Paul was leaving Miletus to go to Jerusalem, but before he left, he wanted to speak to the elders of the church in Ephesus. However, the trip to Ephesus would take four days, so Paul invited the Ephesian elders to meet with him in Miletus (Acts 20:16-17). When they arrived, he delivered a farewell message in which he looked at his past and present involvement in the early church and gave them a warning about the future and the dangers that the church faced, dangers that all of us who are believers should be aware of.
Paul began his message by pointing to the fact that, from the time he set foot in the province of Asia, he had done his work with humility and with tears. He had endured many trials, as the Jewish leaders had plotted against him, but he had stayed faithful to his calling to spread the gospel (Acts 20:18-21). But now the Holy Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem, and he had no idea what awaited him, other than the fact that he would face danger and possibly death. And yet, Paul believed that his life was worth nothing unless he used it to finish the work that the Lord had given him. Paul would not see the Ephesian leaders again and wanted them to know that he had been faithful to his calling (Acts 20:22-27).
As Paul finished his farewell message, he warned the Ephesian leaders of the dangers that they should recognize as they led the Ephesian church. He warned that they should guard themselves, as well as the people over which the Holy Spirit had appointed them leaders (Acts 20:28). He warned that there would be dangers both around and among them, false teachers who would come in after he left, “vicious wolves” who would attack their flock, and people from within the church looking to distort God’s truth and cause people to follow them (Acts 20:28-30). Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus needed to stay rooted in the Word of God so that they could detect and defeat those whose aim was to lead them astray.
Paul then turned to some dangers that are within the church, dangers that we, as believers, also must be aware of. The first danger is failing to remember the example of those who came before us as laborers in the faith (Acts 20:31). We need to remember those who have come before us and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). We also need to stay grounded in God’s Word, which has the ability to build us up (Acts 20:32). The next danger is covetousness. Paul points out that he never coveted the possessions of others (Acts 20:33). We need to follow Paul’s example. The tenth commandment tells us that we should not covet, and the danger is that, if we break that one commandment, it may lead us to break the other nine. Those who covet may steal, lie, and even murder, to get what they want.
Paul worked hard to support himself in his ministry. His work as a tentmaker provided for his necessities as well as to the necessities of those who ministered alongside him. His example shows that, through hard work, we are able to help the weak. We are also able to heed the words of Jesus, who said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:34-35). The message that Paul gave to the leaders of the Ephesian church is a message that spiritual leaders today also should take to heart. In fact, it is a message that all believers can benefit from.