Pastor David B. Curtis


To the Ephesian Elders - Part 1

Acts 20:13-27

Delivered 03/14/2010

Paul had been teaching the flock of God at Ephesus for three years, A.D.54-57. After a riot breaks out because of the Christian influence hurting the idol maker's trade, Paul leaves Ephesus and goes to the churches in Greece where he will take up the money that had been collected for famine relief in Jerusalem. On their way to Jerusalem they stop in Troas where they stay a week, and on their final night Paul preaches to the church until midnight. A young man falls asleep during Paul's message and falls out a third story window to his death. Paul stops preaching, goes down the stairs, falls on the man, and resurrects him from the dead. Then Paul continues his teaching until dawn. You can be sure that every time the disciples in Troas were tempted to doubt the truth of our Lord concerning life or death, all they had to do was look at Eutychus walking among them.

As dawn came, they continued their journey toward Jerusalem:

But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. (Acts 20:13-14 NASB)

The "we" here is all these guys that have been waiting in Troas, listed back in verse 4, along with Luke, got on a boat at Troas and sailed to Assos, 20 to 30 miles away. Paul decided to walk. He sent them around a point that jutted into the sea, a voyage of about forty miles, while he cut across the neck of the peninsula, a hike of about twenty-five miles. Remember Paul has been up all night preaching. He has had no sleep, and now he walks about 25 miles to Assos. Why? We have no clue, the text tells us nothing. Any explanation would be conjecture.

Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus. 15 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:15-16 NASB)

Paul consciously bypasses Ephesus, and Luke tells us why: He does not want to be slowed down on his way to Jerusalem, for he desires to arrive there, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.

The aim to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost, one of the three great feasts of the Jews, may have been for a number of reasons. Pentecost, the time of bringing the first fruits, is the ideal time for arriving and presenting to the Jewish Christian leaders the large sum of money that he and his companions had brought as a gift from the Gentile churches. This would give maximum publicity to the Gentiles' generous gift.

From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17 NASB)

Evidently Paul's ship had a several-day layover in Miletus, or he may have changed ships after spending a few days there. It would have taken at least one day for Paul's message to reach the Ephesian elders and at least one more day for them to make their way to Miletus to join him.

Notice that he called for the "elders" (plural) of the "church" (singular). Now, that is important because it tells us right at the beginning that there was more than one elder in the church at Ephesus. In other words, the churches of apostolic founding were churches that had plural leadership.

It's amazing to me how people like to get away from the simple teaching of the Word of God concerning the organization of the Church. Now I'm sure that there were a number of house churches in the city of Ephesus, and the elders of the church are the elders from each of these house churches. We know that they met in homes. but we also know that they gathered together as the church at Ephesus.

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:18 NASB)

And this church at Ephesus had a plurality of elders. The idea that there was one elder who had the office of pastor is not Apostolic doctrine. The Apostolic doctrine is that the Church is ruled by a body of elders. Notice what Paul writes to the church at Philippi:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1 NASB)

This is the earliest Epistle where bishops and deacons are mentioned, and the only one where they are separately addressed.

I have a question for you, "Where's the pastor?" Is Paul mad at him, so he snubs him? Is Paul being fleshly? No, there was no single pastor. In the New Testament there is not one book, never one word addressed to one man as the pastor of the church. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, not a man. Elders are under shepherds who care for the flock.

There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe Church leaders, and none of them are "reverend," they are, "bishop, elder, and pastor." Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three terms refer to the same office. In verse 17 Paul uses the term "elders" and then in verse 28 he uses "bishop and shepherd":

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 NASB)

Three Greek words are used to describe those who lead the church. Elder emphasizes who the man is, bishop and pastor speak of what he does.

The idea of the office of the pastor is not found in the New Testament. No individual in the New Testament is ever addressed as the pastor. We have invented that office. It's not a New Testament office at all. The idea of the office of pastor does not exist in the New Testament.

