AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 20:22-31
A Day of Departure
As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul wanted to go to Ephesus from Miletus. However, he was providentially hindered from doing so. There was so little time, there was so much to do. What Paul could do was to invite the elders of the church of Ephesus to come to him for a brief visit. They would have to travel about twenty or thirty miles, but they were willing to make the trip. Once everyone was gathered, Paul had a very sobering message.
22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
While every action we take is taken freely, there are sometimes strong emotions associated with an activity. One day Paul decided he would go to the city of Jerusalem, but he would do so based on a strong inner compulsion. “I go bound”, he said. The word “bound” is usually applied to confinement by cords, or chains. Used metaphorically it speaks of a strong obligation. Paul was urged by the conviction of duty, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Whatever apprehensions Paul had, were set aside. From Paul’s example two lessons are derived.
First, there is a geographical will of God for every life. Each day we must seek out where God would have us to be. Where would God have us occupationally? Where would the Lord have us in the hour of worship? Where would the Lord have us geographically?
Second, when compelled by duty, or the Holy Spirit, to go somewhere, the heart must not shrink from danger, or from death. This is not said lightly. It is not wise to travel to places where there is known danger, unless the will of God to do so is plainly revealed. “Duty is to be done at all hazards. It is ours to follow the directions of God.” (Barnes’ Notes)
23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide [continue] me.
While Paul notes that he was not certain of the specific suffering that was to befall him, he was certain that he would suffer in some form for preaching the gospel. “Bond and afflictions abide me.”
The idea of suffering for Christ is a large theme in Christian theology. Jesus plainly said that His followers would suffer. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Despite this warning, many Christians are surprised at how difficult the Christian life can be, for not all suffering comes from the world and the devil. Much suffering comes from the religious community.
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.
Because Paul was mentally prepared to suffer hardships for the cause of Christ, he could not be moved. He would go to Jerusalem. He would seek to be in the geographical will of God.
It is instructive to notice how Paul prepared himself mentally. The apostle built his spiritual epistemology upon two great foundational principles.
First, Paul was willing to die for Jesus. He did not count his life dear. There is an old adage which states that if a person has nothing to die for, they really have nothing to live for. Over the centuries multitudes have died for various causes.
During the American Revolution, there were about 25,000 people who died for the cause of liberty. A new nation was born dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
During the Civil War multitudes fought, either to free others from slavery, or because they believed in states right.
During World War I, there were 41 million casualties as nations fought either to expand their empires, or to make the world safe for democracy.
During World War II, 60 million people were killed, which was about 3 percent of the world’s population according to a 1940 census. The Germans fought for racial superiority, and lebensraum, or living space. The allies fought to deny the Germans, along with the Japanese and the Italians, world domination.
During the Vietnam era more than 50,000 brave young men died to stop the spread of Communism, to liberate a people in bondage, or for the honor of serving their country when it called.
Brave men, women, and young people, did not count their life dear. To serve Christ, a person must be willing to pick up a cross.
Because he did not hold his life dear, Paul was able to finish with joy the course the Lord had set him on. I hope you will end your life in joy because you have willfully engaged in the ministry which you have received of the Lord Jesus.
Second, Paul was committed to testifying to the gospel of the grace of God. Of course to be able to testify about something, you must witness and experience it firsthand. Many people are not able to testify to the gospel of the grace of God because they have not experienced it, or they do not fully understand grace.
Paul had experienced the grace of God in a profound and personal way. Then, by the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, he fully comprehended the gospel message.
By way of application, what are your foundational principles for living? Some people live to make money, or to be successful in the field of their choice. Others live for fame. Still others live for power. They want to rule over others.
If you are in need of a reason for living then seek to know first, where the Lord would have you to be. Second, seek to know the ministry that God would have you to do. If you will ask, God will answer such a prayer.
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.
Though a man of great passion, Paul was a realist. He spoke the truth in a plain and understandable manner. Some of the people to whom he had ministered would “see his face no more.” Over the years, anticipating a time of departure, many Christians have sung a song together upon departure. One of the loveliest of songs is Blessed Be the Ties that Bind.
“When we are called to part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.”
John Fawcett, 1782
26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
As Paul addressed the Elders from Ephesus, there were two major points he wanted to impress upon them that were both personal and practical. First, Paul wanted to go on record as having declared to all the counsel of God.
27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
It is not easy to declare unto people the full counsel of God, for there are many gospel truths that are resented, resisted, and rejected. People do not want to believe the truth. They certainly do not want to hear it. When Jesus told the unrighteous that they were of their father the devil, and the lusts of their father they would do, He was hated. “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” (John 8:45)
To tell people the full counsel of God is to invite not only hatred, but hostility. When the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is proclaimed, and the free will of man to save himself is denounced, a large portion of the religious world rises up with volcanic anger to silence the messenger. People do not want to hear that salvation is of the LORD. They want to believe that they are the Captain of their own soul, and the Master of their own fate. They are not.
Despite the hostility he knew he would face by preaching Christ, and teaching the full counsel of God regarding sin, salvation, election, predestination, justification, and sanctification, Paul did not cease speaking. He did not select his message to please his audience. He did not avoid controversial topics because they provoked discussion, or danger.
Second, because Paul had proclaimed the full counsel of God, his conscience was clear. He was “pure from the blood of all men.” If anyone was lost, if anyone was confused, if anyone was ignorant of gospel truth, it was not his fault. Because Paul shared the full counsel of God, he wanted the Elders of Ephesus to do the same.
A Word of Exhortation to Elders
28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers [Gr. episkopous, bishops], to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
It is a serious matter to want to be a teacher, and a leader, among God’s people. It is such a serious responsibility that it should not be entered into lightly. “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (James 3:1)
Those who are called to the ministry, those who are made overseers by the Holy Spirit, have a holy responsibility to feed the Church of God by providing solid spiritual food. Protecting, guiding, and guarding the flock are also holy responsibilities.
Ministers of the gospel are not to fleece the Church of God by exploiting it for money.
Nor are the ministers of the gospel to force the Church of God to do what select individuals want to be done, at the expense of righteousness. There are certain religious organizational structures that produce little feudal lords who love to rule over others. The gospel exhortation is to, “Take heed.” The Church of God does not belong to men.
The Church of God is something which the LORD has purchased with His own blood. Christ has not purchased the whole world of sinners indiscriminately. He has saved His people from their sin. The redemptive work of Christ at Calvary was a particular redemption, for a particular people.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Despite his words of exhortation, Paul was a realist. He knew that grievous wolves would enter into the local assembly, “not sparing the flock.” The best Paul could do was to provide the two distinguishing marks of spiritual wolves.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
First, a spiritual wolf will speak perverse things. This is a reference to teachings that tend to distract and divide the church. “The most dangerous enemies which the church has had have been nurtured in its own bosom, and have consisted of those who have perverted the true doctrines of the gospel.” (Barnes’ Notes) Biblical examples would be individuals such as Diotrephes (3 John 9), Phygellus or Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15), Hymeneus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20).
Second, a spiritual wolf will draw disciples after themselves. Christ is to have the preeminence, not any man or woman. Every cult has been built around an individual. The Mormons follow the false prophet, Joseph Smith. Those who embrace Christian Science follow Mary Baker Eddy. The Jehovah Witnesses follow Charles Taze Russell, and Judge Rutherford.
May the Lord deliver us from spiritual wolves.
31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by [during] the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
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.
33 I have coveted no mans silver, or gold, or apparel.
34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.
35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring 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.