After the riot in Ephesus had passed, Paul said his farewells and went to Macedonia, then to Greece where he spent three months until a plot against him by the Jews was discovered. So he headed back to Macedonia accompanied by others, including Timothy, Aristarchus and Gaius (two victims of the riot from Acts 19:29), all of whom were sent on to Troas. It is in verse 5 that Luke again begins speaking in the first person plural, indicating he accompanied Paul as they sailed from Philippi to meet the others at Troas. The seaport of Troas was located at near the site of the ancient city of Troy, and was rebuilt by Alexander the Great’s successors and renamed Alexandria Troas.
It is there that Paul broke bread with them on the first day of the week and, preaching to midnight, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell from a third-story window. But Paul took him in his arms, and in verse 12 “they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” Indeed, excitement over this resurrection would no doubt have contributed to their staying up until daybreak (verse 11). Then, Luke says that he and the others set sail for Assos, while Paul went by land and met them there. From there, they sailed to To Chios, Samos and Miletus, as Luke says that Paul had decided not to stop at Ephesus because he wanted to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost.
But while at Miletus, Paul called the elders at Ephesus to come to him, a journey of perhaps 30 miles or so. Verses 18-37 end with a tearful goodbye, as he tells them that he knows he will never see their faces again. He tells them that he is going to Jerusalem and that he does not know what will happen to him “except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He recounts his faithfulness to preaching and teaching the word in the three years that he had spent with them, declaring that he was “innocent of the blood of all.”
These very emotional parting words have an important point besides the obvious. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had stressed the importance of the local church members having respect for those who had been appointed as elders of their congregation (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Here in Acts 20, he is making it clear to these elders – and to all elders of the church everywhere – that they have the responsibility to shepherd the flock among them. Fierce wolves, he says, will come in “not sparing the flock,” and that “from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” The elders of the local church everywhere have an awesome responsibility, and must always be on guard for the souls of those in their midst. It was true then, as it is now.
In the middle of all this, Paul quotes to these elders one of Jesus’ most famous sayings in verse 35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The words are actually not found in any of the gospels. But it is good to remember the words that John wrote in John 21:25. Jesus did and said so much more in His time on earth than what was written in the gospels. It is appropriate that some words the Lord used in His teachings are reported to us by Paul – who wrote so much of the Bible!
Side Note: This article at Ferrell’s Travel Blog has good info on, and a shot of the ruins at, Miletus.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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