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11 February 2024 // Acts 20

Paul’s Preaching vs. 7-12
Paul’s Service vs. 17-21
Paul’s Mission vs. 22-27
Paul’s Warning vs. 28-31
Paul’s Example vs. 32-38

  • What did the message teach me about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?
  • What did the message teach me about the human condition?
  • Is there anything I need to confess, repent, or be grateful for, because of this passage?
  • How do I need help in believing and applying this scripture to my life?
  • How can I encourage others with this passage?

 Augustine’s Dream
St. Augustine, we are told, once dreamed that he approached the gates of heaven. An angel stopped him before he could enter and asked, “Who are you?” He responded, “Christianus ego sum”—I am a Christian. “No,” said the angel, “you are a Ciceronian. Here we judge people by what interests them, and you have interest only in the classics.” Augustine claims that as a result of the dream, he changed his habits and devoted much more attention to the Scriptures and holy living.

Such focus of life becomes the centerpiece of our chapter—Paul’s challenge to the Ephesian church leaders. Through them, the Holy Spirit and the Word speak to us as well, raising questions about our values, our focus in life.

How easy in our hectic world to value the temporary and ignore the eternal. Paul commended these brothers 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 (v. 32).

This chapter ought to call us back to the basics, back to the priorities of Christian faith to which Paul gave his life. The twenty-fourth verse of Acts 20 could well be a life verse for serious Christians intentionally wanting to be the Lord’s disciples:  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.[1]

A.  Three Months in Greece (v. 2)
This probably refers to a visit to Corinth, the capital of Achaia. During the winter months, ships did not sail regularly; and Paul had occasion to visit the Corinthian church, strengthen its theology and faith, and most likely, write the Book of Romans. Paul’s work in the eastern Mediterranean had nearly finished, and Rome was very much on his mind. Instead of making the personal visit he really wanted, he had to content himself with a letter. The elaborate theological makeup of Romans suggests both his awareness that he addressed a church which had never heard an apostle before and likely reflects the theological struggles he had to deal with in Corinth at that time.

B.  Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 6)
Since all the earliest Christians were Jews, Jewish feasts regularly carried over into the worship of the church. Essentially, this feast and the Feast of Passover had become interchangeable events by New Testament times. Actually, the two formed a double festival which began on the 14th of Nisan (March–April) and commemorated the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt and God’s creation of the nation. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began the day after Passover and lasted seven additional days (Lev. 25:5–8). All male Jews physically able and ceremonially clean were to attend this feast, the Feast of Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles. On these special pilgrimage festivals sacrifices were offered at Jerusalem (Num. 28–29).

No evidence indicates that early Christians connected Passover with Easter until the second century. Schaller writes:

This form and interpretation of the Passover festival disappeared early in the history of the church. During the 2nd cent. the celebration of Easter on a Sunday became general, with its emphasis on remembering the sacrificial death of Jesus, the true Passover lamb. This process gives clear expression both to the break between Judaism and Christianity and to the decline of eschatological expectation within the early Christian church (Schaller, 634).

C.  Feast of Pentecost (v. 16)
Occurring the fiftieth day after Passover, this second great pilgrim festival also called pilgrims to Jerusalem and explains Paul’s desire to get there, especially since he had missed Passover. This feast, originally the festival of firstfruits of grain harvest (Exod. 23:16; Lev. 23:17–22; Num. 28:26–31), was also called the Feast of Weeks because it followed seven weeks of harvesting after Passover. By the time of our text it commemorated the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant.

D.  Elders (v. 17)
Though one cannot argue firmly that the use of the words presbuteros and episkopos in this chapter indicates the establishment of the office at Ephesus, neither could one argue the reverse. Certainly the Bible places elders at Ephesus (1 Tim. 3), and we assume that elders along with deacons comprise the two offices of the church. Some talk about “ruling elders”; others, “teaching elders”; but this chapter focuses on “caring elders.” In all likelihood they both ruled and taught, but the emphasis of the passage certainly centers on their shepherding role (Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:7).

The word episkopos appears only five times as a noun (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:25), but thirteen times as a verb. Yet in discussing ecclesiology we tend to focus only on those noun forms because of our infatuation with organization and offices. The verb forms (episkeptomai/episkopeo) pick up the tone of Acts 20. In Matthew 25:36, 43, the word refers to looking after others. In Luke 1:6–8; 7:16, we find God coming to help his people; in Acts 15:14, God shows his concern; and in verse 36 Paul decides to visit the churches. James uses it to talk about looking after orphans and widows (1:27). Without diminishing the importance of 1 Timothy 3, perhaps Acts 20 provides us with the greatest demonstration in the entire Bible of how elders function.

E.  Sanctification (v. 32)
A common term in Paul’s vocabulary, this word appears very rarely in Acts. Sanctification simply means being set apart by God and for God. In one sense it happens to every believer at the time of regeneration (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11). It also describes a continuous process of spiritual formation (John 17:17; 2 Cor. 7:1) and the ultimate placement with Christ at the time of his second coming (1 Thess. 3:12–13). Lightner writes:

Justification and sanctification are closely related, though not identical. They are, in fact, inseparable. To be justified is to be declared righteous before God, and to be sanctified is to be set apart; the one presupposes the other. Justification has to do with the believer’s righteous standing before God. Sanctification has to do primarily with the believer’s holiness in life, his walk before men (Lightner, 205).[2]

      1.   How have leaders of your church been an encouragement to you in your Christian growth? How have you encouraged them?
      2.   What kinds of sermons does your church encourage your pastor to preach? Are there sermons that your preacher knows better than to preach? Why?
      3.   What is your personal testimony about God working in and through your life? When have you hesitated to speak or to do the whole will of God? Why?[3]

[1] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 346..
[2] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 346–348.
[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 350.