For the past several weeks, the Apostle Paul has been in Ephesus on his third missionary journey – preaching the Word of God, doing miracles, and as usual, causing riots and uproars!
As we’ve been following Paul on his journeys through the book of Acts, it seems every city he visits ends up absolutely divided in their opinion of him! Either the people love and accept Him as a brother – or they reject and hate him as public enemy #1.
And the city of Ephesus is no exception to that rule. Last week the entire city was in an uproar against Paul – stirred to action by the silversmith Demetrius (who accused Paul of destroying his lucrative idol-making business and undermining the worship and the credibility of their goddess Artemis.)
Thankfully, the mayor of Ephesus didn’t see things quite the same way. He didn’t see Paul or Christianity as a threat to their city and he was able to disperse the mob before things got out of hand.
But now today, in contrast to that angry mob, we’re going to see the opposite side of that spectrum. Today we’re going to see just how dearly loved Paul was to the many who had been transformed by the power of the Gospel! It seems that Paul never had a neutral effect – you either loved him or you hated him!
Paul actually wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 2:15…
15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.
2 Corinthians 2:15-16a
I really like Paul’s metaphor here of being a fragrance – and it certainly fits his experience!
Now to be sure, Paul was certainly a strong scent. He was kinda like smell of garlic… You either love it or you hate it! There was no middle ground! But one way or another, Paul’s life made an impact on the people around him.
- To those who wanted nothing to do with God – Paul’s life was a stench and everything about him was repulsive to them.
- But for those who were seeking a real, authentic relationship with the God of heaven – Paul’s life was a breath of fresh air – like the smell of freshly-baked bread or the country air after a spring rain! For those who would come to Christ, Paul’s life and his message was absolutely refreshing!
And I think that’s really what we are called to be like as well. Jesus describes us as salt and as light – two things that should made a tremendous impact on the environment in which we find ourselves. As salt, we should be packed with flavour – and as light we should be like a million-candle-power flashlight! What a tragedy it would be if our lives were like a 1 watt bulb – or just a single grain salt in a big batch of french fries! NO! We need to be like Paul – packed with flavour – lighting up the darkness like a floodlight! Or to use Paul’s analogy, people should be able to smell us a mile away!
Perhaps that’s not the most attractive analogy, but do you get my point? God didn’t leave us on this planet to be neutral, to be unnoticed, to be inconsequential to the world around us. Like Paul, God has us on this planet to make an impact – one way or the other – for Him.
And today, as we read through Acts chapter 20, Paul is going to tell us exactly how He did that – and how we can do that as well.
If you have your Bibles, you can turn with me to Acts chapter 20. As I mentioned earlier, the people of Ephesus had just been sent home by the mayor after Demetrius had stirred up the entire city into an uproar. And it’s at this point after about three years of ministry in Ephesus, that Paul prepares to leave town and continue on his missionary journey. We read in verse 1…
When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia. 2 While there, he encouraged the believers in all the towns he passed through. Then he traveled down to Greece, 3 where he stayed for three months. He was preparing to sail back to Syria when he discovered a plot by some Jews against his life, so he decided to return through Macedonia.
4 Several men were traveling with him. They were Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 They went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 After the Passover ended, we boarded a ship at Philippi in Macedonia and five days later joined them in Troas, where we stayed a week.
These verses are a very brief summary of quite a significant chunk of time – perhaps somewhere between four months to a year. For the sake of our time this morning, I don’t want to dwell on these verses for too long – but let me just make a couple of quick notes.
First of all, you’ll notice that there are still many people who didn’t like Paul’s scent or flavour! As he was preparing to sail for Syria, he learned about a plot by some Jews to kill him, and so he decided not to sail to Syria, but to travel over land through Macedonia instead. Scholar’s specular that this particular ship likely would have been quite packed full of Jews traveling towards Jerusalem for passover, and so it wouldn’t have been difficult somewhere along the voyage for some of them to thump Paul over the head and toss him over-board.
And so, instead of travelling by sea, he travel overland – sending his traveling companions ahead to Troas – where he would meet up with them later. It’s also at this point that we see Dr. Luke has rejoined Paul’s team – since the language of Acts changes from “he” and “they” – to “we” and “us”.
So now with the whole team together again in Troas, they prepare to head out towards Jerusalem, but before they leave, they have one more night together with the believers – and that’s what we read about starting in verse 7.
7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight.
For every preacher who has ever preached longer than his allotted time, this verse is Biblical vindication! Of course, in Paul’s defence, we don’t know exactly when he started preaching, we just know that he was still preaching at Midnight… Maybe he only started 11:30… We don’t know! But I suspect from the context, this was probably a 4-5 hour sermon! Now of course, this was not the norm! This was not Paul’s typical Sunday morning message! This was an unusual occasion – Paul realized that he would likely never see these people again this side of heaven, and he only had this one last opportunity to speak into their lives. And so Paul took this opportunity to share with them for quite a while. Verse 8 continues.
