Paul’s zeal in the ministry and his counsel to elders
Based on Acts 20:1-38
1-3. (a) Describe the circumstances surrounding the death of Eutychus. (b) What does Paul do, and what does this incident show about Paul?
PAUL is in a crowded upper chamber in Troas. He speaks at length to the brothers, since this is the last evening he will be with them. It is now midnight. There are quite a few lamps burning in the room, adding to the heat and perhaps contributing to a smoky atmosphere. Seated at one of the windows is a young man named Eutychus. As Paul is speaking, Eutychus falls asleep and tumbles out of the third-story window!
2 As a physician, Luke is likely among the first to rush outside and examine the young man. There is no question about his condition. Eutychus is “picked up dead.” (Acts 20:9) But then a miracle occurs. Paul throws himself on the young man and says to the crowd: “Stop making a commotion, for he is alive.” Paul has raised Eutychus back to life!—Acts 20:10.
3 That incident demonstrates the power of God’s holy spirit. Paul could not rightly be blamed for the death of Eutychus. Still, he did not want the young man’s death to mar this important occasion or to stumble anyone spiritually. By resurrecting Eutychus, Paul left the congregation comforted and fully invigorated to carry on their ministry. Clearly, Paul took a very responsible view of the lives of others. We are reminded of his words: “I am clean from the blood of all men.” (Acts 20:26) Let us consider how Paul’s example can help us in this regard.
“He Began His Journey to Macedonia” (Acts 20:1, 2)
4. What harrowing ordeal had Paul been through?
4 As discussed in the preceding chapter, Paul had been through a harrowing ordeal. His ministry in Ephesus had stirred up quite a commotion. Indeed, the silversmiths whose livelihood depended on the worship of Artemis had taken part in a riot! “When the uproar had subsided,” Acts 20:1 relates, “Paul sent for the disciples, and after he had encouraged them and said farewell, he began his journey to Macedonia.”
5, 6. (a) How long may Paul have been in Macedonia, and what did he do for the brothers there? (b) What attitude did Paul maintain toward his fellow believers?
5 On the way to Macedonia, Paul stopped in the seaport of Troas and spent time there. Paul hoped that Titus, who had been sent to Corinth, would join him there. (2 Cor. 2:12, 13) However, when it became evident that Titus was not coming, Paul went on to Macedonia, perhaps spending a year or so “giving many words of encouragement to the ones there.”a (Acts 20:2) Titus finally joined Paul in Macedonia, bringing good news regarding the Corinthians’ response to Paul’s first letter. (2 Cor. 7:5-7) This moved Paul to write another letter to them, which we now know as 2 Corinthians.
6 It is noteworthy that Luke uses the words “encouraged” and “encouragement” to describe Paul’s visits to the brothers in Ephesus and Macedonia. How well those words express Paul’s attitude toward fellow believers! In contrast with the Pharisees, who looked on others with contempt, Paul viewed the sheep as fellow workers. (John 7:47-49; 1 Cor. 3:9) Paul maintained that attitude even when he had to give them strong counsel.—2 Cor. 2:4.
7. How can Christian overseers today imitate Paul’s example?
7 Today, congregation elders and circuit overseers strive to imitate Paul’s example. Even when giving reproof, they have the goal of strengthening those needing assistance. Overseers empathetically seek to encourage rather than condemn. One experienced circuit overseer put it this way: “Most of our brothers and sisters want to do what is right, but they often struggle with frustrations, fears, and the feeling that they are powerless to help themselves.” Overseers can be a source of strength to such fellow believers.—Heb. 12:12, 13.
“A Plot Was Hatched Against Him” (Acts 20:3, 4)
8, 9. (a) What interrupted Paul’s plans to sail to Syria? (b) Why might the Jews have harbored animosity toward Paul?
8 From Macedonia, Paul went to Corinth.b After spending three months there, he was eager to move on to Cenchreae, where he planned to board a boat to Syria. From there, he would be able to go to Jerusalem and deliver the contributions to the needy brothers there.c (Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:25, 26) However, an unexpected turn of events changed Paul’s plans. Acts 20:3 reports: “A plot was hatched against him by the Jews”!
