Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Twenty
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 20 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without any legal drama or breaking anyone’s rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. Thanks to everyone that has participated so far. Let’s get started:
First, let’s set our location and do a brief catchup. In Acts chapter 19, Paul set out on his third missionary journey and stayed in Ephesus for about three years teaching the people and building a group of believers there. God worked special miracles through Paul. Handkerchiefs and aprons taken from him would heal the sick, and drive out evil spirits. Paul made such an impact on the dark city of Ephesus that the craftsmen who made silver idols of artemis, started a riot because their businesses were affected. That is where we begin our story today. Paul is still in Ephesus on his third mission trip and the riot has just ended.
Acts Chapter 20 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible: After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, took leave of them, and departed to go into Macedonia.
When the riot was over, Paul said goodbye to the believers there and headed to Macedonia. He would have visited Philippi, Berea, and slowly made his way to down Athens and Corinth visiting all the cities along the way.
2 When he had gone through those parts, and had encouraged them with many words, he came into Greece. 3 When he had spent three months there, and a plot was made against him by Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia.
Paul spent three months in Greece, visiting Athens and Corinth, then planned to sail to Jerusalem, but some anti-Christian Jews there were plotting to do away with him while at sea. They may have been planning to attack him on the ship, which would have been crowded with Jewish pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for Passover or Pentecost, and there would be no Roman guards to stop them. Paul eluded them by traveling back up through Macedonia, and then over to Troas.
4 These accompanied him as far as Asia: Sopater of Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; Gaius of Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 But these had gone ahead, and were waiting for us at Troas. 6 We sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas in five days, where we stayed seven days.
Paul had quite a diverse group of believers traveling with him, including Luke, for he is using “us” and “we”. Paul had sent them ahead of him and when he arrived, there was a joyous time of reunion because his traveling companions were eagerly awaiting his arrival. They stayed together in Troas for seven days, after which Paul planned to depart. There was a final meeting where they were all gathered together to hear Paul, who was leaving town the following morning.
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:13 “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.” They are probably meeting at the three story house of Carpus here.
7 On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight.
This took place on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day of the Resurrection, and not on the Sabbath. Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday and they were remembering that. This is the first certain example that we have of Christians making a practice to gather together on the first day of the week for fellowship and the word—though here, it seems they gathered in the evening, because Sunday was a normal working day for them.
The people there had worked a full day, but then came together in the evening for a common meal and the commemoration of the death of Jesus. It was a larger gathering than usual, for Paul’s presence, coupled with his intended departure at sunrise, had brought out everyone who was able to attend. The room would have been packed.
8 There were many lights in the upper room where we were gathered together.
The room was probably uncomfortable. The word for “lamps” here is literally “torches” for the oil lamps of the time gave off a lot of fumes. We can easily imagine a stuffy, oppressive atmosphere in that third-story chamber. The Mediterranean heat, the grimy press of the weary crowd who just got off work, the smoke and fumes from the flickering oil lamps or torches, the lack of oxygen, all made for drowsiness.
9 A certain young man named Eutychus sat in the window, weighed down with deep sleep. As Paul spoke still longer, being weighed down by his sleep, he fell down from the third floor and was taken up dead.
John Newton said, “When weariness begins, edification ends.” But Paul had so much to share, that he could not help it and he spoke for a long time. Paul spoke on and on, and then still longer. Verse 11 tells us that Paul spoke until sunrise. Poor Eutychus had probably worked all day, and he sat in the window and listened while his eyes grew heavier and heavier, and heavier. The word translated ‘sleep’ here is the word from which we derive our English word hypnosis. Finally, he dozed off and fell out of the window, falling three stories to the pavement below, and he was killed.
The congregation gave a horrified gasp and immediately rushed down the outside stairs to the broken body. Undoubtably this put a sour note on their meeting. Some of them probably began to shriek a Middle Eastern death wail, and others were crying and weeping. Paul went down the stairs to investigate.
10 Paul went down and fell upon him, and embracing him said, “Don’t be troubled, for his life is in him.”
Eutychus was dead. Paul’s comment that the boy’s life was in him refers to his condition after he had touched him. Luke would not have devoted space to merely raising up someone that appeared dead, but was actually still alive.