This message that Paul delivers to the elders of the church at Ephesus is the only one delivered to Christians recorded by Luke in the Book of the Acts. And so what we have is something rather significant; Paul's message to a believing body. Most of the time in Acts, we see Paul the Evangelist; but here in Acts 20, we get a unique picture of Paul the loving shepherd.

Everything that follows from verse 18 through 21 is one sentence in the original. It's Paul's way of spelling out how he served the Lord:

And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; (Acts 20:18-19 NASB)

"You yourselves know"--He appeals to their personal experience as he points to his integrity during the whole time he was with them. The characteristic of Paul's ministry was integrity; that is, he was true to his ideals, he was true to the message that had been given to him, he was true to the ministry, and honest and fearless in the proclamation of it.

When we think of integrity, what do we think of? In the dictionary, it says that integrity is: "Firm adherence to a code of moral and artistic values. Incorruptibility." Or we can say, it means: "A quality of state of being that is completely undivided." That's what the dictionary says. As we look into the Bible, the word in Hebrew means: "completeness." Talking about David, the Psalmist writes:

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands. (Psalms 78:72 NASB)

So, that means no cutting corners, complete honesty, no flaw in character, no hairline cracks in his heart, promises kept. With David as a leader, the nation was secure. Not perfection of course, David wasn't perfect, but people with integrity are honest about their failures. The Bible has a lot to say about integrity:

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity Than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool. (Proverbs 19:1 NASB)

Synonyms for integrity would include honesty, honor, character, and dignity. I like this working definition, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one else is looking."

Let me read some statistics to demonstrate how integrity is vanishing in today's society. These statistics are from a book entitled The Day America Told the Truth. 91% of Americans lie regularly--at home and at work. In answer to the question, "Whom have you regularly lied to?" the statistics included 86% to their parents and 75% to their friends. A third of AIDS carriers admit to not having told their lovers. Most workers admit to goofing off for an average of seven hours a week, which is almost one whole workday a week, and half admit that they regularly call in sick when they are perfectly well.

The survey also posed the question, "What are you willing to do for $10 million?" 25% would abandon their families. This is amazing! 23% would become a prostitute for a week. 7% would kill a stranger. Think about that! Out of a gathering of 100 Americans, 7 would kill you if the price was right.

In a paper presented at a symposium on employee theft, sponsored by the American Psychological Association, the authors pointed out that inventory shortages cost department stores and specialty chains $8 billion every year. Of that, 10% is attributed to clerical error, 30% to shoplifting, and a whopping 60%--or $16 million a day to theft by employees. 60% is stolen by employees! $16 million a day!

A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold. (Proverbs 22:1 NASB)

The truth is, American culture is in big trouble. The colossal slide in integrity has grim spiritual, domestic, and political implications which threaten the survival of life as we know it.

Paul was a man of integrity, and he calls the Ephesian elders and all believers to be men and women of integrity.

And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, (Acts 20:18 NASB)

Many feel that Paul was giving an apologetic speech to these elders. In other words, by that I mean that they think he was defending himself by saying that somebody, in the year that he's been gone, may have come in and started undermining him. Well that no doubt happened. But I think it's plain from verse 35 that Paul's aim in reminding them about his own ministry was to instruct them about theirs:

"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:35 NASB)

Paul says, "I showed you!" My life has been my lesson for how to lead the flock of God. They had seen how he lived. He didn't put on a front when he was with them, but then live differently when he was away from them. He had nothing to hide. Integrity means that what you are in private or at home is the same as what you are in public.

serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; (Acts 20:19 NASB)

This is how Paul lived. "Serving the Lord"--he calls himself a "servant." I think the translation "servant" here is bad. A servant is one who can quit. "Slave" better fits the picture here. The word "serving" is the Greek word douleuo, which conveys the idea of ownership, possession, dependency, subjection, loyalty. It also conveys the idea of willing service, not a forced service. They are a slave, but they are a slave by choice. They have willingly made themselves a slave of Jesus Christ to do His will. Paul uses this word 17 times in his Epistles, he talks a lot about slavery.

