Paul says goodbye to the Ephesian elders

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What future? (Acts 20:1-6)

The riot eventually settled down and, when it was finally over, Paul set out for Macedonia. Before he left, he sent for the disciples, preached a farewell message to them, then said good-bye and departed for Greece. (Acts 20:1)
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.

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, I want you to know what happens to Christians when they die so that, when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we also believe that, when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died. 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. 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. 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. 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. In this way, 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 previously) 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 and 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 just need to listen and obey.

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 can build a doctrine around our ignorance and call it fact. We 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. It will be uncomfortable for them and 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, because He was the one who inspired those whose writings contributed to Scripture 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 bear to hear 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 the book of 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 he had not a single minute to 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.

bread and wineOn the first day of the week, they "broke bread". This was a regular practice of the early church and it is still celebrated today, albeit under different names (such as "communion" or "The Lord's Supper"). 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 believers chose to do this on the first day of the week and that has continued as a tradition through to the present day. But, actually, 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. Jesus did it initially with His disciples. After His departure to heaven, the believers continued to "break bread" whenever 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. Paul writes that Jesus said: "Do this to remember Me". Paul then adds, "Do this until He comes again." (See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.)

So, let's "break bread" together – often. Let's 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 celebrated a meal with His disciples and, when it was finished, He took a cup of wine – the Messiah’s cup – and said this:

"Each one drink from it, for this is my blood, sealing the new covenant. It is poured out to forgive the sins of multitudes. 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 take part in that wedding feast, He will drink wine again with us in His Father’s kingdom – the first time He has done that, since the meal with His disciples in that upper room in Jerusalem, immediately before His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. What a celebration that will be!

Last night in Troas

Paul stayed to "break bread" with the believers in Troas on the first day of the week. He intended to set off again the following morning but had a lot to say to them, so he continued preaching far into the night. For a young man called Eutychus, it proved too much. The room was hot and he had found himself a seat "in a window". However, as Paul spoke on and on, Eutychus sank into a deep sleep and fell three storeys from the window. People rushed to retrieve him but found him lying dead on the ground. Paul also went down. He held the young man, prayed for him and Eutychus came back to life. What awesome joy prior to eating the Lord’s supper together! After that, Paul continued his preaching until the light dawned and it was time for him to go! (Acts 20:7-12)

If Paul had just 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 wherever 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)

Paul’s final warning (Acts 20:17-38)

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, had also written about such people hundreds of years before. (See Ezekiel 34:1-10.) This passage is well worth studying if you are involved in any church. It contains a really serious 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 they would face when he left them: the onslaught that Satan was planning to launch on the fledgling church. He urgently wanted to pass this on to the elders of the church at Ephesus, so that they could prepare themselves and, in turn, could 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) to God's word, but they 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 a true shepherd in your area! In Jesus' day, shepherds always walked ahead of their flock, leading them in the right path. Only the sheep belonging to the flock of a particular shepherd would hear and recognise his voice. He was the only one they would 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! (See John 10:1-14.)

Journey3 - returning via MiletusPaul warned the elders and other believers 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, even 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 later explained to them that he had been a living example, working diligently so that he could help the weak; so that he could give to them, rather than relying on the Ephesian people to look after him. (See 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 can, so that they will be able to (as it were) "climb on our shoulders"; so that they will not have to experience the growing pains and learning curves that we have endured? Like Paul, we can leave them with the Holy Spirit, knowing that He will take far greater care than we ever could, because He has sealed them for all eternity. Thus, Paul was able to write to the church at Ephesus (probably while he was in prison in Rome) in about A.D. 60:

"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. 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. 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), 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 having been through so much together, they prayed and embraced each other in great sadness. (Acts 20:36-38)


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