|Topical Bible Study||June 1958|
The People of the Bible
Article XXXIV—Acts 20 – 21:17
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey—Part 2
AFTER his approximately three years’ work in Ephesus, Paul went to Macedonia. No information is given us concerning this part of his third missionary journey except that after “he had gone over these parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece.” Apparently this part of his journey was devoted particularly to strengthening the brethren in Macedonia. This was always an important and vital part of Paul’s ministry.
From Macedonia Paul went to Greece, where he “abode three months.” Here also, no doubt, his time was used in strengthening the brethren in Corinth and in other places. All this time Paul’s mind and heart were doubtless set on going to Jerusalem, and from there to Rome. He had planned to go to Jerusalem by way of Syria, with the thought perhaps of briefly visiting the brethren in Antioch. But learning that enemy Jews had learned of his plans and were lying in wait for him, he changed his route and returned through Macedonia.
By now there were several who were traveling with Paul—“Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus: and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. These going before tarried for us at Troas,” the historian writes. The use of the pronoun “us,” indicates that again the historian Luke had joined the party, and that he remained with Paul while the others went on to Troas.
Traveling to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia, Paul and Luke visited the ecclesia in Philippi, there enjoying another season of that “fellowship” which from the “first day” had been so sweet and precious to the apostle. (Phil 1:3-5) Leaving Philippi by boat, after five days’ sail they reached Troas where the remainder of their party was waiting for them. They remained in Troas “seven days.”
The seventh day of this visit in Troas was apparently the first day of the week, and the ecclesia were to meet together that evening, as was their custom, to “break bread.” This breaking of bread was not an ordinance of the church, but simply a custom some of the ecclesias in the Early Church followed in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week. At Troas this simple service was held in the evening, which might well indicate that the brethren had been occupied in their usual work during the day, hence that the day was not considered to be sacred, or even a day of rest.
The ship in which Paul and his companions were to sail on to the next stop was ready to leave, and did leave, on the “morrow” of their visit in Troas. (ch. 20:7) But for some reason the apostle felt the importance of remaining in Troas and meeting with the ecclesia that night when the brethren came together to “break bread.” His companions sailed on ahead to Assos, Paul having arranged to travel by foot the next day and meet them at Assos, the ship’s next stop.—ch. 20:13,14
Just why this final meeting with the brethren at Troas seemed so important we can only conjecture. The apostle must have had a message for them which he considered vital, for it was here that he preached all night. It was here also that the young man sitting in the window fell asleep while Paul was preaching, fell to the ground three stories below and was thought to be dead. Paul restored the young man, assured the brethren that he would be all right and then continued with his sermon.
As we said, we can only conjecture as to what the subject of this sermon might have been. We do know that in Corinth, for example, there were some in the congregation who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. (I Cor. 15:12) It is possible, we think, that this blight of unbelief had reached to some of the brethren in Troas, and that Paul used this opportunity when they were assembled to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, to help them out of their doubtings. If this be the case, we need only to read the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians to know some of the telling points of truth the great apostle presented that night to the Troas Ecclesia.
In any case, Paul considered it important to remain that night in Troas to serve the brethren, important enough to justify his walking more than twenty miles the next day over rocky, dusty roads in order to rejoin his companions at Assos. Such was the undaunted spirit of love and devotion which actuated this man of God, this great apostle to the Gentiles. Since he preached all night he would have had no sleep, so we can imagine the apostle trudging along over those twenty long miles, weary of mind and body, yet rejoicing in heart as he recalled the blessings he enjoyed with those of like precious faith in Troas.
Meeting the Elders of Ephesus
So far as this journey was concerned Paul’s ultimate destination was Jerusalem, and he wanted to arrive there by the day of Pentecost. (ch. 20:16) He knew that this would not be possible if he took time to visit all the ecclesias in Asia Minor, but he did want once more to see and fellowship with the elders of the Ephesus Ecclesia. So sailing from Assos, where he rejoined his companions, after a few incidental stops the ship reached Miletus. This was about thirty-six miles south of Ephesus, and from here Paul sent messengers to Ephesus to invite the elders to make the day’s journey to Miletus to meet him.
