13 Then we went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there. For these were his instructions, since he himself was going by land. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, the next day we arrived off Chios. The following day we crossed over to Samos, and the day after, we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so he would not have to spend time in Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost.
17 Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time — 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews — 20 and that I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. 21 I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. 24 But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
25 “And now I know that none of you will ever see my face again—everyone I went about preaching the kingdom to. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, 27 for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.
32 “And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. 37 There was a great deal of weeping by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. There was a great deal of weeping by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.
What a sad story! I read this several times.
The first time, I got lost in the geography soup of the first few verses. The second time, I read the whole passage grinning at Paul’s insistence on walking 20 miles while his team sailed by boat. This guy must have hated sailing by now. But the third time, I noticed the tears.
Paul was in a hurry. And as much as he would’ve loved to have seen the church in Ephesus before going to Jerusalem, he just didn’t have time. What do you do if you can’t go to church? You bring the church to you!
So Paul summoned the elders. But what was so important? What message did Paul have for the Ephesian elders that couldn’t be said in another letter?
Have you ever said goodbye to someone thinking you’ll never see them again? My college roommate, who had been my closest friend for two years, decided just before our last year together to accept a job that forced him to leave school and travel full time. It was his dream job. And I was excited for him.
So how did I show it? I balled my eyes out.
I knew our time together had come to an end. The night he left, I sobbed for an hour straight. I couldn’t stop. He had become such a part of my life. He was a confidant and a brother. We’d just shared the bulk of some of our most formative years together, and he was leaving. I truly felt like a part of me was leaving with him.
Based on Paul’s comments, he believed he’d never see these men again either. And in typical Paul fashion, he wasn’t about to let anything go unsaid. And based on what he did say, I honestly think he needed to look them in the eyes for this. A letter wouldn’t do.
Paul reminds his friends of the last three years of how he stayed with them and shared with them, “with tears and with trials.” He shares his concerns for his future in Jerusalem and his resolve to go. But he also shares his concerns for what he’s leaving behind, the church in Ephesus.
That’s when we understand why he wanted to see them, why he needed to look them in the eyes. He needed to pass the torch.
He needed to warn them of the “savage wolves” that would (not might) attack, even from within their own flock. He needed to remind them to care for one another and to give to one another. He needed them to understand their role and remember that “day and night for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.”
There’s that word again—tears. This is starting to sound like a Hallmark special. But when I think back to the night my roommate left, or when I look ahead to when my 14-year-old daughter sets sail to some college in a few short years, I understand the emotion.
Paul’s tears traced the passion of his calling, the love he had for the church at Ephesus, and the grit with which he approached his mission. This was like a shepherd handing over his staff to another, even as he hears the hungry howls of wolves in the distance.
It makes me look at my ministers at church differently. Sometimes I forget the commitment they’ve made to God to be my shepherd, to protect me against the wolves.
It also makes me look at my other relationships differently. Our time together here on earth is short. Whether its three days, three years, or a lifetime, in the end we usually view through tears what we wish would last forever.
But that’s the good news. It can last forever. The end of this passage says that after Paul knelt down and prayed with them, after they cried and hugged and had their moment, they escorted him to the ship. The long walk was over.
It was time to climb back on board and sail away to whatever was next for Paul and his ministry. It was time for the elders at Ephesus to wave goodbye and take up the challenge put before them. But I can’t help but think that somewhere in the emotion they found a way to smile, knowing that this wasn’t the end. In fact, it was just the beginning.
- What relationships do you value most in life?
- If you knew you would never see one of these people again, what would you say to them?
- Do you feel like you’ve done what God asks of you in your relationship with them?
- What one thing could you do today to be the husband, wife, parent, child, or friend God has called you to be?