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Acts 20:1-16: The Mission to Encourage Print E-mail

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One of the greatest sources of encouragement for believers should be other believers.  Look around the room.  Look at the person sitting next to you, the one setting in front of you, behind you, across from you.  These are some the greatest sources of encouragement that God has placed in your life.  And guess what?  He has placed you in their lives to encourage them.  We noted a few weeks ago that God is the Great Encourager of His people.  We saw how he encouraged Paul in Corinth by giving him a people to minister to and a promise of protection.  We pointed out that another way that God encouraged Paul was through Aquila and Priscilla, who were tentmakers like Paul and provided him with a place to stay.  God used them to encourage the Apostle, who came to the city in weakness and in fear and much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3).  Paul received much encouragement from his fellow believers.  And as we have noted in the repeated missionary journeys, Paul was intentional with his encouragement of the Churches that he planted.  He sought to evangelize the lost and encourage the saints.

In our passage this morning, we see Paul continuing his work of encouraging the saints.  One of my commentators notes that the main theme of Acts 20 is encouragement. 1  Luke tells us of Paul’s travels from Ephesus through Macedonia and Greece back to the city of Miletus, which was about thirty miles south of Ephesus.  As he travels back through these cities he sought to encourage the Christians that were there.  We see examples of this in our passage.

Paul encourages the Church in Ephesus, and those in Macedonia and Greece (v. 1-6)

Before Paul leaves Ephesus, he calls the believers together to encourage them.  Look at verse 1.  The riot situation had been tense.  Christianity was flourishing in the city and that came with persecution, as we have seen.  So Paul calls the disciples together to encourage them before he leaves.  He cares about these brothers and sisters and wants them to endure in the faith.  We will see next what such encouragement looks like when he addresses the Ephesian elders (20:17-38).  Paul encourages these believers as he sets out for Jerusalem.

We see him also encourages the churches in Macedonia and Greece in verses 2-3.  Look at those with me.  These verses cover close to two years of Paul’s life.  Luke tells us that he was visiting the Churches and giving them much encouragement.  Stott comments on his encouragement: “It is a vital ministry in establishing Christian disciples, and the principal means of its exercise is, literally, ‘much word.’  Nothing encourages and strengthens the people of God like the Word of God.” 2  Paul was going back to these churches to encourage them through teaching them the Word of God.  He is proclaiming to them the truths of God so that they can press on in the faith.  We also know that Paul was writing letters to other churches at this time.  During his trip through Macedonia he probably wrote 2 Corinthians and while he was in Greece for three months he wrote his letter to the Romans.  Paul was laboring to encourage these Christians.

And he was not alone.  Look at verses 4-6.  We know from 2 Corinthians 8-9 that Paul was gathering a collection for the saints in Jerusalem at this time.  He was asking these churches to support those believers who were facing difficult situations in their city.  It could be that Luke includes these names to show who were traveling with Paul as representatives of the different areas where Paul asked for and received help.  Likewise, we can also note that it was Paul’s normal practice to travel and minister with others.  He is consistently surrounded by other believers who are serving with him.  In his letters we see him asking for others to join him (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, 2 Timothy 4:9, 21).  He knew that encouragement came from the fellowship with other believers and so he traveled with others and wrote to others and visited others as often as he could.  Luke, who has been in Philippi since Acts 16, now joins back up with Paul as they head for the city of Troas.

Paul encourages the Church at Troas (v. 7-12)

When Paul makes it to this city with Luke and his other companions, he seeks to encourage the believers there, even though it seems that this is not a Church that Paul planted.  His encouragement begins with teaching them on Sunday.  Look at verse 7.  We should note a few things from this verse.  First, this is the earliest mention of the believers worshipping on a Sunday, the first day of the week.  This does not mean that others were not doing the same, it is just the first time that Luke has noted it.  We worship on Sundays because it is the day of the week that Jesus was raised from the dead and because Christians have done this for thousands of years.  Second, Luke tells us that they were gathered together to break bread.  Although this statement alone is not enough to definitively say that the practice of the early Church was weekly communion, I do think it points in that direction, which is part of the reason why we practice that here. 