And they came. The fact that they made this effort to see the apostle reveals the great confidence they had in him and their fervent love for him. One reason Paul was anxious to see these brethren is revealed in his statement to them, “Behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me,” or “wait for me,” (margin).—vss. 22,23
While Paul said that he did not know what awaited him, he seemed sure that whatever it was he would not be able to again visit the brethren in Ephesus, for he said to the elders that they would see his face no more. (vs. 25) It was in the shadow of this uncertainty so far as his human life was concerned that the apostle delivered his farewell message to the Ephesian elders. Under the circumstances, many would have been too agitated to think of anything but their forthcoming troubles, but Paul testified, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.”—vs. 24
Paul had dedicated his life to the service of the Lord and the truth. From the time the great vision of truth had come to him on the Damascus road, he had never tried to spare his strength nor save his life when the path of opportunity lay clearly before him. He knew that every time he witnessed to the Jews in their synagogues they would sooner or later rise up against him, but he did not hesitate to continue to witness. The fact that the service of the Lord would cost Paul suffering and perhaps death was never used by him as an excuse to cease serving his Lord.
So now it was the same! A less ardent and self-sacrificing soul might well have reasoned that since it was the Holy Spirit that was bearing witness of the trouble he would encounter when reaching Jerusalem, the Lord was thereby giving warning not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul did not interpret the Holy Spirit’s warning in this way. For reasons which the Scriptures do not reveal, Paul was convinced that it was the Lord’s will for him to go to Jerusalem, and in the light of this conviction he interpreted the testimony of the Holy Spirit as a challenge to his faith and loyalty, and his willingness to die for the Lord Jesus. So Paul went to Jerusalem.
In his farewell message to the elders of Ephesus he said that he had not shunned to declare unto them “all the counsel of God,” and that he had “kept back nothing that was profitable.” He had taught them “publicly,” and from “house to house,” or in their homes. (vss. 27,20) Paul was not satisfied simply to tell his hearers that through belief in Christ they could be saved. It was at Ephesus, for example, that he found the twelve disciples who had not heard about the Holy Spirit, and had not been taught true Christian baptism, scb he instructed these brethren more perfectly in the ways of the Lord.—ch. 19:1-7; 18:26
After reminding the elders of Ephesus of his own procedure in declaring to them “all the counsel of God,” Paul then admonished, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (vs. 28) This admonition is in two parts: (1) the elders were to take heed to themselves, and (2) they were to oversee and feed the brethren through the power of the Holy Spirit which had made them overseers.
Experience has proved that professed servants in the church who do not take heed unto themselves, are not qualified to watch properly and effectively over the spiritual welfare of others. For elders in the church to take heed unto themselves means, among other things, that they will not think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. Pride of mind and heart distorts spiritual vision, and makes ineffective what otherwise could be a blessed ministry of the truth.
Taking heed to one’s self also implies careful and prayerful study of the truth. One cannot minister to others what he does not understand himself. Paul had seen a vivid example of this in the ministry of Apollos at Ephesus. Seemingly Apollos had great ability as a speaker, but regardless of this, until he was more fully instructed he was not able to impart knowledge to others which he did not himself possess. Yes, to understand the truth is important, as Paul later wrote to Timothy, saying, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”—II Tim. 2:15
Paul’s discernment enabled him to foresee that when his own personal influence was no longer felt among the brethren, he warned, the ecclesia would have trouble. “Grievous wolves” would enter in among the brethren, he warned, “not sparing the flock.” To these he added, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”—vss. 29,30
The church at Ephesus is one of the seven mentioned in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation. And while these seven churches are undoubtedly symbolic of the entire church in its various stages of development throughout the age, it is reasonable to assume that they were selected for this purpose because of special circumstances associated with them as local congregations. In any event, Paul’s prophecy that false leaders, “wolves,” would enter the church at Ephesus, seems to be reflected in the Revelator’s record, which reads, “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”—Rev. 2:2
It is apparent from this that the elders at Ephesus took Paul’s admonition to heart and watched faithfully over the flock so that the “wolves” and the false apostles, were discovered and exposed. “Watch, and remember,” Paul said to them, “that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (vs. 31) Paul had set the elders of Ephesus a good example, and now he wanted them to follow that example, to follow him as he followed Christ.
Paul never lost sight of the fact that the direct responsibility of every true Christian is to the Lord, and that all such should look to the Lord, not to any human source, for guidance and help in time of need. “I commend you to God.” he said to these elders, “and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.” This sentiment is the same as he wrote to the brethren at Philippi, saying, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”—Phil. 1:6
Paul was truly a sacrificing saint, and he took considerable satisfaction in the fact that he did not depend upon the brethren he served in spiritual things to care for his physical necessities. To the Ephesus elders he said, “Ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” (vs. 34) This is remarkable, for Paul had not only provided for his own physical needs as a “tentmaker,” but cared also for those who were traveling with him.—Acts 18:3
But he was blessed by thus giving all his time and strength. He said, “I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (vs. 35) Paul had proved by his own experience that Jesus was right, and so has every disciple of Jesus who has followed faithfully in his steps.
