Encouraging Churches – Acts 20:1-38

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

September 3, 2006

Encouraging Churches

Acts 20:1-38

In Matthew 28 Jesus commissioned the disciples for ministry saying, “”All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We call this command the “Great Commission” for it succinctly gives the church its primary purpose and plan of ministry. We have summarized it as the purpose statement of Grace Bible Church – “Glorifying God by Making Disciples of Jesus Christ.” The three-fold plan of ministry within the commission is going, baptizing and teaching. We go out and preach the gospel to those that have not heard. We baptize those that respond as professions of their faith and self identification with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. We then teach them to obey all that God has commanded.

How long does it take to fulfill that last part of the commission? How many times do you have to meet with someone in order for them to finally understand what God has commanded and then obey it? We know from both the Scriptural examples and our own experience that this will be done over and over again throughout our lives. It seems that not only is there always something new to learn about the commands, principles and precepts of the Word of God and how they apply to our lives, but we also need the consistent encouragement of others to put what we learn into practice. What is true today was also true in the first century.

This morning as we examine the first part of Acts 20 we will see not only Paul’s example in doing this but also some the specific ways in which he did so. Please turn to Acts 20 as we begin our study.


Ministry in Macedonia


Acts 20:1 (NASB) And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to go to Macedonia. 2 And when he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece.


Recall from last week the nature of the uproar referred to here in verse 1. Demetrius and the silversmiths were losing business in their trade of the idols of Artemis (Diana – the fertility goddess). Paul had been teaching in Ephesus for over two years with the result that the gospel was being preached throughout the province of Asia by the Christians trained under him. In Acts 19:26 Demetrius said to the other silversmiths, “And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods [at all.] This was a twofold threat as explained by Demetrius in verses 27, “And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.” There was not only the direct loss of business because Christians would not buy the idols, but this was also threatening the glory of their goddess Artemis. They all became quite emotional about this threat to both their economic health and their pagan goddess. They in turn incited the people of Ephesus concerning this threat to Artemis resulting in the city being thrown into confusion. A mob formed and rushed into the theater where up to 25,000 of them shouted,“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for about two hours.

The town clerk, the official who published the decrees given by the governmental assembly, was finally able to restore order. Since the crowd would have recognized him and assumed him to be bringing some government response they quieted down and listened to him. He then pointed out both their impropriety and the danger that their demonstration posed to their reputation as well as the fact that those with concerns could go to the courts. His words were effective and with the crowd finally calm he was able to dismiss them in peace.

I pointed out from this last week that we not need fear spiritual warfare regardless of the form it comes. In this case it was evil people inciting others to do evil, but it could also come as overt manifestations of the demonic or the advice given to us that is based on Satan’s subtle lies and schemes designed to get us to waver in our trust of God and disobey Him. In all cases, our defense is the same. We are to, as James 4:7 states, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Our God is more powerful than anything Satan or man can do (1 John 4:4). God demonstrated his power in working miracles through Paul, but He also demonstrated it in ending a riot through a pagan government official. Remember that Romans 13 calls all government officials “ministers of God” for God established them to be a cause of fear for those who do evil. We can trust God with our lives.

Paul did trust God and after this uproar had calmed down, Paul simply went ahead with what he had already been planning. Recall from last week that I pointed out that Luke specifically put in Acts 19:21-22 that Paul was planning to continue on his journey prior to the outbreak of the riot. He had already sent Timothy and Erastus ahead into Macedonia to prepare things for his coming.

( 12 MAP) Our text tells that Paul went through Macedonia first and then went down into Greece. Paul would have gone back through Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea before going down again into Athens and then on to Corinth. In each of those cities there were those that had become converts to Jesus Christ through Paul’s preaching. He went back to each city “strengthening the disciples.” What does that mean? Simply that he would be reminding them of what he had preached to them previously as well as giving additional instruction in any area they did not understand. How do we know that? Because that is what he and the others apostles do in some of the letters to the churches.

