As we read of the continuation of Paul’s journey we note the use of the pronoun us indicating that Luke remained with Paul. He was the author of this record and the apostle’s intimate companion. Paul’s other traveling companions appear to have waited for him at Troas, the city almost on the site of ancient Troy, celebrated by Homer.
Breaking of Bread at Troas (Act_20:1-12)
In Act_20:7 Luke proceeded to record something to which the Holy Spirit evidently desires to draw our attention in a special way. We read that he and Paul arrived in Troas and remained there seven days until the first day of the week rolled around. And what is the first day of the week? The day that we call Sunday. On this day, not on the Jewish Sabbath, but on the first day of the week, apparently it had already become customary for the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to gather together for a specific purpose. That purpose was “to break bread.”
This refers, of course, to that simple yet beautiful feast that our Lord Jesus instituted before He left this world. When He gathered His disciples about Him in the upper room and after they had observed the Jewish feast of the Passover, He took bread (one of the Passover flat cakes) and broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is my body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of me” (Luk_22:19). He also took the cup after supper. There was a cup on the Passover table of which ordinarily no one partook. It was called “the cup of blessing,” and if the members of a household asked, “Why is this cup on the table?” the Jewish father would answer, “It is the cup of blessing for Messiah when He comes.” Jesus, celebrating the Passover with His disciples, took the cup of blessing for He was the Messiah, and He said, “Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mat_26:27-28). Thus He instituted the Lord’s supper.
Now we find that after some twenty years had elapsed it seems to have become a customary thing for the disciples to meet together frequently to observe this feast of love. On this occasion in Acts 20 we read that they gathered on the first day of the week. It may not always have been so, but I am sure that where love is warm, people delight to observe this as often as they can.
They cam together on the first day of the week, not to hear a preacher, though the greatest of preachers was there, the apostle Paul; not to hear a teacher, though the greatest of teachers was there, for there has never been another teacher as great as the apostle Paul; they did not come together just to sing hymns, though we know they did sing, as we are told in 1Co_14:26. They did not come for any of these purposes, and they certainly did not come to be entertained or amused; but “they came together to break bread.” They gathered together to remember the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether there was a preacher or not made little difference, or whether there was a teacher or not did not matter; whether there was beautiful singing or not, they were not concerned about that; but they were concernd about remembering the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread.
And so Paul and his companions took advantage of this opportunity to meet with the disciples. Notice that it was in the evening. Most of the disciples were slaves. They had to work all day, but when evening came they were able to slip away and gather together in some quiet place and show the Lord’s death in view of His coming again. Paul, led by the Spirit of God, preached to them, and he “continued his speech until midnight.” You see, they did not have many opportunities to listen to the expounding of the Word, and even fewer opportunities to hear the apostle Paul. Although the meeting went on and on, hour after hour, we do not read that there was any complaint. But we do read of one poor man who was completely overcome.
“There were many lights in the upper chamber” (they were in an upper room somewhere), “and there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep.” This dear fellow wasn’t the last man to be overpowered by drowsiness in a meeting! But Eutychus was seated in a rather dangerous place-in the window. “And as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.” But “Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him”; that is, he was apparently in a state of coma. So Paul was used of God for his restoration. Every preacher does not have that power. It is too bad perhaps that we do not; so if you endanger yourselves by going to sleep under our sermons, you will yourselves have to endure whatever results. But in this episode Paul was able to overcome the bad consequences.
We can just imagine what a wonderful occasion it was to that little group at Troas. Brought out, some from paganism and some from Judaism, and now together as representing one body, they had come to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. I think I see them wending their way from their different places to the third story of that building, and when they got there, what a delightful surprise! Who are these visitors? Why, the apostle Paul and Dr. Luke and their friends! And they are all there to break bread with them and to have happy Christian fellowship together. But now they say, “We must not lose this opportunity. Paul is here; we are ready to give attention to any word he has for us from God.” So, for some hours Paul went on opening up the precious Word of God, and even after the serious accident to Eutychus and his restoration they continued to listen to Paul. They were still conferring together about the things of the Lord when the morning sun began to rise.
What a delightful picture of the genuine Christian fellowship that existed among believers in those early days. And is it not a standing miracle that although centuries have passed since then-almost two millennia-still all over the world, wherever the gospel has been carried, you will find people coming together for the breaking of bread in tender, loving memory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Someone may ask, Of what value is the communion service? Does it save the soul? We say, No. The communion is for those whose souls are saved. Well, of what real worth is it? Do we have to do this thing? Oh, no. If we had to do it, it would lose its precious-ness, but our Lord Jesus has requested us to do it. He has said: “This do in remembrance of me.” And its value is this: That as we obey that word, it brings Christ Himself more preciously before our hearts; we meditate on His love, we think of His passion, we consider His cross. His bitter sorrows. We say in our hearts, “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me,” and we express on our part our love for Him who has thus redeemed us to Himself.
