Acts 20:1-38

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

October 15, 2009 


Paul’s Third Missionary Journey – Part 3

(Acts 20:1-38)


In this chapter we see several major movements:

  • Acts 20:1 - Paul’s Departure from Ephesus
  • Acts 20:2-3b – Paul’s Return to Macedonia and Greece (Achaia)
  • Acts 20:3a-6 – The Beginning of Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem
  • Acts 20:7-12 - The Incident Concerning Eutychus at Troas
  • Acts 20:13-16 -  The Journey from Troas to Miletus
  • Acts 20:17-38 – The Farewell to the Christian Leaders of Ephesus


Acts 20:1 - Paul’s Departure from Ephesus

We concluded our previous session by focusing on the near riot instigated by the silversmiths in the city of  Ephesus.  The silversmiths were upset because so many people were turning to faith in Christ that it was hurting their business of making idols and trinkets for the worship of Artemis (Diana), the goddess of fertility, for whom a great temple had been constructed in Ephesus.  After the incident, Paul decided it was time to end his three year stay in Ephesus and check on the churches he had established on his second missionary journey.  Paul called together “the disciples” in Ephesus for two reasons:

·        “he … exhorted them” – That is, Paul encouraged them to continue in the faith.

·        “he had … taken his leave of them” -  That is, he told them good-bye.  At this point, he did not know when or even if he would see them again.  Later in this chapter we see Paul meeting with some of the leaders of the church in Ephesus, but at this point in time Paul did not know that he would have that opportunity.


Acts 20:2-3a – Paul’s Return to Macedonia and Greece (Achaia)

Macedonia is the province in northern Greece.  That is where the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea are located.  We do not know precisely how long Paul stayed in Macedonia, but it was probably a matter of months.  During this time he was raising money from the churches to be given to the suffering Christians in the area of Jerusalem.  He also gave the Christians there “much exhortation” just as he had given the disciples in Ephesus before he left.

Leaving Macedonia “he came to Greece” (v.2).  In this case “Greece” refers to the southern province of Achaia where Corinth was located.  He was there for three months, probably during the winter of 56-57 A.D.  Most scholars believe that it was during that time that Paul wrote the great letter to the Romans. 


Acts 20:3b-6 – The Beginning of Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem

Paul planned to sail directly from Achaia (probably from the port of Cenchrea) back to Syria.  However, he was alerted to a plot against him by some of his Jewish adversaries.  Perhaps they planned to murder Paul once they were at sea.  So instead of sailing from Achaia, Paul traveled by land back to Macedonia to sail from there.

Paul was not making this journey to Jerusalem alone.  Verse 4 mentions seven traveling companions.  Some of these men were from the churches in Asia (Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus) and some were from the churches in Macedonia (Sopater, Aristarchus, and Secundus).  The ones from Macedonia were probably going to share in the presentation of the offering for the Christians in Judea that had been collected from their churches.  The ones from Asia were probably going to allow the Jewish Christians in Judea to be further exposed to their fellow Gentile believers. 

2 Corinthians 8:19 indicates that Titus was also among Paul’s traveling companions on this journey.  It is interesting that his name does not appear on the list, nor does Luke’s name who obviously accompanied Paul from Philippi (verse 6).  Some have speculated that Titus was Luke’s brother and out of family modesty Luke left both their names off the list.

Except for Luke and perhaps Titus, the rest of the party went on to Troas while Paul remained in Philippi until after the Passover.  Verse 6 indicates it took five days to sail from Philippi (the port of Neapolis) to Troas which indicates the winds were not favorable (Acts 16:11-12 indicates Paul previously made the journey from Troas to Neapolis in two days).



Acts 20:7-12 - The Incident Concerning Eutychus at Troas

This incident is interesting for several reasons:

·        This is the first mention in Scripture of Christians gathering “on the first day of the week.”  As the hostility between Christians and Jews increased and Christians moved out of the synagogues, Christians gradually moved their day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) to the first day of the week (Sunday) which was resurrection day.

·        The phrase “were gathered together to break bread” is probably a reference to the “agape feast” that included a fellowship meal and a reenactment of the Last Supper.

