Mingled Fidelity and Tenderness: an Example for Christian Ministers
Acts 20:17-36
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.…

Perhaps there is no other place in which we have so much of the nature of personal detail respecting Paul from his own lips. For the most part in his Epistles, there is a singular abstinence on his part from personal references. They seem to abound here. Without doubting their bare justification, we desiderate some other and higher account of them. May not this be found in a twofold consideration? -

(1) that Paul has designedly and probably also of Divine design treated Ephesus as the center from which the light and truth of Christ and the typical order of his Church were to spread throughout a very wide district; and

(2) that Paul is divinely directed here to leave a forcible and a touching example to later generations. He examples the extent to which the fidelity and love of apostles, and of all spiritual successors of apostles, ought to be on the look out, and the limits within which also they ought to be restrained, in respect of those portions of the Church over which men may have had the leading oversight. The modern Church surely cries out for admonition, in these very senses supplied by this long passage - whether on the part of its members or of its ministers. The most sacred, most responsible love on earth is too often regarded as a relationship that may be lightly entered upon, and is treated as one that may be, not only lightly broken, but when broken perfunctorily forgotten. The study of this passage must help to inspire very different views. From this farewell address of Paul to those whom he had specially invited to meet him, lest it should be the last time, the chief impressions left on us are these.

I. PAUL'S UNMOVED CONFIDENCE IN HIS MISSION. All that is spoken personal to himself, and all that is spoken personal to the Ephesian elders, is spoken for the honor and glory and prospects of the gospel off Christ. The "ministry... of testifying the gospel of the grace of God" is his steadfast supreme thought. It appears in and through all.

II. PAUL'S UNMOVED CONFIDENCE AS TO WHEREIN CONSISTS ITS EXACT OPERATION UPON MEN. If it is his last exposition of the saving message of his "ministry," it shall be thus summarized and thus repeated: "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." These two articles constitute the Christian magna charta. They clear the past, they give the key for the future and for all its hope and unfolding promise. "Repentance toward God" clears the very sky of human life, and with a glorious sky indeed over vaults the heart itself. While "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" will secure all else that can be wanted till the time comes for faith to turn to sight.

III. PAUL'S ANXIOUS OUTLOOK - THE OUTLOOK OF SPIRITUAL LOVE. He is not the man to feel he has done his work, and may leave all the rest. He feels he can't leave all the rest. Care and anxiety for the morrow, not of earthly good and personal gain, possess him, but for the morrow of the spiritual career and the very souls of those he had called and testified to and led by his example at Ephesus. That a people see this and feel this genuinely present in their spiritual teacher and pastor, is an influence of great effect upon them. And there is another way in which it acts to great advantage. As time flows on, and the hour of trial and temptation and darkness may come, men are wonderfully helped when they can recall the voice and look and earnestness of one who "told them of these things before they came to pass."

IV. PAUL'S FAITH IN EXAMPLE AND HIS RESPECTFUL REGARD FOR THE "WITNESS" OF THOSE AMONG WHOM HE HAD LABORED. Pride and priestly superciliousness never give expression to this side of the question. That the priest's eye is on the people is their haughty doctrine, and the so genuinely true other side of the matter, that the people's eyes are on the priest, to which Paul gives here such humble and kindly expression, is pushed into coldest shade by them. Without doubt, we are justified in thus regarding all that Paul here says of himself that might seem to be said in a self-commendatory style; there is in very truth nothing of this in his spirit. He does but speak facts, and can say "ye know" (vers. 18, 34) about them. If the elders of Ephesus do not know them, or know them to be not as Paul says, he has courted contradiction, not hidden himself away from it. Of what incalculable consequence example ever is! Of what thrilling consequence it is in the career of the Christian minister and pastor! What quiet rebuke it is, free from bitterness of tongue! What choicest stimulus and suggestion it is, full of life and movement as it is! The leading items of conduct and example, in which the Ephesian elders had been able to take witness of Paul, are interesting to follow.

1. They had witnessed a long stretch of time and variety of state and temper.

2. They had witnessed an humility of mind that bended itself to circumstances, and endured aright what caused tears not idle and jeopardy of life many a time.

3. They had witnessed frankness of relations, plainness of speech, constancy of ministry, in public and in private.

4. They had witnessed a three years' continued impartial "warning of every one night and day with tears."

5. They had not witnessed any self-seeking, any desire of "silver, or gold, or apparel."

6. They had, on the contrary, witnessed their chief pastor at manual labor, to supply his own temporal needs and to help his companions. And in reminding the Ephesian elders of these things, Paul has enshrined for all generations one of the sweetest words of Jesus, unrecorded elsewhere. Yes; and whatever might come to be, there was no doubt that Paul had, by all these uncontradicted methods, become unspeakably endeared to those whom he now addresses.

V. PAUL'S USE OF APPEAL. Direct practical appeal is evidently one of the recognized gospel forces. The preacher is not to forget it (vers. 28, 31).

VI. PAUL'S FINAL RESORT TO PRAYER. The particularity with which even this testimony of Paul to prayer is recorded is worthy of remark, "And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all." Prayer is the renunciation of self-confidence. Prayer is the authorized summons for higher help. Prayer is the sure signal of the approach of strength to weakness, continuance to uncertainty, and power to prevail in place of the temptation by which men should fall.

VII. LASTLY, PAUL'S MOVING TENDERNESS OF SPIRIT IN ALL. This tenderness and highly moved state of soul is betokened at every turn. If Paul speak of the relations that had subsisted between the Ephesians and himself (vers. 18-20); if he speak of his own future (vers. 22-25) or allude to his own past (vers. 31-35); if he introduce the names of the Lord Jesus (vers. 24, 35), of the Holy Ghost, and the Church (ver. 28), of God (ver. 32); - the touch is of the tenderest, the tone is of the warmest, and softest, the suggestion is sure to be of the most solemn and pathetic in equal proportions. And in every one of these respects it must be maintained that Paul is an example for all Christian teachers and pastors, for all time. Whatever can be obtained by human instrumentality out of the mysterious mass of humanity will be best obtained thus. No force, no authority, no policy, will obtain souls. Nor will care, and love, and tenderness, and foresight, and faithful "warning" keep all that they shall seem to obtain. The "grievous wolves will enter in;" "men out of" that very number who listened and wept, and were both wept and prayed over, "will arise, speaking perverse things," and, drawn away themselves, "they will draw away others after them." "Offences will come!" But it is to be said that when Paul and the successors of Paul have done and said what Paul now did and said, and something in the same manner, the solemn damning "woe," wherever it fall, will not fall on one of them. They have saved their souls, and they are "pure from the blood of all men." - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

WEB: From Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to himself the elders of the assembly.

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