Paul’s Farewell Testimony to the Ephesian Elders (Act_20:13-27)
After preaching the Word at Troas Paul prepared to go on toward Jerusalem with the intention of stopping by Ephesus on the way. His companions, including Luke, left him at Troas and went by ship, sailing along the coast to a place called Assos. There they intended to take Paul in, for he had walked from Troas to Assos. After meeting him, they sailed on to Mitylene, and then, as Luke said, “We sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos [an island in the Aegean sea], and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus.” Miletus was the port for the city of Ephesus, a few miles inland.
“Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus.” He was anxious to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost if possible. You remember the marvelous events that had happened on Pentecost nearly thirty years before! From all parts of the Roman world the Jewish people gathered together annually for the feast, and Paul undoubtedly realized this would be a good opportunity to meet and present Christ to many of them. So, stopping near Ephesus, he asked the elders of the church to come to him. As they gathered together, Paul gave them his final testimony.
He said, “Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations [trials], which befell me.” His tribulations were chiefly because of the hatred of some of his own nation who did not understand. They thought he had turned away from the faith of their fathers to teach something that was utterly false. Yet Paul went on earnestly, devotedly ministering Christ.
He described what should characterize every true minister of Christ: “Serving the Lord with all humility [lowliness] of mind.” If there is any position, any calling where pride should have no place, it is in connection with the ministry of the Word of God. To begin with, the minister of Christ is one who was just a poor, lost, needy sinner, but who has been saved by grace and entrusted with a message to the world and to the people of God. He does not receive this because of any merit of his own. It is all because of the goodness of the Lord. Certainly therefore he has nothing to be proud of.
When people used to crowd around George Whitefield and praise him because of his marvelous preaching, he would stop them like this: “The devil told me that just before I came down from the pulpit.” Then he would add, “There are many who can preach the gospel better than I can, but none can preach a better gospel.” It is the message that counts. The servant is really nothing, and the more we realize this and are willing to take the place of nothingness, the more God delights to come in and work through His servants.
We see in Paul the ideal minister of Christ, characterized by lowliness of mind and tenderness of heart. That comes out in this testimony. He had served the Lord with all humility of mind, and he was not ashamed to weep with them that weep. We who try to minister Christ may well pray for tender, compassionate hearts. Men and women on every hand are in grief and sorrow. We can well understand the instruction given to a group of ministerial students: “Young gentlemen, always preach to broken hearts, and you will never lack for an audience.”
Oh, the sorrowing people in the world today, the broken hearts all about us! How men need that tender message of comfort that the gospel brings! But unless it comes from a heart that is really softened by divine grace, it is powerless to help and bless others. And so Paul said, “I served the Lord with many tears.” They were not sham tears: they were not crocodile tears.
I heard of a clergyman who had all kinds of instructions written in the margins of his typewritten sermons. When some of his hearers found one of these sermons that had been left on the pulpit, they were surprised to read the following instructions: Smile here; Raise the voice here; Lower the voice here; Weep here, and so on! It was all made-to-order emotion. That does not glorify God. But one who is in touch with the tender, sympathetic heart of the Lord Jesus, who really feels for those to whom he ministers, will be able to bring a message of consolation to those who are troubled. Such an one was the apostle Paul. His own trials also never turned him aside. He pressed forward in spite of them.
And then he was so true to his commission. He said, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.” He was not simply a man of the pulpit. As he stood on the platform he was faithful in giving out the Word of God; he sought to be just as faithful when he visited the people in their homes.
It is pitiable, I think, that to a great extent the good old fashioned custom of pastoral visitation has almost died out. A strange thing occurred to me once. While speaking in a certain city, I learned of a dear soul who was very ill and longed to come to our meetings but was greatly disappointed because she could not come. So I thought, I will look her up. I found her address and went to see her. I had a most delightful visit, and then I asked, “Shall we read a little from God’s Word?” “Oh,” she replied, “how I wish you would!” So I read a portion of Scripture, then bowed with her in prayer. And our hearts were moved. But this was the strange part: when I was leaving, she said, “This is the first time in twenty years that I have ever had a minister read God’s Word or pray with me when he visited me.” “Well,” I said, “perhaps you haven’t been visited often.” “Oh, yes,” she answered; “our minister comes about once a month, and he usually tells me the latest good story and tries to cheer me up a bit.” Isn’t it pitiable? I do not know any more precious ministry than that of going into the homes of God’s dear people and opening up the Word and then lifting up the heart to God in prayer. This is true apostolic service.
