Paul's Words at Miletus With the Ephesian Elders Part 2 of 5

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Of all Paul’s speeches in Acts, the “Miletus” address has the most in common with Paul’s epistles. There are many parallels both in wording and in general thought. This striking similarity may be due to the fact that this address is not a missionary sermon or a legal defense as with his other addresses in Acts. It is delivered to Christians—the only address in Acts which Paul gives to Christians—and thus has more similarity to the epistles, which were also addressed to Christians. In form, the address can be characterized as a “farewell address.” It is delivered as a conscious final legacy of the apostle to the leaders of the Asian “church.” Paul did not expect to return. As a farewell speech, it has much in common with similar speeches in both the Old and New Testaments. Examples are Jacob’s legacy to his sons in Genesis 49, Joshua’s farewell address to Israel in Joshua 23-24, and Samuel’s farewell to the nation in 1 Samuel 12. New Testament examples include Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-38; John 13-17). The most striking parallels to the “Miletus” speech are Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-16 and 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8. Certain common features characterize these addresses: the assembling of the family or followers, the note that the speaker will soon depart or die, sometimes an appeal to the personal example of the speaker, and exultations to desired behavior on the part of the hearers, and often a prediction of coming times of trial and difficulty. All of these features are present in Paul’s “Miletus” address. Although delivered specifically to the Ephesian “elders,” it is a suitable legacy from the apostle for all his churches as he left his field of mission and challenged the “church” leaders to continue in his footsteps.


The “Miletus” address is not easy to outline. Basically, the speech falls into two main portions: Paul’s relationship with the Ephesians—his ministry among them, his present plans, and his future prospects (vs. 17-27)—and his exhortation to them for their role as church leaders (vs. 28-35). The following discussion follows a fourfold division: (1) Paul’s appraisal of his past example in ministering to them (vs. 18-21), (2) Paul’s consideration of his future prospects (vs. 22-27), (3) his warning to the “elders” to be on guard against future false teachings (vs. 28-31), and (4) a commitment of their ministry to God and final warnings to follow his example (vs. 32-35). Verse 17 provides an introduction to the speech, noting the assembling of the “elders” in response to Paul’s invitation. Paul’s speech follows promptly.


18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

Paul’s speech begins here. He begins by reminding the elders how he had conducted himself during the whole time that he was with them and ministering to them.


19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations trials, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:

The apostle pointed to THREE basic characteristics of his ministry. FIRST was the humility that had marked his service for “the Lord.” His words and acts, while in Ephesus provided them with a true example of “humility.” Paul’s language here is reminiscent of his epistles. He was a plain preacher, one that spoke his message in a way that could be understood. He often spoke of “serving the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:9; Colossians 3:24)—Jesus—and described himself as a servant or “bond-slave” of Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1). The proper demeanor of a servant is “humility,” and Paul frequently pointed to that quality as a major hallmark of the Christian life (Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 4:2). He had demonstrated before them the “mind” of Christ— “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who. . . Humbled himself” (Philippians 2:5; 8). The motive for Paul’s ministry is found in the phrase “serving the Lord.” He was not interested in making money (v. 33) or in enjoying an easy life (vs. 34-35), for he was the bondslave of Jesus Christ (v. 24; Romans 1:1). Paul was careful to let people know that his motives for ministry were spiritual and not selfish (1 Thessalonians 2:1-13).

He had demonstrated before them an example of patient suffering. The “Jews” had been the plague of his life, persecuting him almost nonstop. Luke has not told us the half of it in his account of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus. But these Ephesian elders knew the full story. It is surprising, therefore, that Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his trials (“temptations”) as a result of the plots of the “Jews.” The account of his Ephesian Ministry in Acts does not reveal any specific Jewish plot against him, although such plots occur frequently in the overall story of Paul’s mission—at Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. The most recent plot was ultimately responsible for his presence at Miletus at this time, causing him to change his original plan to sail directly to Syria from Corinth— “. . . Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. (20:3). The “Jews” laid wait for him, as he was about to sail to Syria in order to go to Jerusalem; which the “Jews” learned from some unknown source. They planned to take from him, the money meant for the poor in Jerusalem or to kill him, or both. The apostle had learned of the plot, either by divine revelation or from somebody who was in on the secret, and he took steps to avoid their trap.

“Serving the Lord” was never easy for Paul, for he says that he shed “many tears.” The “tears” were not for his own hard times (literally, “trials” or “temptations”), which were on the contrary, a source of joy, but for the suffering of others—for those “in Christ” who faced trials (v. 31; Romans 9:2; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18) and for those without Christ who lived in a world “without hope and without God” (Ephesians 2:12). We may take his reference to “tears” literally; Paul was no Stoic{4] for whom impassivity{5] was a virtue. He had served “with all humility” in a world in which “humility” was deemed to be a fault, not a virtue—the character befitting only a slave.)


20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,

The SECOND characteristic of Paul’s ministry was the openness of his proclamations and testimonies. He kept no secrets, held nothing back—he “kept back nothing that was profitable” “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16). Whatever was true to the Gospel and helpful to the faithful, he preached both “publicly and from house to house.” The mention of public proclamations brings to mind memories of Paul’s days in the synagogue of Ephesus and the lecture hall of Tyrannous (19:8). The reference to houses most likely relates to the house-church meetings of the Ephesian Christians. In contrast, some were not so open in their witness, i.e., false teachers who advocated hidden and secret doctrines. Paul warned the Ephesians leaders later in his speech that such would arise to plague their own church (v. 29). He reminded them of the honesty and openness of his own preaching. When one was faithful to the truth, there was nothing to hide.

This raises the question of WHAT DID PAUL PREACH TO THE EPHESIAN CHRISTIANS? To be able to answer the question, we have to explore nearly all his epistles, but especially his epistle to the Ephesians. The teaching of Ephesians revolves around the Christian’s wealth, walk, and warfare. Of all Paul’s letters, his Ephesian letter climbs the highest heights, plunges to the deepest depths, embraces the profoundest truths. Paul “kept nothing back.”


21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

The FINAL characteristic of Paul’s ministry was the inclusiveness of his witness. He had preached to everyone, both “Jews and . . . Greeks.” No one had been left out. This had indeed been the case in Ephesus— “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (19:10). Paul saw his own special calling as being the apostle to the Gentiles, but he never abandoned the synagogue. Perhaps more clearly than anyone else in the church of his day, Paul saw the full implications of his monotheism. God is the God of all. In “Christ” He reaches out for the salvation of all who will trust in Him. There is no distinction— “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too” (Romans 3:29). There is no room for exclusiveness in the Gospel in the sense that the Gospel is for Gentiles and “Jews,” slave and free, and men and women. The Gospel itself is, however, exclusive in its claims, “for there is no other name under heaven . . . By which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Salvation is available only in the name of Jesus.

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