·        Paul apparently sensed he would not have the opportunity to address these people again, so “he prolonged his message until midnight.”

·        Some have questioned whether Eutychus was actually dead or just knocked unconscious.  The statements in verse 9 (“he was picked up dead”) and verses 12 (“And they took away the boy alive”) indicate that he was actually dead and brought back to life.  This story is reminiscent of the raising from the dead of Tabitha by Peter in Acts 9:36-42).


Acts 20:13-16 -  The Journey from Troas to Miletus

While the rest of the party went by sea from Troas to Assos, Paul traveled overland.  Luke does not tell us why Paul chose those travel arrangements, but there are several possibilities:

·        Perhaps he desired to remain behind for a short time to give additional instruction to the Christians in Troas

·        Maybe he wanted some time alone before starting in earnest his intense journey back to Jerusalem

·        Perhaps there were some friends he wanted to see along the way

·        Maybe this was an attempt to confuse the Jews who were constantly plotting against him

For whatever the reason Paul traveled by land to Assos where he boarded what appears to be a commuter boat that skirted the rugged coastline of Asia stopping it key towns along the way.  Because Paul desired to reach Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost, he decided not to return to Ephesus which he knew would not be short visit.


Acts 20:17-38 – The Farewell to the Christian Leaders of Ephesus

While at Miletus, Paul sent for “the elders of the church” at Ephesus.  In verse 28 these people are referred to as “overseers” which is the word sometimes translated as “bishops” in the New Testament.  The word means “guardians” and referred to those who had the responsibility of leading the church.  It is my opinion that the New Testament uses the words elders, bishops, overseers, and pastors interchangeably to refer to a single office. 

Paul was convinced that this would be the last time he would see these dear friends in this world (see verses 25 and 38).  This is one of the more moving scenes in the New Testament.  In these verses we see the Apostle Paul bidding an emotional farewell to the leaders of the church at Ephesus with whom he had spent three years in ministry.

This speech by Paul is the only one Luke recorded that is addressed to Christians.  His other sermons recorded in Acts were delivered to Jews or unbelieving Gentiles.  While in this chapter we see Paul addressing Christians in several places (see Acts 20:1, 2, and 7-12), Luke does not give us the content of what he said.  But in these verses we have the content of his message.


Verses 18-21 – Paul begins by reminding the Ephesians of the example he set for them in ministry.  He shares these things as an encouragement for them to follow his example (compare Philippians 3:17).  Basically, Paul says four things about his ministry in Ephesus:

1.      He served with humility, even in very difficult times (vv.18b-19)

2.      He taught the whole truth, not holding back anything (v.20a)

3.      He taught publicly as well as privately (v.20b)

4.      He called all people to repent and turn in faith to Jesus (v.21)


Verses 22-25 speak of Paul’s plans for the future and his understanding of what was before him.

Verses 26-27 reiterate Paul’s practice of preaching/teaching the whole truth – redemption as well as judgment, encouragement as well as exhortation.


Verses 28-31 contain a charge to the leaders of the Ephesian church.


Verse 32 is a beautiful benediction in which Paul commends these dear friends to God.


Verses 33-35 refer back to the topic with which Paul began this message – his personal example.


Verses 36-38 describe the emotional farewell.


Practical Lessons From Acts 20:1-38:

1.      Every person needs to be encouraged from time to time.  In this one chapter we see Paul encouraging the believers in Macedonia, Achaia, Troas, and Ephesus.  It is not a sign of weakness to be in need of encouragement; it is part of our human nature.

2.      Every believer needs to be alert for opportunities to be an encourager of others.  People are naturally drawn to those who build them up, not with false, empty flattery but genuine encouragement.

3.      We need people in life who will “share the journey” with us.  As Paul’s friends accompanied him on his journey to Jerusalem, our lives are diminished if we do not have around us people who share our journey.

4.      It is not an act of love to minimize to others the demands God makes on our lives.  While we should not be angry or delight in hurting others, neither should we shrink from declaring God’s truths given to us in Scripture.