For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough 

Before beginning our study of this chapter it is necessary to note that the first six verses mention Paul’s travels without giving any details of events that occurred to him during that time.  Since those events are recorded in 11 Corinthians, it is suggested that those wishing to examine the details consult that Epistle; and since these six verses contain little requiring exposition the comments here will be brief.

Paul appears to have been satisfied that the church in Ephesus was now able to manage without further help from him, so that he was free to move on to other places, Macedonia and Achaia being on his mind, see 19:21.  His intention was to collect the money which the churches there had accumulated for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem, and then having delivered that money in Jerusalem, to go and visit Rome.  On his way to Macedonia he visited Troas where he had opportunity to preach the gospel, and where he hoped to meet Timothy and learn how his (Paul’s) first letter to the Corinthian saints had been received, 2 Cor 2:12-13.  Not finding Timothy in Troas, he went on to Macedonia, where he did find Timothy, and learning of the Corinthian’s good reception of his letter, wrote II Corinthians in response, from Philippi, it is generally believe.  He is believed to have written the Epistle to the Romans, and to the Galatians also at this time while in Corinth.

20:1.  “And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia.

The ungodly crowd scattered.  There was no unifying bond.  The believers gathered around Paul, and he embraced them.  Love is the bond that unites believers.  Scattering is Satan’s work; gathering is God’s.

20:2.  “And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece.”

Paul the evangelist was also Paul the teacher and exhorter.  He seized every opportunity to instruct his converts.  So should we.

20:3.  “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.”

The enmity of the Jews was relentless.  Satan never gives up; but Paul circumvented the plot by avoiding the sea passage, instead retracing his steps through Macedonia. 

20:4.  “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.”

“into Asia” is not in the better manuscripts.  It is generally accepted that the representatives of the Macedonian assemblies, went with Paul to Jerusalem to deliver the gift sent by the Macedonian believers.

20:5.  “These going before tarried for us at Troas.”

The “us” indicates that Luke had rejoined Paul.

20:6.  “And we sailed from Philippi, after the days of unleavened bread (Passover), and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.”

As others have noted, until AD 70 the Jewish believers adhered to the Levitical form of worship in addition to the two Christian ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Dr.  Willmington writing in the Liberty Bible Commentary, “The reference to the keeping of the days of unleavened bread (vs.6) shows Paul’s adherence to his Jewish past....”  The same writer reminds us that, “It seems clear from early custom that the Christians often met on Saturday night as well as Sunday morning.  Early Jewish reckoning observed the beginning of the new day at sunset, continuing through the night and the next day until sunset again.”

20:7.  “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.”

Many have pointed out that their remaining at Troas for seven days appears to have been for the specific purpose of being there to “break bread” (eat the Lord’s supper) on the first day of the week, see verse 7.  That it is to be eaten on the first day of the week is indicated in other Scriptures also. For example, there is  the typological teaching of the tabernacle: the shewbread was to be eaten every sabbath, i.e., at an interval of seven days, and few will question that the weekly ritual connected with the shewbread is a type of the Lord’s Supper.

Those who contend for a different time are under the necessity of producing Scripture for that time, for it is certain that God hasn’t left a matter of such importance to the discretion of any man.

It seems that in the beginning the Lord’s supper was eaten in the evening, for the simple reason that the Jewish sabbath (Saturday) was the observed day of rest, the first day of the week (Sunday) being a regular work day.  Some of the believers were slaves, many were employees, so that they had no opportunity to meet together until after work.  Thus Paul’s preaching until midnight doesn’t necessarily imply the many hours that might at first be imagined. 

While the day for the observance of the Lord’s Supper is very clearly specified, it is to be noted that the hour is not.  This affords opportunity for the selection of an hour that is best for the majority of those in any local assembly.

It is generally accepted also that in those days the Lord’s Supper was eaten in conjunction with a common meal termed the love feast, see 1 Cor 11:20-22, furnishing further evidence against an exceptionally long time of preaching by Paul.