9 It is not surprising that the Jews harbored animosity toward Paul, for they considered him to be an apostate. Earlier, his ministry had led to the conversion of Crispus—a prominent figure in the Corinthian synagogue. (Acts 18:7, 8; 1 Cor. 1:14) On another occasion, the Jews in Corinth had brought charges against Paul before Gallio, proconsul of Achaia. Yet, Gallio had dismissed those charges as baseless—a decision that infuriated Paul’s enemies. (Acts 18:12-17) The Jews in Corinth may have known or assumed that Paul would soon set sail from nearby Cenchreae, so they devised a scheme to ambush him there. What would Paul do?
10. Was it cowardly of Paul to avoid Cenchreae? Explain.
10 In the interests of personal safety—and to protect the funds with which he had been entrusted—Paul opted to stay away from Cenchreae and to retrace his steps through Macedonia. Granted, traveling on land would have its own dangers. Bandits often lurked along ancient roads. Even the inns could be unsafe. Still, Paul chose the risks on land over those that awaited him at Cenchreae. Thankfully, he was not traveling alone. Paul’s companions for this part of his missionary tour included Aristarchus, Gaius, Secundus, Sopater, Timothy, Trophimus, and Tychicus.—Acts 20:3, 4.
11. How do Christians today take reasonable measures to protect themselves, and what example did Jesus set in this regard?
11 Like Paul, Christians today take measures to protect themselves while in the ministry. In some areas, they travel in groups—or at least in pairs—rather than alone. What about persecution? Christians realize that it is inevitable. (John 15:20; 2 Tim. 3:12) Still, they do not deliberately put themselves in harm’s way. Consider the example of Jesus. On one occasion, when opposers in Jerusalem began picking up stones to hurl at him, “Jesus hid and went out of the temple.” (John 8:59) Later, when the Jews were plotting to kill him, “Jesus no longer walked about publicly among the Jews, but he departed from there to the region near the wilderness.” (John 11:54) Jesus took reasonable measures to protect himself when doing so did not conflict with God’s will for him. Christians today do the same.—Matt. 10:16.
They Were “Comforted Beyond Measure” (Acts 20:5-12)
12, 13. (a) What effect did the resurrection of Eutychus have on the congregation? (b) What Bible-based hope comforts those today who have lost loved ones in death?
12 Paul and his companions traveled through Macedonia together and then apparently split up. Evidently, the group reunited at Troas.d The account says: “Within five days we came to them in Troas.”e (Acts 20:6) It is here that the young man Eutychus was resurrected, as discussed at the outset of this chapter. Imagine how the brothers felt to see their companion Eutychus raised back to life! As the account reports, they were “comforted beyond measure.”—Acts 20:12.
13 Of course, miracles of that sort do not occur today. Still, those who have lost loved ones in death are “comforted beyond measure” by the Bible-based hope of the resurrection. (John 5:28, 29) Consider: Because he was imperfect, Eutychus eventually died again. (Rom. 6:23) But those who are resurrected in God’s new world have the prospect of living forever! Moreover, those who are raised to rule with Jesus in heaven are clothed with immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53) Christians today—whether of the anointed or of the “other sheep”—have good reason to be “comforted beyond measure.”—John 10:16.
“Publicly and From House to House” (Acts 20:13-24)
14. What did Paul tell the Ephesian elders when he met with them at Miletus?
14 Paul and his group traveled from Troas to Assos, then to Mitylene, Chios, Samos, and Miletus. Paul’s goal was to reach Jerusalem in time for the Festival of Pentecost. His haste to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost explains why he selected a vessel that bypassed Ephesus on this return trip. Since Paul wanted to talk to the Ephesian elders, however, he requested that they meet him at Miletus. (Acts 20:13-17) When they arrived, Paul said to them: “You well know how I conducted myself among you from the first day I stepped into the province of Asia, slaving for the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials that befell me by the plots of the Jews, while I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house. But I thoroughly bore witness both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”—Acts 20:18-21.