8 The upstairs room where we met was lighted with many flickering lamps. 9 As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, became very drowsy. Finally, he fell sound asleep and dropped three stories to his death below.
Man! Can you imagine!? On one hand, you sure you can imagine getting drowsy and nodding off during an extra long sermon – I think we’ve all been there before! You certain can’t blame Eutychus for falling asleep! I mean, it’s the end of the day – the flickering lamps are not only warming up the packed room, but they’re also burning up the extra oxygen and this poor guy just can keep his eyes open! Who could!?
But then, because he’s sitting on the ledge by the window, when he falls asleep, he literally falls… asleep – right out the window three stories down to this death below!
What a shocking and horrific tragedy – shattering, not only Paul’s farewell address, but absolutely shattering the lives of the folks in this church! To have a young person tragically fall to their death in the middle of a church service – what a devastating blow to this little congregation!
But it’s here that we see yet another glimpse of the goodness of God! Verse 10 continues:
10 Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. “Don’t worry,” he said, “he’s alive!” 11 Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left. 12 Meanwhile, the young man was taken home alive and well, and everyone was greatly relieved.
Through yet another miracle, God brought this young man back to life in Paul’s arms. What a relief and joy that must have been for that church! As they eventually came back inside and shared the Lord supper together, they must have been rejoicing even more than usual for the Lord’s kindness to them!
And believe it or not, after supper, Paul launched into part two of his sermon! In fact, he continued talking with them until dawn! They pulled an all-nighter talking about the Lord, sharing communion together, and no doubt thanking the Lord for all that He had done!
Well, from there, Paul continued on his journey towards Jerusalem. It says in verse 13:
13 Paul went by land to Assos, where he had arranged for us to join him, while we traveled by ship. 14 He joined us there, and we sailed together to Mitylene. 15 The next day we sailed past the island of Kios. The following day we crossed to the island of Samos, and a day later we arrived at Miletus.
16 Paul had decided to sail on past Ephesus, for he didn’t want to spend any more time in the province of Asia. He was hurrying to get to Jerusalem, if possible, in time for the Festival of Pentecost. 17 But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.
And I’ll just pause here for a moment. In the verses that follow, we read Paul’s farewell speech to the elders in Ephesus. Like the believers in Troas, Paul knows that he will likely never see them again – and so he gives them a final charge – as it were. Remember, these are the elders of Ephesus – in effect, the pastors that will carry on his work of caring for the church after Paul is gone. And so, there are certainly some elder specific instruction in here, but there are also some really good bits that apply to every believer! So don’t fall asleep – this stuff applies to you too!
Paul begins in verse 18:
18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.
And I’ll pause here again. This is just the beginning of Paul’s speech, but already there are some really good things to chew on.
First of all, this is a clear reminder that serving the Lord is not easy! Paul says he has done the Lord’s work humbly – and with many tears! These tears were not likely from his own difficulties and trials – which he constantly endured at the hands of the Jews – but these tears are likely because of his deep love and concern for people! In just a few verses, Paul will talk about how he has faithfully cared for the church – and again he mentions how has cried many tears for them. This is a man who loves the church and cares deeply for them!
And why shouldn’t he? After all, the church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves his church so much that He was willing to die for it. And so why shouldn’t Paul, who is striving to be like His Saviour – do likewise? In fact, why shouldn’t we – who are also striving to be like our Saviour – do likewise?
If we want to be like Christ – we need to love the church. We need to have a real, deep, authentic love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. A love that, at times, brings us to tears because of our concern for them!
When a brother or sister in Christ is hurting, we should hurt with them! Romans 12:15 tells us to weep with those who weep. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear each other’s burdens.
In other words, let’s not just say we love each other, but let’s actually love one another! Let’s care deeply about one another. That means, first of all, that we actually get to know one another – not just at a surface level – but really get know each other. We need to be willing to share with one another some of the deeper stuff that’s going on in our lives.
I know that can sometimes be a little awkward and scary to do at first – but that’s one of the purposes of the church! God has given us this family so that we can care for each other – to encourage one another – to bear each other’s burdens! But to do that, we need to know each other deeper than just on a surface level. We need to live life together. Go through the ups and downs together.
And so I would just encourage you to get to know these people who are sitting around you. Share meals with them – go on outings together. Spend time playing games or just hanging out. Get to know one another. And as you do that, trust is built and we can actually start loving one another – even to the point where we start shedding a few tears with each other and for each other.
So that’s kinda the first thing that Paul brings out in these verses…
The second point that Paul mentions is that he never shrank back from telling people what they needed to hear – either publicly or privately! If anyone knew how to speak the truth in love – I think Paul was the guy. As we clearly see in some of the letters that wrote to the churches later, he wasn’t afraid to say it like it is.
