In the last chapter we read about a riot and uproar that took place in Ephesus over the preaching that gods made with hands are not true gods. Paul and his traveling companions encounter some resistance in teaching and showing the true power of God versus the magic and sorcery of those who lived in the city. Many of the people believed in God through the miracles Paul performed. Acts 20 continues this story in Ephesus after the riot has ended.
In the first six verses we are told about the travels of Paul. In verse 3 we are told that Paul was going to go back to Syria but a plot by the Jews was devised against him. Therefore Paul decided to go back through the region of Macedonia, stopping in the city of Troas.
I. The Worship of the First Century Local Churches (20:7-16)
A. The Lord’s Supper (20:7)
- The first thing we must notice is that the first day of the week was the time when the disciples came together to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Notice in verse 6 that Paul and his companions had arrived in Troas and stayed there seven days. But, while being with the disciples those seven days, we do not read about Paul, his companions, nor the disciples at Troas partaking of the Lord’s Supper until the first day of the week. They did not wait to eat a common meal together for these days. The breaking of bread was a common phrase used to describing the act of the remembering the Lord’s death through the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Acts 2:42).
- This passage also teaches that the first century Christians were not partaking of the Lord’s Supper every day. Though we read about the first century disciples gathering together daily even from the start of Acts 2, we only read about the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. The first day of the week came to also be called the Lord’s Day since that was the day that Christ rose from the dead (Revelation 1:10). It should not be ignored that Pentecost was consider to have fallen on the first day of the week, since it was to be counted 50 days from the Passover Sabbath. Thus, the kingdom of God was restored and the church began on the first day of the week.
- Friends, it is important for us to realize that the first day of the week is not the Sabbath day. Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of rest given by God to remind the Jewish people of how they had been slaves in Egypt and how God had brought them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). The keeping of the Sabbath passed away when the old covenant was abolished through the death of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17). While churches may have other days that the disciples come together, it is important that we see the first century example is that the Lord’s Supper was kept on the first day of the week and this is the reason why we participate in the Lord’s Supper memorial the first day of every week.
B. The Lord’s People (20:7)
- Another important consideration from this text is that the first day of the week was also the expected time for the disciples to gather together. We see this truth immediately after the death of Christ, when the disciples began meeting together on the first day of the week (John 20:19, 26). This implication is also given in 1 Corinthians 16:2 where the church in Corinth was commanded on the first day of the week to set something aside for the Lord monetarily. The assumption, of course, is the first day of the week was when the disciples were gathering together.
- While we are speaking about this, it is important to emphasize that God has given us the whole day to come together, and that the hours between 10-12 in the morning were not given by God, but are simply traditions for churches. Warren Wiersbe makes this point, “The church met in the evening because Sunday was not a holiday during which people were free from daily employment. Some of the believers would no doubt be slaves, unable to come to the assembly until their work was done” ( The Bible Exposition Commentary; Acts). I would go further to point out that many scholars have pointed out that most people who lived in the empire were slaves. To the Romans, slaves were the people who did the work.
- William Barclay tells us that during this time there were as many as 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. By no means did these “slaves” perform menial tasks. Doctors, teachers, musicians, actors, secretaries, and stewards were just some of the professions of slaves. In fact, all the work of Rome was done by slaves. Roman attitude was that there was no point in being master of the world and doing one’s own work. Outside of the fact that slaves did not have legal rights, the slave/master situation in Rome is the same as our professional workforce today. Craig S. Keener states, “Christians may have met early, before sunrise, but would have to work Sunday mornings like everyone else in the empire” ( The Bible Background Commentary, 382).
- We need to realize that our country is going in a similar direction. The days are fast dwindling when the first day of the week was given off to people so they could go to worship or spend time with family. Most Christians have to fight to have the first day of the week off. We may see a time in the future where our gathering will also need to be in the evening. We cannot think that such an idea is sinful, since we are only instructed to gather and partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. We have the latitude to choose a time that is best for the disciples in this community.
- Finally, we also see that Lord’s message was also declared. Paul, being ready to depart the next day, continued to preach God’s message until midnight. Our gather together is not about having a good time, but is about centering our minds and our hearts on God as we worship him by partaking of the Lord’s Supper and studying from the word of God. Unfortunately, we are not told the contents of the sermon Paul spoke in Troas. But the rest of Acts 20 tells us about the message Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus.