What was the burden of Paul’s ministry? “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice the two classes-the Jews that God had set apart for Himself, who had been instructed by prophets and teachers throughout the centuries; and the Greeks. Here, Greeks is an all-inclusive term for the different Gentile peoples. Greek was the language spoken almost universally in the Roman world at that time. Paul’s testimony was the same in character whether it was to the Jew or to the Greek.
What was the character of that message? “Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” I am afraid the preaching of repentance is largely missing in many places today. I believe there are many who profess to be fundamental preachers who seldom call men to repentance. And yet if you will go through the book of Acts and on into the Epistles you will see what a large place repentance had in apostolic ministry. The apostle Peter went from place to place calling men to repentance. Paul himself insisted on it wherever he went, and he could say to these Ephesian elders, “During all the time I was with you, and wherever else I have gone, I have called men to repentance.” In a preceding chapter we saw that God “commanded all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained” (Act_17:30-31).
I suppose the reason some of my dear brethren are so afraid of the word repentance is that they imagine people will think of it as a meritorious act. Repentance is just the sick man’s acknowledgment of his illness. It is simply the sinner recognizing his guilt and confessing his need of deliverance. Do not confuse repentance with penitence. Penitence is sorrow for sin, and “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” Do not confuse repentance with remorse. Remorse generally consists in grieving because you are found out. How many a man in prison is filled with remorse, because he got caught! Remorse is not real repentance. Judas was deeply remorseful when he saw how things were going with Jesus, and he brought the thirty pieces of silver and threw them down in the office of the high priest, but he was not truly repentant before God. The words translated, “Judas repented,” more properly should be “Judas was remorseful,” and he went out and hanged himself. That is the sorrow of the world that results in death, but godly sorrow leads to repentance.
Repentance is not penance. It is not trying in some way or other to make up for the wrong things of the past. Repentance is far more than that. It is judging oneself in the presence of God; turning rightabout-face, turning to God with a sincere, earnest desire to be completely delivered from sin. And when a man takes that attitude toward God and puts his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he finds salvation. Faith will never be real apart from repentance. The two things go together-repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
May I ask you who read this: Have you ever faced your sins in the presence of God? Go back into the Old Testament and you find that God has given us an entire book to show us the importance of repentance. That book is Job. It is the record of the best man that God could find in the ancient world, and he demonstrated even to Satan himself that his outward life was absolutely flawless. Yet before God finished with that good man, he cried out from the depths of a broken heart: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job_42:5-6).
My friend, if a good man like Job needed to make a confession like that, surely you and I need it. We may well come before God and take the place of lowliness and repentance. If you are grieving over the sins of the past, recognizing your guilt and longing for deliverance, then I would point you to the Lord Jesus Christ. In infinite grace He bore your sins on the cross in order that you might be forever delivered from the judgment due to sin. Paul linked up faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ with repentance toward God. Put your trust in Him. Look to Him. He has said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved...for I am God, and there is none else.” When you look up in faith to Him, then He takes you up in grace, puts away all sins of the past, gives you a new life and a new standing before Him.
Paul continued his farewell by looking forward into the future. He said, “Now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there.” He felt that he must go. There are certain things that we read later on in Acts that might make us wonder if he was right in that decision. Even the best of men err in judgment, and it may be that Paul was wrong in going up to Jerusalem.
We are told in Acts 21 that certain disciples said to him “through the Spirit” that he should not go to Jerusalem. But he did not recognize this as the voice of God. He felt that he must go. One reason that he wanted to go was because of his intense love for his Jewish brethren. He was a Christian, but a Hebrew Christian, and he could say, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom_10:1-2). He desired to help them; and he felt that to go to Jerusalem at Pentecost and meet them and witness to them might mean the salvation of many. Yet he said, “Wherever I go, I am told that bonds and afflictions await me.” Doubtless the Spirit of God spoke through various brethren who said, “Paul, we are afraid you are making a tremendous mistake. Your mission is specially to the Gentiles, not to Israel.”
