Acts 20:17-38 (web)

3rd Missionary Journey

Farewell to the Ephesian Elders

20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus,
and called to himself the elders of the assembly. 
20:18 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 all the time, 
20:19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears,
and with trials which happened to me by the plots of the Jews; 

20:20 how I didn't shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable,
teaching you publicly and from house to house, 
20:21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, 
and faith toward our Lord Jesus. 

20:22 Now, behold, I go bound by the Spirit to Jerusalem,
not knowing what will happen to me there; 
20:23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, 
saying that bonds and afflictions wait for me. 
20:24 But these things don't count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, 
so that I may finish my race with joy, 
and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, 
to fully testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

20:25 Now, behold, I know that you all, 
among whom I went about preaching the Kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 
20:26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am clean from the blood of all men, 

20:27 for I didn't shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 
20:28 Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock,
in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, 
to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and {TR, NU omit "the Lord and"} 
God which he purchased with his own blood. 
20:29 For I know that after my departure, 
vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 
20:30 Men will arise from among your own selves, 
speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 
20:31 Therefore watch, remembering that for a period of three years I didn't cease to admonish everyone night and day with tears. 

20:32 Now, brothers, I entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace, 
which is able to build up, and to give you the inheritance 
among all those who are sanctified. 

20:33 I coveted no one's silver, or gold, or clothing. 
20:34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, 
and to those who were with me. 
20:35 In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring you ought to help the weak, 
and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, 
'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

20:36 When he had spoken these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 
20:37 They all wept a lot, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, 
20:38 sorrowing most of all because of the word which he had spoken, 
that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship. 


Principles of Ministry

  • Serve with humility in the midst of persecution
  • Hold back nothing which is profitable
  • Teach both publically and individually
  • Teach both repentance and faith
  • Strive to complete the ministry the Lord has given you
  • Fulfill all your responsibilities by declaring the whole counsel of God
  • Make sure that you've not simply produced disciples, but disciple makers.
    • Exhort them to do likewise feeding the church
    • Warn them to beware of straying from the faith into false doctrine
    • Warn them to beware of others doing so, leading the church astray
  • Disciple potential overseers for about three years 

  • and only after that commend them to the Word of God
  • Do not accept payment for ministry
  • Rather work at a secular job in order to support the truly needy 

  • and to provide an example to follow
  • Pray and leave them to their ministry

These are of course not a comprehensive list of the chacteristics of a disciplemaking ministry, but are good guidelines. Notice the similarity of these principles to Jesus' ministry as well. 


Serve with humility in the midst of persecution

If you are serving Christ, you will be treated with contempt as Christ was. 
Joh 15:20  Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
And furthermore many like to be called servants as long as they are not treated like servants. But "the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." Luke 22:26 Proud people simply end up taking credit for the work of others and tend not to rely on God when under persecution.

Hold Back Nothing

Afraid of turning people off by telling them the truth? Then Christian ministry is not for you. Yes Jesus was indirect with others, but to his own disciples he said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them." Matt 13:11 Teach the applications of the Bible clearly, honestly, frankly and thoroughly holding nothing back. There are many pastors and other Christians who simply can't give a direct answer to direct questions. They play the politician by speaking vaguely and elusively about the issues and never seem to get to significant applications. Let's not be halfway disciplemakers. They us tell it like it is, in accordance with the Bible and not leave out anything significant or edifying.

Teach Publically and Individually

Jesus had a public ministry for the masses and a private ministry for his disciples. If we are to walk as Jesus did let us do the same. We should both be doing something for the Christian community in general and also working with individuals. Jesus' ministry is not "either/or", it's "both/and". 

Strive to fulfill your responsibilities

Granted there are a number of motivations which cause us to press on in the minstry. Among them are: 
  • because we love others and seek to benefit them
  • because we desire to see God glorified on the earth
  • because Jesus told us to
  • because Jesus will hold us accountable
  • because of the rewards awaiting us
All are legitimate motivations, but it seems Paul was particularly motivated out of the sense of being held accountable for his ministry. For he was given a very specific and very explicit commission when he first saw the light in Damascus. All of us are of course responsible for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But as for our particular role in it we must infer as the Spirit leads. Nonetheless we find in many of Jesus' parables the theme of having to give an account of the responsibilities God has given us. 

Make Disciplemakers

The human race is one generation away from complete annihilation. For if no one in this generation either has the ability or the willingness to have children, that's the end of the human race. The same is true to a degree for Christians. Yes, the Word can produce Christians even though others aren't around. But there would be a serious problem if the only thing which is produced are immature disciples and not disciplemakers. It was the seed among the thorns which produced immature fruits and thus though being alive was reckoned "unfruitful" in that it didn't bring fruit to a maturity level that would allow it to reproduce. Such is the state of much of the Christian community caught up in the worries, riches and pleasures of life. (Luke 8:14)

Disciplemakers have gotten beyond the "what can I get out of it attitude" common among immature Christians and go on to feed others. But a major point is to give them the sense of watchfulness. They must look out both for themselves and others from deviating in doctrine or behavior away from what is the Biblical norm. Historically churches have tried to do this by developing systems of human dogma and human hierarchy within the church. It hasn't worked! The best solution is simply to commend them to the Word of God, and not to human dogma. And I have experienced a number of church leaders personally in the Evangelical community and have read of others historically who demand that their opinions be treated as the Word of God just because of their position in their institutional church. And we've seen the corrupting effect of religious hierarchy clearly in the case of the Catholic church. An emphasis on Institutionalism has resulted in Christians who don't study the Bible for themselves. Rather than filtering everything they hear through the Bible, they filter the Bible through the opinions of their church leaders. And most Christians don't do ministry or even think about doing ministry. For they relegate ministry to their institutionally elite. Jesus didn't come to build institutions. He came to build a body. If each part the body isn't working, but only certain "elite" parts, the body is sick. That's the state of the church. 


