In Acts 20, Paul lays out the qualities of a true spiritual leader.


“The Heart of a True Pastor”
Acts 20:1-38

Paul, well into his third missionary journey (18:23-21:17), will write 2 Corinthians and Romans—and remain in Ephesus from roughly AD 52-55.

I. Paul Arrives in Greece (20:1-12)

  1. After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. In Macedonia, Paul writes 2 Corinthians after hearing that the Christians in Corinth have repented and seeking reconciliation with the churches. It was Titus who shared this wonderful news to Paul (2 Cor. 2:5-11; 7:5-13; 8:1; 9:4).
  2. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement (instruction; warning; correction), he came to Greece (Corinth in Achaia; southern Greece). There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. In Corinth, Paul writes the book of Romans (AD 56) in anticipation of the ministry that awaits him there (15:23-29). Phoebe will be the one to deliver the letter to the Romans. Return through Macedonia—Paul avoids an ambush at the Cenchreae port and heads back through Macedonia. NKJV Chronological Study Bible, “After leaving Ephesus, Paul sailed across to Macedonia, possibly in the winter of A.D. 55–56, and later went to Greece. Most of the 3-month stay in Greece (Acts 20:3) was probably spent in Corinth with Gaius, the city’s treasurer. From Gaius’s large house, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:23). This was Paul’s third and final visit to Corinth, after which he returned to Macedonia and sailed from Philippi to Troas en route to Jerusalem.”
  3. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy (Lystra); 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. These companions of Paul were men who represented the churches he started in Galatia, Asia, and Macedonia. Collectively, they brought financial support for Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-21). We sailed away from Philippi—It seems Luke remains with Paul until the end of the book (21:1-17; 27:1-28:16). Unleavened Bread—Commences on the 14th of Nisan on Passover (Ex. 12:1-11) and lasts a week. Paul and his companions continued to observe the Jewish Feasts, not for righteousness sake, but out of respect of their customs and traditions. The date of this feast is spring (March/April) of AD 57.
  4. 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. The early church began meeting on Sunday, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection (Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20). Prolonged his speech—Many of the people Paul intended to reach worked long hours, so it makes sense that Paul moved back his teaching to midnight to accommodate their work schedule.
  5. 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.” It was later into the night and the room was hot and stuffy—resulting in Eutychus to fall into a deep sleep and plummet to his death. This miraculous account of Paul raising Eutychus from the dead is reflective of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead (9:40) and Elijah bringing the widow’s son back to life (1 Kgs. 17:17-24).
  6. 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. After healing the young man, Paul fellowshipped with the group until daybreak.

II. Paul Pleads with the Elders of Ephesus (20:13-38)

  1. 13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos (20 miles southeast of Troas), 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 (faced south towards the island of Lesbos), 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 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 (fifty days after Passover). Paul took the direct route on the Roman coastal road to avoid certain bad weather (in Cape Lectum) so that he could arrive in time for Pentecost in Jerusalem.
  2. 17 Now from Miletus (30 miles from Ephesus) he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. Paul takes advantage of the few days he has while the boat unloads and loads cargo at Miletus and calls for the elders to meet him. This is the only recorded message in Acts given to believers (13:18-35).
  3. 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. This section of Paul’s speech parallels 1 Thess. 2:1-12. Paul defends his witness and the gospel he has preached to all people (see Gal. 1:6-10; Rom. 10:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2). Serving the Lord with all humility—Paul often referred himself as a “servant” (diakonos) of the Lord (see Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 3:5-6; Phil. 1:1). With tears and trials—Paul carried a great burden and love for the people he served (see 2 Cor. 2:4; Phil. 3:18) and suffered mightily to spread the gospel for their sake. Teaching you in public and from house to house—Paul and the Ephesian elders grew close when they spent time learning God’s Word in the Hall of Tyrannus. Jews and to Greeks—The Holy Spirit used Paul to reach more Jews and Greeks with the gospel (Rom. 1:15-16) and expand the gospel to the Roman world.
  4. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained (to bind; to force—“compelled by a deep sense of duty”) by 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. Paul was very open and obedient to suffer for Christ (2 Cor. 4:7-12; Phil. 1:19-26). Not knowing what will happen to me there—Many in the church will strongly urge Paul not to go (21:4, 12); but Agabus, the prophet—will reveal to everyone what awaits Paul in Jerusalem (21:11-12).
  5. 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. Paul’s greatest desire was to further the kingdom of God, not to advance his own life. Paul will later go on to write to Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
  6. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. In verses 25-27, Paul conveys that his future ministry will be concentrated on the western part of the Roman empire (Rom. 15:23-29) and that he would eventually be martyred for his faith. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem would result in his arrest and extradition to Rome where he would eventually be killed. However, there is some indication that after Paul was released from his first imprisonment, he returned to Ephesus for a short period of time (see 1 Tim. 1:3). Something Paul wouldn’t have been able to foresee at this time.
  7. 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. Paul uses the “watchman” analogy recorded in Ezek. 33:1-6 to stress his true motive in teaching and revealing God’s truth (salvation, redemption, sanctification, glorification) to people. Paul was compelled to warn people of coming danger; not ignore it because he didn’t care.
  8. 28 Pay careful attention (continued state of readiness; to learn of danger) to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos), to care (to shepherd; to guide) for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. In the third section of Paul’s speech, verses 28-31, Paul warns of coming persecution and apostasy from within the church. Pay careful attention—It is vital for spiritual leaders to self-examine themselves whether their intentions are honorable to God and to those they serve. To care for the church of God—Paul gives the metaphor of a shepherd to contrast the difference between authentic leaders and false ones. Pastors and spiritual leaders are to reflect Jesus—who is the True Shepherd (Ps. 23; Jn. 10:1-18). The Holy Spirit has made you overseers—Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament, “The term episkopos was widely used in the ancient Greco-Roman world. There are instances of it used of people who managed buildings or cargo on a boat. There were also market overseers who judged between fair and shady dealings. Inscriptional evidence points to the use of episkopoi as a designation for community officials in Rhodes. The term is also used in the Greek Old Testament and Judaism for various kinds of leaders of the people (e.g., Neh. 11:9, 14, 22). Philo even refers to Moses as an episkopos who keeps watch over the condition of the soul.” Obtained with his own blood—Christ purchased us through his death and resurrection.
  9. 29 I know that after my departure fierce (savage) 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. Paul warns of the growing threat of false teachers who will prey upon the flock of God (see 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:16-18). Jesus warned of dangerous leaders (Matt. 7:15; 10:16).
  10. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. Paul points to himself and his teaching as a standard for the church to use in order to discern
  11. 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. Paul closes his speech to the elders by exhorting them to remain faithful to God’s grace and truth.
  12. 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. There was not a single incident where Paul took advantage of the churches for financial gain.
  13. 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.’ ” Paul was adamant that leaders were to work hard for what they earned (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:6-15) and not to neglect those in need (Rom. 15:1; Gal. 6:2; Eph. 4:28). It is more blessed to give than to receive—The exact phrase isn’t found in the four gospels. The closest remarks from Jesus is recorded in Luke 6:38, “give, and it will be given to you.” Thus, in time, it may have formulated into a particular phrase stemming from the teachings of Jesus (see 1 Clement 46:7).
  14. 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. Luke closes by demonstrating the deep love and heavyheartedness shared between Paul and the elders of Ephesus. Paul was more than just an apostle to them, he was a dear friend, and even a father figure.