Study 23: Paul says “good-bye” to the Ephesian elders
The riot settled down and, when it was finally over, Paul set out for Macedonia. He met with the believers one more time before his departure then finally he was off. When it was all over, Paul sent for the disciples, preached a farewell message to them, said good-bye and left for Greece. (Acts 20:1)
What future? Acts 20:1-6
He would only see them once more (on his return journey from Macedonia and Achaia) before his death, but he knew that this was not the end. Paul knew that one day, when the Lord returns and the dead in Christ shall be raised, that he would see them again in heaven.
“13 And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.
15 I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord. 17 Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. 18 So comfort and encourage each other with this news.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
When Paul wrote these words, he was passing on to the believers in Thessalonica what he had received directly from Jesus Himself. We too can take comfort in these words. Because they are in the word of God, they are written for us too. We need to remember that we will see our loved ones again (and we shall recognise them and be recognised by them) in heaven at the return of Jesus and we shall be with them for eternity.
Paul encouraged the believers wherever he went. On his first missionary journey, he constantly broke new ground so (until he returned the same way he had gone) there were no believers to encourage. On his second missionary journey, he found that there were often many believers to challenge, encourage and build up. (See Acts 18:23; Acts 19:1-2.) As believers, we should always be prepared to have our beliefs challenged by the Lord. It is very easy as a Christian, to believe that we know everything there is to know about a subject. Jesus never intended life to be that way and He will continually try to move us on in our understanding, so that we learn more and more of Him and His Kingdom until we finally go to be with Him. In other words, if we are prepared to allow Him to, Jesus will never stop teaching us new things about every subject we allow Him to. The believers in Galatia and Phrygia needed to be strengthened; those in Ephesus needed to be pointed in the direction of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. If we are not careful, we will build a doctrine around our ignorance and call it fact. We will then teach it as such and entrap new believers in the same web of ignorance and deceit that we have woven for ourselves, making them unteachable like us. That was never Jesus’ plan, and it will be uncomfortable for them and for us alike when the Holy Spirit needs to break through. We need to encourage ourselves to be teachable and to explore the Bible for ourselves. The Holy Spirit is the best companion in learning, as He inspired those who penned the Bible as to what they should write.
Breaking Bread Acts 20:7-12
Paul finally arrived in Greece. He stayed here for three months but, as usual, the Jews could not stand his teaching. (Acts 20:3) Paul’s group was a multi-national and multi-ethnic one. (Acts 20:4-5) However, Paul and a few others (including Luke who wrote Acts) remained in Philippi, celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread there before joining the others five days later in Troas, where they stayed for seven days. Paul had so much to teach the believers in Troas that not a single minute was spare. He preached long and late into the night, so that the people, who he would never see again, would be established in their faith.
On the first day of the week, they broke bread – they took communion. For Christians, it is important that we take time to break bread with one another. It is a time of reflection – a time of celebration and a time of fellowship. In the first century, the time when the believers chose to do this was on the first day of the week. That has continued as a tradition through to today.
The day itself is not important. The key thing is that we do it and that we do it together. To break bread as a church is an excellent thing to do. After all, Jesus did it with His disciples. Additionally, the believers broke bread when they met in small groups, from house to house. So should we. The Lord did not say that we should break bread once a week, twice a week, once a month or at any set period. Through Paul, He said this: “Do this to remember Me…. also Do this until He comes again.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
So, let us break bread together – often. Let us do it as family, as friends and as a church. Our lives will be empowered by it and through it. We will be encouraged to remember the message of the Lord’s death until He comes again. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are demonstrating Jesus death for us. When He returns for us, one of the first things we shall do is to attend the wedding feast of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:6-9). Jesus Himself is the Lamb who was slain on our behalf. Before He went to the cross to die for us, He took the cup of wine – the Messiah’s cup – and said this:
27 “Each one drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, sealing the New Covenant. It is poured out to forgive the sins of multitudes. 29 Mark my words – I will not drink this wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Matthew 26:27-29
So, when we go to be with Him for ever and attend that wedding feast, He will drink the wine again with us in His Father’s kingdom – the first time He has done that, since the last supper in that upper room in Jerusalem with His disciples prior to his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. What a celebration that will be!
