Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (multiple sermons, cited below).

Acts 20:17-27

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.[a] 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by[b] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

—————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post explained how Paul came to be in Miletus. From there he would sail for Jerusalem to commemorate the first Pentecost.

As Ephesus was nearby, he sent for the elders from that church to stay with him in Miletus (verse 17).

Paul wanted to leave them instructions on the ministry. In this first part, he explained his own conduct in Christ’s service. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

He is about to express to them the pattern of the ministry. Now, I hasten to add this very simply; this passage is not difficult to understand. It’s very simple. The concepts are simple; it’s ground floor. And at the same time that I say that, I would instruct you to listen carefully, because as it is basic, it can really be formative in your own ministry.

Now, Paul gives four views. The ministry only goes four ways. Watch. Our ministry has a perspective toward God, right? Our ministry has a perspective toward the Church, saved people. Toward the lost, and toward ourselves. Those are the four dimensions of the ministry.

Paul begins by telling the elders — presbyters — that during his entire time in Ephesus, how he lived among them, serving them in spite of the many trials and tears that beset him from the Jews who plotted against him (verse 19).

Throughout it all, he was blameless, steadfast and constant. Matthew Henry’s commentary has more:

(1.) He had conducted himself well all along, from the very first day that he came into Asia–at all seasons; the manner of his entering in among them was such as nobody could find fault with. He appeared from the first day they knew him to be a man that aimed not only to do well, but to do good, wherever he came. He was a man that was consistent with himself, and all of a piece; take him where you would he was the same at all seasons, he did not turn with the wind nor change with the weather, but was uniform like a die, which, throw it which way you will, lights on a square side. (2.) He had made it his business to serve the Lord, to promote the honour of God and the interest of Christ and his kingdom among them. He never served himself, nor made himself a servant of men, of their lusts and humours, nor was he a time-server; but he made it his business to serve the Lord. In his ministry, in his whole conversation, he proved himself what he wrote himself, Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, Romans 1:1. (3.) He had done his work with all humility of mind–meta pases tapeinophrosynes, that is, in all works of condescension, modesty, and self-abasement … (4.) He had always been very tender, affectionate, and compassionate, among them; he had served the Lord with many tears. Paul was herein like his Master; often in tears; in his praying, he wept and made supplication, Hosea 12:5. In his preaching, what he had told them before he told them again, even weeping, Philippians 3:18 … (5.) He had struggled with many difficulties among them. He went on in his work in the face of much opposition, many temptations, trials of his patience and courage, such discouragements as perhaps were sometimes temptations to him, as to Jeremiah in a like case to say, I will not speak any more in the name of the Lord, Jeremiah 20:8,9. These befel him by the lying in wait of the Jews, who still were plotting some mischief or other against him. Note, Those are the faithful servants of the Lord that continue to serve him in the midst of troubles and perils, that care not what enemies they make, so that they can but approve themselves to their Master, and make him their friend. Paul’s tears were owing to his temptations; his afflictions helped to excite his good affections.

Paul told the elders how he diligently taught, going from house to house, Jew and Gentile, speaking only that which was edifying about the Lord (verses 20,21). MacArthur says Paul did not care about ingratiating himself or being popular, but rather speaking only the truth about Jesus Christ:

He saw his relationship to God in terms of service toward the Church, point two, teaching. His obligation to the Church was to teach, verse 20, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you and have you publically, and from house to house.” His ministry Godward was seen as service, churchward as teaching. He saw the priority was instruction. That was very clear.

I like this little thought here, verse 20, “I kept back nothing that was profitable.” To keep back, to draw back, to withhold, the same verb used in verse 27, “I have not shunned,” or, “I have not failed,” “I have not held back anything that was the counsel of God.” Paul didn’t hold back a thing.

You know, that’s one of the dangers in the ministry is you get to think about how people are affected by you, and you get to worrying about your popularity. You do that just as much as I do. You know?

You say, “Well, if I say that, Mr. So-and-so, because he thinks this.” And, you know, you – and you’re just very careless.” So, you may avoid certain things so you don’t offend somebody.

Now, you should do that. You should be inoffensive if it’s a particular opinion. But if it’s the Word of God, and the truth of God, and a question of right or wrong, you just put it out and let everything fly.

Paul then told the elders that he was on his way to Jerusalem, ‘constrained by the Spirit’, not knowing what would happen there (verse 22). Both Henry and MacArthur say that commentators have interpreted Spirit as the Holy Spirit and, with a small ‘s’, as human spirit, or determination. MacArthur explains, using his Bible translation:

Look at verse 22, “And no, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem.” And the term “bound in the Spirit” is interesting. The word “bound” here is a very strong word. It refers usually to chains or cords or fetters. He was tied up, believe me, in this. He was under strong pressure.

