A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 20:17-38. b). The message of Paul’s speech.
It may be helpful to divide Paul’s speech into three portions, relating to the past, the future and the present.
(i) His ministry in Ephesus (20:18b-21)
*You know how I lived*, he says (18b). Again, *You know* (20), although this is a resumptive clause in the English text, which is not in the Greek. Yet again later ‘you yourselves know’ (34). This repeated emphasis on their knowledge of him is reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 2, where he wrote ‘You know, brothers (1)…, as you know (2)…, You know (5)…, Surely you remember (9)…, You are witnesses (10)…, For you know (11)…’. A vicious smear campaign has been launched against Paul in Thessalonica. Because he had had to be smuggled out of the city by night and had not returned, his critics accused him of insincerity. Something similar seems to have happened in Ephesus during the year or so since he had left the city. So he needed to defend the sincerity of his motives and, as in Thessalonica so in Ephesus, he did it by reminding them of his visit. They knew how he had lived during the whole time he was with them from beginning to end. He appealed to their memory, especially of four aspects of his ministry – his humility (meaning perhaps his humiliations), his tears, his testings on account of ‘the machinations of the Jews’ (19, NEB), and his faithful preaching- teaching ministry, in public and in private, in which he concentrated on the need for both Jews and Gentiles to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus.
(ii) His future sufferings. (20:22-27).
In this section Luke replaces the ‘you know…you know…’ of the previous paragraph with ‘I know (23)…, I know (25)…, I know (29)’. For he turns from the past which they knew to the future which the Holy Spirit was teaching him and which he now shared with them. The same Holy Spirit who warns him in every town (perhaps through prophets) of prison and hardships (23), nevertheless compels him to keep traveling to Jerusalem (22). For his overriding concern is not at all costs to survive, but rather that he may finish the race and complete his Christ-given task of bearing witness to the good news of God’s grace (24). And Paul knows something else. His prophetic eyes peer beyond Jerusalem and his sufferings there to the mission visits to Rome and to Spain of which he is still dreaming (Acts 19:21; Rom.15:23-29). It must be for this reason that he knows that none of them will see him again (25). This fact adds a poignant finality to the occasion. He makes a solemn declaration that, as a watchman like Ezekiel (Ezk. 33:1ff.), he is innocent of everybody’s blood (26). His conscience is clear. He has not shrunk from proclaiming to them God’s whole purpose of salvation (27). Consequently, he cannot be held responsible if any of them might perish.
Tomorrow: (iii) His exhortation to the elders. (20:28-35).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.