Was the love feast a good idea?  Obviously not, for clearly it led to abuses of the Lord’s supper, see 1 Cor: 11:34 in which Paul instructed them to eat at home.  The atmosphere at even the most dignified meal is not conducive to the self-examination enjoined upon participants at the Lord’s supper, nor does it afford much opportunity for the meditation and prayer that spiritual believers find essential for worship.

This is another indication that there were things in the Apostolic age which are not the norm for the whole Church age.

“...ready to depart on the morrow,” seems to confirm that they had purposely delayed their departure so as to be able to eat the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week.

As noted correctly in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, “The first Christians, as Jews, probably continued to observe the Sabbath as well as the first day of the week.”

20:8.  “And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they (we) were gathered together.”

The correct rendering is we instead of they.

20:9.  “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.”

It seems that the many lamps, and the number of people present, had made the air warm and oppressive, hence this youth’s deep sleep.

Some have seen in Eutychus a picture of the carnal believer, having as it were one foot in the kingdom, and the other in the world.  In his sleeping while Paul preached they have seen what is invariably the concomitant of carnality - lack of interest in the Word.

His being “taken up dead” precludes the possibility of his being merely unconscious.  His restoration to life was a miracle.  If we continue to accept him as type of a carnal believer, his death may be the symbolic announcement of the truth that  carnality causes us to be as good as dead, for it precludes the possibility of spiritual fruitfulness.  The carnal believer, just the same as the spiritual, will be in heaven, but his life will prove to have been time in which he might as well have been dead since it will have produced nothing worthy of reward at the Bema.

20:10.  “And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.”

This may not be taken to imply that he was just unconscious.  When it says that he was dead, that is exactly what it means.  He was dead, but had been restored to life.  “... his life is in him” means not that he hadn’t actually died, but that as a result of resurrection his life was in him again.  Paul’s falling on him was similar to what Elisha had done in restoring to life the son of the Shunammite, see 2 Ki 4:34.

Others observing the carnal believer may have no reason to believe that there is spiritual life there at all.  To them he is dead.  But God looks on the heart.  He sees what man can’t.  Some believers have lived so carnally that others have been unable to see any sign of spiritual life.  Then there has been the equivalent of the fall of Eutychus - a moral fall that has seemed to confirm that the man was indeed spiritually dead.  But from that very fall, the man has been raised up to live for God’s glory, manifesting that he was indeed one who possessed spiritual life.  The fornicator in the Corinthian church is a case in point.

In Paul’s embracing the young man God may intend us to see a picture of the activity of the spiritual man seeking the restoration of one who has fallen, as it is written, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted,” Ga 6:1.

Paul’s embracing him speaks of love and concern.  The preservation of holiness in the church requires that there be discipline, even to expulsion from the fellowship, but it should be with prayer that it will produce repentance and make restoration possible.

20:11.  “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.”

“... had broken bread” is understood by many competent scholars to have reference to the Lord’s Supper, a conclusion which seems to be confirmed by the fact that in many translations the article precedes “bread,” i.e., it is “the bread.”

“... and eaten” is linked by some to the bread in the sense that he broke bread and ate it, that is partook of an ordinary meal.  By many others, however, it is viewed as the description of a separate action meaning that after Paul (and undoubtedly Eutychus) had come upstairs again, he and the others joined in observing the Lord’s Supper, following which all of them partook of a regular meal, a practice common in those early days, but one that had to be abandoned because of abuses connected with it.  I believe this latter interpretation to be correct.

His talking till daybreak appears to confirm that his earlier talk “until midnight” could scarcely have been longer than an hour or two at most.  It is difficult to envisage his being able to talk for a whole day and night, and it is even more difficult to envisage his audience staying awake.

Following that regular meal Paul talked with the believers until dawn, after which he took leave of them and departed from Troas.

20:12.  “And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.”

Most commentators take this to mean that they took Eutychus to his home.

“... not a little comforted” fails to convey adequately the extent of their joy at his return to life.  Their rejoicing was great, and if we continue to follow the symbolic view already discussed, then their joy is typical of that which should fill the hearts of all in the local assembly at the spiritual recovery of every erring saint.

20:13.  “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.”

