Paul intentionally sails past Ephesus and requests the elders to meet him in Miletus (Acts 20:15, 16). There was a deep affection for the people in Ephesus and their leaders. When they met, notice the attention he pays to them:
You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. (Acts 20:18-20)
He was attentive to them because he became involved with them emotionally and spiritually. They saw his humility, which is the confession of sin and a deep realization of his unworthiness to receive God’s grace. He was open about his past. They also saw his heart, not hiding the pain of his hardships and the risk he took in developing friendships with others. They knew Paul was genuine.
Paul held nothing back (Acts 20:27) but preached the whole message God wanted them to know, even the hardships of being a follower of Christ. He even told them about his immediate future and going to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22, 23). Paul had been warned about what lay ahead for him, but was drawn toward the mission like a moth to a lamp. If he received such opposition in all these other cities, why would Jerusalem be an exception?
Paul has an assumption, too. He believed he would never see the Ephesians again, you can see this as you read the whole farewell speech (Acts 20:38).
Paul also had one ambition, one life verse that kept him going (Acts 20:24), that he would finished the race and complete the task God had given him. Nothing would move him off course.
Fear is a powerful tool, but Paul’s love for Christ and others far exceeded his fear of suffering and death. He knew the task was given to him, and he was not supposed to finish the task given to Barnabas, Peter or Timothy. I am reminded of Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 2:10, that we are His workmanship created for good works, which God prepared in advance. God desires for us to encourage others (Hebrews 10:24, 25) but we are responsible for completing our own task.
Now Paul gives them an admonition, to expect wolves to creep into the fold and devour the flock (Acts 20:25-31). They are told to guard two groups, “themselves and God’s people” (Acts 20:28). One cannot guard others if you cannot guard yourself. The word used to “keep watch” or to guard is prosecho, a nautical term that means to veer off course. Leaders cannot lead people beyond where they themselves have been led. Leaders can have a difficult time staying on course, and can even get caught up in sinful activity, but the admonition of Paul is to stay on course.
The only way to stay on course is to know the Word of God. In Acts 20:30 Paul tells them that men will rise up and distort the truth; twisting it to suit themselves, just like Adam and Eve back in the Garden (Genesis 3:1).
Paul also showed his affection for them (Acts 20:36-38). This same Paul taught that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8 NASB), perhaps at this moment he would also testify that love never fails to hurt. We become vulnerable when we choose to enter into relationships. It is a risky thing to open yourself up to the potential hurt that can come when we genuinely care for another person. Was it hard for Paul to leave them? Just read the opening verse of the next chapter (Acts 21:1 NIV). I think that Luke, who was waiting on the boat (Acts 20:13), had to literally go ashore to tear Paul away from them.
Application: Are you willing to make friendships that go beyond discussions about the weather or football? In what ways are you sharing life with other people, and I’m not talking about spending time at work with co-workers (unless you’re intentionally investing time as well as emotional and spiritual energy into the relationship). Do you talk about the deep things of life, marriage, raising children, God’s plan, and God’s will? Take a risk and invest yourself into another man until he is ready to invest himself into the life of another man. Who sees your humility and who knows your heart? With whom are you holding back? Have you discovered the task God has given to you, and to you alone? Express that to someone else today. Have you embraced a life verse that keeps you on track? Have you veered off course and need to get back on course? With whom are you accountable and therefore have guarded your life from the enemy?