II. The Farewell Message
A. Reflections on the past (20:18-21)
- Before Paul heads to Jerusalem, he wants to give a farewell message to the elders in Ephesus. It ought to be striking to us that the church in Ephesus had elders. According to narrative of Acts, only three months have passed by since Paul had been working at Ephesus. We also know that Paul worked in Ephesus for more than two years. But the church had an eldership. The men did not have to be Christians for 20 years or 10 years. This was a city steeped in paganism, yet a church was formed and it has elders. This should cause to at least reflect upon the possibility that we made the standards higher to become an elder than what God had planned through His revelation in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
- In verses 18-21 Paul begins his message to the Ephesian elders by reflecting on the past. Paul declares that his complete motive for coming to Ephesus and working with them was to serve the Lord. He did not come to make money or enjoy and easy life. He wanted to serve the Lord through preaching the gospel to the city of Ephesus. The manner that Paul lived his life was upstanding as well. This is important as a minister of the gospel, as it is for all Christians. Our lifestyle should match our message. Paul says he served the Lord in all humility.
- Further, Paul used every opportunity to preach the gospel, teaching not only publicly in the synagogue and the lecture hall of Tyrannus, but also from house to house. The preaching of the gospel is not limited to the confines of this church building, but is to be taught in all places at all times. Paul reminds the elders of Ephesus about his motives and his lifestyle while he was among them.
B. Current state (20:22-27)
- Paul goes on in his message to describe where he states at that moment in time. Paul says that he did not know what was going to happen to him when he goes to Jerusalem except that the Holy Spirit has testified that chains and tribulations await him. But Paul’s words are very encouraging in verse 24, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself” (NKJV).
- Paul openly declares that he is ready to suffer and he is ready to die. He did not know what the outcome would be in Jerusalem. He did know that suffering was going to come, but he did not know the end result of that suffering. By Paul telling the Ephesian elders that he would not see them again, it seems clear that Paul knew Jerusalem was going to be a great problem for him. Yet Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem for the sake of Jesus Christ.
- Paul would not back down but would continue to be ready to testify to the gospel of the grace of God and continue preaching the kingdom of God. Notice verse 27, “For I have not avoided to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul once again exemplified the Christian life with his readiness to accept anything that came to him as a servant of Jesus Christ. If he must suffer, then he is ready to suffer. If he must die, then he is ready to die. But no matter what was going to happen to him, he was going to continue to preach the whole counsel of God.
C. Warning of the future (20:28-38)
- The final section of Paul’s message is a warning to the elders concerning what may arise against the church in Ephesus. Paul exhorts the elders to be watchful and be on guard for themselves and for the flock which they oversee and shepherd. Paul describes the dual responsibility elders have in not only watching out for their own souls but also for the souls of those they oversee.
- The reason why is described by Paul in verse 29: savage wolves will come in. The elders were warned to be on their guard because people will come in from the outside trying to destroy the Christians in that area. A time was coming when those on the outside would cause great suffering against the Christians.
- But this is not the only warning. In verse 30 Paul also wants the elders to be watchful of those that are among them. Some would rise up among them speaking perverse things and drawing people away. It is a sad commentary when Paul points out that Christians would need protection from each other because some will be more interested in serving self than serving God. People like Diotrephes would arise in local churches who are self-seeking (3 John 9-11). Paul charged the eldership to be on the defensive, looking for wolves and those that would cause problems from within. But while this warning is specific to the eldership, there are also warnings that Paul gives the eldership that also can be applied to all Christians.
- Watch (vs. 31). Paul again makes the very important admonition to watch and be on guard. We must always take our spiritual responsibilities seriously. We cannot be lazy about our own souls and the salvation of our souls. We certainly cannot be lazy about the souls of others, both of those among us who are slipping and those outside of Christ who need to know the truth. We must be watchful for any problems that may arise. We must be aware to teachings that could potentially bring problems to the flock. The elders carry a great responsibility. But we also have the same responsibility as individual Christians toward our collective work. We cannot be those that Paul speaks of to Timothy who have “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:4-5). We do not want to be one’s who cause or stir up strife. Therefore we must aware of our words and our actions.
- Commend ourselves to God and the word of His grace (vs. 32). We need to commit ourselves to the word of God. We are not allowed to maintain a shallow knowledge of the scriptures and nor a shallow relationship with God. A commitment to God and his word will build us up and eventually yield a great inheritance.
- Be selfless (vs. 33-35). Paul concludes by reminded them how he was able to provide for himself while he was with them. He leaves them with the words of Jesus that must always be remembered: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is a great reminder that an eldership should be built upon. Our elders want to give themselves to the service of this congregation. What a great offering it is! Second, this should be the motto that rules our lives. Our elders should be the models of this principle that encourages the flock to live in the same way.