Acts 20:7-19 by Robert Dean
Ever wonder what's the worst thing that can happen to you if you fall asleep in church? Listen to this message to learn about a young man who not only fell asleep but sailed out of a third floor window with disastrous results. Brush up on your knowledge of the history of denominations. Discover the different words used to describe local church leadership and about some of the troubles the Apostle Paul faced as he traveled around with others ministering to the churches.

The Drowsy Disciple and the Peripatetic Presbyters
Acts 20:7-19

It was Paul's desire to be in Jerusalem by the time of Pentecost, which comes 50 days after Passover. He stops two times that Luke tells us about along the way in order to encourage, teach and strengthen the disciples. What we see in this chapter is an example of Paul's pastoral ministry. A pastor doesn't do anything different from an apostle other than that an apostle was a limited gift to the first century to those who were directly commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ and had been witnesses of the resurrection. And apostles had an authority over all the churches, whereas a pastor has authority over a local church. But in terms of their function they did much of the same thing, which we will see in this chapter is defined by at least six different verbs—one more that is used also in Acts that we will look at—which give us an understanding of how the Bible views the pastoral ministry.

We have a lot of different churches and a lot of different backgrounds today, and a lot of different cultures represented by different traditions. All of these different groups have different views on pastoral ministry. Some of them are churches that have an emphasis on high-church liturgy and are much more formal—which is why they are called high-church. Low-church is more informal, it doesn't have a lot of liturgy, formal dress, robes, clerical garments, things of that nature. There is also another type of church that is based on more of an ecclesiastical polity or the way in which they organize themselves, called an episcopal form of government. That is not to be confused with the Episcopal denomination. The Episcopal denomination has an episcopal form of government but they got that because they were the American version of the Anglican church. The Anglican Church has as its head the king or queen of England. In an Episcopal there are various hierarchies beyond the government of the local church. Even within the various denominations there are some distinctions. 

In the United States within the Presbyterian Church there was always an emphasis on having an educated clergy. It is appalling today to see what goes on in evangelicalism because it no longer appreciates the value of education. What made America great were great pulpits, and they were great pulpits because the men in the pulpits were highly educated. Even the Methodist circuit riders in the 19th century who were going out through the west, travelling from one small settlement to another, had a Greek New Testament and many times a Hebrew Old Testament in their saddlebags. And they could read them and preach from them. And there were men in the congregations who were educated and cite read Latin and Greek and Hebrew. So pastors were educated and were communicating to an educated congregation. Today we think we are so smart because we can use a computer to answer anything. But in those days they had a computer to answer everything—it was between their ears. They had a high level of education and a value for education.      

A congregation cannot grow beyond the level of the teaching that they get. If you send your kids to school and they finish the curriculum and pass the curriculum in the second grade you don't continue to teach them at a second grade level because they will never advance beyond the second grade. They need to constantly be exposed to more advanced information so that they can grow and mature and increase in their knowledge and understanding. The same is true for a congregation.

Anybody who is going to advance in any field, whether it is a hobby or in the spiritual life, has to have someone who is pushing them in a certain direction in order to grow. There has to be some motivation and somebody who knows a whole lot more to help spur them on so that they can learn and grow and advance in whatever that field of knowledge is.

And that is the role of the pastor. The pastor's role, as we see in this chapter, is not to hold hands or give a big hug. That is not going to get us through the hard times. When you're home at night facing difficulty, stress, and challenges in your life and you close your eyes to sleep, what gets you through that is not the choruses that you sing at church or the warm fuzzies that everybody gives you at church. What gets you through that are the promises of God and the doctrines in your soul. And the way we learn that is through the communication of God's Word, which is what we see in this particular passage in Acts. It is a recognition that these things to do necessarily come easily or quickly.

It is very disconcerting today to hear comments from educators. We hear these little throw-away lines that they are trying to teach some group. Comment heard on radio: "Sadly, we have a younger generation today that if it is not a fifteen or twenty or thirty-second clip they won't listen beyond sixty seconds." This is true. It is not that the younger generation doesn't read, but they don't read books. They go on the Internet and read these short, quick things here and there but they don't pick up a 6-700-page book and work their way through it. But that is how we learn. That's how we grow—having our thinking challenged. That doesn't mean we understand it the first time. When we come to Bible class the depth of the instruction may be three feet over our head, but if we persevere and stay with it then the second year we come the depth may be only two feet over our head and the third only a foot over our head. But all of a sudden we realize we are learning things and it is making a difference, having an impact on our life. Tat's how we learn and how we grow.     

As Paul comes to Troas he begins to teach this congregation.

Acts 20:7 NASB "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul {began} talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight."

