Calvary Road Baptist Church

“PAUL AT MILETUS”

Acts 20.17-38

Last Sunday night I surveyed the Apostle Paul’s entire third missionary journey, intentionally passing over his meeting with the elders from Ephesus held in the port city of Miletus. This evening I would like to take up the text that records that meeting, so turn to Acts 20.17. When you have found that verse, please stand and read with me silently while I read aloud:

17     And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

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,

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

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

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

22     And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

23     Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.

24     But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

25     And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

26     Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

27     For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

28     Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29     For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30     Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

31     Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

32     And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

The ushers are handing out two maps that I have printed for you, the top map showing where Ephesus and Miletus are located on the Turkish peninsula, and a blow up of the region where Ephesus and Miletus are in relation to each other.

Acts 20.17: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.”

“In spite of his natural desire to see Ephesus again, Paul had decided that this was out of the question if he was to be sure of reaching Jerusalem in time for Pentecost (which in A.D. 57 fell on May 29); he therefore chose a ship which was to make the straight run from Chios to Samos. But the ship was due to spend several days in harbor in Miletus; this gave him opportunity to see some of his Ephesian friends.”[1]

Acts 20.18: “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”

a)   Summoning the Ephesian elders to Miletus would take two to four days, since the trip was a one day trip journey each way and we do not know how long it took to gather the elders.[2]

b)   Additionally, this scene records Paul’s only speech made exclusively to Christians and his third major public speech. He spoke to Jews in Antioch in Acts 13.16-41 and to Gentiles in Acts 17.22-31.[3]

c)   He opens his message to the Ephesian elders by reminding them of his faithfulness from the beginning of his time with them.

Acts 20.19: “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews”

a)   The four aspects of his faithfulness highlighted in this verse are his humility of mind, his many tears, reference to the temptations he had to face, and the lying in wait of the Jews who constantly opposed him.

b)   The gospel ministry is difficult, and preachers ride an emotional roller coaster in dealing temptations and adversaries, but the Apostle Paul overriding attitude was humility of mind. In light of the Savior’s humility as an example for us all, and the fact that God resists the proud while giving grace to the humble, we can be sure Paul’s approach is the right approach to serving God.[4]

Acts 20.20: “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house”

Paul’s approach to the gospel ministry was at the same time both direct and public. He did not mince words or behave in a coy fashion, but set the truth before his audiences for all to see, both in open forums and in people’s homes.

Acts 20.21: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

a)   Paul was indiscriminate about his audience. He was an equal opportunity evangelist. He testified to both Jews and Greeks, meaning Jewish people and Gentiles, or non-Jewish people. To both groups the requirements set forth were the same, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

b)   We understand faith and repentance to be opposite sides of the same coin, with saving faith and godly sorrow that works repentance not to be repented up being fellow travelers in effecting the salvation of a sinner.

Acts 20.22: “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there”

a)   Miletus was a stop along the way in fulfilling Paul’s mission of taking the collection from the Gentile believers in Asia, Macedonia and Achaia to the impoverished Jewish saints in and around Jerusalem.

b)   However, Agabus predicted problems for Paul once he arrived there. Nevertheless, Paul is convinced he must finish what he has begun, whatever befall him once he arrives there.

Acts 20.23: “Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”

It may be that Agabus was not the only man who warned Paul along the way, just the only one whose warning Luke recorded. Knowing bonds and afflictions await him, Paul is determined to proceed.

Acts 20.24: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”

a)   Everyone has what philosophers refer to as an ultimate concern, that which is most dear and that for which you will risk all. With some, the ultimate concern is their own life or their own pleasure. With others it is their reputation, their marriage, or saving face when confronted with embarrassment.

b)   Paul’s ultimate concern, for which he had not only risked his life but was willing to again risk his life, was the gospel ministry. His course of life and his ministry are here stated to be part of what he had received of the Lord Jesus, so that he might testify the gospel of the grace of God.

c)   Would he deviate from his course, abandon the life given to him by the Savior, interrupt his testifying of the gospel of the grace of God? No. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is filled with names and stories of those who were just as determined as Paul, even though they were not gospel preachers. They were Christians.

