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Bible oldThe 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 omit — 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 King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Acts 21:15-16

15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s and Luke’s time in Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the Evangelist and his four prophesying daughters. Agabus travelled from Judea to prophesy that, once in Jerusalem — their final destination — Paul would have his hands and feet bound. Paul resolved to continue his journey.

I used the KJV this week because the verses are more descriptive and evocative of this final leg of the journey to Jerusalem.

Luke, the author of Acts, was still with Paul, as the writing is in the first person.

After their stay in Caesarea came to an end, they gathered their belongings — ‘carriages’ — and continued onward to Jerusalem (verse 15). John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

carriages doesn’t mean horse-drawn carriages; it’s luggage, baggage – “we took up our baggage and went to Jerusalem.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more:

They took up their carriages, their bag and baggage, and as it should seem, like poor travellers or soldiers, were their own porters; so little had they of change of raiment. Omnia mea mecum porto–My property is all about me. Some think they had with them the money that was collected in the churches of Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints at Jerusalem

Luke says that some of the Christians in Caesarea accompanied them to Jerusalem (verse 16), a customary sign of friendship and fellowship in that era. In addition, both MacArthur and Henry say that Paul’s boldness brought out their own boldness. They were also protective of Paul and thought they could be of help to him when he encountered problems in Jerusalem.

MacArthur points out that it was not a short journey, highlighting the friendly intent of the Caesareans accompanying Paul and Luke:

And so they took off on a 64 or so mile journey and went to Jerusalem.

I think it’s interesting that verse 16 says, “There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea.” And here again, you have the same custom that when those people traveled, Christian friends went along with them all the time, halfway or a part of the way, or maybe all the way, just to accompany them to show good faith and fellowship and love to them; a beautiful custom.

MacArthur also mentions Paul’s infectious boldness:

I just love this, “There went with us certain of the disciples of Caesarea.” Isn’t that fantastic? Here were all these, “Don’t go; don’t go. Oh, you’re going to get persecuted.” And you know what happened? Paul left, and they all went with him.

You see, courage is contagious. Instead of all their moaning and weeping affecting him, his courageous affected them. He was a marked man. He was hated. He was going to be in prison, and they were going to be identified with him, but they became willing to pay the price because he was. That’s leadership by example.

Henry has an excellent description of their accompanying Paul, which has precedents in Scripture:

1. … If they could have persuaded Paul to go some other way, they would gladly have gone along with him; but if, notwithstanding their dissuasive, he will go to Jerusalem, they do no say, “Let him go by himself then;” but as Thomas, in a like case, when Christ would go into danger at Jerusalem, Let us go and die with him, John 11:16. Their resolution to cleave to Paul was like that of Ittai to cleave to David (2 Samuel 15:21): In what place my Lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, there also will thy servant be. Thus Paul’s boldness emboldened them. 2. Certain of the disciples of Cæsarea went along with them. Whether they designed to go however, and took this opportunity of going with so much good company, or whether they went on purpose to see if they could do Paul any service and if possible prevent his trouble, or at least minister to him in it, does not appear. The less while that Paul is likely to enjoy his liberty the more industrious they are to improve every opportunity of conversation with him. Elisha kept close to Elijah when he knew the time was at hand that he should be taken up.

Luke mentions the name of the man in Jerusalem with whom they lodged: Mnason (verse 16). When we read the verse, it sounds as if Mnason accompanied them part of the way to the city, but MacArthur doubts this was the case:

… it was worked out that the man named Mnason, you see a phrase “brought with them.” It really should say “brought to the home of Mnason.” Probably Mnason did not accompany them from Caesarea, but merely living in Jerusalem, they brought Paul and his friends to him.

The word ‘old’ is used to describe Mnason. Does ‘old’ refer to the man’s age or to his discipleship, as in an ‘old friend’ — a longtime friend?

MacArthur thinks it refers to his discipleship only. Mnason, he says, could well have advised Luke on writing Acts, since Luke was from Troas in Asia Minor and would not have known about all that had happened in Jerusalem at and immediately after the first Pentecost:

He may go back as far as Jesus, we don’t know; but certainly to the beginnings of the church. And he may have been a source for Luke. The fact that Luke writes here and notes Mnason as an early disciple may have been indicative of the fact that the Holy Spirit used Mnason to reveal some information to Luke in helping him write the book of Acts. Anyway, off they go to Jerusalem to stay at the home of this particular man.

Henry’s commentary says that Mnason was not only likely to have been an early disciple — possibly even one of the 70 at the first Pentecost — but also an aged one:

This Mnason is called an old disciple–a disciple from the beginning; some think, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, or one of the first converts after the pouring out of the Spirit, or one of the first that was converted by the preaching of the gospel in Cyprus, Acts 13:4. However it was, it seems he had been long a Christian, and was now in years. Note, It is an honourable thing to be an old disciple of Jesus Christ, to have been enabled by the grace of God to continue long in a course of duty, stedfast in the faith, and growing more and more prudent and experienced to a good old age. And with these old disciples one would choose to lodge; for the multitude of their years will teach wisdom.

MacArthur explains more about Mnason and the significance of Luke’s noting he was from Cyprus. A Hellenist Jew, such as Mnason, would have been brought up in Gentile culture, the way Paul was. Furthermore, it would have been prudent for Paul and the Caesareans not to put a converted Jew from Jerusalem into any additional trouble by giving him lodgings. There was also the issues of how Jewish Christian rites were observed and their feelings about Gentiles, to whom Paul had preached:

Mnason is a Greek name, a very common name; not uncommon at all, very common – and he was from Cyprus … Well, here’s a man who was from Cyprus 2000 years ago, and he was a Hellenist Jew. The word “Hellenist” simply means Greek or Gentile. He was a Gentile, not in the sense of his race, but in the sense of his culture. He was Hellenized.

… He was raised in a Greek country; he had a Greek name. And it is probably the reason, or at least a part of the reason, that they had arranged for Paul and his friends to stay there. I’m sure they didn’t really understand how receptive the Jewish Christians would be to a whole pile of Gentiles staying in their house, especially the Jewish Jews who lived in Jerusalem, since they were very much oriented toward the Mosaic ceremony. And so they found a more liberal Hellenistic Jew who was willing.

Henry says that Mnason likely knew that trouble lay ahead:

Mnason took Paul and his company to be his lodgers; though he had heard what trouble Paul was likely to come into, which might bring those that entertained him into trouble too, yet he shall be welcome to him, whatever comes of it.

The next section of Acts 21 requires context and explanation, as the church in Jerusalem had evolved and those who ministered to it had changed, so I will take it a few verses at a time.

Next time — Acts 21:17-18

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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 omit — 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 (as cited below).

Acts 21:7-14

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers[a] and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews[b] at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

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Last week’s entry featured Luke’s description of his and Paul’s voyage from the Dodecanese Islands and Asia Minor to Tyre. In Tyre, those in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt prophesied that Paul should not go to Jerusalem, as it was too dangerous for him.

Paul persisted, as he believed the Holy Spirit was telling him to press on towards Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts, continued as his companion. They arrived at Ptolemais, which was not far from Tyre. They met with the congregation there for a day (verse 7).

The next day, they continued southward on their journey and stopped in Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven original deacons described in the first six verses of Acts 6. The first martyr, Stephen, was among their number. They were Hellenic Jews.

Philip appears in Acts 8, preaching to the Samaritans. There he performed healing miracles. A sorcerer by the name of Simon Magus followed him, but then wanted to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so Peter, accompanied by John, went from Jerusalem to confront him. At the end of Acts 8, Luke recounts the story of Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch.

Now Philip was living with his family in Caesarea, the place where Peter preached, by request, to Cornelius, the Roman centurion and first Italian saint. The Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius, he was duly baptised and Peter stayed with him and his household for some time. One wonders if Cornelius was still there when Paul arrived. The Coptics believe that Peter made Cornelius Bishop of Caesarea after the centurion left the Roman army.

