PAUL'S FAREWELL MESSAGE TO THE ELDERS AT EPHESUS - ACTS 20:22-35
Paul was on his third missionary journey and final tour of the region. The farewell speech revealed the pathos the apostle experienced in his three years of ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 19, 22). Additionally, the date of this speech, 57 AD3 was important to note. This scene fell soon after the Corinthian controversy, persisting through and beyond the Ephesian ministry when Paul's credentials came under attack. In his defense, Paul may be overtly emotional but such was the apostle, as we know him from his discourse in 2 Cor. 10-13.
Miletus was a significant city of ancient history. Mark Wilson noted that Acts 20:15-16 "mention four of the twelve cities that comprise the Ionian League-Chios, Samos, Miletus and Ephesus."4 As Paul requested the elders to meet him in the city (Acts 20:17), their trip would have been a long excursion. Witherington remarked, "the time taken to go and summon the elders and lead them back would be at least five days."5 Regardless, because of its locale, Miletus was an obvious city to share a parting speech as the apostle met the Ephesian leaders to say goodbye.
One final time Paul ministered to the church family he loved, delivering the speech with drama and angst.6 The apostle expressed great sentiment for these saints (Eph. 1:1,15, 16); however, scholars have differing opinions about the address. Bruce wrote, "the speech is mainly hortatory, but also in some degree apologetic."7 Nevertheless, this dialouge was much more than a dry conversation to a disinterested crowd as Marion Soards argued, "the 'farewell address' is a special, recognizable form of epideictic rhetoric."8 Yet, Witherington disagreed with Soard's notion writing "that this speech does not follow the rhetorical requirement to be an encomium or piece of epideictic rhetoric."9 Whatever the case, Paul plainly involved the elders with a homily to impart his passion. I. H. Marshall noted, "this address contains the elements that would be expected in the type of farewell discourse familiar at the time."10 In short, the apostle's farewell contained the essential elements of a parting salutation to his friends.
Exegesis Proper and Analysis of Paul's Farewell to the Ephesian Leaders
Placing the speech in historical context, the uproar created by the Ephesian riot (Acts 19:23-41) convinced Paul to travel westward across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. He convened the disciples, conveying his spiritual heart before departing. The apostle could not leave without this demonstration of love to his fellow followers of Jesus. He spent three fruitful years in Ephesus, but it was time to leave. On many occasions, the elders recognized Paul as an evangelist; but in Acts 20, Luke displayed a unique picture as a pastor. The exegesis of his farewell speech to the Ephesians leaders was placed in this context. Lexical guides, as a method of grammar utilized in this exegesis discovered repeated words and phrases giving pronounced meaning in his speech. In addition, this expository exegesis included specific historical and theological emphases in connection with the Greek text.
(22-24) Paul speaks of his future in Jerusalem by the Holy Spirit
vs 22 δεδεµένος ἐγὼ I go bound-compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. Luke applied the same root word δήσας (bound) found with the prophet Agabus in Acts 21:11. Paul did not know his future, yet, like Jesus in Luke'sgospel, the apostle resolutely decided to travel to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Thus, he submitted to God not knowing what would transpire.
vs 22 πνεύµατι The Spirit became the central inspiration behind Paul's future journey to Jerusalem and undergirded the apostle's ministry in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30).
vs 23 πνεῦµα τὸ ἅγιον κατὰ πόλιν διαµαρτύρεταί the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. Once more, the Holy Spirit empowered Paul concerning future oppressions with a word of knowledge. He recognized the dangerous road ahead receiving a prophecy that exposing this danger (see Acts 21:10-11). Nevertheless, he was willing to lay down his life for the cause of the gospel.
vs 24-I do not count my life of any value to myself. Paul yielded his life for the sake of the call and the gospel (Acts 21:13; Phil. 1:20, 21)12. His tremendous vigor for Christ disclosed his absolute devotion to Christ.
vs 24-If only I may finish my course. Paul thought of himself as a runner completing a race and nothing would keep him from finishing with joy. Additionally, he speaks of "my" aim in his race revealing he had his death in mind. It would be several years until he died but considered his remaining time on earth worthwhile.
(25) Paul announced that he would not see the Ephesian elders again
vs 25-Now I know (ἐγὼ οἶδα) that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Again, Paul knew he would never see them. He said, "I know" for emphasis. Unmistakably, his thoughts were disconcerting to the leaders.