The ship passage took them around the coast, a journey of about forty miles, while Paul, for an undisclosed reason, choose to walk across country, a distance of about 20 miles.  Some have assumed, probably correctly, that he simply wanted time to be alone with God.  Whether the assumption is correct, the fact remains that such times are needful for all of us; and unfortunately we often choose to “go by ship” with others, when we would do better to choose the more difficult, but also more spiritually profitable walk alone with God.

The we confirms that Luke was with them.

20:14.  “And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene.”

20:15.  “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.”

“... and tarried at Trogyllium” is not in the better manuscripts.

In connection with Trophimus and Miletus, we read in 2 Tim 4:20 that Trophimus became ill and was left behind there, raising the question, Why since Paul had the gift of healing, did he not use it to heal Trophimus?  The simple explanation is that it is not always God’s will to heal.  In His love and wisdom He knows that sickness rather than health will sometimes better accomplish His purposes for our ultimate good.  When therefore we pray for the healing of the sick, it should include the condition, “if it be Thy will.”  This is the language of submissive faith.  To demand that God heal is the language, not of strong faith, but of presumption.

20:16.  “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.”

Expositors disagree as to whether Paul was acting in self-will, or was being led by the Holy Spirit, in his determination to go to Jerusalem.  It is my opinion that he was being led by the Holy Spirit, see 23:11, where God appears to approve of what His servant had done.  When the Gospel was first preached on the day of Pentecost Paul was one of its bitterest foes, but now, also on the same day, he too is impelled to testify to his countrymen on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ.  That day was the one that would furnish the largest Jewish audience as Jews gathered from all over the Roman world to keep the feast.  Paul’s going was not self-will, but rather the ordering of God, so that those assembled in Jerusalem would be able to carry back to the rest of the world that Gospel of which Paul was such an effective preacher.  They had heard the Gospel first on the day of Pentecost, and now, it seems, they were to hear it again on another day of Pentecost, but this time from the lips of its former foe.

In view of what is recorded concerning Paul’s visit to Jerusalem at Pentecost there is strong reason to believe that as a converted Jew he also desired to participate in the ritual connected with that feast, for as has been noted already, it was by divine appointment that converted Jews were to continue using that ritual in anticipation of the inauguration of the millennial kingdom, in which it would be the universal order of worship.

20:17.  “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.”

The Ephesian church figures prominently in the NT record.  Of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, it is the only one whose beginning is recorded, as it is also the only one having an epistle specially addressed to it besides the one in Re 2.  Here also Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders as recorded in verses 26-38 is one that was never more needed than today.

20:18.  “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,”

Paul’s life was such that he could, without any reservation, invite others to follow his example, see e.g., 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Php 3:17.  We would do well to seek to live in such fashion as would enable us to extend the same invitation to others.

It is interesting that Samuel did exactly the same thing to the elders of Israel when they demanded a king, and he their faithful judge was being rejected, 1 Sa 12:1-5.  The days of the Judges foreshadow the Church age after the passing of the Apostles.

20:19.  “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:”

He whose life is lived for the Lord will be able to invite others to follow his example, and a  humble mind is a prerequisite of such a life, see, e.g., Php 2:5; Ro 12:2.  Pride has no place in a believer’s life.  Sorrow is more becoming the Christian life than the gay round of fun and frolic that constitutes so much of Christian activity today.  He could refer to his many tears and the trials that had attended his way.  This is a far cry from the attitude of many preachers today, who having shed few tears and known little of such trials and troubles as Paul suffered, seem anxious to relate instead the size of the audiences they have addressed or the number of miles they have traveled in the course of a year.

Much of Paul’s trouble stemmed from the antagonism of the Jews, reminding us that organized religion is very often the source of many of the godly believer’s troubles.  The reason we know so little of that antagonism is because we don’t provoke it.  The “gospel” if preached at all, is  presented within the walls of our meeting places, and is of such a character as to arouse the emotions of no one.  The Lord’s command is “GO ye INTO ALL THE WORLD, and preach the gospel,” Mk 16:15.

20:20.  “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house.”