In any event, Paul and Luke stayed with Philip (verse 8). Philip fled to Samaria after Stephen had been martyred. Paul was overseeing the persecutions in Jerusalem at that time as Saul, a Pharisee. Now, years later, here Paul stands before Philip, Stephen’s friend and fellow deacon: a converted, pious, Christian — on fire for the sake of Christ Jesus and founding churches. What a transformation. Philip must have rejoiced and given heartfelt thanks for such a providential development.

Philip had four daughters, upon whom the Holy Spirit had descended, as they, too, were gifted with prophesy (verse 9). Matthew Henry says that Luke intimates they, too, might have warned Paul against going to Jerusalem (emphases mine):

This Philip had four maiden daughters, who did prophesy, Acts 21:9. It intimates that they prophesied of Paul’s troubles at Jerusalem, as others had done, and dissuaded him from going; or perhaps they prophesied for his comfort and encouragement, in reference to the difficulties that were before him.

The two men stayed with Philip and his family for some time. Henry tells us:

Paul and his company tarried many days at Cæsarea, perhaps Cornelius was yet living there, and (though Philip lodged them) yet might be many ways kind to them, and induce them to stay there. What cause Paul saw to tarry so long there, and to make so little haste at the latter end of his journey to Jerusalem, when he seemed so much in haste at the beginning of it, we cannot tell; but we are sure he did not stay either there or any where else to be idle; he measured his time by days, and numbered them.

A prophet, Agabus, went from Judea to Caesarea during this time (verse 10). Agabus made a previous appearance in Acts, specifically in Acts 11, when he travelled from Jerusalem to the new church in Antioch (Syria):

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Agabus was correct.

So, now in front of Paul, he took the Apostle’s belt — some translations say ‘girdle’ — and tied it around his feet and hands, saying that the Holy Spirit said that Paul would be delivered by the Jews to the Gentiles so that he could be taken into captivity (verse 11). The reference to Gentiles here means the Romans.

Luke then says that he and the others present advised Paul against going to Jerusalem (verse 12). Apart from Luke, the people of Caesarea did not know Paul well, yet, as Henry explains, his reputation as a holy man proceeded him. They felt a great affection for him and wanted to protect him:

The great importunity which his friends used with him to dissuade him from going forward to Jerusalem, Acts 21:12. “Not only those of that place, but we that were of Paul’s company, and among the rest Luke himself, who had heard this often before, and seen Paul’s resolution notwithstanding, besought him with tears that he would not go up to Jerusalem, but steer his course some other way.” Now, 1. Here appeared a commendable affection to Paul, and a value for him, upon account of his great usefulness in the church. Good men that are very active sometimes need to be dissuaded from overworking themselves, and good men that are very bold need to be dissuaded from exposing themselves too far. The Lord is for the body, and so we must be. 2. Yet there was a mixture of infirmity, especially in those of Paul’s company, who knew he undertook this journey by divine direction, and had seen with what resolution he had before broken through the like opposition.

Paul would not be dissuaded, however. Interestingly, he asked them why they were breaking his heart by telling him not to continue to Jerusalem (verse 13). He said that he would suffer what his Lord Jesus did.

Here we have the Spirit urging Paul to continue and, at the same time via others, setting his expectations for the fate that would befall him. This combination of Sprit-led messages made Paul all the more determined to continue. John MacArthur says:

what happens here is Paul says, “I am ready” – and, you know, you could preach a whole evening on just that; that man was ready for everything. You know, there’s something about the Christian life, as Paul lived it, that I like. It’s kind of an instant readiness. I like the kind of Christian who doesn’t have to have a running start to get involved in anything. He’s ready any instant for anything. This man was ready to do whatever needed to be done, when it needed to be done

In Romans 1:15, he says he’s ready to preach in Rome. In 2 Timothy 4, he said he was ready to die. He’s ready for whatever. Readiness. Well, he says, “I’m ready to be bound” – and that, of course, would be painful and cruel – “and ready to die” – that would be an execution, probably by torture. There was no other execution in Rome than just the most torturous kinds: crucifixion or the merciful kind that Paul got, which was chopping off your head with a sword. But let’s face it, that would be an excruciation torture, just in its anticipation for most people. So, Paul said, “I’m ready to die.”

That said, Paul correctly envisaged that Jerusalem would not be the endpoint of his ministry, which, as we know, it wasn’t. He did go on to Rome, where he had always wanted to go, to be with the church there and organise it.

Henry points out that the Caesareans ended up receiving more of Paul’s time and preaching then they imagined at this juncture. It was all part of God’s plan:

These Christians at Cæsarea, if they could have foreseen the particulars of that event, the general notice of which they received with so much heaviness, would have been better reconciled to it for their own sakes; for, when Paul was made a prisoner at Jerusalem, he was presently sent to Cæsarea, the very place where he now was (Acts 23:33), and there he continued at least two years (Acts 24:27), and he was a prisoner at large, as appears (Acts 24:23), orders being given that he should have liberty to go among his friends, and his friends to come to him; so that the church at Cæsarea had much more of Paul’s company and help when he was imprisoned than they could have had if he had been at liberty. That which we oppose, as thinking it to operate much against us, may be overruled by the providence of God to work for us, which is a reason why we should follow providence, and not fear it.

Luke ends this account by saying that, as Paul was steadfast about going to Jerusalem, he and the Caesareans stopped trying to dissuade him (verse 14). Paul had a powerful personality, and, as he had prayed unceasingly with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, everyone backed off — no doubt, reluctantly.

John MacArthur says that Acts 21 shows us Paul’s determination to do the Lord’s work according to His will:

as we come to 21 of Acts, we’re not so much exposed to a sermon on commitment as we are to a life that is committed. And I have said this in my own mind over and over again, that I see more of what Paul is from what he does than from what he says. But what makes it so powerful is that he winds up being what he talks about

Now, he says, “I have a ministry. The Lord gave me that ministry. I’m going to fulfill that ministry; I don’t care what the price is.” Now, that’s that I call commitment. Of all the words that are used, I prefer that word. But you might call it the courage of conviction, or consecration, or devotion, or dedication, or surrender, or yieldedness, or whatever other terms it comes under, it is basically the same thing.

He says, “I have an objective. God has committed to me a ministry. I’m going to see that thing to its fulfillment. And the price that I have to pay is inconsequential to the fulfillment of the objective.”

A word of caution: Paul’s ministry is an extraordinary one over which he prayed constantly. This is not to be construed as acting in a foolhardy way, thinking that God is talking to us about doing something rash. There was only one Paul, although within the communion of saints, others have also done great things and taken great risks in the Lord’s name over the past two millennia.

In that same sermon, MacArthur posits that Philip’s daughters had a big part to play in Luke’s divinely inspired composition of Acts. MacArthur also suggests that they did not prophesy on this occasion, which Henry would have countered:

So, it seems, as though, beloved, these four daughters of Philip could not be preachers – women preachers – but that what they did have was a gift of God to receive revelation from the Holy Spirit that was strategic to the life of the church.

Now you say, “Well, what kind of revelation are you talking about?”

I thought you’d ask that. It is interesting to surmise, and there is good evidence, that Luke himself – mark this – received much of the revelation of the book of Acts from these four women, and that that’s why they were placed here. That their role was not to preach in the church, but to be a vehicle of revelation, and in one case, for Luke. For Luke.

You say, “That may be why Luke put that little verse in there, because they don’t do anything.”

I mean they don’t prophesy in this passage. He just says that, and we leave them, and never hear about them before or after. Maybe Luke is putting this in as just a little hint [as to] their involvement with him.

You say, “Well, whatever makes you think they were involved with Luke?”