In the early church when they celebrated the Lord's Table they would have an entire meal together and at the conclusion of the meal they would have the Lord's Table. This grew out of the Passover, the meal that our Lord observed with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. It was a full meal. It was elements of that meal that were given new meaning and became part of the two elements that we observe in the Lord's Table. They would celebrate weekly. Some groups celebrate weekly, some monthly, some quarterly. All Scripture says is that we are to do it regularly and that as often as we do it we are to remember the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul taught until midnight. So if they came together and had dinner about 7.30 or 8 o'clock at night they would finish that about 9 o'clock and follow that up with a three-hour message. That just seems pretty tough for a lot of Americans because we are just pansies now. We don't have the mental acumen to hang in there. There are pastors who go to Pakistan, India and places in Africa, and they teach for less than two or three hours to people who have travelled for two or three days just to get there. They don't want the teaching to stop after two or three hours. They have their priorities right.      

Acts 20:8 NASB "There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together." This is an interesting observation. What happens when there are a lot of small oil lamps burning for light in a closed environment? It burns up the oxygen. And that seems to be the scriptural explanation for what happens in the next verse.

Acts 20:9 NASB "And there was a 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] When he had gone {back} up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. [12] They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted."

Many people go to this passage to indicate that this is how the early church was already meeting on Sunday's in their worship service. There are a couple of different views and it is important to understand this. It says, "On the first day of the week." From a Jewish calendar perspective the first day of the week is Sunday. But when does the first day of the week begin? It begins on Saturday night, according to our calendar, because the Jewish day runs from sundown to sundown. So the Sabbath (Saturday) ends at about 7 o'clock in the evening on Saturday. So the first day of the week begins at sundown on what we call Saturday. For us Sunday doesn't begin until midnight. So there are those who say this is not a justification for a Sunday morning church service.

There are two thing we need to focus on there. Is this a justification for Sunday service? I think so, but it is not a justification for a Sunday morning service because it is taking place at night. I think also that this has a special occasion related to it because Paul is leaving the next day. It says that they came together on the first day of the week, which would indicate probably at night, and Paul is going to leave the next day. This suggests a Roman approach to the calendar because if Sunday begins Saturday evening then the next day is still Sunday; it is not really the next day. If Luke is writing from a Roman perspective then Saturday night would be Saturday night, and they wouldn't be meeting on the first day, would they? It gets a little confusing. I think the way to solve that is "the next day" is just an idiom for the next daylight period, which comes after nightfall.

But in other places Luke has used a Roman chronology. For example, Acts 3:1 NASB "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth {hour,} the hour of prayer." This is nine o'clock in the morning, not three o'clock in the afternoon or three o'clock in the morning. Luke seems to use a Roman way of accounting days, so this really isn't an argument for meeting on Saturday night. They don't meet in the morning. Why? Christianity hasn't changed the culture yet. They don't have a two-day weekend. They are working on Sunday, so they can't meet in the morning because they all have jobs.

So I think that what we see here is a meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday. The next day is going to be Monday when Paul is going to leave. But they are not meeting in the morning, they meet in the evening because they have their jobs and have to work. Unions had not managed to get the forty-hour-work week yet!

In a pattern similar to Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament where each had a case where there was a dead young man, and they laid down on top of them and prayed to God that He would restore life to the individual, Paul goes down and fell on him and embraces him and says that life is in him. At this point there is a resuscitation (not a resurrection) where he was truly dead and God restores life. This is a miracle, which attests to the credentials of Paul as an apostle. 

Then Paul is going to leave the next day, and this is where we get into another bit of a travelogue as Luke identifies where they go. This may seem a little boring to us. This data is in there in order to show what was going on.

Acts 20:13 NASB "But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so 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." What we notice here is the first person plural by the author. All of a sudden we are shifting to a "we" and an "us", indicating that Luke has rejoined the team and is travelling with them. Paul's entourage, these seven or eight men that are accompanying him, get on the ship but not Paul. Luke doesn't tell us why. Apparently it is a fairly rugged journey to go across the land to Assos from Troas but Paul takes this difficult route. The mode of travel in the ancient world was walking.

Acts 20:15 NASB "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." Chios was the birthplace of Homer and Samos was the birthplace of Pythagorus. [16] "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." Paul knows he is going to be there for three or four days while cargo is being offloaded and reloaded and so he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. It took a day for them to go to Ephesus in order to gather people together and a day to come back, and they had to walk there.