Paul faithfully preached the good and the bad.  If it was for their good, he declared it, whether they liked it or not.  Too many today are willing to declare only what their audiences want to hear, 2 Tim 4:3.  His teaching was both public and private.  He missed no opportunity to press home the truths of Scripture to saint and sinner alike.  We can expect to see God’s blessing only where there is the same fearless declaration of, and obedience to His Word.

20:21.  “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s audience was the world.  Though he was the Apostle to the Gentiles, he never missed any opportunity to declare God’s truth to the Jews also.

It is instructive to note the emphasis placed upon the need of repentance.  This is a word that has virtually disappeared from the vocabulary of today’s preachers, with the result that there are many professions, but few genuine conversions, for until there is repentance there can be no conversion.

Repentance alone, however, is useless.  It must lead to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  One may repent, yet die unsaved.  Ahab wore sackcloth, and walked softly, but he wasn’t saved (1 Ki 21:27).

Repentance is toward God because He is the One Who has been offended; faith is toward Christ because He is the One Who alone can save us.

20:22.  “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:”

“... bound in the spirit” is literally “constrained, impelled, compelled by the spirit,” and in spite of debate among scholars, it seems clear that he was going under the constraint or impulse of the Holy Spirit, see 23:11.  Nor may his lack of knowledge as to the details of what awaited him in Jerusalem be taken as evidence to the contrary.  We are called upon to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), following God a step at a time without knowing the end from the beginning.  Verses 24 and 25, however, make it clear that Paul knew he was on the last leg of his earthly journey, though he didn’t know exactly where he would die.  All he knew was that he was to go to Jerusalem, where he would suffer for Christ’s sake, as he had in virtually all the other places to which the Spirit had led him.

20:23.  “Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”

This confirms, that so far from acting in self-will, he was in fact demonstrating his obedience, for he went knowing only that bonds and afflictions awaited him.  It would have been self-will not to go.

The revelation of what lay before him was a test of his obedience, not an indication of God’s displeasure.  It was the same with the Lord Jesus Christ, except that He went with a full knowledge of where and how His earthly path would end.  Paul walked in His Lord’s footsteps, and calls upon us to do the same (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Php 3:17).

20:24.  “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.”

Paul would permit nothing to turn him aside from the path of obedience.  The value he set upon his life was based on the fact that that life belonged to God, Who might therefore do with it as He pleased, and Paul was content to accept God’s will.  The great objective of his life was to finish his course with joy, and to complete his service, that service having been committed to him by the Lord Himself.  His life’s work was to preach the Gospel, and though none has been as richly endowed as he, it is that same work which has been given to every believer, each of us being equipped by God to do that work according to the measure of ability given by Him, and in the places to which He directs us.

The knowledge that imprisonment and death were to end his ministry didn’t perturb him.  He had left his life in God’s hands since the moment of his conversion, and he was content to leave the remaining time there also.  The ability to look beyond circumstances, and to see only the God Whose love and wisdom ordered or permitted those circumstances, is the secret of true peace.

It is instructive to consider how closely Paul’s life followed the pattern of Christ’s.  He too went where and when the Spirit led Him, and when the time of His departure came He set His face also to go to Jerusalem, and would permit nothing to turn Him aside even though He knew every detail of what awaited Him there.  “And it came to pass when the time came that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,” Lk 9:51.  How much more effective our own service would be if it were rendered with the same determination to permit nothing to turn us aside from doing God’s will!

20:25.  “And now, behold, I know that ye all among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more,”

This use of the term “the kingdom” (whether millennial or heavenly is unimportant) continues to indicate that this was still the Jewish age in which the millennial kingdom was being offered to Israel, though the time was fast approaching when that offer would be withdrawn until a future day which is now also imminent.  His certainty relative to his own future, rules out the idea that he was acting in self-will.

20:26.  “Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men.”