This: we know Luke didn’t know what he knew because he was always there, because he wasn’t always there in the book of Acts, was he? He didn’t have firsthand experience of everything. So, the Holy Spirit had to get it to him. How did the Holy Spirit get it to him? Well, the Holy Spirit used revelation. But the Holy Spirit could have used a human vehicle to give him that revelation.

Some people feel, for example, that Peter was Luke’s source for the Gospel of Luke. That God actually gave the revelation through Peter to Luke. We don’t know that. But in this case, it may have been that some of this information came to them – came to Luke through these girls.

Now, he had some time there; he had this period of time that he was there with them to get some of the information. Plus Paul, once he gets to Jerusalem, in the next couple of chapters, he becomes a prisoner, and he gets shipped back to Caesarea, and he stayed there two years. Did you know that? And the two years that he was in Caesarea, Luke would have had a great deal of time to spend with these girls.

You say, “Well, that’s all conjecture.”

Well, except for this: there was an early Church father right up against the early Church by the name of Papias. And Papias said that Philip’s daughters were commonly known as the informants on the early history of the Church. That’s a very interesting statement. In fact, the historian Eusebius, who is again a very early Church historian, quotes Papias, and gives some credence to the fact that these four daughters were used to transmit the revelation of the Holy Spirit; in some cases, that they even got the Gospel’s information, as well as the information of the book of Acts.

So, that’s a possibility. And historically, in the Church, has been agreed upon by those in the first century after the early Church.

Another interesting note that I want to draw to your attention here is the fact that these four virgins who did prophesy didn’t prophesy on this occasion. Another one came; a man came named Agabus in verse 10. And he gives the predictive prophesy of the future, which may, in a sense support the idea that these gals weren’t around to do the predicting of the future or do the preaching, but they had a very specific ministry of the Lord, and that was to be used as vehicles of revelation on the history of the Church past; we don’t know. And again I say, that’s just guessing, but at least it seems to fit together, and we must submit all of this to what we know in other Scriptures.

Food for thought — and, to me, at least, new information.

Next time — Acts 21:15-16

Bible read me 2The 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 21:1-6

Paul Goes to Jerusalem

21 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.[a] And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.

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Last week’s entry described Paul’s farewell to the elders of Ephesus, which took place in nearby Miletus. Their reunion ended in kneeling and praying, which also appears in today’s reading (verse 5).

Luke, the author of Acts, was with Paul at this time, hence the first person in verse 1. They sailed from Miletus (look for Caria on the right hand side of this map, and it’s due south). The two proceeded to the Dodecanese Islands (see map on the left hand side of the page). Cos (Kos, Coos) and Rhodes, two of today’s top holiday islands, are among them. When they reached Asia Minor again at the port of Patara (see map), they left the boat.

Both our commentators purport that Luke and Paul’s journey was smooth sailing, based on Luke’s wording: ‘straight course’. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

The interesting note of these is it apparently was a nice wind. They went on a straight course; they didn’t have to tack back and forth. But also, it’s interesting to note that those are stops 45 miles to Coos, 70 miles to Rhodes, 70 miles to Patara. Again, they probably only sailed during the daytime. The winds would blow in the daytime and calm at night. And so, they would sail at the day and stop at night.

Also interesting that they sailed along the coast. They just – they never got very far from one little island on the coast to the next little island on the coast to Patara, which is not an island but a city on the coast on the Xanthos River in Asia Minor.

So, they sailed on the coast. That indicates they had a little boat, just a little ship that hugged the coastline. And so, they went to those various places, stopping along the way.

MacArthur describes Patara as being an important port in Lycia, now part of Turkey:

Patara was a large port. Since the Xanthos River emptied there into the sea, the Mediterranean Sea, certain ships would unload cargo, and it would be taken up the river to various inland spots.

Luke and Paul found a ship sailing to Phoenicia and boarded it (verse 2). They left Asia Minor for the area where modern-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel are.

When they saw Cyprus (see dark green island on the map), they bypassed it (verse 3). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that Barnabas was in charge of the church in his homeland:

In this voyage they discovered Cyprus, the island that Barnabas was of, and which he took care of, and therefore Paul did not visit it

Paul and Luke continued to Syria and disembarked at Tyre, which is still a significant port city today in that part of the world.

MacArthur describes their journey to Tyre:

Now, the indication is that this is a large ship, and the reason we feel that is because it went straight to Phoenicia, and that meant it would have had to sail right out into the midst of the Mediterranean. But another reason we think it’s large is in verse 3. It says at the end of verse 3, that it unloaded its cargo in Tyre. And verse 4 says they stayed there seven days. Now, any ship that needed seven days to unload must have been a large ship. And so, very likely, it was a large ship that they were on at this time, and it would go straight across. Chrysostom, one of the early Church fathers, says from Patara to Phoenicia or Tyre was about a five-day sailing trip if you had good winds and a straight course.

Tyre was famous for the production of the purest form of purple dye, made from the murex shellfish. This dye was reserved for nobility and royalty, it was that precious.

This was the region where Jesus healed a Gentile woman’s daughter of her demon. Jesus commended her for her faith (Matthew 15:21-28):

22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.[a]

This miracle is also in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:24-29).

While they were waiting for the ship to unload its cargo in Tyre, Paul and Luke spent time with the Christians in that great city. Some among them prophesied ‘through the Spirit’ that Paul should not go to Jerusalem (verse 4).

The church in Tyre began after the fatal persecution of Stephen, the first martyr, in Jerusalem. Paul had been involved in his death, as this was before his conversion. Converts fled Jerusalem, fearful for their lives but keen to spread the Gospel story. The second half of Acts 11 explains how the Church grew in Syria, beginning with this description of what happened in Antioch, an early destination for Barnabas:

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists[c] also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Barnabas sent for Paul to help him. Paul was, at the time, still known as Saul, but he had converted and had been in his home region of Tarsus in Asia Minor.

As we know from this reading (verse 6), Paul and Luke continued onward to Jerusalem. This raises the question of who was right about continuing onwards: Paul or the prophesiers in Tyre.

We know that Paul listened to the Holy Spirit. In Acts 16, the Spirit would not allow him to travel eastward into Asia Minor towards Bithynia. Instead, Paul went westward to Troas, where he met Luke, and sailed to Macedonia and travelled further south to found the church in Philippi. Now in Tyre, he believed that the Holy Spirit wanted him to make the journey to Jerusalem to commemorate Pentecost.

However, the prophesiers in Tyre had also been given a spiritual gift. They believed, through the Spirit, that Paul was meant to travel elsewhere to spread the Good News.

Henry gives this verdict:

it was their mistake, for his trial would be for the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel, and he knew it; and the importunity that was used with him, to dissuade him from it, renders his pious and truly heroic resolution the more illustrious.

MacArthur has more:

… somebody prophesied that he shouldn’t go to Jerusalem. It’s inconclusive as to whether or not that’s legitimate or not from that verse. But it does create the problem that if Paul did get this word from the Spirit, and go to Jerusalem, he disobeyed. Some think he did. Some think Paul disobeyed. And that’s fine. They say he disobeyed, but let’s face it; it was a mistake out of love. I mean if you’ve got to make a mistake, make that kind, right? It was selfless. I mean it was going to – it could cost him his life, and he made it out of love. Absolute, overpowering love for the Jewish church caused him to do what he did.

… It was a mistake to go, but – and I like that – I like this viewpoint. Actually, I prefer it for this reason: because it’s an encouragement to meet, to know that Paul made a colossal mistake. I like that, because that makes him human. I lean toward liking this view better. Peter blundered; Paul and Barnabas quarreled. And I like that, too. It’s encouraging to me. In fact, if you read in the Bible, you’ll find that everybody that God ever used, his choicest people fouled up

You say, “Well, what do you mean? You think he was – he was not disobeying the Spirit?”