And elder is a presbuteros, and since they had to walk [peripateo]—the reason for calling this the peripatetic presbyters. This is where we get into a little more of what is called by theologians "ecclesiology", the study of the church. This is an important passage for understanding some things about the leadership in a local church. The local church is the church at Ephesus. At Ephesus there is probably one large church that met with one primary pastor or leader, but they also met in homes and broke up into smaller groups. Various New Testament men pastored that church at different times. No congregation is dependent upon only one man. Paul taut them for two and a half years, then went on. Later on Timothy became the pastor in Ephesus, and even later John the apostle became leader of that church and he became known as John the elder. He was in his eighties at the time he became the pastor of this congregation in Ephesus. So here was a congregation that over the period of thirty or forty years had at least three different pastors.

They came together under the leadership of these men, and there were others in the congregation who had the gift of pastor-teacher who were also indicated as elders. It is important to get into the terminology here. The term presbuteros is one of three terms that is used to describe leadership of a local church, a local congregation. It primarily emphasizes the idea of being older, and from there we get the idea of being mature. It is the same term used to describe leaders in a Jewish synagogue and leaders in cities. Usually they were over fifty. That doesn't mean that an elder of pastor in the New Testament was someone who should be over fifty but that was how they viewed someone who was an elder in terms of a synagogue or of city government. So this term presbuteros is where we get our words presbytery and Presbyterian.

The Presbyterian denomination has a view of church government somewhat similar to the Episcopal hierarchy form of government but it is not quite the same. The local church is ruled by a group of men called elders. Not all of them are teaching elders. One of them would be a teaching elder but they are viewed as having equal leadership, equal authority for that congregation—a sort of team leadership concept. Many times is found the concept of elder rule where they have little emphasis on congregation input or congregational vote. That is not always true. These things vary from group to group. But beyond that in the Presbyterian government there is a group above that called the synod, which is a collection of leaders, the elders from several different congregations. So they don't emphasize the autonomy and independence of a local church, it is tied to a synod.

There is another form of Presbyterian government that doesn't have a hierarchy beyond the local church, and that became known in England as a Congregational form. They believed everything else the same but the Congregational churches did not have any allegiance to any organization beyond that of the local church and congregation.

But what we see here in the Scriptures is that the term presbuteros is used as a synonym for the word episkopos which is the word for a bishop or overseer.

Acts 20:28 NASB "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episkopoi], to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." The elders are also seen as overseers or bishops here, so these words are used interchangeably and synonymously. 1 Timothy 3:1 describes the qualifications for bishops. Then there is a parallel passage in Titus 1:5 which has a list of similar qualifications. Paul tells Titus to appoint elders in every city and then two verses later he identifies those elders as bishops. In this passage in Acts 20:28 there is a third term used, "to shepherd." That is the verb poimaino, and the noun form of that is where we get the word "pastor".  So the elder, the overseer (same person) – what is their function? Their function is to pastor. They have the gift of pastor-teacher.  

The pastoring imagery comes out of shepherding term. The role of the shepherd was to lead the flock to see that they were properly fed and to protect them from enemies. The leader of a congregation, whether he is called an elder a bishop an overseer or a pastor, has a responsibility to feed the congregation with the Word of God and to protect them from false doctrine, false teaching, those who would take advantage of them, and he is the leader. The primary imagery of a pastor is a leader. All of these are leadership roles. That is the function of a pastor, and the pastor leads through teaching. 

Paul also refers to himself as a servant or slave of God. Acts 20:17 NASB "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. [18] And when they had come to him, he said to them,   'You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time [19] serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews'…"

Part of the way he established his credentials was his own personal lifestyle. He wasn't there to laud his authority over the congregation. He was concerned for their welfare and their spiritual growth. He was there to serve the Lord with all humility. The word for serving the Lord is the Greek word douleo, which is the word describing the function of a slave, not just a servant. A servant takes a position voluntarily. Paul recognizes that once we trust in Christ we become a slave of righteousness (Romans 6), and so he is there completely under the authority and direction of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

We just get a hint of what Paul went through in some of the episodes we have studied in Scripture, but he enumerates them in 2 Corinthians 6 and 11.

2 Corinthians 6:4, 5 NASB "but in everything commending ourselves as servants [diakonos] of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger."

Chapter eleven expands on that a little.

2 Corinthians 11:23 NASB "Are they [false teachers] servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. [24] Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine {lashes.} [25] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. [26 {I have been} on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from {my} countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; [27] {I have been} in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] Apart from {such} external things, there is the daily pressure on me {of} concern for all the churches."

He is clearly going through trials, and much of it instigated by the plots of the Jews.

We will also summarize all the different verbs Paul uses describing the pastoral ministry—teaching, encouraging, proclaiming. This helps us understand what the role and function of a pastor is, and it is often much different from the cultural or denominational expectations that are put upon many pastors today so that they cannot fulfil the kind of ministry that God desires them to have because they are too busy pleasing people with wrong-headed ideas of what a pastor is supposed to do.