20:27.  “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”

See Eze 3:16 where the watchman was responsible to warn the people, and they, to heed the warning; his failure to warn them making him guilty; their failure to heed the warning making them guilty.  It is the same regarding the preaching of the gospel.  The faithfulness of Paul’s testimony rebukes the failure of our’s.  How many of us could dare to make the same claim?  The sad truth is that multitudes of family members, friends, neighbors, fellow workers, employers, employees, tradespeople, doctors, dentists, etc., will stand at the great white throne awaiting consignment to the eternal torment of the lake of fire, and pointing to us, level the accusation, You never even attempted to warn me.  Consider, Would we have been saved had not someone warned us?  Who will warn these men and women who cross our paths, some of them daily, if we don’t?

How will we feel when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and we receive a meager reward, while another receives the crown and reward we might have had but for our delinquency, and the Lord says, I intended that crown, that abundant reward for you, but as My Word warned you on earth, these things are reserved for those who have earned them?

Paul declared the unpleasant as well as the pleasant.  His sermons weren’t tailored to suit the tastes, but the needs, of his audience.

20:28.  “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.”

Those who would shepherd God’s sheep must first “take heed” unto themselves.  A man’s own life must be in order before he undertakes to guide others, i.e., he must be living in subjection to the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul didn’t envisage the raising up of another Apostle.  The foundation of the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the chief corner stone, Eph 2:20, the doctrine of the apostles and prophets (not the men themselves) completing that foundation.  The apostolic age ended with the completion of the canon of Scripture, and therefore with the completion of the foundation of the Church.  Thereafter there was no need of apostles and prophets.  Their work was done.  The shepherding of the Church was henceforth to be in the hands of those men (the gift isn’t given to women) whom the Holy Spirit had gifted and called to that work.  (Eph 4:11 makes it clear that the ability to shepherd God’s sheep is a spiritual gift, and as with the gifts of evangelizing and teaching, the assembly gradually becomes aware of the men who have been given those gifts as they exercise them, being careful not to neglect them, but to stir them up).

There is no scriptural warrant for existing elders to appoint other elders, or to invite them into what has come to be called “the oversight.”  It is the Holy Spirit, and He alone Who appoints elders, their principle work being to lead (not drive), guard, and teach the sheep committed to their care, that guardianship being accomplished by sound teaching, for the well taught flock is the one least likely to fall victim to the wiles of the adversary, their knowledge of the Word preserving them from falling victim to wrong doctrine.  It is to be noted that Peter declares himself to be also an elder (1 Pe 5:1-2), and it is significant that he is the one who was specifically commanded three times by the Lord to feed (teach) the lambs and sheep, Jn 21:15.

It is to be further noted that Scripture knows nothing of the rule of just one elder, or of a head elder.  There is to be a plurality of elders, all of whom stand on the same level.

That the appointment of elders is a divine prerogative which has been committed to no one else is also declared in the OT, “And I will give you pastors (shepherds) according to mine heart, which shall feed (teach) you with knowledge and understanding,” Jer 3:15.  It is significant that in the OT feeding is very frequently associated with the idea of teaching.

The responsibility of the elders is emphasized in the final clause of this verse, “which he hath purchased with his own blood.”  The sheep are very precious to the Chief Shepherd.  He has given His life for them, and He will hold the under shepherds responsible for the care they take of His sheep, see 1 Pe 5:1-4.  A warning to shepherds lies in the fact that in Israel it was almost invariably their rulers, who by their own evil example, led the common people away from God.  Elders are to lead by example as well as teaching, and their example will be good only as they themselves walk in the footsteps of the Chief Shepherd.

“...which he hath purchased with his own blood,” has created a problem for some, for it seems to imply that it is the Father Who has shed His blood.  The problem is removed, however, by remembering that the Lord Jesus Christ is also God, the wording here simply indicating the equality of the One with the Other.

The Church belongs to God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - having been purchased by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, when He in obedience to the will of the Father, offered Himself without spot to God through the Holy Spirit, to make atonement for sin, and secure redemption for sinners who would believe the gospel.

20:29.  “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.”

“... grievous” is also translated “merciless, fierce, cruel, savage, evil, ferocious.”

