Acts 20:18-36 is one of those rare passages in the
Circumcision scriptures, where the present grace is promised. The
passage should be studied with this in mind: It speaks of a finished
ministry, and of a different one.
The elders of Ephesus were teachers. Paul was
taking his leave of them, and was giving them careful
instructions. They needed this teaching, in view of the ministry
that was to be theirs, in the future.
Paul has been proclaiming the kingdom to those
elders, as well as to other gentiles who came under his oral
ministry. Meanwhile, he was also proclaiming the kingdom to Jews,
so far as it was possible for him to reach them. Why should all
this time and effort be lostthe time required to proclaim the
kingdom to gentiles? They were to have no part in the kingdom
mentioned in the Acts. The answer is found in the fact that God
had told Israel long before, that, because they had made Him jealous
with gods that are not God, He would make them jealous with a people who
are no people. Gentiles were no people, as compared with the
privileges of Israel.
This ministry in which Paul was proclaiming the
kingdom to gentiles, was a ministry of jealousy. The apostle
mentions it in Romans 11:14. He was the apostle to the nations,
and was glorifying his dispensation.
While proclaiming the kingdom, Paul had been setting
a fine example for those elders, and, indeed, for all teachers, so far
as faithfulness is concerned. In this service, as well as in his
later ministry, he was slaving for the Lord with all humility and
tears. This service was carried on in the midst of trials and
Some of Paul's epistles had been written before this
address was made to the elders at Ephesus. In those epistles he
was not proclaiming the kingdom. His writings were suited to the
ecclesia which is the body of Christ. The epistles of Paulnot
the record of his ministry in the Actsis full instruction for
us. But, as I have said, even while he was proclaiming the
kingdom, he was just as earnest and faithful as he ever was in his
The burden of his kingdom ministry was
"repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus
Christ." Repentance belongs to the kingdom proclamation.
It is absent from Paul's epistles. Those who preach repentance
today, seem to have no conception of the change which came in the
ministry of Paul.
Verse 22 begins, "And NOW." Now,
something had taken place. In spirit, Paul was bound. This
was indicative of the fact that the remainder of his ministry was to be
carried on amid fleshly handicaps. He was not to be as free to
move about from place to place, as he had been. He was going
to Jerusalem, in the face of the certification by the spirit, that bonds
and afflictions awaited him. This did not daunt him. He knew
that he yet had a ministry to fulfill. He must certify the evangel
of the grace of God. This must be done in bonds and afflictions.
He was anxious to be in this ministry, even if it meant
Since some of his epistles had been written before
this address was made, had he not already been certifying the evangel of
the grace of God? In a measure, yes; in full measure no.
Ephesians was yet to be written. In that ministry, he would show, not
only that we are saved in grace, but he would declare the oncoming eons
will be the time in which God will fully display the transcendent riches
of His grace, through us, who are now connected with the ministry of
Paul, Eph. 2:7. Transcendent riches of grace! This was yet
to be written by the apostles; it was yet future, at the time he was
talking to the elders. This was a glorious prospect. How he longed
to be in this ministry! No wonder he did not shrink from the
appalling prospect of suffering in connection with it.
It is well to remember that in the ministry of which
Paul spoke, flesh has no precedence. Those who try to carry on
this ministry, and, at the same time, have earthly ease and pleasure,
are out of place. This must be a ministry of necessity, poverty
suffering, persecution. Those elders if they engaged in this
ministry, would taste some of this. Paul was preparing them for
it. Yes, and he was preparing us for it.
The soul is the seat of sensation. To have made
his soul precious, would have been to seek a road of less
suffering. Paul would not do this. Suffering was bound to
come. Those who engage in this ministry and those for whom the
ministry is carried on, have no earthly promise. Their destiny is
heaven. The ministry is to be conducted in the midst of those who
despise the grace of Godthose who believe works, in stead of
grace, secure blessings. What is to be expected from such people,
Paul had informed the people of the entire counsel of
God. This is not saying he had preached the entire evangel of
grace. Far from it.
The counsel belongs to the kingdom evangel.
Afterwards, when he wrote Ephesians, he prayed that the saints might
have a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Why? Because he was
saying something that was contained in no previous revelation.
Remember, when Paul says he had informed them of the entire counsel of
God, he did not mean he had taught all that was to be taught.