Acts 20.25: “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.”

This verse shows that preaching the gospel is preaching the kingdom of God, since Paul likens the two. This verse also records Paul’s announcement to the Ephesian church elders that this is their last good-bye.

Acts 20.26: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.”

a)   This hearkens back to Ezekiel 3.18-21, where God tells the prophet about the watchman’s responsibility to warn both the wicked and the righteous.[5]

b)   Back in verse 20, he reminded them that he had held back nothing from them. In the next verse he tells them once more. His point? The responsibility is theirs to succeed or to fail, to be faithful or to fall.

Acts 20.27: “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”

a)   This verse is used by expository preachers to justify their commitment to verse-by-verse expositions of God’s Word. No doubt, Paul certainly engaged in that approach.

b)   However, that approach to preaching should not be so fully engaged in that pointed and powerful gospel preaching in response to information gained by counseling with sinners is abandoned. I have no doubt that the Apostle Paul also engaged in that type of preaching as well.

Acts 20.28: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

a)   The first thing to notice in this verse is that Paul urges the elders to take heed to themselves. He is not advocating selfishness by any means, but recognizes that unless the gospel minister is careful to tend to his own spiritual needs and maintain his spiritual vitality he will become a casualty and will be of no benefit to anyone else.

b)   Second, notice that although Luke identifies the men Paul is speaking to as elders, Paul himself refers to them as both overseers (bishop) and pastors (the congregation being the flock and their function being to feed, the verb form of the word for pastor). They are responsible to feed the flock the Word of God.

c)   Third, notice that by whatever immediate means those men arrived in their places of ministry, Paul declares that it was the Holy Ghost who made them overseers. Thus, though the Spirit of God makes use of means, He is the one who places pastors in their churches. People really ought to consider that fact when they are planning to oppose the pastor or exit the church.

d)   Finally, notice that Paul reminds his audience that the church of God was purchased with his own blood. A prominent Bible teacher created a world of controversy for himself some years back related his interpretation of this verse. The point Paul made here by making the antecedent of the pronoun “his” to undeniably be God shows that the blood Christ shed to purchase the blood is God’s blood. Paul shows that the owner of the blood is God, asserting that the Sacrifice whose blood was shed is God, the Second Person, not that His blood was not real human blood. Thus, the issue is not something mystical, as though Christ’s blood has some spooky characteristics. The issue is that it is Jesus’ blood, who is God, that was shed to purchase the church of God.

Acts 20.29: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Paul warns that outsiders will come and mingle with the congregation, and will ravage them. Thus, we must always be careful while we are being gentle and gracious. That unsaved person could be Hell-bent on the destruction of this church. You will be able to tell by what that person says.

Acts 20.30: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

a)   Not only outsiders coming in are a danger to us. As well, in our midst some will rise up. How can we tell these dangerous people from outside and from inside? They will speak perverse things. They will draw away disciples after them.

b)   That is, they will backbite and trash people and do their best to cultivate a following. They will try to take over a congregation and, failing that, will try to take people with them when their efforts to take over fail and they are forced to leave.

Acts 20.31: “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”

Three things will interest you in this verse:

a)   First, Paul directs those spiritual leaders to watch. This is a pastoral word.[6] As God warned Ezekiel to be a faithful watchman, so Paul is echoing that sentiment with these men. They are to warn the lost to flee the wrath of God by coming to Christ, and they are to warn the members of the church to beware the grievous wolves and those that will arise from within the congregation to do great harm to the souls of men.

b)   Next, Paul reminds them to remember his own approach to ministry over the last three years he was mainly in Ephesus. Night and day, and with tears. Ministry did not have hours with Paul. Neither was ministry a formula with Paul. He was all in and he meant business. Gospel ministry is not just a life and death matter, it is an eternal life and an eternal death matter.

c)   Of particular interest to me is the word warn, which translates the Greek word nouqetew. It is Paul’s word for confronting someone with a view toward correcting them, and is sometimes translated admonish or correct.[7] Unless a person is willing to accept a minister’s warning, his admonition, or his correction, there is little that can be done to steer him in the right direction for his life. Sadly, some people are so delicate of constitution that after being warned or corrected once, they take steps to make sure no one is ever in a position to warn them again.