No, I don’t think he was disobeying the Spirit at all. Why? I’ll give you some reasons. First of all, his life was lived in sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I cannot see the apostle Paul all of a sudden becoming carnal, without any indication from God that he did. He lived his life in sensitivity to the Spirit …

First of all, then, I think that Paul obeyed here, because he lived sensitively to the Holy Spirit. Secondly, his reasons for going to Jerusalem were right kind of reasons. His motives were so pure that I don’t think you can get an impure act out of an absolutely pure motive if you’re really plugged into the Spirit.

When the seven days were up, Paul and Luke returned to the cargo ship to continue their journey southward towards Jerusalem. However, prior to departure, the Christian men of Tyre brought their wives and children to accompany them outside the city (verse 5). Such an act would have showed how much they revered Paul and appreciated his brief ministry there.

Once on the beach, they all knelt to pray together.

Luke felt it important to mention within a short space of writing — the end of Acts 20 and the beginning of Acts 21 — that two groups of Christians knelt to pray together.

Henry has a considered description of this scene on the beach outside of Tyre — along with a closing word of advice for us today:

They prayed upon the shore, that their last farewell might be sanctified and sweetened with prayer. Those that are going to sea should, when they quit the shore, commit themselves to God by prayer, and put themselves under his protection, as those that hope, even when they leave the terra firma, to find firm footing for their faith in the providence and promise of God. They kneeled down on the shore, though we may suppose it either stony or dirty, and there prayed. Paul would that men should pray every where, and so he did himself; and, where he lifted up his prayer, he bowed his knees. Mr. George Herbert says, Kneeling never spoiled silk stockings.

Then it was time for Paul and Luke to board the ship. The Christians from Tyre duly returned home.

Next time — Acts 21:7-14

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.

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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

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 (here and here).

Acts 20:28-35

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[a] which he obtained with his own blood.[b] 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s description of his ministry to the elders of the church of Ephesus, who had come to Miletus before the Apostle sailed to Jerusalem for Passover.

The second half of his address to those elders was about a similar conduct towards the congregation.

Verse 28 is a complex one, worth analysing in sections.

In saying, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock’, Paul means that the elders must be above reproach themselves and so encourage the flock to be likewise.

John MacArthur applies Paul’s words to his own ministry in California:

You know what my greatest obligation is as a pastor, as a minister of God? My greatest obligation is to make sure my life is right before God, first of all.

Secondly, to make sure I carry out my responsibility toward you. If I’m not right, I’m not going to mean anything to you. And the reason across America and across the world, in all kinds of Christian ministries, nothing happens is because there are some people in positions, and nothing’s happening in their lives.

But secondly, once – verse 28 says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves” – then it says – “and to all the flock.” See? My priority, the priority of anybody in leadership, I don’t care whether you’re teaching a Sunday school class, or whether you’re working in a Bible study in a home, I don’t care what it is that you’re ministering, in any function that you do, your second obligation is that ministry; your first obligation is between you and God. And if that isn’t right, all the stuff you’re doing the other side of it isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

Now, notice this. He says, “Take heed to the flock.” Not just the flock but what? “All the flock.” No favoritism. Nope. I like the fact that the church is seen as a flock. There’s something about sheep that’s characteristic of Christians. A little clump of helpless, ignorant, stupid followers. That’s us. But that’s been a historic term that God has used for his people in the Old Testament. You know? In Jeremiah 13:17 and in Zechariah 10:3, God calls Israel the Lord’s flock.

Paul reminded the elders that the Holy Spirit made them overseers of the flock in Ephesus. St Luke, the author of Acts, recorded this in Acts 19:6:

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

As such, the elders were under a heavy obligation to be diligent in their care of the Christians in Ephesus. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

They took not this honour to themselves, nor was it conferred upon them by any prince or potentate, but the Holy Ghost in them qualified them for, and enriched them to, this great undertaking, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, Acts 19:6. The Holy Ghost also directed those that chose, and called, and ordained, them to this work in answer to prayer.

Paul reinforced this serious obligation by referring to ‘the church of God,[a] which he obtained with his own blood.[b]‘ Henry explains that this is different than in the days of the Old Testament, because Christ, God’s Son, purchased the Church by giving His life — His blood — for Her:

This church of God is what he has purchased; not as Israel of old, when he gave men for them, and people for their life (Isaiah 43:3), but with his own blood. This proves that Christ is God, for he is called so here, where yet he is said to purchase the church with his own blood; the blood was his as man, yet so close is the union between the divine and human nature that it is here called the blood of God, for it was the blood of him who is God, and his being so put such dignity and worth into it as made it both a valuable ransom of us from evil, and a valuable purchase for us of all good, nay, a purchase of us to Christ, to be to him a peculiar people: Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me. In consideration of this, therefore, feed the church of God, because it is purchased at so dear a rate. Did Christ lay down his life to purchase it, and shall his ministers be wanting in any care and pains to feed it? Their neglect of its true interest is a contempt of his blood that purchased it.

MacArthur says:

Just to add to the responsibility that we have, he says this – as if it isn’t bad enough already to know what weight of responsibility, he says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God.”

You know, what really motivates you is that this isn’t my church. This isn’t our church as elders. Whose church is it? It’s God’s Church. I’m caring for His property. Have you ever had the responsibility of caring for the property of somebody, where you’re just a nervous wreck, hoping they’ll get back before you’ve lost it or broken it or – sometimes I think that’s the reason I’d like Christ to get here soon. Just to get a hold of this deal before I’ve got it totally messed up.

This is His Church. Jesus said to Peter three times, “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My lambs.” They’re not his; they’re not Peter’s. They’re not mine. They’re His.

Listen, I love my Lord, and I want to take care of His sheep. He’s said to me, “MacArthur, these are my sheep. Now, you take care of them till I get back.” And I’ll tell you, that’s a motivating thing, people, to stop and think. Peter said, “Feed the flock of God.” They’re not mine.

Paul correctly stated that wolves — false teachers — would arrive after his departure among the congregation (verse 29). Furthermore, even a few of the elders would become false teachers, drawing away some of the flock (verse 30).

Paul would later write about this to Timothy, who was subsequently in charge of the church in Ephesus. Henry tells us:

While Paul was at Ephesus, they kept away, for they durst not face him; but, when he was gone, then they entered in among them, and sowed their tares where he had sown the good seed … This was there fulfilled in Phygellus and Hermogenes, who turned away from Paul and the doctrine he had preached (2 Timothy 1:15), and in Hymeneus and Philetus, who concerning the truth erred, and overthrew the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:18), which explains the expression here.

MacArthur has more:

Now, Paul says in Acts, to these Ephesian elders, he says, “Get ready; they’re coming.” And you want to know something? They came. Paul wrote to Timothy twice. Paul wrote to Timothy both those times while Timothy was the pastor at Ephesus. Did you know he was the pastor at Ephesus? Yes. Those two letters were written to him while he was at Ephesus. And in both of those letters, Paul makes reference to false doctrine. It came. Believe me it came.

In 1 Timothy, for example, the first time he wrote Timothy, while Timothy was still at Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 4 he says, “The Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times” – and the latter times had already begun; it began when Messiah came the first time – “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” There will be seducers. You know what seducers are? They’re people who lure away somebody that doesn’t belong to them. They lure them away, speaking lies and hypocrisy, forbidding to marry, all kinds of false doctrine. He goes on to say, in verse 6, and this is the point I want to make, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.” You know, what a good minister of Jesus Christ does? He reminds people to watch out for false prophets. He reminds people to watch out for doctrines of demons, and he reminds people to watch out for seducing spirits.

For those reasons, Paul encouraged the elders to be alert, night and day, as he was, in order to guard against false doctrine (verse 31). Paul mentioned his own tears in this regard. Henry discusses the tears and the obligation on the elders after his departure:

He warned them with tears of compassion, thereby showing how much he was himself affected with their misery and danger in a sinful state and way, that he might affect them with it. Thus Paul had begun the good work at Ephesus, thus free had he been of his pains; and why then should they be sparing of their pains in carrying it on?

