We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene.
We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus.
For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia;
he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him.Acts 20:13-17 (NRSV)
I circled each of those places for you to follow, as Paul and his team sailed down the coast of Asia, and stopped in Miletus.
Ephesus was definitely within travel distance for the elders to come meet with and pray for Paul. Remember that Paul had been considerably delayed. He had prepared to go to his home church in Antioch right after the Passover, which he had celebrated in Corinth with the brothers and sisters there. However, the plot on his life meant a significant change of plans.
I have heard it said, one of the greatest signs of spiritual maturity is this humility and life discipline of being able to move with whatever happens in our lives, and especially when circumstances present this kind of unexpected, deeply invasive change of course.
There is about a month and a half between Passover and Pentecost (“pente” means five, so fifty days). Paul had intended to spend that time fellowshipping with his beloved church family, then heading to Jerusalem with the Greek churches’ love gift. Instead, he had gone back to Troas, and was now having to keep a strong and steady pace to reach Jerusalem in time to conplete his vow (made back in Cenchrea) in the temple, and offer this much needed provision of money to the Jerusalem council of churches.
Now, with the elders from the Ephesian assemblies gathered around him, Paul began to speak.
Paul said he served the Lord with great humility and with tears. He considered his life worth nothing, if only he could finish the race. He never coveted anyone’s wealth or possessions. He worked hard, he helped the weak. Paul kept short accounts with God over sin, and God sanctified Paul.
All must have been openly weeping as Paul reassured them he was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go on to Jerusalem, even though the Spirit had also warned him prison and hardships lay in store.
With each group of Christians he had met, prayed with and wept with, the prophecies got more vivid, more alarming. Those who knew Paul, had such great affection for him. No other man in Scripture except for King David has inspired the same level of intense love and widespread admiration. In the Spirit, Paul’s friends could see what was going to happen to him, and naturally they felt his response should be to turn around. But, in the Spirit, Paul knew that he had to continue on.
That can happen, one truth inspires more than one interpretation of what it means and how to respond.
When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again.
(“And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again.”)
Then they brought him to the ship.Acts 20:36-38 with Paul’s quote in verse 25 (NRSV)
Rather than continuing to argue, everyone accepted that God’s will would be done.
They got their eyes off their circumstances and onto God. They now looked to God for the wherewithal to follow His will, which meant, more than anything else, letting go of their beloved Paul.
Paul had left them with his final will and testament, the best of his wisdom and counsel for them to live by until the Lord returned.
- Verses 28-31: Keep watch over yourselves and those whom God has put into your care, because there will be those who intend to fleece the flock for their own gain.
- Verse 32: Live by the message of God’s grace, which will strengthen and sustain you.
- Verses 31-35: Model your lives after my life, working hard so that you can be generous with others, rather than a drain on them.
- Verse 35: Remember the Lord Jesus’ teaching, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
If we ever wondered how to live as believers, these few commands would go a long way in giving us a template.
[Elders of Ephesus with Paul in Miletus | McKay, David O. (David Oman), 1873-1970;Deseret Sunday School Union / No restrictions]