15. What are some advantages of house-to-house witnessing?
15 There are many ways to reach people with the good news today. Like Paul, we strive to go where the people are, whether at bus stops, on busy streets, or in marketplaces. Yet, going from house to house remains the primary preaching method used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why? For one thing, house-to-house preaching gives all an adequate opportunity to hear the Kingdom message on a regular basis, thus demonstrating God’s impartiality. It also allows honesthearted ones to receive personal assistance according to their needs. In addition, the house-to-house ministry builds the faith and endurance of those who engage in it. Indeed, a trademark of true Christians today is their zeal in witnessing “publicly and from house to house.”
16, 17. How did Paul show himself to be fearless, and how do Christians today imitate his example?
16 Paul explained to the Ephesian elders that he did not know what dangers would await him on his return to Jerusalem. “Nevertheless, I do not consider my own life of any importance to me,” he told them, “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received of the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.” (Acts 20:24) Fearlessly, Paul refused to let any circumstance—whether poor health or bitter opposition—prevent him from completing his assignment.
17 Christians today likewise endure a variety of negative circumstances. Some face governmental ban and persecution. Others courageously battle debilitating physical or emotional illnesses. Christian youths deal with peer pressure at school. In whatever circumstances they find themselves, Jehovah’s Witnesses display steadfastness, as did Paul. They are determined to “bear thorough witness to the good news.”
“Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock” (Acts 20:25-38)
18. How did Paul keep himself free from bloodguilt, and how could the Ephesian elders do the same?
18 Paul next gave straightforward admonition to the Ephesian elders, using his own course as an example. First he informed them that this was likely the last time they would see him. Then he stated: “I am clean from the blood of all men, for I have not held back from telling you all the counsel of God.” How could the Ephesian elders imitate Paul, thus keeping themselves free from bloodguilt? He told them: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:26-28) Paul warned that “oppressive wolves” would infiltrate the flock and would “speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” What should the elders do? “Keep awake,” Paul warned, “and bear in mind that for three years, night and day, I never stopped admonishing each one of you with tears.”—Acts 20:29-31.
19. What apostasy developed by the end of the first century, and what did this lead to in later centuries?
19 “Oppressive wolves” made their appearance by the end of the first century. About 98 C.E., the apostle John wrote: “Even now many antichrists have appeared . . . They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.” (1 John 2:18, 19) By the third century, apostasy had led to the development of the clergy class of Christendom, and in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine gave official recognition to this corrupt form of “Christianity.” By adopting pagan rituals and giving them a “Christian” veneer, religious leaders did indeed “speak twisted things.” The effects of that apostasy are still seen in the teachings and customs of Christendom.
20, 21. How did Paul show a self-sacrificing spirit, and how can Christian elders today do the same?
20 Paul’s life course was in stark contrast to that of those who would in later times take advantage of the flock. He worked to support himself so as not to impose a burden on the congregation. His efforts in behalf of fellow believers were not for personal gain. Paul urged the Ephesian elders to display a self-sacrificing spirit. “You must assist those who are weak,” he told them, “and must keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said: ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’”—Acts 20:35.
21 Like Paul, Christian elders today are self-sacrificing. In contrast with the clergy of Christendom, who fleece their flocks, those who are entrusted with the responsibility to “shepherd the congregation of God” perform their duties unselfishly. Pride and ambition have no place in the Christian congregation, for those who seek their “own glory” will fail in the long run. (Prov. 25:27) Presumptuousness can only lead to dishonor.—Prov. 11:2.
22. What endeared Paul to the elders of Ephesus?
22 Paul’s genuine love for his brothers endeared him to them. Indeed, when it was time for him to depart, “quite a bit of weeping broke out among them all, and they embraced Paul and affectionately kissed him.” (Acts 20:37, 38) Christians truly appreciate and love those who, like Paul, give of themselves unselfishly in behalf of the flock. After considering Paul’s sterling example, would you not agree that he was neither boasting nor exaggerating when he stated: “I am clean from the blood of all men”?—Acts 20:26.
b It was likely during this visit to Corinth that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans.