he had decided not to stop there on this trip, the delay such an action might occasion being his main reason. His hurry was due to the fact that he wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. This plan left him barely seven weeks from the time he had started from Philippi, and approximately three of these were now gone.
Paul and the Elders of Ephesus. Acts 20, 17-38.
Paul addresses the elders of Ephesus: V.17. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the Church. V.18. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, v.19. serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews; v.20. and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly and from house to house, v.21. testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Miletus was a matter of only about thirty miles from Ephesus, and connected with the capital by a good Roman road. As soon as Paul, therefore, found out that the vessel would be delayed for a number of days, he sent a message to Ephesus, earnestly asking the elders of the church to come down. The congregation at Ephesus, where Paul had labored so long, was especially dear to him, and he felt that he could not afford to let this chance go by. And when the elders had come to see him, he addressed them in words of a tender farewell. He gave them, first of all, a brief review of his labors in their city. From the day that he had first set foot into their province, his concern, during his entire stay, had been for their spiritual and temporal welfare. He had done his work as a faithful servant of the Lord and in His interest only, with such a servant’s full and complete humility. His attitude had not been me of apathy, but he had been filled with genuine sorrow for his brethren and for the world, which even manifested itself in tears. His work had been done in the midst of temptations which had surrounded him, which had stepped forward from all sides on account of and in the plots of the Jews. Their enmity had not been confined to an occasional outburst of malice, but had attended him at all time, always with the intention of making him weary in his work for the Lord. But in spite of all these and other difficulties he had not made use of reserve in teaching, as a coward might have done, but openly and candidly he had proclaimed to them what was of value and use to them. For a minister to shrink back from plain statements of truth out of fear for his own welfare is usually a sign of unworthiness, and almost invariably harms the congregation. But Paul had taught the things profitable to the salvation of the Ephesians, publicly, before the assembled congregation, and privately, in visits from house to house. His constant endeavor had been to be a fearless and worthy witness both before the Jews and the Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in their common Lord Jesus Christ. That is briefly the substance of all Christian preaching, that all men, all sinners, should acknowledge their sins and turn from them to the God of their salvation, accepting the full atonement and redemption of Christ by faith in this their Savior. “Repentance is nothing else than truly acknowledging sin, to be heartily sorry for it, and to desist from it; which knowledge comes from the Law, but is not sufficient for a saving conversion to God, unless faith in Christ is added, whose merit offers the comforting preaching of the holy Gospel to all repentant sinners that are terrified by the preaching of the Law.” 81)
Paul warned of coming affliction: V.22. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there; v.23. save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. V.24. But none. of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. V.25. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. V.26. Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. V.27. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. There is a strain of ineffable sadness in the entire address of Paul, and the reason for the sorrowful note is here given. Although Paul himself had not received an express revelation, others had prophesied concerning the outcome of the present journey. He felt urged, compelled in the Spirit, who directed his steps on more than one occasion; it would have been an act of direct disobedience for him not to travel up to Jerusalem. He had no definite information as to the things that would happen to him in that city, that would come upon him to harm him, only that the Holy Spirit, in every city through which he had recently passed, had plainly testified that fetters, chains, and therefore also affliction, awaited him. The nearer he came to Jerusalem, the more explicit became the prophecies, chap. 21, 11. From step to step on his journey, Paul was warned and guided, and incidentally his spirit was filled with consolation and courage from above. He did not esteem his life worthy of mention, as a life that was precious to himself. As he had always subordinated his life, his abilities, his talents, his ambitions under the will of the Lord, so here also he had but one thought, namely, to finish his course, the service which he had received from the Lord Jesus, to be untiring in his testimony, to witness to the Gospel of the grace of God. This service, this ministry, had been entrusted to Paul by Jesus Himself, chap. 9, 6. 15; Gal. 1, 1; Titus 1, 3. Grace presupposes guilt, and therefore Paul had not weakened the proclamation of the Law, but his greatest joy had ever been to attest the Gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, to lead poor sinners to the mercy of their Savior. The same spirit of joyful and willing service must be the driving power in every true servant of the Lord, whether engaged in the work of the formal ministry or not. All this Paul had emphasized once more, because it was his personal conviction, based upon the prophecies which he had heard recently, that they all who were now assembled before him, through whose midst he had journeyed with the proclamation of the kingdom of God, would see his face no more. All indications pointed in that direction and caused him to be very anxious and apprehensive. And this being the case, Paul called upon those present as witnesses before God on that day and in that solemn hour, that he was pure from their blood, that not a single one of them could demand his soul at the hand of the apostle from want of pastoral care; for he had not held back, he had not shrunk from proclaiming to them the entire counsel of God, the counsel of redemption and grace. “No epistle excels that to the Ephesians in the richness of its thoughts, and in its conception of a divine purpose running through the ages; no epistle dwells more fully upon the conception of the Church as the body of Christ, or exhorts more touchingly to diligence in keeping the unity of the spirit, or insists more practically upon the sanctifying power of the one Spirit and the sense of a divine membership in every sphere of human life. The rich and full teaching of the epistle is addressed to men who are able to understand the apostle’s knowledge of the mystery of Christ; in other words, to those to whom he had announced more fully than to others the counsel of God.” 82)
