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

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Notice that the leaders, no less than the rest of the congregation, are subject to the authority of God’s message (the Scriptures).

The reference to “them which are sanctified” reflects Paul’s favorite designation of Christians as “the saints,” “them which are sanctified,” i.e., “Set apart” as God’s people in Christ. He likewise often spoke of the future life of the Christian in terms of sharing in an “inheritance.” Paul passed on the banner to the Ephesian elders to continue to lead the church after his departure, urging them above all to be faithful to His Gospel in the light of the coming threats.

Paul was going away. He could not stay to chase away the wolves. The flock would not be left defenseless, however; they had God. He would still be there. And they had God’s “Word.” If they would cultivate a knowledge of God and His “Word,” they would become strong. God’s “Word” had the power to protect them. It had strengthening power to “build them up”; it had securing power to guarantee their “inheritance”; it had sanctifying power to set them apart by God’s “grace,” with all other saints, for Himself. There Paul took his stand. He had done all he could. Now it was up to God and up to them.

33 I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.

There was, however, one matter of personal conduct which was of prime importance that he had not yet mentioned; and he ended on this note. In a real sense, he ended as he had begun (vs. 18-21), pointing to his own behavior in ministry as an example for them to follow. Paul’s detachment from material gain is well-documented in his epistles. He never used his ministry as a “mask to cover up greed” (1 Thessalonians 2:5). At Corinth he supported himself with his own hands (Acts 18:2; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:12-15; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 12:13). The same was true at Thessalonica (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.

Verse 34 would indicate that he followed the same pattern of self-support at Ephesus that he had in other places. In his epistle, Paul exhorted his Christian readers to follow his example and work with their own “hands,” not being dependent on others (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Paul was certainly quite willing to roll up his sleeves and work as the occasion demanded, and he was generous to share what he made with others of the Lord’s servants. That not only helped them, but it taught others to support those busy in the Master's service. I wonder if he raised his “hands” when he said, “these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me,” as he did when he appeared before Agrippa in chains (26:29).

In the Miletus speech, Paul gave the additional incentive that such hard work put one in the position to help the weak. In his epistles, he showed a similar concern that Christians help the weak and needy, and that they share in one another’s burdens (Romans 15:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Ephesians 4:28; Galatians 6:2). Greed is a universal human problem, and church leaders are not exempt (see the exhortation in verse 28 for church leaders to “watch yourselves”). That greed among church leaders was a real problem in Asia Minor seems to be attested by the Pastoral Epistles in which Paul insisted that a major qualification for church leaders would be their detachment from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11). It may well be that the false teachers were particularly discernable by their greed (1 Timothy 6:3-10).

35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The word rendered “showed” means “to forewarn.” We find the word, in the Lord’s parable of the builder and his foundation: “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48). Paul’s “words” contained both example and exhortation. God expects the rich to help the poor, the strong to help the “weak,” and the healthy to “support” the sick.

The saying of Jesus with which Paul concluded his address is probably the most well-known: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul applied this rule to the specific problem of greed and covetousness among church leaders. The opinion of the children of this world, is contrary to this; they are afraid of giving, unless they can count on getting. The minister is to be a servant, a giver and not a taker. Greed has been the downfall for many a servant of God. This word of the Lord as applied by Paul is sound ministerial advice with which to defeat the evil influences of greed in one’s life. It does not suggest that people who receive are less “blessed” than people who give. (The beggar in Acts 3 would argue about that!) It could be paraphrase, “It’s better to share with others than to keep what you have and collect more.” In other words, the blessing does not come in accumulating wealth, but in sharing it. After all, Jesus became poor that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). One of the best commentaries on this statement is Luke 12:16-31.

The one who leads the flock of God should focus on the needs of others, and be more concerned with giving than with acquiring. Paul had begun his address by listing the qualities of his own ministry as an example for the Ephesian leaders to follow. He concluded with a final quality he had sought to model. Perhaps he held it off to the end because he saw it as the most essential of all for a legitimate ministry. “. . . remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” was one of the Lord's proverbs, part of the common knowledge of the Christian community in Paul’s day, doubtless derived from the oral teaching of the Lord's disciples and not recorded elsewhere. Not everything Jesus said and did is recorded in the gospels. John says the world itself is not big enough to contain all the books that could have been written about the Lord Jesus (John 21:25).

Jesus’ life was one long example of giving, and Paul’s was a close second. This same attitude will make our explanation of the Word ring with sincerity, conviction, and authority. On this practical note, Paul ended this great dissertation on what it means to be a New Testament pastor or elder.

36 And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.

Paul’s address concluded, the apostle and the elders joined together in prayer. The prayer surely included a commitment of the elders to the Lord in their leadership of the church in Paul’s absence, and for Paul’s safe journey and deliverance in Jerusalem.

Observe Paul’s position in prayer— “he kneeled down.” I don’t think I kneel as often as I should when I pray. I have pledged to do better. I think it shows respect for God, and humility in the presence of my Creator. He deserves our respect as much as He does our love and obedience.

37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him,

There was a lengthy and emotional farewell, the elders embracing and kissing the apostle. Their embracing is described literally as “falling upon his neck,” language reminiscent of the patriarchal narratives.

38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.

Their sorrow was greatest over Paul’s statement “that they” would not “see” him again (v. 25). This expectation of the Ephesian Elders need not be understood as a hard and fast prophecy that Paul would never again visit Ephesus. The Pastoral Epistles indicate a further ministry after his release from imprisonment at Rome. It does, however, like 20:22, 24, reflect the expectation that serious troubles and possible death lay ahead for Paul.

When all the “good-byes” were said, they accompanied him to the ship where they probably gave him food and provisions for the journey.

This section provides a transition between the Miletus speech and Paul’s narrative of his journey to Jerusalem, which follows immediately (21:1-16). On the one hand, it concludes Paul’s Ephesian ministry with its final farewell to the leaders of the church. For that matter, it is the conclusion to his entire ministry in the east. From now on the focus would be on Rome. The ominous tone set by the Elders concern over not seeing the apostle again would continue and even be heightened in the course of that journey.

{1] Like Troas, “Assos” was located in Mysia. It was south of Troas and somewhat east at the mouth of the gulf of Adramytium.
{2] The word rendered “elder” is presbyter and refers to a mature person who has been selected to serve in office. The qualifications for this office are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
{3] The “Church” is the ecclesia, the called-out company of people.
{4]“Stoic” is a word used for a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion.
{5] “Impassivity” means unsusceptible to or destitute of emotion.
{6] “Trogyllium.” A peninsula jutting into the Aegean Sea between Samos and Miletus. Whether the ship actually stopped there is unclear, since many Greek manuscripts do not mention “Trogyllium.”
{7] “Asia” was the Asian province of which Ephesus was the chief city.
{8] “Mitylene” is the chief town of the island of Lesbos.

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