And, so, with Paul’s departure imminent, the only obligation remaining for him was to commend the elders to God and to His divine grace, so that they would be built up and sanctified in their holy work (verse 32). Henry reminds us that Jesus also did this with the Twelve:

Paul commends them not only to God and to his providence, but to Christ and his grace as Christ himself did his disciples when he was leaving them: You believe in God, believe also in me. It comes to much the same thing, if by the word of his grace we understand the gospel of Christ, for it is Christ in the word that is nigh unto us for our support and encouragement, and his word is spirit and life: “You will find much relief by acting faith on the providence of God, but much more by acting faith on the promises of the gospel.” He commends them to the word of Christ’s grace, which he spoke to his disciples when he sent them forth, the commission he gave them, with assurance that he would be with them always to the end of the world: “Take hold of that word, and God give you the benefit and comfort of it, and you need no more.” He commends them to the word of God’s grace, not only as the foundation of their hope and the fountain of their joy, but as the rule of their walking: “I commend you to God, as your Master, whom you are to serve, and I have found him a good Master, and to the word of his grace, as cutting you out your work, and by which you are to govern yourselves; observe the precepts of this word, and then live upon the promises of it.”

Then Paul said that they should not ask for any riches in their work (verse 33), but rather work as necessary just to cover one’s own needs and and those alongside them (verse 34). MacArthur tells us:

Simply put, it says this: God does not bless the ministry of a man who is concerned about money. I have never yet seen a man in a ministry who got preoccupied with money who didn’t have Ichabod written on his ministry. You can’t serve God and mammon, money. It can’t be done.

Freedom from self-interest. This was Paul’s heart. He came into town; he says, “I have the right to ask of you, but I don’t. I’ll work to earn my own keep just to show you the pattern of example, that that’s how it’s to be. And if God wants to bless you by giving you something, fine. Fine.

Paul even said that a elder who was faithful was worry of double honor in 1 Timothy 5. And most commentators would say that means financially. And Paul made the statement that, “I have the right to receive from you. That’s fine; it’s wonderful. I have that right, but I’ve chosen to show you an example of earning my own and not being a burden and not asking for anything.”

I don’t believe a man of God in the ministry should ever ask for anything. And I have talked to people who said, “Well, you know, when I went to such-and-such church, I told them what I ought to get, and we worked it out, and I got what I asked for.” And I just – it makes me sick. I’m afraid I’d get what I deserve. And I’d just rather say nothing and let grace be grace. Whatever God gives me, I’m just thankful. I don’t believe it’s right for a man in a ministry to ask for anything. In fact, I’m so strong on this, I don’t believe it’s right to ever set a price on anything you do as a minister of God. Ever.

Paul concluded his counsel by telling the elders to work hard and care for the weak. He also reminded them of Jesus’s words about giving being more important than receiving (verse 35). MacArthur gives us an interesting fact:

“I’ve shown you these things” – he said – “and I worked among you” – in verse 35 – “to support the weak. I did it as an example, and I want you to remember the worlds of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ You want to know? That’s probably one of the most interesting little quotes in all the Bible. It’s what we call Agraphē. What that means is that’s a quote of Jesus that never made it into the Gospels. That’s a quote that Jesus gave that nobody ever wrote down. And Paul quotes it. You look for that in the Gospels, you won’t find it. But Jesus said it.

You say, “Did Jesus say things that aren’t written in the Gospels?”

Oh, did He. Why, you read the end of the Gospel of John, He said so many things I suppose John says, “The books all in the world couldn’t contain everything He said.” And this is just one of those things that He said, “It’s more blessed to give than receive.” He says to those men, “Remember in your ministry, the most thing is giving, giving, giving, giving; not receiving.” God help us from getting crass.

Next week’s post discusses the farewell that Paul bade the elders.

Next time — Acts 20:36-38

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.

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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

The 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 20:13-16

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and[a] the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

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Paul and his companions — including Luke, the Gospel writer and author of Acts — left Troas the morning after Paul, through divine power, raised Eutychus from the dead after the young man fell asleep during his sermon. It’s important to stay awake during worship, no matter the adverse conditions.

Luke and the others sailed to Assos from Troas, but Paul walked (verse 13).

Before going into the possible reasons why Paul travelled on foot, below is a map of where the men went. Note the west coast of Asia Minor and locate Troas in the northwest. Also worth noting are the towns and cities of some of the churches in Revelation, e.g. Smyrna and Pergamon. Click on the map and it will open in a new tab. Map courtesy of Wikipedia:

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur offer different reasons why Paul walked to Assos, which is at the southern point of the Troas region.

Henry’s commentary states that Paul wanted to convert more souls and meet old friends. He took a shorter, yet more dangerous, route, possibly as a means of self-denial (emphases mine below):

He had decreed or determined within himself that whatever importunity should be used with him to the contrary, urging either his ease or his credit, or the conveniency of a ship that offered itself, or the company of his friends, he would foot it to Assos: and, if the land-way which Paul took was the shorter way, yet it is taken notice of by the ancients as a rough way (Homer, Iliad 6, and Eustathius upon him, say, it was enough to kill one to go on foot to Assos.–Lorin. in locum); yet that way Paul would take, 1. That he might call on his friends by the way, and do good among them, either converting sinners or edifying saints; and in both he was serving his great Master, and carrying on his great work. Or, 2. That he might be alone, and might have the greater freedom of converse with God and his own heart in solitude. He loved his companions, and delighted in their company, yet he would show hereby that he did not need it, but could enjoy himself alone. Or, 3. That he might inure himself to hardship, and not seem to indulge his ease. Thus he would by voluntary instances of mortification and self-denial keep under the body, and bring it into subjection, that he might make his sufferings for Christ, when he was called out to them, the more easy, 2 Timothy 2:3. We should use ourselves to deny ourselves.

MacArthur, on the other hand, posits that friends from the church in Troas accompanied him part of the way and that he shared their company, talking more about the Gospel along the way:

What did I tell you … was customary when a – when a beloved friend left a certain people? It was customary for those people whom he was leaving to – what? – accompany him on his journey. You know why Paul walked? Paul walked so he could have more time with them. Selfless man. He wasn’t in a hurry, was he? He was available. Oh, how he loved the Church. He walked between 20 and 30 miles, and probably the last 5 or 10 miles he walked alone. And I’m sure he needed that time to be alone with the Lord before he met his friends at the ship.

Once in Assos, Paul and his companions sailed to Mitylene, which is on the island of Lesbos (verse 14).

The following day, they sailed ‘opposite’ the island of Chios. The day after that, they sailed further south to the island of Samos, and, the following day, they returned to the mainland to nearby Miletus (verse 15).

These were fairly short journeys, because, as MacArthur explains, the winds blew only during part of each day:

This is an interesting thing just to note. I’m not going to go into all the geography of those cities or any of that, but each one of those cities is about 30 miles past the next one, all down the little coast of Asia Minor. And the thing was that the winds only blew from early morning to late afternoon; so, they would just travel from early morning to late afternoon, 30 miles, stay overnight; 30 miles, stay overnight; 30 miles stay overnight; 30 miles, stay overnight. That’s how they journeyed. And so, that’s why it tells us about all those little stops.

While the names of these destinations might seem obscure to us, Henry’s commentary says that they were important during that era:

… these are places of note among the Greek writers, both poets and historians …

Miletus was fairly close to Ephesus and was also a port city. MacArthur has more:

Miletus was a town, the ancient capital of Ionia. It was not too far from Ephesus. It was originally composed of a colony of Cretans; became extremely powerful and built one of the world’s great, magnificent temples dedicated to the God Apollo. So, it was somewhat famous.

In verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul was intent on completing his journey to Jerusalem so that he could be there for Pentecost. Therefore, he did not want to go to Ephesus, where he most probably would have been persuaded to stay by the church there.

MacArthur says that the journey from Miletus was likely to have been quicker than the one from Ephesus:

Apparently, the ship going to Ephesus, or the one that would have stopped there, was going to stay too long, and he was in a hurry. So, because he didn’t want to spend time in Asia, he didn’t take the ship to Ephesus but the one that stopped at Miletus.

However, that did not stop Paul from sending word to the elders in Ephesus to stay with him in Miletus. More on that next week.

Next time — Acts 20:17-27

The 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 20:7-12

Eutychus Raised from the Dead

7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

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Last week’s entry discussed how Paul and a select number of men from various churches he had planted met up in Troas.

St Luke, the author of Acts, was among that number and personally travelled with Paul from Philippi to Troas.

They stayed in Troas seven days and left on a Monday.

On the first day of the week — Sunday, the Lord’s Day — they met to worship, commemorate the Last Supper and share dinner together (verse 7).

Even though Paul got up early the next day, he preached until midnight. One of the reasons was that he did not know if he would ever return, so he wanted to give the congregation final encouragement and instruction.

Interestingly, no one minded the length of Paul’s speech. In our world, we are clock watchers wondering how long a church service will last.

We know from Acts that Paul was a persuasive teacher who appealed to logic and reason rather than emotion and feelings — something today’s clergy would do well to practise.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

The problem in the Early Church wasn’t how do you get the people to come. It was how do you get them to go home? And let me tell you something, friends. This has been the characteristic of every period of reformation and revival in the history of the Church. You know that John Calvin preached every day for hours, day after day after day, year after year after year, and so did Martin Luther? And it was out of that the great days of the Reformation revival was spawned. That’s been the history of the Church. Great men of God preach day after day after day after day in certain cities, and great revivals broke out. And people came, and they learned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that Paul might have preached that morning, too:

It is probable he had preached to them in the morning, and yet thus lengthened out his evening sermon even till midnight; we wish we had the heads of this long sermon, but we may suppose it was for substance the same with his epistles.

Henry offers an explanation for the night time worship:

… perhaps they met in the evening for privacy, or in conformity to the example of the disciples who came together on the first Christian sabbath in the evening.

The room they met in was on the upper floor of someone’s home. There were many lights (verse 8). MacArthur says this was because pagans accused Christians of clandestine activities:

You say, “Why does it tell us there were lights there?” Well, I think there’s two reasons. Number one, the pagans used to slander Christians and say that Christians were immoral and they met together for clandestine purposes, and they got in their little cubbyholes in the dark and committed all sorts of abominations. And so some commentators feel that the Spirit puts the little note, “there were many lights,” in there, just to let us know that the Christians in Troas had lit the place up like a Christmas tree so nobody in town could criticize them for meeting in the dark.

A young man, Eutychus, was sitting on the window ledge, nodded off and fell to his death (verse 9). Windows at that time had no glass, so were open spaces save for a shutter of some sort.

Henry says the young man’s fall was divine judgement because he fell asleep during Paul’s speech, for which he should have stayed awake:

Now this youth was to be blamed, (1.) That he presumptuously sat in the window, unglazed perhaps, and so exposed himself; whereas, if he could have been content to sit on the floor, he had been safe. Boys that love to climb, or otherwise endanger themselves, to the grief of their parents, consider not how much it is also an offence to God. (2.) That he slept, nay, he fell into a deep sleep when Paul was preaching, which was a sign he did not duly attend to the things that Paul spoke of, though they were weighty things. The particular notice taken of his sleeping makes us willing to hope none of the rest slept, though it was sleeping time and after supper; but this youth fell fast asleep, he was carried away with it (so the word is), which intimates that he strove against it, but was overpowered by it, and at last sunk down with sleep.

2. The calamity with which he was seized herein: He fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. Some think that the hand of Satan was in it, by the divine permission, and that he designed it for a disturbance to this assembly and a reproach to Paul and it. Others think that God designed it for a warning to all people to take heed of sleeping when they are hearing the word preached; and certainly we are to make this use of it. We must look upon it as an evil thing, as a bad sign of our low esteem of the word of God, and a great hindrance to our profiting by it. We must be afraid of it, do what we can to prevent our being sleepy, not compose ourselves to sleep, but get our hearts affected with the word we hear to such a degree as may drive sleep far enough. Let us watch and pray, that we enter not into this temptation, and by it into worse. Let the punishment of Eutychus strike an awe upon us, and show us how jealous God is in the matters of his worship; Be not deceived, God is not mocked. See how severely God visited an iniquity that seemed little, and but in a youth, and say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? Apply to this story that lamentation (Jeremiah 9:20,21), Hear the word of the Lord, for death is come up into our windows, to cut off the children from without and the young men from the streets.

MacArthur, on the other hand, is understanding of Eutychus‘s plight, explaining that the fuel from the lamps made the boy — possibly an adolescent — drowsy. However, he, too, says that his death was a judgement:

all those lights in there were oil-burning lamps, and they would have created a tremendous stuffy atmosphere. All the fumes and the little smoke that would come off of that oil, and the place was really filling up. And apparently, an upper chamber would maybe hold 30, 40 people in a good-sized home, and they’d be crammed in. And if there were 50 or 60 there, they would be just like sardines, and all that smoke coming off of there, and that may have created the problem. The burning oil, the stuffy atmosphere, and that part of the world at that time, perhaps that evening, deterioration of the atmosphere.

Verse 9. “And there sat in a window -” Fortunate young man that he could find air, and so he got by a window and sat on the windowsill. The windows of course were lattices or wooden windows that opened. They didn’t have any glass. “And his name was Eutychus, and being fallen into a deep sleep,” and the verb there in the Greek is a present participle, which means he was progressively falling asleep while he was trying to fight it. Just so – you know how it is. You’ve done it. Your head goes, and then _______ …

Well, that’s Eutychus. He’d bob his head down, and he’d pull it up again and blink around. But he was fighting. And finally the _____ overcame him, “And he being fallen into a deep sleep, and as Paul was long preaching, he sank down with sleep.” He was out. And then of course we know how serious it is to fall asleep during a sermon, because immediately the Lord dealt with him. He fell from the third loft and was taken up dead. So think about that, folks.

Not surprisingly, Paul paused his sermon to go downstairs to determine the young man’s condition. Instead of judging him, Paul had compassion for Eutychus and took him in his arms, announcing that was alive (verse 10).

Henry said that Paul probably prayed earnestly for the boy’s life at that moment:

his falling on him and embracing him were in imitation of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21), and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34), in order to the raising of him to life again; not that this could as a means contribute any thing to it, but as a sign it represented the descent of that divine power upon the dead body, for the putting of life into it again, which at the same time he inwardly, earnestly, and in faith prayed for.

MacArthur also says this was a miracle, taking issue with those who say that Eutychus was still alive, just in a deep slumber. Recall that Luke was a physician; he would have known the difference:

He fell down, and he was taken up dead. That’s the quote of Luke, incidentally, who wrote the passage here, under the inspiration of the Spirit, but Luke’s comment is that he was dead. Now I’ve heard all kinds of commentators and all kinds of people say he wasn’t dead. He just appeared to be dead, and he just was taken up as if he were dead. It doesn’t say that. It says he was taken up dead. He was dead. Three story fall.

Well, look what happens. That would kind of tend to break the meeting up, and it did. Verse 10, “And Paul went down and fell on him.” And of course, the idea of fell there is to place himself on him. Not just to collapse on him, which wouldn’t have helped him at all. Paul went down and just placed himself on him. And it says, “He embracing him,” and the idea of that – it’s a double compound Greek verb, and it means he just wrapped himself around him. You say, “Why did he do that?” Well, maybe he remembered Elijah and Elisha. 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4. Remember, both of them embraced and put themselves all the way around a man and raised him from the dead, which it was a child in that case.