The Lord Himself warned believers to beware of spiritual wolves, declaring in Mt 7:15-16 “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”  Peter likewise warned, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction,” 2 Pe 2:1; and in 2 Cor 11:13 Paul warned the saints in Corinth, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”  These are men from outside the local assembly, but this doesn’t preclude the fact that they may be from another assembly, for until recently, the assemblies were too well taught to accept ministry from those outside their own fellowships.  Unfortunately it is not so in many assemblies today.  The ministry of those occupying unscriptural positions, e.g., “clerics,” is being accepted even though the clerical system is described by God as a thing which He hates, see Re 2:15, it being generally recognized that Nicolaitanism is the clerical system.  The man occupying an unscriptural position is thereby automatically disqualified from attempting to minister to the needs of believers.

The question may be asked, Why does God hate the clerical system since there are many good men among its ministers?  The answer is that wherever it operates it automatically prevents the development of spiritual gift because the hired cleric is paid to do virtually all the teaching and preaching.  It is a pernicious system which has maintained a stranglehold on Christendom for almost two thousand years.

“... not sparing the flock” warns us that the objective of these spiritual wolves is the destruction of the flock.  They are Satan’s emissaries, no matter how they may seek to disguise it.

20:30.  “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

This points up the necessity of care in regard to reception into the local fellowship.  Something should be known of the faith and doctrine of those received, for failure to exercise such care simply facilitates the introduction of Satan’s tares and wolves amongst God’s wheat and sheep.  Once an unbeliever, or a man unsound in doctrine, is received into the assembly there is ample opportunity for subversion of scriptural order.

“... speaking perverse things.”  Here it is perversion or distortion of the truth, a form of subversion often more difficult to detect than outright contradiction of the Word.

“... to draw away disciples after them.”  Such men are self-seekers, attempting to disrupt the unity of the believers by indoctrinating the unwary to follow them, thereby weakening the assembly.  We are to be wary of such, for it is to be remembered that genuine spiritual gift is for the upbuilding of the Church.

Even in Paul’s day such men were at work, see e.g., 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17; 2 Cor 11:13.

20:31.  “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”

There is great need for vigilance, not only in regard to our personal lives, but also in regard to our corporate life, and there is equally great need to keep reminding ourselves and one another of what we have been taught from God’s Word.

“... by the space of three years” teaches us of Paul’s great care for the churches, and also that the NT nowhere envisages the permanent ministry of anyone, except that of the elders, in connection with a local church.  The idea of a permanent “pastor” is completely foreign to the teaching of Scripture.

“... night and day with tears.”  This reminds us of Paul’s unceasing care for God’s people; and his tears remind us of the sincerity and love with which that care was exercised.  He was no hireling shepherd, but one, who like his Master, loved the sheep and was willing to lay down his life for them.  Such men are greatly needed today, for it is the lack of such men that has brought the assemblies into their present lamentable state.

20:32.  “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.”

This emphasizes the importance of the Word of God.   Continual study, meditation, and obedience, will keep us from all the evils of which Paul warns, and which are rampant in the Church today.  Neglect of it is the very thing that brings these evils.  As has been noted already, the well-taught believer is in little danger of falling prey to Satan’s wolves.

This description of the Word as being “of his grace” is peculiar, but it is to remind us of the value of that Word.  Grace is the bestowal of undeserved blessing.  We no more deserved to have been given the written Word than we did to have been given the living Word Whom it presents.  If we grasped more fully the worth of the written Word we would be more eager to read and study it.  It is nothing less than the presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the amount of time we are willing to give to it is an accurate measure of the amount of time we are willing to spend with Him.  Our love for the Word is the measure of our love for the Lord. 

But love is linked with obedience, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jn 14:15.  See also Jn 15:14, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”  There cannot be obedience apart from the knowledge of God’s will, and that knowledge is obtained only by continual study of His Word.  The disobedience of many professing Christians today is less that of deliberate rebellion than of ignorance resulting from failure to study Scripture, for while certainly there is much rebellion against God’s known will, there is also a great deal that comes under the heading “sins of ignorance,” that ignorance being the result of failure to read and study the Scriptures.

