The text of Acts 20:17–38 has a certain gravity that has endeared its words to the hearts of many. It contains someone’s last face-to-face words to a group of people (Acts 20:25, 38), summarizes what an excellent ministry should be (Acts 20:18–21, 25–27), and shows a resolve to live and die for the gospel (Acts 20:22–24, 33–35).
Moreover, this text is written deeply in the hearts of many pastors. Not only does Paul give us himself as an example for gospel service by reviewing his three-year ministry in Ephesus, but his charge to the Ephesian elders endures for pastors today: 1) pay attention to yourself, 2) pay attention to your flock, 3) watch out for false teachers inside and out of the church, and 4) do all of the above because God purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28–31; cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). These imperatives and their reason for obedience are central to the ministry of every pastor.
For a quick walk through this passage, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to him in Miletus, some 25 miles away (Acts 20:17–18a). His address can be broken into three sections, the first two sections each looking to the past and then the future (Acts 20:18a–21 and 20:22–24) and a third section looking back one more time to provide an example for the future service of the elders (Acts 20:33–35).
In the first section of Paul’s address, Paul reviewed his faithful ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18b–21) and then looked ahead to the conflict awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22–24). What Christian does not want to echo the words of Paul in Acts 20:24? “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.”
In the second section, Paul looked back his ministry again, now informing the elders that he would never return (Acts 20:25–27). In light of this absence, Paul warned them to mind themselves and the flock, entrusting them all to God and His word (Acts 20:28–32). In the third section, Paul reminded the elders of his selfless service, an example for them to follow (Acts 20:33–35). Finally, the passage closes with prayerful and tearful goodbye (Acts 20:36–38).
All Christians can learn from the example of Paul in this passage. We all want to be faithful to God, come what may, and finish our service well. And, when we’re gone, what we’ve left behind is sufficient for others to repeat the disciple-making process. For pastors in particular, this passage is incredibly rich. Paul is a stellar example of living for the gospel, and his charge to the elders is one for us to remember today—watch yourself and the flock, a people God purchased with His blood.
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