3 June 2017

Acts 20:17-38

“But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 19


Today's passage is an account of the final event in Paul's mission in the Aegean, and includes his farewell sermon. At the end of his time in Ephesus he had been caught up in a riot and when it had subsided he left and travelled around the Aegean, before heading for Jerusalem, where he wanted to celebrate Pentecost. This itinerary did not allow him time to visit Ephesus again, but he wanted to say goodbye to the leaders of the church with whom he had spent three years, so he summoned them to meet him at Miletus, about 30 miles from the Ephesus.

Paul used the opportunity to set out how he wanted to be remembered for his work in Ephesus, giving an account of his mission there, stressing his absolute commitment to the gospel, suffering humiliations and plots, and preaching both publicly and privately to Jews and to Greeks (verses 19-21). He then looked ahead to his future travels and seems to have shown a remarkable degree of prescience in anticipating that "imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me" (v. 23). Indeed, Paul did not return to Ephesus, for he was arrested and tried in Jerusalem and sent to Rome, where he eventually arrived a free man, following a shipwreck on Malta. He was last heard of in Rome where, it is assumed, he was eventually martyred. Both Paul and his audience were convinced that this was their final goodbye and it was an emotional occasion (verses 37-38).

But Paul was aware of being part of something much greater than himself, and that his own mission was but a small part of "the whole purpose of God" (v. 27). This confidence released Paul from the tyranny of the all-too-human instinct to survive at all costs; instead, his drive was to fulfil that part of God's mission that had been entrusted to him, and from that he derived his sense of purpose and his satisfaction (verse 24).

As part of something larger, he was also concerned to pass on the torch to those who would continue the ministry in Ephesus, and so offered some instruction and encouragement to the church leaders. Paul advised them to "keep watch" over themselves first and then over "all the flock" (v. 28), for they could not nurture the spiritual lives of others without tending and extending their own. They are to "be alert" (v. 31) to the presence of God in order to protect themselves and the rest of the flock from distortions of the truth (verse 30), which might savage the faith of the young church. But the strength for such alertness will come from the God to whom Paul commends them (verse 32).

To Ponder

  • If you were saying your final goodbye to those you love, what would you want to say to them? How would you want them to remember you?
  • Take time to step back and reflect on your church. To what extent do you see a desperation to survive at all costs, or a willingness to be used up in fulfilling its own particular part of God's mission?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.