This chapter follows a tumultuous account of persecution arising from the idol of greed and the idol that is “nothing” which is exposed. Now, he is seen ministering but with haste. It’s as if Paul knew time was expiring in his life and those to whom he ministered. To illustrate the point, he teaches/preaches/talked for so long on one occasion that a young man (Eutychus) fell asleep and plundered to his death three stories down while Paul was ministering in Troas (Vv.7-12). Nevertheless, Paul raised him from the dead and greatly comforted the boys loved ones.
I must mention that Paul also greatly exhorted the Macedonian disciples and those present in the uproar (Vv.1-2). He probably reminded them that persecution accompanies the preaching of the gospel word, yet a better reward awaits the faithful in the next life. I say this because Jesus always reminded his disciples of the reward that awaits those who are persecuted for his name’s sake (Mt.5:10-12). Again, the plot by the Jews against Paul must have been unnerving to the apostle but this was to fulfill Jesus’ words “He is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel, for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:15-16).
Paul’s suffering resulted from his obedience to the word of the Lord, not in spite of it. This grace of God in Paul humbles me because in order to walk in God’s grace it will often be accompanied by opposition—vehement—rivals will arise!
Before the Ephesian elders, Paul now enumerates his many accomplishments that are impressive. First, Paul faithfully and humbly served Christ with tears and trials from the Jews (Vv.18-19). His ministry was forged in the crucible of obedience. His enemies and that of the Gospels (I.e., the religious establishment) were the primary means for said opposition. This is instructive because often, not always, those who hinder the Gospel ministry from flourishing are not pagan non-believers but religious non-believers.
Second, Paul’s opposition and the “octagons” in which they manifested demonstrate his courage and resolve to speak the truth for his hearers profit even if it cost him dearly. This speech was done publicly and privately to both Jews and Gentiles whose content was: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. The man Christ Jesus and the message of the Gospel were the cause of Paul’s deep pain and sufferings. Mine tend to be because of my sin and disobedience, but sometimes they are a result of what Paul experienced (I.e., suffered because of the Gospel).
Third, Paul knew that wherever he went, hardships would meet him because of the Gospel; that is “bonds and afflictions await me” (Vv.22-23). To know that afflictions await you wherever you go with the message of redemption must have been a badge of honor on the one hand (E.g., martyrs receive a more honorable resurrection), but on the other hand it must have been very difficult psychologically and physically. What would I do if placed in similar situations? Short question, multifaceted ways of answering it, but assuredly, without God’s grace I could not do it.
Fourth, Paul’s resolve was so singularly kingdom oriented that hardships did not deter him from that goal:
“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”(V.24)
Years ago this was the text I used as a guide when I planted a Hispanic Church. It’s now a distant memory but to this day I ask myself, “Did you stay the course and complete what Christ put before you Sergio?” Did I stay my course; perhaps not, perhaps not. Nevertheless, Paul’s single-mindedness kept him on track in spite of the hardships.
Fifth, Paul not only reminds them they will never see his face again, but he affirms his innocence of any blood shed:
“Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” (Vv.26-27)
This is a bold statement considering Acts 7-9 where he’s clearly the cause for putting to death many believers. Yet, part of God’s purpose is to rescue hell bent sinners and declare them just before the throne of God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross! This is where God’s mercy and justice kiss and because of this amazing Gospel, Paul can declare his innocence (C.f., 1 Tim:1). This message was not only intellectually rigorous (See all of Romans) but practically transforming. That’s robust “religion”!
Sixth, Paul assures them that this Gospel must be protected by faithful men against false teachers that will arise from their ranks. How? They must guard their own lives and that of the flocks by shepherding the flock of God which God purchased with his own blood. (V.28, 29-30). Too many believers (leaders, pastors) naively think this does not include part of what it means to shepherd God’s flock, but it’s an intricate part of love’s demonstration.
Spiritual warfare is fought through argumentation 2 Corinthians 2 and through intercession Ephesians 6. Jesus, the apostles, and especially Paul knew this, lived it and thus saw much fruit with persecutions. If Pastoral leadership in the 21st century is to be faithful to the Chief Shepherd, then engaging both fronts of warfare will be the focus of ministry.
Seventh, Paul reminds them of his manner of life and ministry (Vv.31-35). I think he does this because he is one worthy to be emulated by God’s grace. This is not boasting in his accomplishments (Read his letters) because Paul knew intellectually and experientially that anything good in him was sourced in God alone ultimately, not in human effort. He’s boasting in the Lord. If we were to do that today, we’d probably be called egotistical, arrogant, prideful, but not humble. Paul is humbly telling the elders to imitate him—because it’s Christ in him doing the work they witnessed.
Eighth, Paul concludes his address with prayer. As always, his life of word and prayer (modeled by Jesus) can’t be separated from a faithful account of Paul because these two aspects demonstrated his ultimate dependence on God. This is followed by loud weeping and repeated kissing of Paul to the elders. They grieved because they knew they’d never see their beloved Paul again (Vv.36-38). This is very intimate moment and for many westerners too “touchy-feely” but let’s face it, this is genuine love being expressed—very moving.
Conclusion: Paul loved God and others, his is a testament to this fact and said love for God was birthed and continuously stoked by the gospel and prayer which worked itself out in love for others. What of my life and yours friend? God helps us be more like Paul in word and deed. In our brokenness teach us to trust You, in our joy teach us to thank You, and in our calling(s) empower us to follow You wherever Lord you lead us.