Do you see yourself as a slave of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to you to be a slave of Jesus?

Paul says that he serves the Lord with all Humility--If you look at Paul's ministry, you cannot help but agree with him. Humility is, first, a feeling toward God that He has absolute rights over your life--that He can do with you as He pleases, and that He has absolute authority to tell you what is best for you--and that's just fine with you. You see yourself as clay in the Potter's hands.

Humility also involves a conscious awareness of your utter dependence on Jesus Christ:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, (2 Corinthians 3:5 NASB)

Paul confronts the pride of the Corinthians when he asks:

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7 NASB)

A humble person is continually aware that all that he is stems from God's grace. A humble person does not think in terms of his/her rights. It's the opposite of feeling that everybody owes you something.

Paul also says that he serves the Lord with tears--I think what Paul is saying is that serving the Lord means getting so intensely involved in people's struggles that you cry over them. You feel their pain. You hurt with them.

how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, (Acts 20:20 NASB)

The word "shrink" here is the Greek word hupostello, which has the idea of to "shrink back in fear." This implies that some things that are profitable are difficult to receive, and thus difficult to teach. If Paul had been seeking to please men, he would have dodged these truths. If he had wanted to be a popular speaker, he would have chosen other subjects. But because he sought to please God, and because he knew that these truths were profitable for spiritual growth and health, he plainly taught what God wanted him to teach.

When writing to the Galatians, Paul said:

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:16 NASB)

The language Paul uses here is quite strong. The word "enemy" in the Greek is echthros, which comes from the primary word echtho meaning: "to hate or to be actively hostile against."

Paul has become an enemy of the people. Why? Because he has taken advantage of them? Because he has scammed them? Was it because he somehow deceived and manipulated them? Not at all! Paul is public enemy number 1 among the Galatians because he told them the truth. Paul preached the things that were welcome, the things that were unpalatable and unwelcome, he had integrity of complete honesty in preaching.

What were some of these difficult truths that Paul did not shrink back from teaching? I think that we can surmise a few of them by reading Ephesians, which he later wrote to this church. He begins by talking about the doctrines of God's sovereign election and predestination:

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, (Ephesians 1:4-5 NASB)

He goes on to talk about human depravity, that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins (2:1). Because of this, salvation is totally from God's grace, not from our merit or works (2:5-9). He shows how the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles is broken down in Christ (2:11-22).

All of these doctrines level human pride and exalt the cross of Jesus Christ. A slave of Jesus Christ does not decide what to teach by what is popular or easily accepted. If it is part of God's counsel, it ought to be taught, because it will be profitable.

"I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable"--What was profitable? Well, he says in verse 27:

"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:27 NASB)

So if he declared the whole purpose, all the counsel of God, and if he said, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable," it's obvious that he thinks that all of the Word of God is profitable. And this is what he said to Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB)

Did God give us unprofitable truth? No, all the Word of God is profitable. Some of it's profitable for doctrine, that is to teach principles; some for reproof, that is rebuke; some for correction; and some for training.

If all the Word of God is profitable, then we should be teaching the whole Book. That's why I'm so committed to the fact that you must teach verse by verse by exposition as you go through the Bible, because if you do that, then you're gonna hit the whole council of God.

solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21 NASB)

Paul preached to the Jews "Repentance toward God"--means to change your mind about your view of Jesus. The Lord was not merely a good teacher, or a prophet of God, nor was he a false messiah. He was God's Son come in the flesh, the long-awaited Messiah.

And to the Gentiles he preached "Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ"--means that when I see that the Lord Jesus has died upon the Cross for sinners and that forgiveness of sins and salvation is offered through the merits of His atoning covenantal sacrifice. When I rest upon that, that's faith. To rest upon what Christ has done is faith. God is satisfied with what Christ has done. And by God's grace, I have come to be satisfied with what Christ has done. That's faith. That's what it is to believe. It's simply to say, "Amen," to the Word of God.