Proclaiming the kingdom (κηρύσσων τὴν βασιλείαν) In the city of Ephesus, God ministered many amazing miracles through Paul. Acts 19:11 expressed that in Ephesus, the operation of the gift of miracles flowed through the hands of the apostle. Acts 19:12 revealed handkerchiefs and aprons from his body brought healing to ailing individuals. Acts 19:15 described demonic spirits recognizing his ministry. Indeed, he preached the kingdom with signs and wonders among the Ephesians, as his ultimate goal brought the kingdom to the Jews and Greeks (Acts 28:31). The Holy Spirit was the power behind these miraculous exploits.
vs 25-None of you...will ever see my face again. Paul showed pronounced sadness, compassion, and courage. This moment will be his last time they lay eyes on him. He enjoyed a significant experience with these leaders, building a thriving ministry by the bonds of fellowship and friendship. Hence, one understood why he asked the elders to walk thirty-six miles to meet him. Paul's concern for the leaders and the congregation in Ephesus simply reflected Jesus' great love for the Ephesian church.
(26-27) Paul preached the whole counsel of God
vss 26, 27-Therefore I declare to you this day διότι Therefore. There is much meaning in this simple word. It contained the sense of the investment of his heart and life among them.
vs 26-I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. As if he corroborated in a court of law, Paul declared a clear conscience (1 Cor. 4:1-4) for he emphatically stated, "I am innocent" (καθαρός εἰµι).
vs 27-The whole will of God. Paul could leave the Ephesian leaders, with integrity and honor because he communicated the whole counsel of God. For this reason, the apostle departed this church with no guilt or regrets. As he concluded with this final speech, with assurance in his heart, Paul accomplished all that God set before him.
(28-31) Encouraging the elders to bestow care for God's people
vs 28-Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
It is as if Luke presented another "therefore" in the text. In that sense the first "therefore" considered his life (Acts 20:26) and this second transition instructed the leaders of the Ephesian Christians to guard the flock (Acts 20:28).
vs 28-Watch...the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Pay attention and care for the people of God because the Holy Spirit (πνεῦµα τὸ ἅγιον) ordained the overseers (ἐπισκόπους). In Acts 20:17 Paul called the same overseers as elders (πρεσβυτέρους).
vs 28-Be shepherds of the church of God. Shepherds of the church tend the flock (ποιµνίῳ) as this activity remained an elder's main vocation. He reminded the leaders, to guide the church, and serve their house church congregations as faithful pastors. Their position in the church involved the care and feeding of the sheep.
vs 28-That he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (διὰ τοῦ αἵµατος τοῦ ἰδίου). As a possessive genitive (τοῦ ἰδίου) "his own" connoted God's Son. Hence, the church did not belong to the elders; she assimilated with Jesus who purchased her with his blood.
vs 29-I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. This urgent warning cautioned the elders that wolves would come among them. As a pastor and a leader among God's people, Paul recognized his responsibility as a protector, just as Ezekiel 33:1-7 commissioned the Old Testament prophet as an intermediary alerting others about the coming doom.13 Paul proclaimed the gospel to everyone; therefore, he was not guilty of anyone's condemnation.
vs 30-Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Shepherds deal with the wolves that come from the outside. Heretical teachings and false teachers endeavor to turn aside disciples after themselves. In addition, unsanctified egos prompt people to undertake situations that they would never do.
vs 31-Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. This caution was Paul's third warning. He gave the admonition after an explanation of the urgency. For three years, he ceased not to teach everyone night and day (hyperbole) with tears. The apostle exhorted the elders to maintain the same careful concern for God's people that he exhibited.
(32-35) Paul's personal exhortations
vs 32-And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace (χάριτος αὐτοῦ). Paul gave everything for the Christians in Ephesus. In the end, he commended the church to God and to the word of God's sovereign grace as the Holy Spirit promoted the gift of grace.
vs 33-I coveted no one's silver or gold or clothing. Paul concluded by communicating his heart and motives in ministry. Colin J. Hemer wrote, "the speech stresses Paul's pledge to support himself and not be a burden to his converts, or lend colour to any allegation that he was in the business for personal gain."14 Thus, he supplied for his own needs, not begging for funds from God's people.
vs 35-Something must be said of the maxim attributed to Jesus in Acts 20:35. Scholars have disputed its genuineness, for it had no parallel in the gospels. Why would Luke choose a saying of Christ that remained absent from his gospel? If Paul cited it at Miletus, certainly, he and Luke were aware of the oral tradition of Jesus preserved in the gospels. A similar saying in the Didache 1:5 read, "Blessed is the giver...alas for the receiver." Witherington remarked, "the Greco-Roman world was honeycombed by social networks grounded in the principle of reciprocity of 'giving and receiving.'"15 As Paul quoted pagan poets in a Gentile gathering (Acts 17), is it strange that he cited words of Jesus to Christian colleagues? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus related how to be blessed; therefore, one ought not to stumble over the thought that Jesus taught many concepts unrecorded in the gospels. John the evangelist said as much proclaiming, "but there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). This saying of Jesus does not appear in any of the gospels, but its spirit was manifested in many other dictums of Jesus (e.g. Luke 6:38; 11:9; John 13:35). Indeed, one can trust that God preserved the necessary teachings of the Nazarene as Lenski noted, "with a word from Jesus' own lips Paul closed his address."16 Thus, the words of Christ embodied the benediction of the speech.