bible-wornThe 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.

Acts 20:36-38

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed the preceding verses, which contained Paul’s instructions to the elders of Ephesus about their ministry. Wisely, he gave them that guidance after he recounted his own ministry in Ephesus.

Now it was time for Paul to leave Miletus, which is near Ephesus, and sail from Asia Minor to eventually reach his final destination, Jerusalem, to commemorate Pentecost.

The elders and Paul knelt for a final prayer together (verse 36). Matthew Henry’s commentary has an excellent analysis about prayer, not only in this situation but also for us as churchgoers (emphases mine):

no doubt, it was a prayer every way suited to the present mournful occasion. He committed them to God in this prayer, prayed that he would not leave them, but continue his presence with them. 1. It was a joint prayer. He not only prayed for them, but prayed with them, prayed with them all; that they might put up the same petitions for themselves and one another that he put up to God for them all, and that they might learn what to ask of God for themselves when he was gone. Public prayers are so far from being intended to supersede our own secret prayers, and make them needless, that they are designed to quicken and encourage them, and to direct us in them. When we are alone we should pray over the prayers that our ministers have put up with us.

Henry tells us about the humility of kneeling in prayer:

2. It was a humble reverent prayer. This was expressed by the posture they used: He kneeled down, and prayed with them, which is the most proper gesture in prayer, and significant both of adoration and of petition, especially petition for the forgiveness of sin. Paul used it much: I bow my knees, Ephesians 3:14.

This was likely to have been a prayer about Paul’s discourse on ministering to the church in Ephesus:

3. It was a prayer after sermon; and, we may suppose, he prayed over what he had preached. He had committed the care of the church at Ephesus to those elders, and now he prays that God would enable them faithfully to discharge this great trust reposed in them, and would give them those measures of wisdom and grace which it required; he prayed for the flock, and all that belonged to it, that the great Shepherd of the sheep would take care of them all, and keep them from being a prey to the grievous wolves. Thus he taught these ministers to pray for those they preached to, that they might not labour in vain.

It was also a parting prayer, one of farewell. Paul copied our Lord’s example:

4. It was a parting prayer, which might be likely to leave lasting impressions, as the farewell sermon did. It is good for friends, when they part, to part with prayer, that by praying together just at parting they may be enabled to pray the more feelingly one for another when they are separated, which is one part of our Christian duty, and an improvement of the communion of saints. The Lord watch between us, and watch over us both, when we are absent one from the other, is a good parting prayer (Genesis 31:49), as also that our next meeting may be either nearer heaven or in heaven. Paul here followed the example of Christ, who, when he took leave of his disciples, after he had preached to them, prayed with them all, John 17:1.

They all wept — including Paul. The elders embraced their spiritual leader and kissed him (verse 37). Henry lays out the scene:

He that was so often in tears while he was with them (Acts 20:19,31), no doubt shed many at parting, so watering what he had sown among them. But the notice is taken of their tears: They all wept sorely; there was not a dry eye among them, and it is probable the affectionate expressions Paul used in prayer set them a-weepingNote, Those that are most loving are commonly best beloved. Paul, who was a most affectionate friend himself, had friends that were very affectionate to him. These tears at parting with Paul were a grateful return for all the tears he had shed in preaching to them and praying with them.

St Luke, the author of Acts, points out that they were saddest because Paul told them he would not see them again (verse 38). Henry lists their other reasons for weeping. They feared the responsibility they now had in leading the church in Ephesus:

There were other things for which they sorrowed–that they should lose the benefit of his public performances, and see him no longer presiding in their assemblies, should have none of his personal counsels and comforts; and, we hope, they sorrowed for their own sin, in not profiting more by his labours while they had him among them, and which had provoked God to order his remove.

They then accompanied him to the ship (verse 38):

partly to show their respect for him (they would bring him on his way as far as they could), and partly that they might have a little more of his company and conversation; if it must be the last interview, they will have as much of him as they can, and see the last of him. And we have reason to think that when they came to the water-side, and he was about to go on board, their tears and embraces were repeated; for loth to part bids oft farewell. But this was a comfort to both sides, and soon turned this tide of passion, that the presence of Christ both went with him and staid with them.

John MacArthur’s closing prayer in his sermon is striking. He reminds us of what happened to the church in Ephesus:

Father, thank You for our time. We rejoice in the truth that we’ve learned. And our hearts are somewhat saddened, at least mine, as I think about the fact that by the time the letter of the Lord Jesus to Ephesus was written in Revelation, You had to say that they had left their first love. And that if didn’t something happen, You’d remove them as a church. And Father, we know historically that You did that, and there is no church at Ephesus.

We can’t understand it. We can’t understand how under the leadership of Paul and Timothy, so fast it could happen. But we know Satan works. Father help us to teach, to lead, to feed, to watch, to warn, to pray, to study. Protect the flock, that this may be a pure people till the day that Jesus comes, in whose name we pray, amen.

There are many churches today that are falling by the wayside because of the lack of doctrine and the influx of false teaching, i.e. social justice and sexual identity.

Social justice, politics and sexual variants are not in the New Testament as doctrine. In fact, quite the opposite. Yet, our seminaries and churches are full of clergy who continually preach about these things instead of the Gospel story.

It is no wonder that our houses of worship are so empty on Sundays. All the more reason for us to pray unceasingly in our own time and to study the Word of God privately.

Next time — Acts 21:1-6

Advertisements