But somehow he could not recognize that as the voice of the Lord to turn him aside. He took it rather as the voice of the tempter seeking to dissuade him. “But,” he added, “none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” In other words, he is saying, “After all, my life is of no account except as it is used for the glory of God, except as I have the privilege of ministering Christ to others. I am not afraid of bonds and imprisonment, but I am afraid of dishonoring my Lord, and so my great concern is to finish my course with joy.”
It is very interesting to notice in connection with this, the apostle’s last Epistle-Second Timothy. There we find him writing from a dungeon death cell, “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” That which he longed for actually came true. Notice the great assignment he had received from the Lord Jesus was to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And there can be no higher calling than to be a preacher of the gospel.
I sometimes feel that some of us who minister the Word are inclined to undervalue the work of the evangelist and to think that teaching believers is a more important work. But there is no greater ministry than that of going to poor, lost, needy sinners with the gospel of the grace of God.
I have been told of Duncan Matheson who, on one occasion, was asked to address a meeting. Over a thousand Christians had gathered to hear the Word. He read a portion of Scripture that had a wonderful message for Christians, then expounded upon it for their edification. But as he thought of poor, needy sinners he turned to them instead and went on to fill the whole hour with a gospel message. At the close of the meeting one of the conveners came up to him and said, “Brother Matheson, it was really too bad. Here were a thousand Christians who came for some spiritual food, and you spent the entire hour preaching the gospel.” “Oh,” said he, “were no unsaved ones there?” “There might have been a half-dozen or so.” With a twinkle in his eye, the old man replied in his Scottish way, “Oh well, ye ken, Christians, if they are Christians, will manage to wiggle awa’ to Heaven some way, if they never learn any more truth, but poor sinners have got to be saved or be in Hell!” We never want to forget that, and that is why the most important message God ever gave to man was the message of the gospel of the grace of God.
A friend of mine inquired of an older minister about a young preacher he had known. The other replied, “I am afraid he is not doing very well. He has fallen from being a gospel preacher to becoming a prophetic lecturer.” Some people would think that was going up, but it might really be going down. Of course it is perfectly right and proper to minister on prophesy if the Lord so leads, but not to the neglect of the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul continued his farewell message by saying, “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.” I know that his heart was sad when he said this. What did he mean by it? In effect Paul was saying, “I have delivered my soul. I have not ceased to warn you day and night. I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” He was thinking doubtless of that passage in Ezekiel 33 where God speaks of the watchman’s responsibility for the safety of the city.
Paul’s Charge to the Ephesian Elders (Act_20:28-38)
An elder, according to the Word of God, is a man approved in life and doctrine; one who, because of mature years and consistent Christian living, is selected by the Holy Spirit to have oversight of the spiritual affairs of the church of God. It is a very serious thing to be called to assume such responsibility. It is not something that any man should ever seek as a matter of personal advancement. It is not an honor that the church should bestow on a man simply in recognition of his spiritual gifts or his fine personality, or because he happens to have a standing in society that would make him an outstanding representative of the church. Nothing like that. But it is a divine calling to serve the people of God. The elder is to be known by his earnestness, his devotedness, his tender compassion for others, his faithfulness in living and proclaiming the truth. God holds him responsible to a very great extent for the spiritual welfare of the believers who recognize him as called by God to this office. Understand, when I am speaking of an elder, I am not simply speaking of a pastor or a teacher, but of an overseer in the church of God. Scripture says that elders are to give an account as those that watch for the souls of believers committed to their charge; so they have a very, very responsible place indeed (Heb_13:17).
We who are members of the church of God should ever be ready to recognize our elders and to give to them the honor that belongs to them. Scripture says the elders that rule well should be accounted worthy of double reverence (1Ti_5:17). I sometimes think that the church of God is about the only place left today where age really counts. You cannot jump over twenty years of Christian experience.
So often dear young Christians are impatient of restraint and impatient of the kind and fatherly care of God-appointed elders. On the contrary, they should recognize the fact that these men of God have been over the path ahead of them, and have experienced the struggles, temptations, and the trials that the young are now facing. There was a time when they too had to combat the world as young people do now, but through grace they were enabled to overcome. Now with the experience they have attained they are able to guide and direct younger men. In the world outside the church when a man reaches even middle age he is often thrown to one side as one no longer fit to take a responsible position. In the church no man is ready for a responsible position until he has become a mature servant of God.
Paul sent for the Ephesian elders and told them first of his ministry and then he gave them a very definite charge. “Take heed,” he said, “therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock.” Notice the order. Yourselves first, then the flock. It is possible that even an elder who has known the Lord for many years may be tripped up by some snare of the enemy. Therefore the elder needs to be careful of his own walk, of his own spiritual fellowship with God, and then he is to have care for the flock of God.