In Romans 15:14-16 Paul says, “14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that [my] offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

In 1 Corinthians 4:16,17 Paul writes, “16 I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”

In 2 Timothy 2:14 Paul told Timothy who had gone back to Ephesus to “Remind [them] of these things, and solemnly charge [them] in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, [and leads] to the ruin of the hearers.” In the same way he told Titus who was ministering in Crete, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (3:1,2).

It is not just Paul that does this. Peter does the same thing in 2 Peter 1:12,13 writing, “Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you [already] know [them], and have been established in the truth which is present with [you.] 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this [earthly] dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.”

If there are times that preachers seem like they are repeating themselves it is because they are doing just that. We usually try to find some fresh way to say it so that it seems new and not boring. We also usually try to express the applications in different ways so that you might understand and live accordingly. However, no Biblical preacher will ever say anything that is actually new. We will only be repeating what has been taught before and then remind you of it again and again and again. We need it in our own lives which is why we study the same passages, books and subjects over and over again. We also know that you also need to be reminded of the same truths.

Paul was busy in the ministry of reminding those he had preached to before of the same truths he had already declared along with explaining to them more fully anything they did not understand as well as the applications of those truths. We do well to follow that same example as we minister to others.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to come up with something new. That is an underlying problem in liberal theology. They cannot get their PhD without coming up with some new twist on the Scriptures and so they have developed bizarre ideas and theories that are not only contradictory to the Bible, but also even contradictory to common sense. One example of this is the idea that the Children of Israel fled from Egypt by crossing the marshy areas of the Sea of Reeds instead of the deep water of the Red Sea. They create for themselves and even more complex problem then of how these untrained slaves safely navigated the marsh while the Egyptian army, which was among the most trained and powerful in the world at that time, all managed to drown themselves along with their horses in the same marsh.

Let me add that if you ever find a preacher that comes up with something that is new, then flee because you are listening to someone that is giving you the musings of their own mind and it will not be Biblically based. Such a person will be a false teacher and a tool of Satan.

( Map) Ministry in Greece (20:3-5)


3 And [there] he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia. 4 And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, [the son] of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.


Paul spent three months ministering in Greece. His plan is to sail from there back to Syria as he had done at the end of his second missionary journey. However, a murder plot is revealed. We do not know any of the details of the plot, but from Paul’s reaction it appears that the plot involved killing him either at one of the ports or while they were at sea. Paul responded by changing his plans and going back through Macedonia instead.

Perhaps this may seem like a minor point, but it is an important one that we have often seen in Paul’s life. While he could be extremely bold, as he was in Lystra when he went back into town even though the people there had just stoned him and left him for dead, Paul was also wise and listened to advice from others. We saw that last week when he boldly wanted to address the mob in the theater, but he listened to the counsel given to him and stayed away. Paul could have boldly set sail, but he instead listened to counsel and changed his route of travel in order to achieve his goal of returning to Jerusalem,

That is a good example for us to follow in our own lives. While we can be confident in the Lord and therefore bold in carrying out whatever He asks us to do, at the same time we need to be humble to know that God works through other people too, and it will usually be through them that He will direct us. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” Proverbs 15:22 adds, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.” The wise man will surround himself with other wise men and then listen to their counsel. Paul did that, so should we.

Verse 4 mentions by name some of the people that were with him and where they were from. Their home city lets us know how long they had been with Paul. Going in order of those that would have been with him the least amount of time to the greatest. Sopater [the son] of Pyrrhus was a Macedonian from Berea. Aristarchus and Secundus were also Macedonians but they were both from Thessalonica. Tychicus and Trophimus were both from Asia which is the province in which Ephesus is located. Acts 21:29 says that Trophimus was an Ephesian. Gaius was from Derbe in the Galatian region that Paul had come through at the beginning of his third missionary journey as he was making his way to Ephesus. This is the same area Paul had been to on his first missionary journey and where he picked up Timothy on his second missionary journey. Most of these men are mentioned in other Bible passages.