The special charge to the elders: V.28. Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy’ Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. V.29. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. V.30. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. V.31. Therefore watch and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. With the example of the apostle before them, and with his challenge ringing in their ears, the elders of Ephesus should take heed, should attend closely, should watch over themselves. He purposely places this care first, as that which must precede the care of the flock. For only by constant watchfulness over themselves would they also be able to take proper care of the flock, of the congregation, which was in need of proper feeding and the most faithful attendance. For they are still members of the flock, though the Holy Ghost has placed them in the midst of the flock as overseers, with the one aim and purpose, namely, to feed and nourish the congregation, the Church of the Lord at this place, with spiritual food in proper amounts. Note that the elders are here addressed as bishops, or overseers, showing that in the times of the apostles there was no difference between the two offices, the names being used indiscriminately. No hierarchy has been established by God‘s command. It is most significant that Paul describes the congregation of the Lord as being purchased, acquired by purchase, through His own blood. “This is surely a clear text, from which follows without all contradiction that Christ, our Lord, through whose blood the Church was purchased, is God, to whom the Church belongs. For he says’ clearly: It is God, who through His blood has won the Church and whose own the Church is. Since now, as we have heard, the persons are distinct, and it still is written here that God Himself through His blood has purchased the Church, therefore the conclusion comes with great force that God has His own blood which He has shed for His Church, that is, that Christ, our Savior, is true God, born of the Father from eternity, thereafter also by the Virgin Mary in time become a man and born.” 83) The responsibility being so great, therefore, with such precious souls to give an account for, Paul’s warning against two dangers which his prophetic vision could foresee, came with double emphasis. He knew that after his departure from them, in a future which was not greatly distant, there would enter into the flock from without grievous, ravening, ferocious wolves, false teachers that would have no mercy on the flock, but would use every means to disrupt the congregation, to murder the souls by trying to persuade them to accept false doctrine. And in addition there would be factionists from within, out of their own membership, men that would arise without call and authority and establish themselves as teachers, with a doctrine full of perverse and antichristian matter, with the intention of drawing away those that were already Christians, the latter thereby becoming guilty of apostasy from the truth and from the true Church of Christ. These two dangers looming up before them, the elders of Ephesus should watch, be on their guard, exert constant vigilance, always remembering that Paul, for a space of three years, in round numbers, had not ceased night and day to admonish every single one of them with tears. His faithfulness should therefore serve as a continual incentive to them in the entire work of their responsible office. Note: To this day it is the Holy Ghost that gives to the congregations the teachers of the Gospel. For though He does not call immediately, yet He uses the congregations as His instruments and directs the affairs of His Church; therefore the congregations should also accept the pastors chosen by them in this spirit, and pledge them to teach and to watch, just as Paul here did the elders of Ephesus.
Paul’s words of farewell: V.32. And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. V.33. I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. V.34. Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. V.35. I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Paul had held up before the elders of Ephesus his own example, and had warned them most urgently against the dangers that would threaten the congregation. He now points them to the only source of courage and strength sufficient for them, by commending them to God and His Word, the Word of Grace, the grace of God being the primary content, the summary of the Gospel. With the counsel and admonition of God, as presented in this Word, before them at all times, they could not lack in strength in the midst of all adversity. For this Word Is ’able at all times to build up, to edify, the Christians, and not only to promise them, but actually to give them the inheritance among all the consecrated. The promises of mercy in the Word of God are so sure, so plain, that there can be no doubt of its glories as the possession of the believers. In concluding, Paul once more, in a striking appeal, with graphic vividness, holds his example before the Ephesian elders. Neither the silver nor the gold nor the clothes of any one had he coveted; he had not been in the ministry among them for money. What is more, on account of a special glory which he desired to have, he had worked, as they knew, with his own hands, whose toil worn palms he showed them, in order to provide the necessities of life for himself and for those that ministered with him. Very likely, Paul also in Ephesus had worked at his trade, either with Aquila and Priscilla or with Philemon. But this favorite boast of his was far secondary in importance to the fact that he had very strenuously labored in his ministry, and had thereby shown the Christians of Ephesus what was required in this work; he had in all things given them an example, combining his manual labors with the service of the needy. Thus it is an obligation to come to the aid of the sick and of all those that are in trouble, remembering always the words of the Lord Jesus, which He Himself had spoken, and which had been preserved by the disciples, although not included in the Gospels: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This unselfish devotion to the service of the needy neighbor had been practiced by Jesus; it had been followed by Paul; it should be emulated by all Christians, for only thus will their faith find its proper expression and application.
The elders bid their teacher Godspeed: V.36. And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all. V.37. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, v.38. sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship. The touching farewell address of Paul had deeply moved all the elders of Ephesus. And this impression was heightened by the fact that, when he had finished speaking to them, he knelt down, threw himself down on his knees with them, and sent up a fervent supplication to the throne of grace, for himself, for the congregation at Ephesus, for the Church at large, imploring the protection of the Lord upon His own work. The leave-taking, after the manner of the warm-blooded Southern people, was very affectionate. Much bitter weeping of all took place, and, unable to control their feelings, they fell upon Paul's neck and kissed him again and again; for they had been most deeply affected by the word which he told them that they would not see his face again, would never again behold him expounding to them the wonderful mysteries of God. And then, as a final show of affection and reverence, they brought the apostle on his way to the ship, the harbor being some distance from the place where they met with him. Note: Such tender affection of a congregation for the teacher that has brought them the Word of Life, with similar expressions of this love, is witnessed even in our days; and it is surely well pleasing to the Lord to see the relation take this form'. Nevertheless, it must never be forgotten that the affection should center in the Gospel proclamation rather than in the person of the pastor or teacher. The Gospel and the work of saving souls must stand in the foreground at all times, and for the sake of these the servants of the Lord should be esteemed very highly, 1 Thess. 5, 13.
Summary. Paul makes the intended journey to Macedonia and Greece, returning to Asia by way of Philippi and Troas, and meeting the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, where he addresses them in a touching farewell.