Acts 20: 13 – 38 Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders
We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: ‘You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships await me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
‘Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you with tears.
‘Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
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This is a different view of Paul. Mostly I’ve seen him as argumentative, arrogant even, insisting that he’s right and the others – whoever they are – are wrong. As someone who has occasionally had to present difficult truths to a reluctant public, I have sometimes frowned at Paul’s confrontational approach. It’s so much more effective to reframe the issue rather than simply argue against the others’ point of view.
At the same time, I’ve seen him as vastly dedicated, fearless, ready to dare anything, to suffer anything for the sake of the good news. Very admirable, but not very endearing. A man to respect rather than love, perhaps.
But look at verses 36 – 38.
“When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.”
The elders of the church at Ephesus embrace Paul, they kiss him. Most telling of all, they weep because he had told them he would never see his face again. Clearly, they loved Paul.
Paul himself explains a little.
“I served the Lord with great humility and tears”. Paul passionately desired the salvation of everyone with whom he came in contact.
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” Paul has preached the word everywhere, in public and in private. If you met Paul, he would talk to you about Jesus; he would want to assure himself that you were as close to Jesus as you could be.
Paul cared for people – and people loved Paul.
Thank you for the witness of your servant Paul. Thank you that the love he showed towards those round him expressed the love you feel for each one of us. Help us, in turn, to show your love to everybody we know.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.