We have been following Paul along on his third, and last recorded missionary journey. We have seen Paul revisit most of the places in which he preached the Gospel and helped establish churches. And he did this as a farewell, because Paul knows that the ultimate end to his ministry to go to Rome and become a martyr for the cause. Now, today we are going to see the first part of Paul’s only recorded words to fellow believers.
We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.—20:13-16
Paul sent the group on ahead to Assos (a town to the south) but stayed behind in Troas for a while. The trip was shorter by land than by sea, especially if the weather was contrary. He intended to meet the delegation at a prearranged spot. Paul then hurried to Jerusalem to get there before Pentecost (about a mouth away).
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.—20:17-21
Miletus was on the coast about 30 miles south of Ephesus. This speech is the only one that records the words of Paul to believers. In other addresses to believers, Luke only says that Paul spoke. Paul described his ministry as authentically Christian: humble, urgent, fearless and gospel-focused. He described receiving the gospel as the thing profitable to all humans. Receiving the gospel is defined as repentance toward God (turning from sin to God) and faith in Christ.
On several occasions, Paul mentions serving the Lord with “tears”. In this address to the Ephesian church leaders, he speaks of warning them with tears on a daily basis for three years (v. 31). Paul’s tears expressed his great grief over the spiritually lost condition of the human race, the evil of sin, the misrepresentation of Christ’s message and the end result of rejecting the Lord. Seeing the risk and reality of these tragedies caused him to preach and teach with such passion and concern that it often brought him to tears.
Paul preached everything he believed was useful or needful for the spiritual salvation and benefit of his hearers—whether or not the message was always easy to receive. He had delivered to them the full truth; he had left nothing out (v. 27). Christian ministers must be faithful to preach and teach the whole truth of God just as he desires, including the promises and the precautions, the blessings and the judgements. They must not try to please people or preach only what they want to hear, nor should they promote their own popularity. Even if they must speak words of discipline, challenge beliefs and prejudices or preach standards that oppose people’s sinful desires, faithful preachers will deliver the whole truth for the sake of Christ and his people.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.—20:22-24
Apparently Paul often had been warned by the Holy Spirit while on his journey that distress waited for him Jerusalem. Form this point on these warnings are recorded for us. It is important to note that Paul says he was equally bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Thus, he never interpreted these warnings as prohibitions, as many of his friends did. The reference to completing his ministry recalls Jesus’ words in Acts 9:15. Paul intended to proclaim the gospel to Gentiles, kings and Israelites, despite personal troubles. In other words, Paul’s main concern was not preserving his own life; what counted most was that he finish the work to which God had called him. Wherever and however it ended, even if it cost him his life, he would finish his course with joy. On his lips and in his life would be the prayer that, “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). For Paul, life and service for Christ are represented as a race that must run with absolute perseverance, endurance and faithfulness to the Lord. And this is where we will pick tomorrow as we finish up Paul’s farewell address to the leaders of the Ephesian church.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Nehemiah 12:27-13:31, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, Psalm 35:1-16 and Proverbs 21:17-18
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