And so he just places himself around Eutychus, who is a young man. Perhaps a teenager. And I love this. He says, “Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him.” One liberal commentator said, when he put himself around him, he could hear his heart ticking, and he said, “Oh, he’s all right,” and got up. No. He was dead. What happened was a resurrection miracle.

You know, Paul had a great prayer that he prayed in Philippians 3:10. He said, “I pray that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” And boy, he did know it, didn’t he? He knew resurrection power. He wrapped himself around. In a minute, a miracle happened. All of the broken bones and all of the injuries of his body that had caused the death reversed themselves and he was alive.

Paul went back upstairs to eat with those assembled and to converse with them — until daybreak (verse 11). How selfless was he? Most of us turn in early the night before a journey, but Paul, whose love for Jesus, God and people was so overwhelming that he pulled an all-nighter.

The supper Paul shared with the Christians was what was traditionally known as a ‘love feast’, one of agape and fellowship. Today, we call that a potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to share with everyone else, especially the poor among them.

Henry describes the setting:

He came up again to the meeting, they broke bread together in a love-feast, which usually attended the eucharist, in token of their communion with each other, and for the confirmation of friendship among them; and they talked a long while, even till break of day. Paul did not now go on in a continued discourse, as before, but he and his friends fell into a free conversation, the subject of which, no doubt, was good, and to the use of edifying. Christian conference is an excellent means of promoting holiness, comfort, and Christian love. They knew not when they should have Paul’s company again, and therefore made the best use they could of it when they had it, and reckoned a night’s sleep well lost for that purpose.

MacArthur tells us:

So they met in an upper chamber. They broke bread. Now what do you mean by that? Well, of course, that’s the reference to the ancient Palestinian custom. The meal was officially begun when the host broke bread, literally. And the breaking of bread came to refer to the Christians coming together, and they did two things. They had the love feast … And communion, or the Lord’s Table.

This was a beautiful thing. You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

At daybreak, the congregation dispersed taking Eutychus — very much alive and well — with them (verse 12). They were elated that he was living. Such miracles — visible signs from God — allowed the growth of the Church in those early days as to the veracity of the Good News.

Next time — Acts 20:13-16

Bible readingThe 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 20:1-6

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

20 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews[a] as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

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The ‘uproar’ referred to in verse 1 was the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:35-41).

Now it was time for Paul to go on another grand missionary tour, his third.

He sent for members of the church in Ephesus — ‘the disciples’ — and encouraged them in their faith. Some translations use ‘exhorting’, which means the same thing. Exhortation does not mean criticism, but rather encouragement — a building up.

With that, Paul bade them farewell and left for Macedonia.

From Ephesus, which was in Asia Minor (also note smaller map boxed in black), he travelled northwest to Macedonia, which is the northern part of modern-day Greece and is distinct from the Republic of Macedonia.

He visited the Christians in Macedonia — principally Philippi and Thessalonica — and gave them much encouragement.

St Luke, the author of Acts, documented Paul’s stay and conversion of the first European on European soil — Lydia — in Acts 16. Paul also landed in prison there.

Acts 17 has the story of Paul and Silas founding the churches further south in Thessalonica and Berea, which was relatively nearby.

Following his stay, Paul then travelled south to Greece (verse 2). Paul had already spent time in Athens (Acts 17, discussed here and here). From there, he founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18, discussed here, here and here).

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes these return visits (emphases mine):

1. He went first to Macedonia (Acts 20:1), according to his purpose before the uproar (Acts 19:21); there he visited the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica, and gave them much exhortation, Acts 20:2. Paul’s visits to his friends were preaching visits, and his preaching was large and copious: He gave them much exhortation; he had a great deal to say to them, and did not stint himself in time; he exhorted them to many duties, in many cases, and (as some read it) with many reasonings. He enforced his exhortation with a great variety of motives and arguments. 2. He staid three months in Greece (Acts 20:2,3), that is, in Achaia, as some think, for thither also he purposed to go, to Corinth, and thereabouts (Acts 19:21), and, no doubt, there also he gave the disciples much exhortation, to direct and confirm them, and engage them to cleave to the Lord.

Paul spent three months in Greece. He was originally going to set sail for Syria from there, but when it became clear that disgruntled Jewish leaders were plotting against him, he went returned north to Macedonia to sail from there (verse 3). He was going to Syria in order to visit the church in Antioch, which Barnabas founded and Paul strengthened (Acts 11). Earlier, whilst in Ephesus, he had intended to make a return visit to those congregations, along with the aforementioned churches in Macedonia and Archaia, home to Corinth (Acts 19). Then the riot in Ephesus took place.

Henry explains more about the plot against Paul in Greece, possibly assassination:

The altering of his measures; for we cannot always stand to our purposes. Accidents unforeseen put us upon new counsels, which oblige us to purpose with a proviso. 1. Paul was about to sail into Syria, to Antioch, whence he was first sent out into the service of the Gentiles, and which therefore in his journeys he generally contrived to take in his way; but he changed his mind, and resolved to return to Macedonia, the same way he came. 2. The reason was because the Jews, expecting he would steer that course as usual, had way-laid him, designing to be the death of him; since they could not get him out of the way by stirring up both mobs and magistrates against him, which they had often attempted, they contrived to assassinate him. Some think they laid wait for him, to rob him of the money that he was carrying to Jerusalem for the relief of the poor saints there; but, considering how very spiteful the Jews were against him, I suppose they thirsted for his blood more than for his money.

MacArthur also thinks the plot was murderous:

Well, he found out about the plot. So what do you think you’re going to do? Well he [looked?] after his life. And he knew that the whole world was after his life. At least the world he was going into.

Paul had companions with him from the churches in that part of the world (verse 4). Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus, was from Berea, home to discerning readers of Scripture. Henry tells us:

Sopater of Berea, it is likely, is the same with Sosipater, who is mentioned Romans 16:21.

There were two men from the church in Thessalonica: Aristarchus and Secundus. Neither commentator says anything about them, but we can be assured that if Paul chose them, they were worthy disciples.

In any event, those three were from Macedonia.

There was Gaius from the church in Derbe, and Timothy, who had been leading the church in Macedonia then went to Ephesus, replacing Paul. Some scholars say that Timothy’s hometown could have been Lystra, which was not far from Derbe and Iconium (Acts 16).

Of Timothy’s reassignment, as it were, Henry tells us:

Timothy is reckoned among them, for though Paul, when he departed from Ephesus (Acts 20:1), left Timothy there, and afterwards wrote his first epistle to him thither, to direct him as an evangelist how to settle the church there, and in what hands to leave it (see 1 Timothy 1:3,3:14,15), which epistle was intended for direction to Timothy what to do, not only at Ephesus where he now was, but also at other places where he should be in like manner left, or whither he should be sent to reside as an evangelist (and not to him only, but to the other evangelists that attended Paul, and were in like manner employed); yet he soon followed him, and accompanied him, with others here named.

Finally, there were two men from Asia, which, at that time, meant the eastern part of Asia Minor. They were Tychicus and Trophimus.

One might wonder why Paul took these good evangelists out of their present church assignments. Henry explains that Paul needed not only help but also personal enhancement, even though he was a powerful teacher and church planter:

1. That they might assist him in instructing such as by his preaching were awakened and startled; wherever Paul came, the waters were stirred, and then there was need of many hands to help the cripples in. It was time to strike when the iron was hot. 2. That they might be trained up by him, and fitted for future service, might fully know his doctrine and manner of life, 2 Timothy 3:10. Paul’s bodily presence was weak and despicable, and therefore these friends of his accompanied him, to put a reputation upon him, to keep him in countenance, and to intimate to strangers, who would be apt to judge by the sight of the eye, that he had a great deal in him truly valuable, which was not discovered upon the outward appearance.