Third, Luke tells us that Paul prolonged his speech until midnight.  We don’t know exactly when they gathered, but it seems likely to have been around sunset, which means Paul’s teaching probably lasted for hours.  One commentator writes: “Church meetings were not regulated by the clock in those days, and the opportunity of listening to Paul was not one to be cut short; what did it matter if his conversation went on until midnight.” 3  Of course, modern preachers, myself especially, are not the Apostle Paul, but the hunger of the believers in Troas for teaching is noteworthy.  Another commentator writes: “Paul’s address to the church lasted until midnight.  This may see a long time by modern western standards, but in some countries, especially in the Third World, services lasting several hours with correspondingly long sermons are quite common.” 4 

I had a fellow pastor of mine tell me about a trip he took to Africa to do some preaching.  On one occasion, several pastors had come together to preach and the organizer of the event told them: “Do not preach if you are going to preach for less than an hour.  Many have walked hours to be here and they want to hear the Word.”  I know, trust me do I know, that sermon length can be a sensitive issue in our culture.  And I am not trying to make an argument for long sermons on every occasion (mine will be short tonight at the park).  But we do have to ask: Why are we so different from the believers in Troas or those in other countries today?  Why do we struggle so much with lengthy teaching when others do not?  I think these are valid questions for us to consider as we think about length of service.

Of course some might respond that lengthy sermons are dangerous according to this passage.  After all, look at what happens in verses 8-9.  It seems the room was crowded and filled with the lamps and that eventually Eutychus, a boy between the ages of 8-14, fell asleep and then fell out of the window to his death.  Yet, before we make any conclusions here about the length of Paul’s teaching, look at what happens in verses 10-12.  Luke tells us that Eutychus was dead and that Paul raised him from the dead like the prophets of old.  Then he tells us that the meeting went on until daybreak, as Paul continued to teach them and encourage them.  He concludes the story by noting that the believers in Troas were not a little comforted.  Paul encourages them through an extended time of teaching.  And when he was interrupted by the death of the Eutychus, he simply raised him from the dead, took a break for eating, and just kept on teaching.  And Luke notes that all of this served as great encouragement and comfort to the Church at Troas.  We want to be careful about drawing too many practical applications from such a text, but we should not miss the encouragement that Paul gave the Church in Troas.  It was a long night for them all, but one that none of them would soon forget!

Paul will encourage the Ephesian elders from Miletus (v. 13-16)

The next few verses tell us about Paul’s travels from Troas to Miletus.  Look at verses 13-16.  Luke does not tell us why certain decisions are made on this trip, but we know from our passage next week that while in Miletus, Paul will send for the Ephesian elders to encourage them.  We will look next week at what he says to them to encourage them, but I just want us to note this week that the encouragement continues as Paul goes from city to city.  He works hard to build up and encourage the saints.

We have emphasized from the book of Acts in general and from Paul’s journey in particular the importance of disciples sharing the good news with the lost.  But it is also important for us to see that we should be encouraging each other as well.  If what Paul has said is true, if we must face various trials as followers of Jesus, then we must be committed to encouraging each other.  How do we do that?  How can we encourage each other like Paul?

Paul encouraged other believers with his presence.  He was willing to go to cities and spend time with believers.  We can do this as well.  When a person suffers a tragedy, a death or a sickness, we can go and spend time with them.  We expect the pastor to visit in the hospital, but what about the rest of us?  How awesome would it be if whenever any of us were in the hospital all of the rest of us went to visit?  How encouraging would that be?  Paul also encouraged other believers with his words.  We will look at some specific words of encouragement next week, but we see in this passage that Paul used his words to encourage his fellow believers.  He reminded them of the gospel and pointed them to Christ.  Do we do that?  Do we offer the Word to encourage each other?  Granted, we must be sensitive to people when they are hurting, which is part of the reason why we must avoid only encouraging each other when things go bad.  When was the last time that you encouraged a brother or sister with the Word of God?  Paul encouraged others through his actions. 5  He wrote letters.  He spent all night talking with a group of believers, even though he had to travel the next day.  By the power of God, he raised Eutychus.  He shared meals and he shared ministry.  So what about us?  Do we look for ways to encourage other believers with our actions?  Do we pray for them and with them?  Do we go out of our way to serve them?  May we labor like Paul to encourage others in the faith.  Amen.

1 Ajith Fernando, Acts NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1998), p.538.
2 John Stott, The Message of Acts TBST (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 316
3 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 384-85.
4 I. Howard Marshall, Acts TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 326.
5 Fernando, p. 538ff.

~ William Marshall ~

 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 October 2014 )

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