"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:22-23 NASB)

Apparently, he had received many words of prophecy telling him of this danger already. Yet, he is not dissuaded by danger, but willing to lay down his life for the Gospel of the grace of God.

Sangster said, "I once saw the track of a bleeding hare across the snow. That was Paul's track across Europe." That surely illustrates the apostle's ministry. Wherever he went, he found bonds and afflictions awaiting him, because men are not happy to hear the truth of God.

"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 NASB)

Note how costly his ministry is. He knows that he is facing danger, trial, hardship, affliction. Everywhere he had gone the Holy Spirit had witnessed to him, through circumstances and through other Christians, that he was heading for trouble, and he knew it. But note also the commitment of his heart. He says that it does not matter.

Believer, please get this, the last thing on Paul's list of priorities was self preservation. That is usually number one on our list. Rather than preserve his life at all costs, he chooses to pursue the purpose the Lord Jesus has for him: the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace.

The word "course" does not mean school course; it means race course. And "finish" means finish the race without dropping out from weariness or frustration or pain or pleasant detours.

There is one other place in the Bible where these two words come together like this:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NASB)

At the end of his life, perhaps six or eight years after this meeting with the Ephesian elders, he writes, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race" This is the same phrase as he used in Acts.

We see another man with this same attitude in:

because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. (Philippians 2:30 NASB)

Epaphroditus served the Lord and didn't take a thought for his own life. The word "risking" is from the Greek word parabouleuomai. It is a gambling term. It means: "to throw down a stake, to roll the dice." He risked his life as a gambler will take risks for a possible gain.

The pain and persecution that Paul faced didn't deter him or make him decide that it was time to move to that nice retirement community on the Aegean Sea, where he could play golf every day. Because Paul didn't see himself as a volunteer for Jesus. He saw himself as a slave under orders from his Master.

What is your greatest pursuit in life? Is it the American dream, or the Kingdom of God? When's the last time you made a sacrifice of anything? I mean anything; comfort, money, time, anything, for the Kingdom of God?

"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. (Acts 20:25 NASB)

He has a sense in his heart that he'll never be back, because he knows the persecution of the Jews, he knows what awaits him in Jerusalem. Plus, he plans to go to Rome and then to Spain, so he doesn't see in his own mind coming to this area again, and so it's a farewell time.

"Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:26-27 NASB)

When Paul says, "I am innocent of the blood of all men," I have no doubt that he is alluding to a figure of speech that is found in the First Testament, particularly, in the Book of Ezekiel, because it's found there more than once. It is found in the 3rd chapter and then in the 13th chapter of Ezekiel, and, finally, in the 33rd chapter. This figure of speech is used to express faithfulness in the preaching of a message from the Lord God:

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, 'If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. 'He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life. (Ezekiel 33:1-5 NASB)

So, in effect, the prophet says, If the watchman blows the trumpet, if he warns the people, then those who hear the sound of the trumpet and do not take the warning, their blood shall be upon their own head.

Now, in verse 6, we read:

'But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman's hand.' "Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. "When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. "But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life. (Ezekiel 33:6-9 NASB)

So Paul, using that figure says, "I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men." He is saying, I have fulfilled my duties, I have warned you, through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

In verse 20 Paul said:

how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, (Acts 20:20 NASB)

And now again, he says:

"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:27 NASB)

In his three years in Ephesus Paul taught them the "whole purpose of God." He wasn't afraid of them, because he was a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. To Paul, God's Word was truth, and truth matters. So Paul taught it all and let the chips fall where they would.

Most preachers today simply use a Bible text as a launching pad, and then go on to say what they want, which is pretty much what they believe the people want to hear. Others throw in Bible quotations to illustrate their points, or to illustrate their stories! But so few today will simply let the Bible speak for itself. To find a church that teaches verse-by-verse is a rare thing in our society. When you teach verse-by-verse you cover the whole counsel of God, and you upset many people. So be it!

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