You will notice that twice in this passage (Act_20:28-29) the apostle used that term, the flock. It is a very lovely expression. It suggests, as our Lord Jesus has told us in John 10, that the people of God are His sheep. You remember He said that He came as the Good Shepherd to call His own sheep out of the fold of Judaism. Then He added, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring,” referring to the Gentiles, “and there shall be one [flock] and one shepherd.” Judaism was a fold without a center. Christianity is a flock; there is a center without a circumference. There is no fold built around the Hock of God. Its safety is in keeping close to the Shepherd. There are various similes used for God’s people. This is one of the most beautiful. As members of the flock of God, how careful we should be to keep close to our Shepherd, to walk in His steps!
Paul said to these Ephesian elders, “The Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God.” The word translated “overseers” is our word bishops. Some of us have come to think of a bishop as a man set over a great many churches, but here the apostle speaks of a number of bishops in one local church, for a bishop is an overseer. They have the spiritual oversight in the church of God, and he commands them, “to feed the church of God.” The same company he spoke of as a flock he now speaks of as a church, a called-out company, which is the literal meaning of the Greek word ecclesia.
What a wonderful thing it is to belong to that company! Paul once persecuted that company! God forgave him, but he could never forgive himself (see 1Co_15:9). I imagine many a night he lay awake thinking of the affliction that he had brought on God’s dear children in years gone by. “But,” he said, “I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1Ti_1:13). Notice the company that he persecuted is the same company to which he joined himself after he was converted. The church at Ephesus was the church of God. The church of God was the object of his persecution.
“Purchased with his own blood.” “Purchased with the blood of His own,” would be a better rendering of this. Fundamentally, you could not speak of the blood of God, because God is a Spirit without physical form, and therefore to speak of the blood of God would be incongruous. If you turn the phrase around, you get the exact meaning of what Paul said to these men: “Feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with the blood of His own,” that is, the blood of His own dear Son. The Lord Jesus Christ was God; but in order that He might shed His blood for our redemption, He became man. He who was God and man in one person went to the cross and poured out His precious blood to make propitiation for our sins. Now we who believe in Him constitute the church of God and the flock of God, and as such we need food.
It is the business of the elders to feed the flock of God. How do they do this? By ministering the truth to them-the truth about Christ. As the Word of God is opened up and brought home in power to the flock, they feed on Christ Himself. That is one reason why we are warned against “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb_10:25).
Many Christians today shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh, I am not interested in going to church. I don’t need to go; I can worship God just as well at home.” But in so acting they deliberately rob their own souls of the food that they need for their spiritual upbuilding. We need the Word of God, and He has appointed that as His people gather together, the truth should be presented that the saints may be nourished on the words of sound doctrine.
Then the apostle brought in a warning to the elders. He looked with prophetic eye down through the centuries and there he saw what has now become history. As the centuries progressed, unconverted men came into the outer circle of the church. Professing to be Christians, many of them pushed forward into places of leadership, and the history of the professing church is a very sad history indeed. Many unrighteous, unconverted men seek to hold positions of authority over God’s people. They are like “grievous wolves” entering in from the outside, not sparing the flock! But then, not only did they come in from the outside, for the apostle added, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
One of Satan’s favorite methods of disrupting the peace among the saints is to raise up in their midst men who in large measure are self-seeking, although perhaps truly converted. These men endeavor to pressure the saints of God to accept certain teachings in order to create division in God’s house. Then they gather a group around themselves with the object of attaining personal recognition and support. Just as though he were living today and could see what is going on in so many places, the apostle predicted this very thing!
What is the Christian’s confidence? What is his safety in view of such circumstances as these? Paul said, “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years” (the three years in which he had labored at Ephesus) “I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” The apostle was not ashamed of tears. To him eternal things were so real that when he saw people turning coldly away from them it almost broke his heart, and he wept over them. And then as he entered into the homes of God’s saints and saw the sorrows that many of them had to endure-bereavement, sickness, poverty, and persecution-he was no unsympathetic onlooker. He could weep with those who wept and rejoice with those who rejoiced. This expresses the heart of the true pastor. “I serve with tears, and I cease not to warn you with tears.”
Paul next said, “I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace, which is able to build you up.” In other words, “But now I am going away from you. I am never going to see you on earth again, but here is your resource in the day of difficulty.” What is this resource? God and His blessed, infallible, and inspired book, the Bible. This shall abide when His servants pass on.