In stead, he was saying he had finished the Kingdom ministry. The
greater part of his ministry was yet ahead of himnot greater in
years, perhaps, but greater in importance.
The elders were to be future feeders and shepherds of
the ecclesia. The ecclesia at Ephesus was to learn that it Ephesus
was to learn that it was not any part of the kingdom. Instead, it
was part of the body of Christ. Ecclesias gathered under the
ministry of Paul in other places were to learn the same truth. As
before said, these elders were to become shepherds of the
ecclesias. Grievous wolves would enter, after Paul was out of the
way. They would not spare the saints. Have we not seen
this? We have seen men pose as teachers, for no apparent reason,
except that they wanted what money could be gotten out of the
saints. That God had prescribed that those who teach shall be remunerated,
is clearly understood by all who know something of the sacred
scriptures. But Paul never endorsed the idea of a man entering
"the ministry" for the sake of money, like one chooses the
law, or medicine, or some other profession.
Another matter of which Paul warned the elders, was,
that some among them would speak perverse things to pull disciples away
after them. Paul said he knew this would come to pass.
Thus the history of the church is pre-written, as
accurately as any historian has ever written it. Men have imposed
on the people, great financial burdens. Also men have divided the
saints and made sects and more sects.
In view of these matters, the elders were instructed
to watch, and to remember Paul's example while he was among them.
His ministry, even when he was proclaiming the kingdom, was with
tears. How anxious he now wanted the elders to be, in view of what
lay ahead of them.
They were not to be light-hearted. They were to
be solicitous. They were to be prayerful. They were to be
In order that they might be able to carry on the
ministry which was being handed to them, Paul committed them to God and
the word of His Grace. God, the Placer! God the
Disposer! What better commitment could Paul make? God would
be their sufficiency, in the midst of the suffering and privations that
lay ahead of them. And the word of His grace! This was
another way Paul had of asking them to be readers and believers of his
future written ministry. He was to certify the evangel of the
grace of God. They were being committed to the word of His
grace. This would be their sustenance in time of trial.
Believing the truth of His word of grace, they would not faint, but
would persevere in their ministry.
Those who teach today, need God and the word of His
grace. How poor are the words of man, in comparison! Indeed,
how insufficient is that part of God's word that was intended for
another day and another people! What a pity, that so many saints
try to appropriate that which is not theirs, and neglect that which
belongs to them.
Let it be understood that, while the elders were said
to be shepherding the flocklet of God, this language is used to accord
with the Acts, and with the kingdom proclamation. In truth, the
ecclesia is not a flocklet. This title belongs to Israel.
Also, the metaphor, shepherd, or pastor, is not used frequently in
Paul's later writings. But we get the idea. The elders were
teachers. As such, they were not only to rely on God and the word
of His grace, for their own comfort, but they were to teach concerning
Him. Is He God? Or is He a poor, weak being, who cannot do
what He wills? Preachers, what kind of God do you proclaim?
Do you recognize Paul's God?
And as to gracewhat is it? As outlined in
Paul's teaching, it is God's unmerited favor. Yea, it is favor
bestowed on one who deserves the direst condemnation. It is not
secured by works. Man cannot manufacture it. Also, it is
transcendent. It goes beyond anything else that can be
imagined. Do you preach this kind of Grace?
A MEETING HOUSE
In the community of Fortner's Mill, Johnson county,
Georgia, a group of saints are undertaking to build a modest house in
which to worship. They are doing this mainly, because their
children are interested in the truth, and they want a place for them to
worship for years to come, if the Lord tarries.
The people are very poor. I have been serving
them for years, preaching in the woods, in an old store house and in
private homes. I am wondering if I have any readers who would be happy
to help in this undertaking. If so, please send donations to me,
stating they are for the building. I thank you in advance.
Brother Eliot Thomson of Washington, D. C., visited
Mrs. Screws and me some time ago. We were delighted to have
him. He is a splendid brother, and a delightful one with whom to
converse on the word of God.
I appreciate the fact that, all along there are those
who renew their subscription. If you have not done so, you will do
so pretty soon, I am sure.
"Will you permit questions?" A
subscriber asks. I will welcome them. Please ask if you want
to. I may not be able to answer the questions, but I will
try. But I may be a little slow about it.