And that too, is another key part of loving each other. We need to be able to speak to the truth in love to one another – even when that truth might be a bit painful to hear! Of course that requires a great deal of humility and gentleness on our part. In fact, I think the truth spoken without love can be almost as harmful as an outright lie! We really need to check our motivations. But if we are motivated by our love for one another, then can boldly (but gently) say whatever needs to be said. We can and should speak the truth in love.
And on that note of speaking the truth, Paul states that his one message has always been “the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.” That is the central message of the Gospel. That’s a truth that everyone needs to hear!
First and foremost for our salvation – but even after that, we need to continually confess and repent of our sin – always turning to God and maintaining our faith in the Lord Jesus.
And of course, our church family helps us tremendously with that as well! As we go through life together, there’s a sense of accountability and encouragement there that helps keep us on track. We help spur each other on towards repentance and faith in Jesus.
This has been Paul’s goal for his entire time in Ephesus – to urge people to repent and to put their faith in Christ. In fact, this has been his entire life’s work! He continues in verse 22.
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.
Paul’s mission in life was to carry out the work that Christ had given him to do – which was to tell others the Good News about the wonderful grace of Jesus. Nothing else in life mattered to Paul. Even his own life, he says, is worth nothing unless he’s using it to preach the Gospel!
Even now as he goes on towards Jerusalem – he’s pretty sure that jail and suffering awaits Him – just like it has in every other city. But yet, he’s 100% willing to go for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, he says he’s bound by the Holy Spirit to go! If God is leading Him, then he must go – even if it costs him his life!
And if he does die in Jerusalem, well, he’s ok with that. He’s been faithful to do what God has called him to do. He never shrank back from declaring the whole Gospel to every person!
And I think that’s a good reminder for us as to what our life is all about! It’s not about getting the bigger house or the fatter bank account. It’s not about achieving some sort of success and being able to retire in comfort one day – it’s about completing the work that God has given you to do. It’s about being faithful to Him!
These few years we have on planet earth really do matter! We need to be sure we don’t waste them chasing after all the things that will fade away! But rather, we need to use these years to know and love the Lord – and to faithfully do what God has called us to do!
And on that note of doing what God has called us to do, it’s here that Paul shares some specific instructions for the elders of the church in Ephesus. He says in verse 28.
28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
Here again, we see Paul’s great love for the church! He notes his constant watch and care – day and night – and his many tears for them over the past three years. And he urges these elders to carry on his care and concern for the church. He says to guard, feed, and shepherd God’s flock!
And notice that the flock doesn’t belong to these elders – the flock belongs to God. Paul points out that the flock (that is, the church) was purchased by God with His own blood – emphasizing how precious the church is to God. And then he points out how the Holy Spirit has appointed them as leaders. It wasn’t simply because they got the votes at the annual meeting – but God had chosen them for the task of caring for His church.
And of course, that fully applies to our church as well. First of all, this is not my church. This is not the board’s church. This is God’s church – purchased by His blood. All of us belong to Him. And God has given the responsibility of caring for this body of believers to the elders of this church. God has given us the responsibility to be the shepherds of his flock here in Penhold – which is a pretty huge responsibility. We are to guard, feed, and generally care for God’s people here in Penhold.
And so I would urge you as a congregation to pray for us. We want to faithfully carry out this responsibility that God has given us. Paul’s first instruction to these elders in Ephesus was to guard themselves – because He knew that false teachers would come in (even from among that group men), distort the truth, and cause great damage to the church.
We would be foolish to think that could never happen to us! So pray for us, that we would be faithful. That we would continually study to know the Word of God – so that we can lead and teach and guide this flock to know and live according to the Truth! Pray for us that we would love the church like Christ does!
I would also encourage you to pray for the next generation of elders. Those of us who are currently elders won’t be here forever! There will come a time when we need to pass the baton to the next generation (just like Paul did) – and so we need to pray and ask God to raise up those whom He would choose to be the next shepherds of this flock!
And so as Paul passes the baton to these elders, having charged them to care for the flock that God has entrusted to them – Paul wraps up his farewell speech by now entrusting these elders to God. Verse 32.
32 “And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them. 37 They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. 38 They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.
This morning, I don’t think any of our elders are planning to board a ship and sail away, (at least not today) but I do think it would be fitting for us to pray a special prayer for them. Last Sunday we had our annual meeting in which we re-elected the elders to serve alongside me as shepherds of this church – but again I want to emphasis that they aren’t elders merely because the membership all voted for them. They have been chosen by God to lead and care for this flock – and that’s a significant responsibility. And so I would encourage you all to pray regularly for these men!
So I’m going to ask the elders to come forward at this time and we will have a prayer for us as elders. And then, after that, I want to have another prayer – where we as elders pray for all of you – praying that all of us as a church family would increasingly grow in our love for one another so that we can bear each other’s burdens and encourage one another – just as we’ve been talking about.