Why is it that many Christians today make such slow progress in the Christian life and are so weak when they ought to be strong? It is because they give so little time to the reading of the Word of God. I would like to ask you, dear friends, How much time do you really give to the Bible day by day? Do you study the Word? Do you take time to meditate on the Word?
I was in Glasgow, Scotland when a missionary from India, returned home on furlough, took part in the meeting. He read us a letter that he had received from an Indian elder in the church which the missionary had left behind. This is what he read: “Dear brother, we have missed you greatly while you have been gone, but we are trying to carry on. We are all studying the Word more faithfully than ever, and God has already been at work and we are having a great rebible.” He meant “revival.” And you know, that dear missionary reading the letter said, “Brethren, I do not think there was any mistake in that letter because whenever there is a re-Bible movement, there will be a revival.”
And that is what we need-to get back to the Bible, to give more attention to the Bible. There are professing Christians who rarely open their Bibles from one Sunday to the next unless perhaps to read the Sunday school lesson. There are many Christian homes that no longer have a family altar, where husband and wife and children never sit down to read the Word together and lift up their hearts to God in prayer. Is it any wonder that the church of God is so weak? Is it any wonder that worldliness is coming in like a flood? Is it any wonder that false doctrines are so readily accepted when God’s own beloved people are not acquainted with His holy Word?
Our resources in the day of evil are God and the Word of His grace, “which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” What is it to be sanctified? It is to be set apart to God, and every believer is set apart through God’s grace. As we study the Word our sanctification goes on practically, resulting in lives and hearts that are separated to the Lord alone.
Paul continued his charge to the Ephesian elders by referring to his own attitude as he ministered among them. He who would seek to help and bless others need not expect to lift them any higher than he is himself. Water does not rise above its own level. The minister of the gospel must be very careful to walk with God in his private life as well as publicly, and so Paul said, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold or apparel.” In other words, “I have not been among you for what I could get from you.” “Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.”
Whenever his funds ran out, you never saw Paul trying to stir up the people to give him anything. I was rather shocked to read in the newspaper of a minister who was suing the church for not having been given all his salary. Paul never did anything like that. He never appealed for anything for himself. He was not afraid to solicit for others, however, such as when he asked funds for the poor saints at Jerusalem. When his own money ran out, he went around and got a job. He was not afraid of degrading the “cloth” or of getting his hands dirty. He found a job at tentmaking, and he not only supported himself, but he supported those who were with him. “I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
When did Jesus say this? Where is it recorded? You search the four Gospels and you will never find these words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And yet Paul, speaking to these Ephesian elders, Gentiles far away from Palestine where Jesus had lived and preached, records them. It is evident that these words fell frequently from the lips of the Lord Jesus. They are not actually recorded elsewhere, but the saints spoke of them as they moved from place to place. Different ones remembered they had often heard Jesus say them. He was probably in the habit of saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
It makes one so happy to be at the giving end rather than the receiving end. Folks who are always going around with an open hand, hoping you will give them something, are not happy people. The happy ones are those who give to others. I do admire Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. No matter how many came in to dinner, she said “It’s all right, we can just add another ladle of water to the soup.” She found it was more blessed to give than to receive; and so it is with the consistent Christian who is living in fellowship with his Lord.
Well, Paul’s address is concluded. Luke’s words help us to visualize this little company: “When he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.” We see Paul on the seashore, and the Ephesian elders are all kneeling around him. What a hallowed little prayer meeting that must have been!
They were sad because the one who had led them to Christ was going away, and they feared some dreadful thing was about to happen to him. They did not understand it all, but they bowed reverently before God while Paul prayed with them. Wouldn’t you like to know what he said? If only there had been a record made of his prayer so that we could hear it today! How I would love to enter into that prayer! Oh, I know that he must have poured out his heart for these elders that they might be given all needed grace and wisdom to guide the saints aright. It affected them very deeply, for we read: “And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him.” Strong men they were, and yet they were not ashamed in this way to express their deep love for the man of God who had won them for Christ when they were strangers to grace.
But they sorrowed “most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.” And they never did. It was Paul’s farewell. He went on to Jerusalem, was arrested, incarcerated at Caesarea, and taken on to Rome. Although after two years of imprisonment in Rome he was set free for a little time, evidently he never reached Ephesus again. His work with them was done, but oh, done so well! Surely he had no regrets as he looked back. He had served faithfully. God grant that when you and I finish our work we may be able to rejoice in what God has done and not have our consciences troubling us because of unfaithful service.