The wolves are out to make a name for themselves, rather than for Christ.  They draw disciples away for themselves. They make a Christ in their own image and teach in accordance with their own dogma rather than the Bible. John writes, "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." 1John 4:6 and "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." Mt 7:20 Such wolves will try to avoid being revealed by misapplying the verse "judge not and you will not be judged" which I hear so commonly today in the Christian community. But they ignore "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1John 4:21 and they ignore "that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'" 1Cor 5:11-13 and other such verses as "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Cor 13:5 Therefore "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1John 4:1

It Takes Time

Paul typically took one to three years raising disciple makers. Jesus took three years. That's about the time frame you should expect in raising disciplemakers.

Commend to God and to the Word

It is unfortunate that rather than being commended to the Word, make disciplemakers will commend their people to other theological writings such as that of Calvin or Wesley or such. Or perhaps commend them to the writings of some modern Christians authors. Christians today, if they read at all, tend to read more Christian books than they read the Bible. This makes them susceptible to false ideas, human dogma, or an obsession over minor issues, like when the Rapture will occur, or issues of arm-chair non-application oriented theology, which further divides the Christian community. Indeed many church leaders would rather commend their congregation to their sermons rather than to the Word of God. How can we trust Christians with the Word of God? How can we trust they will interpret it correctly? Well, the same goes for church leaders and Christian authors. Yes, at first they need guidance as they mature, but after about three years of that, they need to study the Bible for themselves. Let them develop their own theology; let them write their own commentaries; let them infer their own applications from the Bible. And let them filter everyone else's opinion through the Bible rather than filtering the Bible through their pastor or through some writings of post-Biblical theologians. 

Can we trust God to guide them? Is it not written: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." John 16:13 And that "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Rom 8:14 And indeed how can they "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" if professional Christians and theologians demand their ideas be accepted without question? 

Don't accept money for ministry

In 1Corinthians 9 Paul admits that "the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." Paul views this as a right, but that it is optional and in fact advises those who preach the gospel to give up such personal rights and freedoms to serve God better. By the way, he is not simply referring to pastors or what we call full-time Christian workers. He is referring to everyone who preaches the gospel. You may be working at a full time secular job, as the Apostle Paul chose to do, but if you also have a ministry of preaching the gospel, you have a right to get paid for that. That's what the "Lord commands". But not accepting money for ministry is a better option. For it avoids both the suspicion and the actuality of covetousness. Indeed how can a paid profession be sure to what extent the money he receives is not affecting his message and his motivations. Just as at a secular job, you may love your job, but if you didn't get paid for it you probably wouldn't do it. So also those who do ministry without getting paid for it reveal more sincerity.

Futhermore is the practical issue of practicing charity. Those who get paid for ministry are taking money from Christians which could have been given to the poor and needy. Yes there are those who will respond with the passage in John 12:5,6 where a woman had annointed Jesus will expensive oil and Judas replied, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." But it goes on to say, "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." So we see that Judas was the paid professional who demanded money be given to him with the false promise that he would pass it on to the poor, whereas in fact he was stealing from the money bag. And I think we all realize that there are profession Christians like Jim Baker and such who do likewise. Yes, we should be giving money to churches and Christian organizations both for the support of their ministry to fulfill the Great Commission and for their support of providing for the poor and needy. Realize for example that Paul also mentions here that he has been providing financial support to the other itinerant evangelists who were with him. This is to be expected for while Paul has the lucrative skill of a tentmaker, others may have difficulty getting work on such a temporary basis. Of professional Christians, foreign missionaries should be the highest priority when considering who to pay for doing ministry. For they are both worthy of getting paid and are unlikely to be able to hold a secular job in their area. But, besides the issue of motives, if every Christian is to become a disciplemaker and every disciplemaker demands payment for their ministry, then there would be no money to give to anyone who really needs it. Disciplemakers should take the opportunity to set an example of generosity, a seed which can yield much fruit.

Final Farewell and on to Jerusalem

In verse 25 Paul says that he knows that he will not see them again. "Know" here is "eido" which means to perceive. He probably did not receive a specific word from the Lord in a prophetic sense, but was rather more or less aware of the kind of thing he should expect to happen based on his many experiences dealing with the Jews, and particularly of those in Jerusalem. For he also says in verse 22 that he doesn't know exactly what is going to happen. But I suspect that his plan was really to get to Rome. As a Roman citizen Paul had one trump card he had never yet played in all his experiences of being persecuted, which he alluded to when he was imprisoned in Philippi in Acts 16:37,38.  He had the right to appeal to the Emperor. In other words in all his trials he could at any point appealed to the Emperor and get a free trip to Rome being delivered from his Jewish persecutors to fulfill his commission as Jesus told him "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel."  I suspect he was saving this option for last. For most likely upon exercising it he would be put to death, which he alluded to in telling these elders he would never see them again.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jan 28,2022