St. Paul's Address to Presbyters At Miletus
Acts 20:17
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

This charge is the first specimen of the kind. If anyone had a right to admonish his brethren it was St. Paul, both on account of his well-established apostolic dignity, and his devoted labours, which in no place had been more abundant than in Ephesus. This speech is full of St. Paul's finest traits — his sensitiveness, tenderness, faithfulness, and firmness.


1. He did so with a frankness as far removed from foolish pride as from strained humility: —

(1) So that they should not permit his name and authority to be disparaged in his absence;

(2) To give moral force to his exhortations;

(3) To set before them an example which they ought to follow. In those days there were no books on the Christian life or pastoral care. Paul himself had to be a book and a model.

2. He first appealed to their knowledge of his life, and then reminded them of his doctrine. Teaching, if unsupported by the life, carries but a faint and doubtful impression.

3. Tears are mentioned three times in this interview. It was quite consistent with his energy and courage, and a mark of the true greatness of the man, that he had a sensibility passing the tenderness of women. So he speaks of the tears —

(1) Occasioned by his trials, and especially by the deadly hatred of the Jews;

(2) Of pastoral anxiety;

(3) Of the elders when they learned that the apostle was now leaving them for good.

4. The apostle laid stress on his disinterestedness. His epistles show how keenly sensitive he was to any imputation of self-seeking motives. Those who love money are still fond of insinuating that those who teach religion do so merely to get a living. To silence such calumnies the apostle had provided for himself and his companions. It is scarcely necessary for ministers today to take such steps for the vindication of their motives. Intelligent congregations know that they would be the sufferers if their pastors were to occupy themselves with worldly business.

5. He also reminded them of the great theme of his public and private ministry. It was the same gospel which he had everywhere delivered. Not a word did he say of "special miracles," for such signs and wonders were not permanent accompaniments of the gospel; but he was emphatic on these two indispensable things — repentance and faith — for these brought salvation home, and were themes to be handled by the elders.

II. HE EXPLAINED THE REASON OF THIS INTERVIEW. He was on his way to Jerusalem, and knew that he would be in peril of his life. Note the apostle's conformity to the sufferings of his Lord (Luke 9:51). The Master did not consult even His most intimate friends, but simply assured them "that He must go unto Jerusalem" etc. (Matthew 16:21). His apostles were most unwilling that He should cast Himself into such danger. But Jesus replied by a prompt rebuke, Nothing could shake His purpose (Mark 10:32). So also Christ's servant, Paul, went "bound in the spirit"; and only told his settled purpose. Many tried to dissuade him, but in vain. Such intrepid persistence as this was made possible to St. Paul simply through his intense devotion to Christ. All that he wished for was to accomplish his course, to fulfil that ministry which he had received, not from man, but from the Lord Jesus.

III. HE JOINED EXHORTATION AND WARNING TO THE PRESBYTERS. He minded them that the same Holy Ghost whose guidance he felt bound to obey, had the direction of their duty also (ver 28). Such was the high estimate of the spiritual office in the primitive Church. It did not allow those bishops to lord it over God's heritage, but it required them to bear themselves as the organs of a heavenly power.

1. "Take heed to yourselves!" Oversight of one's self is the first requirement for a judicious oversight of others.

(1) Their acknowledged religious position tempts them to take their spiritual health for granted, and to relax that vigilance which other Christians find so indispensable.

(2) While they neglect introspection, and yet perform their public functions, they tend to become mere religious hacks, and grow more and more unfit to be the real channels of spiritual guidance to others.

(3) Because of their position, coldness, or inconsistency, does double injury to the cause of Christ. In modern times this counsel needs to be given also to amateur directors of religious effort, and to the countless critics who are ready, at the shortest notice, to pass an opinion — generally an unfavourable one — on the religion of their neighbours. It were better that they should take heed to themselves, and reserve their strict censures for their own faults.

2. "Take heed to all the flock" etc., "feed the Church of God." The Church was not the flock of those bishops. It was forbidden to bishops to "draw away disciples after them"; and it would be well for modern shepherds to avoid such expressions as — "My church," "my flock," "my congregation." The redeemed people of God in any definite place form the flock of God.

3. As the shedding of tears is mentioned three times, so also we read three times of the shedding of blood, or laying down of the life, the physical basis which is the blood.

(1) His own life the apostle was willing to yield up at Jerusalem if it was required for the service of Christ and the Church.

(2) From the blood of all men he kept; himself pure by so preaching the gospel, that if any heard and refused it, their blood would be on their own heads.

(3) The Church of God has been purchased by Christ's blood.

4. The apostle counselled the elders to follow his own example as to self-support. At Ephesus, where it had been so common to practise pseudo-spiritual arts for filthy lucre's sake, it was eminently advisable that the chiefs of the Christian community should prove themselves thoroughly disinterested. It was well too that they should show an example to others in Christian giving (ver. 35).

5. He also dropped a word of warning which must have added alarm to the sorrow of the assembled bishops. He foresaw that teachers of error would appear at Ephesus, and even in their own ranks some would play the part of wolves. He did not expatiate on the subject, but sounded the alarm — "Watch!" From the message of the Lord we learn that the evil here spoken of did arise (Revelation 2:1-7). We also gather that Paul's warning had not been without good effect.

IV. HE COMMENDED THESE BRETHREN TO GOD AND TO THE WORD OF HIS GRACE. By God and the gospel the Church at Ephesus would be built up. How forcibly must the language have been recalled to the minds of the elders, when, in course of a few years, they read (Ephesians 1:2).

(D. Fraser, D. D.)

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.

St. Paul: His Christianity in His Tears
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