Gaius and Aristarchus were the ones dragged into the theater by the mob in Acts 19:29. Gaius apparently settled in Ephesus for he is mentioned as Paul’s host when he is writing Romans and John mentions him in 3 John 1. Aristarchus travels with Paul extensively. He is with him on the voyage from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:2) and is with Paul as a “fellow prisoner” (Col. 4:10) when Paul writes to the Colossians from Rome and sometime after that he is still with Paul when he writes to Philemon (1:24). Tychicus also travels with Paul and we find that he is often sent as a his messenger. It is Tychicus that carries Paul’s letter to both the Ephesians (6:21) and Colossians (4:7) as well to Crete to bring a letter to Titus (3:12). Paul mentions in 2 Tim. 4:2 that he has sent Tychicus to Ephesus. We know that Trophimus traveled as far as Jerusalem with Paul since he is mentioned as being there in Acts 21:29. On another trip Paul had left him sick in Miletus.

We know the most about Timothy who traveled with Paul extensively from the time he joined him near the beginning of the second missionary journey (Acts 16:1). He often was sent different places as Paul’s representative including Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17) and Ephesus (1 & 2 Timothy). He had been with Paul in Rome (Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1) and at some point had also been imprisoned and released (Heb. 13:23).

One of the things we learn from passages like this one is that Paul rarely traveled alone. He always had others with him for several reasons. First, ministry is never a one man show. True ministry is always a group effort because no one, not even Paul, had all spiritual gifts. It is the multiplicity of gifts working together that allows ministry to take place and be effective. Second, Paul was always teaching and by having others travel with him he could teach them by example and give them hands on experience. Remember that Timothy, for example, was very young when he started traveling with Paul and would have learned a tremendous amount during the journeys. Third, Paul could not be in more than one place at a time so he would send one of his companions with messages or as his representative to other places.

Ministry in Troas (20:6-12)

In verse 6 Luke [note “we”] and Paul catch up with the rest of the ministry team. 6 And we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.

The mention of the feast of Unleavened Bread gives us a time marker. This feast is immediately after Passover so it is Spring. They arrived in Troas within 5 days of everyone else and then they all stayed there for a full week. Perhaps waiting for a ship to take them to the next port. Verse 7 tells us what happened next.


7 And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul [began] talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.


There are several things to note here. The first is that they are meeting on the first day of the week. There are several groups that strongly advocate the “Sabbath” / Saturday as the day the church is to meet. Some of the Seventh Day Adventist get so insistent that some of them even go so far as to say that those who meet on Sunday for worship are of the devil. Acts 20:7 proves their claim is false.

In this passage they meet together on the first day of the week which is Sunday. The church has traditionally met on Sunday in honor of the Lord’s Resurrection which occurred on the first day of the week. This practice developed in the Gentile churches rather quickly. In 1 Cor. 16:2 Paul directed the church there to make their weekly collections on the “first day of every week.”

Paul addresses the issue of keeping particular days in Romans 14:5,6 saying, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day [alike.] Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” It is up to the individual believer how they desire to view any particular day. Paul was actually more concerned about those who insisted on keeping Mosaic Law. The Galatians had fallen back into keeping the law prompting Paul to write them on this issue in 4:10,11, “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” It is those that are adamant about Saturday being a Sabbath for Christians that are in spiritual danger, not those that meet on Sunday or any other day.

Sunday is not the “Christian Sabbath” unless a believer so decides to regard it that way for himself. Let me add that if they do, they are perfectly fine in doing so. We live in a time when those that do reserve Sunday as a special day unto the Lord are severely criticized by those that do not. That is wrong. Licentiousness is just as ungodly legalism. Again, Romans 14 makes it clear. The issue is not the day but the person’s heart for the Lord and giving Him thanks whether they regard a particular day or not.

Another interesting thing to point out from this passage is not just the day they were meeting but when the meeting began. Verse 7 points out that they had gathered to break bread and that Paul kept speaking until midnight. Paul spoke a long time, but I can assure you that he did not start at 10 or 11 a.m. This meeting started in the evening with a meal that would have included communion. The term “the breaking of bread” (cf. 2:42) is probably a reference to communion and we know from 1 Corinthians 11 that the common practice of the early church was to share a meal as part of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. They were meeting in the evening because that is when they could meet. Sunday was just another day of labor in that society so they would have been meeting together after work.