Paul “fell upon him” which probably mean that he stretched himself out on him much like Elijah (1Kings 17:21) and Elisha (2Kings 4:34) did. I am not sure why the three of them did this, but I think of it as a larger contact patch than simply laying a hand on them. Eutychus was revived. It was a miracle. No one was sleepy now, so back up to church they went and Paul preached some more.
11 When he had gone up, and had broken bread and eaten, and had talked with them a long while, even until break of day, he departed. 12 They brought the boy in alive, and were greatly comforted.
They had communion and Paul talked till day break, then he departed. This is the first record ever of someone falling asleep in church, but not the last, for Eutychus has thousands of successors. To be honest, some of the greatest saints have fallen asleep in church. Some of us work such trying schedules that when we sit down, it is the first time that we have relaxed all week. Others are sometimes victims of medication. Sometimes it is just so warm, but rather than miss church, they try and go anyway.
Eutychus may have been an enthusiastic new Christian who, though he was tired, would not miss church for anything. His spirit was willing, but his body was tired and sleepy. Tired people falling asleep in church really is not a problem. It can happen for any number of reasons, both good and bad. I have seen people snore through the sermon, because they had been up all night and were exhausted, but came to church anyway. Sometimes, people have fallen asleep leaning against each other.
What is far worse are the thousands who warm a seat in church with their bodies awake and their souls asleep. People sitting there with their eyes wide open, but no one’s home and they don’t hear a single thing you say. Their mind is wandering over what has transpired during the week, or perhaps what they are going to eat afterwards, or a TV show. It would be impossible to count how many churchgoers appear to be perfectly awake, but are spiritually asleep at the wheel.
Martin Luther had a parable or a dream about how on one occasion the devil sat upon his throne listening to his agents report on the progress they had made in opposing the truth of Christ, and destroying the souls of men. One spirit said there was a company of Christians crossing the desert. “I loosed the lions upon them, and soon the sands of the desert were strewn with their mangled corpses.”
“What of that?” answered Satan. “The lions destroyed their bodies, but their souls were saved. It is their souls that I am after.”
Another reported, “There was a company of Christian pilgrims sailing through the sea on a vessel. I sent a great wind against the ship that drove the ship on the rocks, and every Christian aboard the ship was drowned.”
“What of that?” said Satan. “Their bodies were drowned in the sea, but their souls were saved. It is their souls that I am after.”
The third came forward to give his report, and he said, “For ten years I have been trying to cast a Christian into a deep sleep, and at last I have succeeded.” And with that the corridors of Hell rang with shouts of malignant triumph.
As Screwtape, a senior devil, said to his trainee, Wormwood (in the great C. S. Lewis novel Screwtape Letters), “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
The devil would have you take it slow, and don’t get too excited about Jesus.
13 But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there; for he had so arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard, and came to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, we came the following day opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium, and the day after we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had determined to sail past Ephesus, that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to himself the elders of the assembly.
The Apostle Paul had embarked on his long-anticipated return to Jerusalem. Decades had passed since his last time there, and he wanted to be home with the mother church for the feast of Pentecost. He was a passenger on a merchant ship slowly making its way down the Aegean toward the Mediterranean, stopping at various centers of trade.
As the Lord would have it, the freighter stopped in Miletus, which was close to Ephesus, about 36 miles away. The ship was on a layover that lasted for several days. So though he had not planned on this delay, Paul made use of it and sent word requesting the Ephesian elders to come meet with him for a final chat. Paul knew he would never see them again.
18 When they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you all the time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears, and with trials which happened to me by the plots of the Jews; 20 how I didn’t shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus.
Most of the time in Acts, we see Paul the evangelist, but here in Acts 20, we get a unique picture of Paul the pastor. This was important to him as a leader and shepherd of God’s people. This is the only speech by Paul delivered to Christians which Luke recorded, and it is not surprising to discover how it parallels his letters.
Paul kept nothing back from them. In other words, he didn’t just teach topics that pleased him. Occasionally he taught truths that made people uncomfortable. He stepped on people’s toes, to the point that they dragged him outside of town, stoned him, and left him for dead.
22 Now, behold, I go bound by the Spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there; 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions wait for me. 24 But these things don’t count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God.
The church then was full of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul made sure of it. If he came across a group of Christians who were not baptized in the Spirit, he stopped and taught them about it. Apparently as he traveled, Paul received many prophecies from people in the churches he visited warning him about what was coming in Jerusalem, but he determined to finish his race with joy.