Paul’s discourse ended, they joined in a closing prayer, and the elders bade the apostle farewell. It must have been a touching moment for them all, for we read that “they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him; sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.”—vss. 37,38
On to Jerusalem
The ship on which Paul and his companions sailed from Miletus went by the way of Coos and Rhodes, “thence unto Patara.” There they changed ships, finding one that was “sailing over unto Phenicia.” This ship took them to Syria, and they “landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.” (Acts 21:1-3) They found disciples at Tyre, so the party remained seven days.
Little is said about the seven days with the disciples of Tyre except that they warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. The warning was based on information received “through the Spirit.” (vs. 4) Paul did not heed the warning, but instead continued on his way, interpreting the message from the Lord as being intended merely as a test of his faithfulness. They had a farewell prayer meeting with the brethren of Tyre, and then moved on.
There was a one-day stop at Ptolemais, where they “saluted the brethren,” and then “Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea.” At Caesarea, Luke reports, “we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.” (vs. 8; Acts 6:3-6) Philip had four daughters, apparently all consecrated disciples of the Master.
While they were still “at the house of Philip” there “came down. from Judea a certain prophet, name Agabus.” Agabus bound his own hands and feet with Paul’s girdle, saying, “Thus saith the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” Concerning this, Luke reports, “And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.”—vss. 9-12
This placed Paul in a very difficult position. In place after place the had received similar information. Notwithstanding, he was still determined to go to Jerusalem. Now Philip and his household, 4gabus, and even his traveling companions, all urged him to heed the information given by the Holy Spirit and thus avoid the difficulties which he would certainly experience if, as they saw it, he insisted upon going to Jerusalem. He must have known that the brethren would consider him quite obstinate if he did not heed their advice.
But he refused to reconsider. His answer was, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (vs. 13) We do not know why Paul was so determined to go to Jerusalem just at this time. We cannot think of him as being a brother who would recklessly expose himself to danger; and yet, he knew that there was danger. We must assume, therefore, that in some manner not revealed in the record, the Lord had made it very plain to him that he should take the risk which, through various ones, the Holy Spirit had pointed out to him.
In taking this course Paul must have been very conscious of the fact that he was following in the footsteps of Jesus in quite a literal manner, for Jesus also was confronted with the same test. Jesus also knew that by going to Jerusalem when he did, it would mean his arrest and death, and so announced to his disciples. Peter endeavored to dissuade the Master from thus exposing himself to danger. Jesus replied, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”—Mark 8:30-33
And it was the Holy Spirit which testified to Jesus, through the prophets, that he was to suffer and to die. But the Holy Spirit had also revealed that it was the Heavenly Father’s will for his Son to sacrifice his life as the world’s Redeemer. And to Paul the Holy Spirit had revealed that it was his privilege—and the privilege of all Jesus’ disciples—to suffer and die with him. The fact that now the Holy Spirit had revealed that his work of sacrifice might be consummated at Jerusalem was to Paul simply a further test of the genuineness of his consecration to do God’s will.
Every truly consecrated child of God has these “Jerusalem” tests. They are tests of whether or not we will actually go where the Lord wants us to go, do what he wants us to do, and be what he wants us to be. In order to test us, as he did Paul, the Lord may let us see what appears to be a less costly manner of serving him. But if we keep in mind the great fundamental truth that we have been invited to suffer and to die with Jesus, and that we have agreed to do so, we will be given strength to meet every test in a manner pleasing to the Lord and redounding to his glory.
When the brethren found that they could not dissuade Paul from carrying through with his plans to go to Jerusalem, they said, “The will of the Lord be done.” (vs. 14) Their visit in the house of Philip completed, Paul and his companions continued on their way to Jerusalem. Some of the brethren of Caesarea, together with an “old disciple” of Cyprus, joined them, so it must have been quite a delegation who made the last lap of that journey with Paul to Jerusalem. It speaks well for the devotion of all these, for they must have realized that there was a certain element of danger in being with Paul in Jerusalem, and being one of his close friends.
Reaching the city, the brethren of Jerusalem, as Luke reports, “received us gladly.” (vs. 17) Thus ended the great apostle’s third missionary tour. Next month we will join Paul as he is taken into protective custody by Roman soldiers.