One could think of them as a religious, yet personal, public relations team of sorts to smooth rough waters when necessary.

Note that Luke returned to the fold, having accompanied Paul in Macedonia. The two of them returned to Troas, thought to have been Luke’s hometown; at the very least, it was where they first met (Acts 16). The other evangelists named were already there to meet them (verse 5).

Luke says that he and Paul celebrated the Feast of the Unleavened Bread in Philippi (verse 6). MacArthur says:

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was, of course, the feast which lasted seven days immediately after Passover.

Whilst Henry says Paul had already put away his Jewish customs …

The days of unleavened bread are mentioned only to describe the time, not to intimate that Paul kept the passover after the manner of the Jews; for just about this time he had written in his first epistle to the church at Corinth, and taught, that Christ is our Passover, and a Christian life our feast of unleavened bread (1 Corinthians 5:7,8), and when the substance was come the shadow was done away.

… MacArthur says that Paul was still partially rooted in them:

He originally wanted to be in Jerusalem for Passover, but when the plot came up, he couldn’t make it. So now he had to put his plans off and hope to get there by Pentecost which was 50 days after Passover … And he’s missed the Passover [with the others in Troas], though he did celebrate it in Philippi and he [Luke] makes a note of that because it tells us again that Paul was still very Jewish in his heart and his attitude.

Either way, Paul loved Jesus Christ, he loved God and he loved people, especially his converts. Paul made his intense, arduous and dangerous journeys in service to all three.

Next time — Acts 20:7-12

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 19:35-41

35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?[a] 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further,[b] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about the riot in Ephesus, brought about by the distraught silversmith Demetrius who was upset that fewer people were buying his little shrines of the goddess Artemis — Diana.

The town clerk managed to quieten the mob and asked who did not know that a) Ephesus was the centre of Artemis worship and b) that the goddess — great stone — had fallen from the sky to earth (verse 35).

‘Town clerk’ is a bit of a misnomer, because both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that he was a very important person in Ephesus.

Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

he is called, grammateus–the scribe, or secretary, or recorder; “the register of their games,” the Olympic games (so others), whose business it was to preserve the names of the victors and the prizes they won.

MacArthur says that he was akin to a mayor:

he was the chief citizen of the town, he was the chairman of the town assembly, the town council, he was the secretary of the town council. He was the guy who called the convening of the town meetings which occurred three times a month. He was the very important citizen. He finally quieted the people after two hours of standing in the middle of that place screaming their heads off.

He appealed to the Ephesians’ common sense: ‘Everyone knows that our city has the great temple to Artemis, who came to us from the sky in the form of a stone. Therefore, why are we getting into such a lather over a universally known fact?’ For them, Artemis was fact, not fiction.

MacArthur explains the stone:

this big, black, ugly image of Diana that they assumed had fallen from Jupiter; it probably was some sort of a meteorite. But nevertheless, the tradition had said it came down from Jupiter.

The town clerk then cautioned the mob against any rash violence (verse 36). This was because he would have to give an account to the Romans as to why he could not control the city over which he presided. That could have had serious consequences, as MacArthur says:

Now he’s smart man. He knows that the Romans are going to hold him responsible for all the trouble. Because he’s in charge of the town. He’s like the mayor. And he knows that the Romans could impose a fine on that city or the Romans could take away their right to free government because they were a free city like Athens was. And they could really be in trouble. So he jumps up and he says, “don’t you all know that this city is the worshipper” literally in the Greek, the temple warden of the great goddess Artemis.

Rationally, the town clerk continued his short discourse. He pointed out that the men the mob were angry with had not blasphemed the goddess or done anything destructive towards her (verse 37). MacArthur interprets his words as follows:

Why, nothing can affect our great goddess, a whole lot of these little preachers roaming around and be like shooting a peashooter at the Empire State Building. This is big time stuff. They’re not going to affect us. So he fires out a whole lot of nice glossy platitudes about the greatness of their god. And that nothing could ever change that.

The goddess power was undeniable and secure. Relax, he says, calm down. Verse 37. “For you have brought here these men who are neither robbers of temples, they have implundered the shrine of Diana, or Artemis.” And they’re not blasphemers of your goddess. They haven’t blasphemed your goddess.

Henry’s commentary says that the town clerk implied there was no way Artemis could be man made, as Paul said, because she fell from the heavens:

The temple of Diana at Ephesus was a very rich and sumptuous structure, but, it should seem, the image of Diana in the temple, because they thought it sanctified the temple, was had in greater veneration than the temple, for they persuaded the people that it fell down from Jupiter, and therefore was none of the gods that were made with men’s hands … Some take it thus: “Seeing the image of Diana fell down from Jupiter, as we all believe, then what is said against gods made with hands does not at all affect us.”

Both commentators indirectly refer to the theological concept of common grace, which asserts that Providence and/or the Holy Spirit maintains order in the world, even via unbelievers — in this case, the town clerk.

Henry has this observation:

See here, [1.] How the overruling providence of God preserves the public peace, by an unaccountable power over the spirits of men. Thus the world is kept in some order, and men are restrained from being as the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less. Considering what an impetuous furious thing, what an ungovernable untameable wild beast the mob is, when it is up, we shall see reason to acknowledge God’s goodness that we are not always under the tyranny of it. He stills the noise of the sea, noise of her waves, and (which is no less an instance of his almighty power) the tumult of the people, Psalms 65:7. [2.] See how many ways God has of protecting his people. Perhaps this town-clerk was no friend at all to Paul, nor to the gospel he preached, yet his human prudence is made to serve the divine purpose. Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.

MacArthur points out:

You know the Holy Spirit put this whole story in here for no other reason than just to have a pagan say verse 37.

The town clerk further called the mob to reason by saying that if Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths have legitimate grievances, they can follow the proper channels via the local courts and the proconsuls (verse 38). Anything else can be dealt with in the regular assembly (verse 39).

He closed by alluding to Roman authority: the riot could attract the government’s attention and the Ephesians would not be able to justify it (verse 40).

At that point, he dismissed the Ephesians (verse 41).

MacArthur says that the town clerk indirectly helped the church in Ephesus:

He took Christianity under his patronage. He said, they haven’t done anything. What have they done against us? Let’s let them be.

However, MacArthur surmises that the church in Ephesus became too comfortable without struggle. He says that Paul and Timothy were their first and last great pastors.

Recall the angel’s — messenger’s — warning to the church in Ephesus in my post on Revelation 2:1-7:

3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

St John (the Apostle and Gospel author) wrote Revelation around 95 AD. As I wrote in my post:

You may wonder what happened to the city of Ephesus. Sadly, it no longer exists. That great, bustling metropolis of the early world has disappeared. Over time, silt from the River Cayster accumulated to such an extent that it ruined the city and its harbour. It is now desolate. Would this have happened if the Ephesians heeded this letter?

John MacArthur says that only a little village nearby exists:

that doesn’t name one single Christian in its population.

One can tour the ruins in Ephesus. The following quote is from one tour company’s description. Note that Mary was believed to have spent her final days there:

You will firstly visit the Temple of Artemis which was once one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Our next stop will be Ephesus ancient city. You are going to visit the world famous ancient Greco-Roman City of Ephesus, the most well-preserved example in the world. After visiting this impressive site, we are going to have a break for lunch. After the lunch, you are going to visit the House of Virgin Mary, where it is believed she spent her last days. That is a holy place for both Christians and Muslims. Afterward, you are going to visit the Isabey Mosque.

And that is the story of Ephesus.

People say that God does not bring judgement anymore, that it stopped with the Bible. Looking at this history, we can see that He surely has brought judgement to the Church. A salutary lesson.

Next time — Acts 20:1-6

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