25 “Now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I went about preaching God’s Kingdom, will see my face no more.
This brief interlude in Paul’s stormy life provides us with one of the great farewells of Scripture. Paul knew that he would not return to Ephesus again and he showed great sadness, great compassion, and great courage. He told them something he hadn’t told them before: that this would probably be the last time they saw him. This would be like a bombshell to these church leaders who had come to know him so well. Paul had stayed in Ephesus for over two years, and the ministry was so effective that Acts 19:10 says, all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
It was hard for them to believe it. Maybe at first they thought he was joking. But they quickly understood that he wasn’t and they now understood why he asked them to walk 36 miles to meet with him. It was his farewell speech to the Ephesians.
26 Therefore I testify to you today that I am clean from the blood of all men, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know that after my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Paul said that we should be diligent over three things:
1. Take heed to yourselves: We must be on guard for temptations within our own hearts. We must never suppose that we have risen above some particular sin or have attained immunity to various temptations but must always be on our guard.
2. Savage wolves will come in among you: legalism, heretics, cults, and other spiritual enemies attack healthy churches, not weakened and obsolete ones. They are strategically sent by satan against the ones who are making a difference for Christ, for he is not concerned with those who are not a threat.
3. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth: satan loves to subvert and divide the church from within and to send discouragement to those that are trying to make a difference. I can tell you from experience that most of the attacks at Refreshing Hope have come from “Christians”. Those who read for years and never say a word until something bothers them. For example, we have written “Thank you for supporting Refreshing Hope Ministries” at the footer of the devotional, and a lady that had been subscribed a couple of years wrote back: “I pray that you burn in hell for preying on people living on a fixed income like me!” True story. The Holy Spirit pricks someone’s heart, they don’t like it, and they lash out at the messenger.
While we are on that subject, and because we hear excuses like this so much, I want to clarify that having a fixed income does not make anyone exempt from tithing. Now I am not saying this because we want your money. If you think that, please go ahead and give to someone else, but you need to be giving something to someone somewhere, and not storing it up for yourself like the rich fool in Luke 12:16. Even the poor widow in Luke 21 managed to come up with two mites, and no one was to appear before the Lord empty handed:
Deuteronomy 16:16 NKJV “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.”
Please don’t cheat God and yourself by giving in to fear because your income doesn’t seem like “enough”. That is a good way to ensure that the lack will continue. We are not to tithe out of our “abundance” or our leftovers; we give God the best portion, the first fruits, a percentage of what He has allowed us to receive that week or month. Here is what Jesus said about that:
Luke 16:10 WEB “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. He who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon (which is deceitful riches, money, possessions), who will commit to your trust the true riches?”
This means that if we don’t trust God with the little we have, why would He want to trust us with more. The simple fact is, if we won’t tithe when we make $500 a month, we wouldn’t tithe if we made $50,000 a month either. We might think we would, but in the end there are those that tithe, and those that don’t. That’s all I have to say about that. So…moving right along.
31 Therefore watch, remembering that for a period of three years I didn’t cease to admonish everyone night and day with tears. 32 Now, brothers, I entrust you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build up, and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Paul is speaking to the leaders of the church at Ephesus where he spent between two to three years teaching every day at the rented school of Tyrannous. That would have been hundreds of hours of teachings.
33 I coveted no one’s silver, gold, or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands served my necessities, and those who were with me. 35 In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Silver, gold, and clothing were traditional forms of material wealth at the time. Paul worked as a leather worker each day, and taught at the school during the off hours. He worked to support himself, and so he could have something to give those in need. He was an example to the believers there, and he told them to do likewise. Paul quoted something the Lord Jesus said that is not recorded in the gospels: “It is more blessed to give, than to receive.”
In a nutshell, their ministry was to be one of giving and not taking. Paul gave himself to God and his people. He gave himself to the ministry of the Word. He gave himself with such intensity that he forgot himself. He lived “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
36 When he had spoken these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 They all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all because of the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
After they knelt down and prayed together, they said their goodbyes. It was a solemn occasion and when done, they walked Paul to the ship. Paul sailed off to keep giving his life to Christ, providing us an example of how we should approach life and ministry.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter 20. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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