Paul continued preaching far into the night and a young man called Eutychus fell asleep in a window. He then fell three storeys from the window and died. Paul went down and prayed, held him and he came back to life. What awesome joy prior to eating the Lord’s supper! Then Paul preached another long sermon – so it was dawn when he finally left them! (Acts 20:7-12) He was always keen to get their focus back onto the giver of the gifts, not onto the gift itself. It was on that day that he left them. (Acts 20:13-17)
If Paul was to have one message for everyone, it was this: the necessity of turning from sin to God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He preached it everywhere he went. This message changed the entire known world at that time. It was like pulling the rug from under Satan’s feet every time he spoke it and it changed the lives of countless thousands of people, setting them free from the law of sin and death; allowing them to leave the kingdom of darkness and to enter the kingdom of God. (Colossians 1:13-14)
100% Paul’s final warning Acts 20:17-38
And if there was one thing that Paul would want to warn people about, it would be this: that there would come a time in their church – the local body of believers – when false teachers would appear among them, like wolves amongst a flock of sheep, distorting the truth for their own gain. Ezekiel, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, wrote about these people and others like them, hundreds of years before. (See Ezekiel 34:1-10.) This passage is really worth studying if you are involved in any church – a really awesome warning!
Jesus Himself, as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, paused as He rode down the Mount of Olives and looked over the city. He began to cry (Luke 19:41-44) and, later that same week, Jesus declared how He felt about His followers. (Luke 23:37-39) So it was with Paul. He knew the difficulties that he would face when he left them. He knew of the onslaught that Satan was planning to launch on the fledgling church. He wanted to pass this on to the elders of the church at Ephesus, so that they would be prepared themselves and could, in turn, prepare the other believers and strengthen them for the time to come. (Acts 20:18-32)
To be responsible for people as a manager is one thing, but to be responsible to God as an overseer of His church and flock is something entirely different. What you teach as a leader must always be in line with the word of God. How you pastor people must always be in line with the principles laid out in the word of God. There is a responsibility on the part of believers too. They must submit themselves (Hebrews 13:17) However, believers also have a responsibility not to submit themselves to a false shepherd or to one who distorts the truth. The Bible states that Jesus’ sheep can hear and recognise His voice. If you don’t recognise Jesus in what you hear, find the true shepherd in the area! In Israel, shepherds always walk ahead of their flock, leading them in the right path. Only the sheep belonging to the flock of a particular shepherd hear and recognise his voice. He is the only one they will respond to. Are you a true sheep? Do you listen to Jesus? Never mind what others say. Just listen to what He says. If what others say does not match up to what Jesus says, don’t listen to them. They are thieves and robbers and will “fleece” you, taking all you have – including your life! (John 10:1-14) Paul even warned them that some of their own number – those that listened to him as he spoke to them that day at Miletus – would be among those distorting the truth in order to draw a following. (See Acts 20:30.) Beware of those who would build themselves up. Instead, listen to those who are the greatest servants. They are the people who will help and encourage you on your lifelong journey. Self-aggrandisement has nothing whatever to do with God’s Kingdom! (Luke 22:26)
For three years, Paul had worked among these people. He had never stopped loving them. He had admonished them, encouraged and exhorted them and, sometimes, wept over them, much as a caring parent does for his or her children. Now it was time to leave. Paul could leave them with someone who was far greater than he; he left them in the care of God Himself. “And now [brethren], I commit you to God [I deposit you in His charge, entrusting you to His protection and care]. And I commend you to the word of His grace [to the commands and counsels and promises of His unmerited favour]. It is able to build you up and give you [your rightful] inheritance among all God’s set-apart ones [those consecrated, purified and transformed of soul].” (Acts 20:32 Amplified Bible)