The example here along with Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and the fact that Christians are not commanded anywhere in the Bible concerning a particular day they must worship lead us to the conclusion that there can be a lot of variation about when the church gathers together for worship. Let me quickly add that while the day and time can be variable, the Biblical command is that we are to meet together. Heb. 10:23-25 tells us “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”

The church at Troas was meeting and Paul was still speaking at midnight. Verse 8 continues the story. 8 And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. 9 And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.” 11 And when he had gone [back] up, and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.

Preachers take a lot of comfort in the passage. There are always occasions when someone complains about the length of the message. When they do, we can point to this passage and say that at least we didn’t go on as long as Paul. I should point out though that Paul was not just giving a sermon but also discussing things with them. That would include responding to their ideas and questions. [Verse 9 uses dialegomai / dialegomai from which we get our word “dialogue”]. In addition, every preacher has seen people fall asleep during their message, especially when it is warm in the room, but this is the only case I am aware of in which doing so resulted in someone’s death. [Luke, a physician, specifically states they picked Eutychus up dead]. But then again, since Paul was able to raise him from the dead it was not so serious. In fact, all it did was delay the rest of the discussion for awhile. It appears that this is when they had communion. [vs. 11, broke the bread]. The practice seems to have been they would eat a meal together, then someone would speak, which Paul did here for a long time, then celebrate communion. Following the death and resurrection of Eutychus it would have been an appropriate time to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus which made that possible. Then Paul continued to talk with them until dawn (omilew / homileô). They then left greatly comforted that Eutychus, a boy, [paiV / pais – 12 or younger cf. Lk 2:42] was alive.

That says a lot about these disciples in Troas. They were serious about wanting to know more about God, the gospel and the Christian life. They were willing to make whatever personal sacrifices were necessary in order to meet together and in this case also take full advantage of having Paul with them. That is something to keep in mind when those times arise that it is not convenient for you to meet with the rest of the church. Perhaps your tired, or there are some projects you need to get done, or there is some other activity you would rather do. The church meets together because we are commanded to do so and we need each other. Don’t neglect the assembling of the saints because it is not convenient for you. That is quite detrimental to your spiritual health.

Ministry on the Journey Back to Caesarea (20:13-21:16)

From Troas to Miletus (20:13-16)

With the coming of dawn Paul and those traveling with him made their way to the port. 13 But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for thus he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus in order that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

(Map) Paul desired to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, so they travel quickly down the coast and bypassed Ephesus because Paul knew it would be hard to keep any visit there short. He landed south of Ephesus in Miletus and sent for the Ephesian elders. Next week we will look at the encouragement and warnings that he gave to these church leaders.

Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of the names of the many different places Paul visits. 2) Talk with your parents what it is like for missionaries when they are doing a lot of traveling from place to place (Jason & Esther Brennan started their most recent trip in Florida and will work their way to Maine and back over a 4 month period).


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What is God’s primary purpose and ministry plan for the church? How long does it take to teach someone to “observe all that [Jesus] commanded”? How are you doing at obeying God’s commands? What was the cause of the uproar in Ephesus in Acts 19? How was it finally calmed down? How did that demonstrate the power of God? What did Paul do in order to “strengthen” the disciples in the places that he went? What strengthens you in living for Christ? How does God use you to strengthen the spiritual lives of others? What is the danger of the trap of trying to find something new to teach? What should you do if you find someone that is teaching new doctrine? What was the balance in Paul’s life of boldness and wisdom? What helped him when to caution his boldness? Many people traveled with Paul for different reasons – Who in your past has been your spiritual mentor? Spend some time thanking God for them? Who is your mentor in the present / who are you being a mentor to at the present time? When did the church in Troas meet? When should believers get together for worship? Why? Is Sunday a “Christian Sabbath”? Why or why not? What is the danger of legalism? What is the danger of licentiousness? What are your thoughts about how long Paul talked and what happened to Eutychus? What do the events of that night tell us about the disciples in Troas? Why didn’t Paul stop in Ephesus?

Sermon Notes – September 3, 2006

Encouraging Churches – Acts 20:1-38



Ministry in Macedonia (vs. 1,2)

The Uproar in Ephesus


Strengthening Churches


Ministry in Greece (vs. 3-5)



Ministry in Troas

When They Met




From Troas to Mysia

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