Romans 7:2, the same word is used to speak of a strong obligation. He was absolutely chained to this fulfillment. He was chained and driven to this desire, bound in the Spirit. Now, some say that’s the Holy Spirit, some say it’s his human spirit. He’s just saying, “Inside I was bound for this.” I don’t think it matters, because it was both. He was a Spirit-filled man. So, either the Holy Spirit or the human spirit would probably be one and the same.

But Paul was compelled on the inside to go to Jerusalem, “not knowing the things that should befall me there,” verse 22 says. He was on his way to Jerusalem because he believed God was in it; it was right, and he was going to do it. He had a great compulsion to go. He had this money; he had to give it to the saints there. He knew that it would help to tie the Church together. It was so important to him, as we’ve seen.

Paul then said that the Holy Spirit had been testifying all along, wherever he went, that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him (verse 23). Jerusalem would be no different.

Regardless, Paul said that his own life didn’t matter. His ministry in Christ’s service was what mattered, testifying about God’s grace until the bitter end (verse 24). MacArthur says:

The lowest thing, the last thing on Paul’s list of priorities was self-preservation. Did you get that? The last thing. Do you know where that is on most of our lists? First. “Well, I will endeavor to do that; however, I must take care of certain things first.”

Yes, like Jesus called the disciples, and the guy said, “Well, I have to go home and bury my father.” His father wasn’t even dead, but he wanted to hang around until he died so he could get the goodies that were left to him. See, always self-preservation. But Paul, last on the list.

“Look,” he says, “don’t worry about me getting tied up. I’ll die if that’s what the Lord wants. I just want to do what he wants anyway.” That’s a combination of faith and confidence. His only concern was to finish the work.

Paul told the elders that he would not see them again (verse 25), although he did, as Henry tells us:

Paul did afterwards come to Ephesus, and see them again. He would never have said thus solemnly, Now, behold, I know it, if he had not known it for certain. Not but that he foresaw that he had a great deal of time and work yet before him, but he foresaw that his work would be cut out for him in other places, and in these parts he had no more to do.

Paul then said that he was innocent of any blood, referring not to forgiveness for his early persecutions as a Pharisee, but not causing any man to lose his own soul (verse 26). He had been diligent and thorough in his preaching. Anyone who did not heed his teaching had only himself — not Paul — to blame. Henry explains:

He therefore leaves the blood of those that perish upon their own heads, because they had fair warning given them, but they would not take it.

Paul concluded the review of his ministry by emphasising that he did not shirk his duty in proclaiming the whole counsel of God (verse 27). He did not add his own opinions. He did not philosophise. He did not add or omit anything. He taught solid doctrine about Jesus to everyone.

MacArthur says that being a faithful minister is a heavy responsibility, because clergy will be judged on how well they fulfilled their calling:

You say, “Is it – is it true that a leader or a teacher or a pastor is going to be guilty of the blood of certain people? Apparently it is. You go back to Ezekiel 33:8 and Ezekiel was told that he was to speak what God told him. God would give him a message, and he would relay it to Israel.

And God said, “You better be faithful in relaying the message.” Verse 8, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, thou shalt surely die,’ Ezekiel, if you don’t say the same thing to the man, his blood will I require at your hand.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Ezekiel’s going to be damned; it means Ezekiel’s going to be chastised for unfaithful ministry.

And Paul is saying here, “I will not be like that warning in Ezekiel 38.” And I’m sure he had that on his mind. My hands are clean. I am pure from the blood of all men.” There’s a responsibility for every man of God, and he has to recognize the responsibility that if God has committed unto him a ministry, and he doesn’t fulfill it, he’s going to be chastised for the failure to fulfill it. And I’m sure that there are some pastors who wonder why everything in their life seems to go wrong. And when they wonder that, they ought to examine a little more closely whether or not they are really fulfilling the ministry that God has committed to them, because if they’re not, then they’re under the punishment of the blood of those that they have failed to minister to in the way that God designed them to minister. Serious responsibility.

Believe me, that’s what James meant in 3:1, when he said, “Don’t hurry into the teaching ministry, because there is the greater condemnation if you fail to be faithful.”

But Paul says this, “I saw my ministry for what it was: toward God, toward the Church, toward the lost, toward myself. And I fulfilled it, and I never failed to declare the whole counsel of God. I did it. Therefore, I release my responsibility. I can walk out of this place and know that nothing is going to be held against me. I was faithful.

Now you say, “Is he saying that out of pride?”

Not at all. What he’s saying is this, “From now on, men, the responsibility is yours. Make sure that you discharge your ministry in a way faithful, equal to the way I gave you by example

Paul’s instructions to the elders of Ephesus will be in the next instalment.

Next time — Acts 20:28-35