Paul had been entirely content while he lived amongst them to provide for himself. He explained that he had been a living example, working diligently so that he could help the weak; so that he could give rather than rely on the Ephesian people. (Acts 20:33-35)
Without a doubt, Paul loved these people as he loved himself. He had put so much of himself and his life into them that it was almost more than he could bear to be parted from them. Have you and I experienced that with Christians? Have we loved them and poured into them all that we could so that they would be able to (as it were) “climb on our shoulders” so that they would not have to experience the growing pains and learning curves that we have? We can leave them with the Holy Spirit, knowing that He will take far greater care than we ever could, as He has sealed them for all eternity. Paul was able to write to the church at Ephesus (probably while he was in prison in Rome) in about A.D. 60:
“13 In Him you also who have heard the Word of Truth, the glad tidings [gospel] of your salvation, and have believed in and adhered to and relied on Him, were stamped with the seal of the long-promised Holy Spirit. 14 That [Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance [the first-fruits, the pledge and foretaste, the down payment on our heritage], in anticipation of its full redemption and our acquiring [complete] possession of it – to the praise of His glory. 15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints [the people of God], 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1:13-16
As Paul and the Ephesian elders took their leave of each other after they had been through so much together, they prayed and embraced each other in great sadness, Acts 20:36-38.
Study 23: Paul says “good-bye” to the Ephesian elders – Challenge Questions
Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in the Word the more you will get out of it.
Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make the Word your number one priority.
1. *Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that “speak” to you and share with the group.
2. Do you receive encouragement about your future from the first section of the notes? How or why?
3. From the section about “breaking bread” why do you think Paul kept preaching and what do you think he would be talking about during an all-night sermon?
4. *Do you think Paul really loved the people of Ephesus? Give reasons for your opinion.
5. *Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Where does the entire Bible come from? What was the purpose writing it?
Read Acts 21:1-16
6. What parts of the Bible were generally available during the time of Paul’s third missionary journey?
7. *God can be described as “Three in One” and as “One in Three”. These three are three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Which person was guiding and speaking with Paul and his companions on their missionary journeys? How was He doing it – give examples. Which person is living in you and guiding you. Will you share personal examples?
8. *How did Paul discover the dangers of going to Jerusalem? Why do you think he still continued on his journey?
9. What part in the extension of the kingdom of God did Philip play? Did he have a family and were they believers? Do you think he could look back on his life and say that he had had a fulfilling one? What can you say about your life in that regard?
10. *What are those gifts known as the “five-fold ministry” gifts? Why are they important to the church? What characterises (1) the gifts of an apostle, and (2) the gifts of a pastor? Why are they so different? Ephesians 4:11-13
11. Why is the gift of prophecy so key to the growth of the church? Can you think of someone you know who has this gift? What makes it stand out in her life so that it can be recognised?
12. *Read Deuteronomy 18:15-21. How seriously does God regard a false prophet? How do you know for certain whether the person who says that he is a prophet really is one?
Read Acts 21:17-26
13. *When we meet with Christians from other parts of the world, what should be the main topics of our conversation? Take your lead from the meeting of Paul with James and the elders.
14. What problems did the Jewish believers have and were they going to be a problem for Paul? What solution did James and the elders come up with to try to alleviate the difficulties? Did the solution work? Explain.
15. *Read Galatians 3:1-14. Had Paul faced this problem before? What did he teach the Galatians? Why is it important to be grounded in your Faith? How does Paul’s example here apply to your life?
Read Acts 21:27-40
16. *What did the Jews try to do to Paul (Acts 21:27-31)? Who rescued him and why? Did God have a hand in Paul’s destiny at this point and why?
17. Why was the commander surprised when Paul spoke? What did the commander allow Paul to do? Do you think that God was in this situation? Why?
18. *What has spoken to you from Acts 21?