Acts 20.32: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.”

Paul now begins his final remarks to the men he loved so dearly:

a)   Notice that Paul couples God together with His Word, the Word of His grace. There is no separating one’s relationship with God from the ongoing ministry of the Word in a believer’s life. Those men were called by God and equipped by Paul (as he would later remind them in Ephesians 4.11-12) by means of God’s Word of grace. Those same men would, in turn, do likewise to others.

b)   The result? God, through the instrumentality of His Word as it was ministered to them by Paul (and as they in turn would minister the Word to others, Paul points out in Ephesians 4.12-13), built them up in the faith and sanctified them. How very important is careful and diligent openness to the ministry of the Word in preparing you for your inheritance in glory as Christians.

c)   Something to also note in passing. Paul says to them, “to give you an inheritance among all them.” Thus, while individuals come to Christ, the Christian life is not to be lived in isolation from other Christians, and is not be lived outside the care of the congregation. The men Paul spoke to were spoken to not as individuals, but as comprising a corporate unity within their congregation. He thereby stresses the importance of church life for a child of God.

Acts 20.33: “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.”

Is not Paul returning from a trip in which he collected money from whatever church members he could? Yes, but not for himself. First Corinthians 16.3-4 is just one place that shows people from the congregations accompanied the money that was sent to both ensure the money was safely delivered, but also to establish personal acquaintances with those who received their gifts. Thus, Paul’s integrity and reputation were well guarded.

Acts 20.34: “Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.”

Everyone who knew Paul also knew that he was determined to pay his own way, to avoid any suggestion that he was in the ministry for personal gain. However, once he established a church and taught the Gentile Christians the Old Testament principles of giving, he instructed congregations to take on the support of their pastors, as we see clearly in First Corinthians chapter 9 and in Galatians chapter 6.

Acts 20.35: “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.”

This is one of the few places outside the gospels the Lord Jesus Christ is quoted. Is Paul here speaking about money? Not specifically. I think Paul is here commending a lifestyle of giving as opposed to lifestyle of taking. Christians ought to be giving and generous people. We should be generous with our homes, generous with our time, generous with our material possessions, and generous in ministering the Word. Getting along is more difficult for some than others, and we should be willing to help them.

Acts 20.36: “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.”

This is it. He must now board the ship and leave them. They will never again in this lifetime see the man who first declared to them the unsearchable riches of Christ, who answered their numerous questions, who guided them through their endless personal and family problems, and who tirelessly showed forth in his life the love of Christ. He kneeled down and then prayed with them all.

Acts 20.37: “And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him”

There were a great many men crying with chest-heaving sobs that day. Oh, how they hugged and kissed the man of God. How they began to miss him even before he had left them.

Acts 20.38: “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.”

I can see them standing on the dock where the ship was tied up, thoroughly brokenhearted men watching as the ship’s lines were loosed and the slight breeze began to fill the sails, until the boat was too far from the port to see their beloved Paul and his fellow travelers.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians about four years later, he echoed in that letter some of the things they no doubt remembered him saying to them on that memorable day in Miletus. It was an occasion they would remember the rest of their lives. Paul would safely arrive in Jerusalem, but predictions made to Paul would be fulfilled. He would become a prisoner of the Roman Empire appealing his case to Caesar. Under those circumstances, he would be delivered to Rome, a prisoner in Caesar’s own household. There he would bring both highly placed Romans and runaway slaves to Christ. While there, he would also write his prison epistles to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, and to a man named Philemon. He would also write two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus. Paul’s confidence in God’s wisdom, power and grace were well placed. His life would be poured out an offering, but in so doing he would be greatly used to bring God abundant glory and to magnify Christ.



[1] F. F. Bruce, The Book Of The Acts - NICNT (Revised), (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), page 387.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, Acts - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), page 626.

[3] Ibid., page 623.

[4] Philippians 2.5-13; James 4.6; First Peter 5.5

[5] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary On The New Testament Use Of The Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), page 596.

[6] See footnote 71 in Bruce, page 393.

[7] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 679.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org