As Paul was completing his third trip of proclaiming Jesus he was “hurrying to arrive in Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16 NET). But he also wanted to see the elders of the congregation in Ephesus, with whom he had spent several years. Because the ship was docking in Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders to come to him. What follows is a very sad scene in Paul’s life.
Paul had a message to give them. This message was to encourage them to go on without his being around as well as a warning to them about being faithful to God.
“You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house, testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:18-21)
Because they had Paul’s example, they knew what they needed to continue doing. It was of utmost importance that they continue teaching the good news of Jesus to everyone. Some have said that here we find 20/20 vision: proclaiming Jesus publicly and privately (found in Acts 20:20). Teaching Jesus and serving him without allowing anything to stop them was what they had to continue doing.
The reason Paul was giving them this instruction was that he knew he would not be there to help them in the future. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me” (Acts 20:22-23). He had received warning after warning that imprisonment and further persecution was in store for him. But he needed to finish what he had been given from the Lord Jesus, “to testify to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 22:24). Nothing would deter him from what he knew he needed to do.
But as God’s shepherds, the Ephesian elders needed to be dedicated to the task they had been given, that of shepherding God’s people in Ephesus. Paul knew that they had problems ahead and the problems would come from within the elders themselves. “Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them” (Acts 20:30).
Even elders need to be on the alert and not allow themselves to be the problem within a congregation. Elders are to be teachers but they must make sure that what they are teaching is the truth of God’s word. They must not attempt to get Christians to follow them but point them to Jesus.
The solution for all of this is simple, both for the elders in Ephesus and for elders today. Paul said to them, “And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It is God’s word that will keep us faithful. It is God’s word that can build us up. It is God’s word that will get us to our inheritance of being with Jesus for eternity.
We cannot overemphasise the need to know and remain true to the word of God. This is why Bible reading and Bible study is so important – it is here we find how we are to live and what we must teach. This is not just for elders but it is for us all.
Readings for next week:
3 June – Acts 20
4 June – Acts 21
5 June – Acts 22
6 June – Acts 23
7 June – Acts 24