“... which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance.”  That word “build up” is broad in its scope.  The diligent and obedient student of the Word enjoys the inward peace that eludes the disobedient.  But more, he becomes a workman suitable for the Master’s use, and as he labors for the Lord, he not only prospers in his own soul here on earth, but he makes himself eternally rich, for he lays up treasure in heaven, the value of that treasure being in direct proportion to his obedience while here on earth.

But someone may ask, Don’t all believers have an inheritance?  Yes, we do; but it is to be remembered that the extent of our inheritance is governed by the degree of our obedience.  Every believer will enter heaven, but only some will have “an abundant” entrance.  All will reign with Christ, but not all will occupy the same position in His administration.  As there are many ranks in earthly government, so are there also in that which is heavenly.

“... among all them which are sanctified.”  Sanctified means to be set apart for a purpose (usually the service of a god).  We forget all too often that we have been set apart for God, not just to enter heaven when we die, but we have been left here on earth to serve Him while waiting for that day when we shall stand in His presence.  Then the faithfulness of the service rendered on earth will measure the size of the inheritance to be enjoyed for all eternity.

20:33.  “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.”

Paul had his eye on better things, for he saw the things of earth in the all-revealing light of heaven, a light which revealed their utter worthlessness, as he himself declared, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” Php 3:7-8.

It is significant that this is the same order in which these three things are so frequently mentioned in Scripture.  Silver represents redemption; gold, glory; and raiment, righteousness.  There must be redemption before there can be glory; and on that day when we stand glorified in heaven we will be clothed in the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness, purchased for us by His precious blood, and bestowed as His priceless gift the moment we trusted Him as Savior.

20:34. “Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.”

When it was necessary, Paul was not above working with his hands to supply his temporal needs; but more, he was willing also to do that work to supply the same needs of those who were with him in the great spiritual work given him and them by God.

We do well to note that word “necessities.”  There is a difference - sometimes a very great one - between our necessities and our wants, and we do well to learn to distinguish between them.  God has promised to supply all our needs, not necessarily all our wants.

20:35.  “I have shewed 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’s ministry was never mere theory.  It was practical.  It wasn’t simply intellectual theology.  It embraced such things as working with one’s hands for the necessities of life, a thing some lesser servants today consider beneath their dignity.

Undoubtedly the “all things” included also the unpleasant as well as the pleasant.  His ministry wasn’t tailored to meet the tastes of his audience.  It was fitted to their needs, however unwelcome some of it might have been.  Those who minister God’s Word today ought to have the same care.

“... so laboring” clearly refers to literal work, and was to remind them, and us, that the wages earned by the work God enables us to do to obtain life’s necessities, are to be used also to help meet the same needs of those too weak, physically or mentally, to also work.  We should never forget that but for His grace we could be the weak ones.  Nor should we forget that what remains after we have met our own needs is not ours but God’s, we being simply stewards to whom He has entrusted that surplus.  We are responsible to minister to the needs (temporal as well as spiritual) of others, see Ga 6:10, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” 

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  This is the complete reversal of the world’s philosophy; but all that is of the world will cease when the earthly life is over.  For the believer, his expectation goes beyond earth and time.  It takes him into heaven, into the eternal state, where not even a cup of cold water given on earth for Christ’s sake, will go unrewarded, Mt 10:42, as it is written, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”  He counts what is done unto His own as having been done unto Him, see Mt 25:40, “... inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  Giving on earth is just another form of sowing for eternity, and as on earth, the harvest is in proportion to the sowing, so will it be with spiritual things.  We are to give bountifully, and out of a willing heart, see 2 Cor 9.

20:36.  “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.”

His kneeling indicates his reverence for God, and reminds us that we ought to have the same care to show reverence for Him in our speech and conduct.

20:37.  “And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him,”

20:38.  “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.” 

Those early believers were marked by a love for God and for one another that is conspicuously absent today amongst believers, and their tears remind us that we are not exempted from sorrow, but even in it we are assured that we sorrow not as others who have no hope, 1 Th 4:13, “But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”  They knew they would see Paul again in heaven, but that didn’t diminish their sorrow at knowing they would not see this much loved friend again on earth.

[Acts 21]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough