Paul was near the end of his third journey, and he wanted to arrive in Jerusalem before Pentecost. He knew a stopover in Ephesus would delay him for days, but he also knew, without a doubt, this trip was his last time to pass that way. So Paul asked the Ephesian church leaders to meet him in Miletus, about 35 miles south of Ephesus (Acts 20:16-17 and note), where he could encourage them once more.
When the Ephesian elders arrived in Miletus, Paul sat them down for a talk. I wouldn’t really call it a conversation, more of a speech or lecture, but in a few sentences, he summarized his approach to ministry. It’s a pattern that still applies today.
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. –Acts 20:18
Paul had the same message every day and lived the same way throughout his time there. He wasn’t all excited about Jesus one day and distracted by an earth-centric problem the next.
That’s not to say he lived the same way everywhere he went. Places with more Gentiles or with a highly-educated set led him to different practices. (I keep going back to his “all things to all people” in 1 Corinthians 9:22.) He also seems to act differently in Jerusalem. But among the Ephesians he was consistent in his habits and words.
As we practice being people who keep our word, who are kind and generous, trustworthy, and the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), our attitudes and actions model God’s consistency to those around us and preserve our integrity.
I served the Lord with great humility… –Acts 20:19a
Paul didn’t walk into Ephesus acting like he knew everything or like he deserved their attention/allegiance. As a Pharisee, he had the right to speak in the synagogues, and he took advantage of it, but he knew each person had to make their own decision about Jesus. He also didn’t expect to be pampered. He was willing to make and sell some tents to support himself along the way (Acts 20:34).
When Demetrius stirred up a riot,
Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. –Acts 19:30-31
Paul heeded those Ephesians who were “in the know” and stayed home.
In the same way, we don’t need to demand our rights or expect special treatment. We simply continue to serve the Lord by serving others. We must also heed those who’ve been in the community for longer and who know more about what’s happening than we do.
…and with tears… –Acts 20:19b
Paul sincerely cared about the eternal fate of the Ephesians. He spoke passionately of Jesus’ love for them and his own call to serve them by revealing the Truth.
People can tell when you’re not truly interested in them, when you look at them and their problems as a problem to solve rather than a person to love. Jesus was never about metrics. He genuinely cared about the person in front of him (such as the Deaf Man in Decapolis). Paul, too, cared about the people who heard him, not about the numbers on his annual report.
Have you cried over the people to whom God has called you? Do they know how much you care about them? Be careful. You can’t fake this one.
…and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. –Acts 20:19c
Paul kept going even when faced with severe opposition. Remember Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (Acts 13:13-14:20)? How he went back to all those cities? There was persecution in Thessalonica (Acts 17), Phillipi (Acts 16), and other places as well.
We can’t quit at the first sign of trouble. We can’t give up just because it gets hard. And we certainly can’t decide we’re outside God’s will when things don’t go our way! Only God can tell us it’s time to back down or leave. (See my old post, A Martyr Mindset.)
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. –Acts 20:20
Maybe you think humility and boldness can’t coexist. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Humilty = right understanding of our position/status before God
- Boldness = speaking what God wants said
Done right, neither characteristic focuses on me. Read Confident Humility is Not an Oxymoron for more. Paul’s boldness sprung from his certainty of Jesus, not his own accomplishments (Philippians 3:7-9). Ours must be the same.
None of us can say it better than Paul:
I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. –Acts 20:24
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. –Acts 20:22
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. –Acts 20:36
There’s a time when we have to let go, to trust the Holy Spirit moving forward despite the fact that we know “our” people will make mistakes and even fail. Warn them of the dangers (we’ll come back to this soon), remind them of our example, continue to pray earnestly, then get on the boat (Acts 20:25-38). That’s what Paul did.
God will let you know when it’s time to leave a job, a community, or a social group. The hard part, often, is actually leaving when He tells us. Sometimes leaving is harder than arriving.
There’s a people God has appointed you to reach. Maybe it’s your softball team. Maybe it’s your coworkers or neighbors or the parents of your child’s friends. Our maybe He’s directing you toward a move across the country or overseas (once the pandemic is over) to a people group among whom no one is currently representing Jesus. It doesn’t matter where. Paul’s principles of doing the work well will serve us all, even in the 21st century.
We all have a people group. Paul’s example of how to do the work well among them applies just as much to us as it did to Paul in the first century. My #peoplegroup is #NotAboutMe.Tweet
What’s new to you on this list? Maybe something you hadn’t thought about before. What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!