Acts 20:7-26 by Robert Dean
How do you pick a church? Inspiring music? Friendly folks? Lots of things to do? How about good Bible study? Listen to this lesson to learn that the Apostle Paul puts the emphasis on teaching the Word of God as the purpose of a church. Find out the eight communication words and how they relate to church organization. See how Paul chooses the next steps on his journey without regard for his safety and how our life should be directed at doing what serves God best as we make God's Word our first priority.

The Priorities of the Pastoral Ministry
Acts 20:7-26

This is an interesting passage that we are in. These are Paul's final words to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. Many people go to this passage for different reasons so it is an important passage to examine and evaluate. But a lot of this section is important for understanding the dynamics of the pastoral ministry. Even though the apostle Paul is functioning as an apostle, not a pastor, many of the ways in which an apostle functions were the same.

Remember, in Ephesians 4:10, 11 we are told that God gave … and then there is a list of four distinct gifts given for the purpose of the edification of the church. The first two were temporary gifts that were characteristics of the early church—apostles and prophets. But the second two were evangelists and pastor-teachers. Those gifts all have the same purpose: to equip the saints and do the work of ministry. We get a glimpse here of how the pastoral ministry functions here, both in terms of Paul's own example, which he refers to as he gives these parting words to the elders that he meets with in Miletus and also because the descriptive words that are used throughout this section describing what he is doing as a pastor.

We live in an ecclesiastical environment today that has been around for centuries because of a lot of confusion over the nature and purpose of the church that entered in very early. The function of the pastoral ministry has certainly undergone a lot of changes. There was a recovery of the importance of the Word of God in the Protestant Reformation and for much of the following 400 years afterwards we still saw an emphasis on the teaching ministry of the Word—at least in a number of Protestant denominations. Sadly, since World War II that has been in decline and there has been quite a shift in the way people think about the purpose of a pastor and the purpose of a sermon or Bible class.

It has been noticeable over the past thirty years that people talk about how much they love Bible study. Then they come and sit in a Bible class and if it is any kind of a teaching church they can't run out the door fast enough. Whatever their perception of Bible study is it isn't Bible study; it is something else.

But the emphasis we see in Scripture is on the content of the Word of God as the source of our strength and the source of our growth, and this is a great passage to illustrate this.

Paul sends for the elders of the church to gather and he has a very close heart-to-heart talk with them where he emphasizes their responsibility and warns them of some things that are going to come. He starts off referring to his own ministry as an example of how their ministry should be conducted.

Acts 20:18 NASB "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 …' He references the qualities and characteristics of his own ministry: that he was not there to acquire gain for himself, to become wealthy. In 1 Corinthians chapter nine he makes a point to the Corinthians that even though he had every right to have been financially supported from the ministry he chose not to do that so that he would not be criticized for doing the ministry for financial gain. That was Paul's personal decision on how he would conduct his ministry in Corinth and he did the same thing in Ephesus. He was …  

Acts 20:19 NASB "serving the Lord with all humility …" The word "serving" is douleo, which means to serve as a slave. This emphasizes the fact that he recognizes that he is under bondage to the Lord Jesus Christ to serve as an apostle, and that there would be "tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews." There was much that Paul encountered in opposition, and many people would have just given up and quit but he refused to do so.

Acts 20:20 NASB "how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house." This describes something else about his ministry. He kept back nothing—"did not shrink." This is the word hupostello which just generally characterizes his past behavior. It should be translated, "I did not shrink back."  He didn't hold back. He wasn't timid; he wasn't cowed by the opposition so that he would refrain from conducting his ministry as the Lord had commissioned him. 

"and teaching" – the NKJV has, "proclaimed it to you and taught you publicly from house to house." The word proclaimed is anaggello -- aggello –the verb to proclaim, and the prepositional prefix which intensifies it, which means to report, to announce something, or to recount something. So it is not a dialogue. Some people think that the pastor should have some kind of dialogue with the congregation. There are always those kinds of trends. There may be a place for that in an informal setting but what Paul is emphasizing here is a monologue. He came and publicly announced the gospel. Often this word is related to the gospel and the proclamation of the gospel. The word "taught" is didasko, which emphasizes instruction, training, explanation of the Scripture so that people understand what it means to apply it in their lives.

He does this in two environments, one is public and the other is house to house. So it is not in the sense that he is making house calls in the sense of home visitation, which is common in some denominations. In a lot of these situations perhaps they had a place where they could meet as a corporate body once a week but that was the only time they could all meet together. They would meet in people's homes during the week and conduct different Bible studies with smaller groups.

Acts 20:21 NASB "solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse begins with a participle. This is the verb diamartureomai. It is from the root martureo, which means to testify or to witness in a legal trial, something like that. It has the basic idea of charging people with a responsibility, a task or way of behavior, to adjure them, to bear witness to them, or to legally testify. This participle explains more about how and what he was teaching as he went publicly and from house to house. He is giving his own testimony, explaining how God's grace became apparent in his life. And he is doing this to the Jews and also to the Greeks. The emphasis here is to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. So there was a priority in his ministry in directing it.

Then he explains what he is teaching. It is primarily repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. The word "repentance" is a word that gets a lot of misuse. It is often translated with the idea of remorse, sorrow or sadness. That may or not be part of repentance but the emphasis in the word is a changing of the mind. It is made up of the preposition meta plus the noun noia, which comes from the root nous, the word for mind in Greek. So it has to do with changing the mind—to change one's mind or to think differently about things. And so the emphasis is not on emotion. It is not like metamelomai, which is another Greek word used in some passages that emphasizes sorrow. metanoia emphasizes thought. It emphasizes a changing of their mind toward God as they come to understand who God is and understand the righteousness of God. So there is a change in their thinking about God and as a result they have faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the object of our faith.

Faith is non-meritorious; there is nothing about faith that has merit. In Calvinistic schemes faith has merit; faith is a gift of God. In many forms of Calvinism they will say that God gives the elect saving faith. The assumption there is that there is a distinction between the kind of faith that we exercise every day and the kind of faith that saves. This way they make faith causative, the kind of faith that is causative for salvation. The best argument against that is Ephesians 2:8, 9 – we are saved through faith, not because of faith. The emphasis isn't on the kind of faith that we have but the object of faith. It is through faith, and that faith is directed toward Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Jesus Christ is the one who has merit; it is not us. It is not because God has given us faith.

This is also a problem when we discuss concepts like election. With Calvinists, their understanding of election is that God chooses us because of our faith. They see faith as meritorious. So they can't help but translate that into their way of thinking in terms of the fact that if we believe that God takes into account His foreknowledge in determining election, they see that as making faith causative of salvation. That is how they view faith.

If faith is seen as non-meritorious then we are free to understand how God's omniscience and foreknowledge works together with His choice of who is saved. He elects those who will believe in Jesus Christ as their savior.

In verses 20 and 21 we see three key words: proclaim, taught, and testified. These describe the instructional methodology of an apostle and a pastor. The content is related to the gospel: changing their mind toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.

Acts 20:22 NASB "And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me."

He says he goes bound. This is the Greek word poreuomai that has the idea of preceding or travelling. We could even translate this: "See, now I travel." He says, "by the Spirit." This is the word deo, a perfect passive participle. That means that as a participle it is modifying the verb to go. It explains something about how he is going, the manner in which he is going, or the means by which he is going. The perfect tense means completed action, so he is talking about something that he has already been bound to by the Spirit. This is a past action and he is talking about the current results: he is travelling to Jerusalem. He is bound in the Spirit.

The NKJV translates it with a lower case s—spirit. It should be an upper case S. It doesn't have the preposition en with it, but just the dative case itself can indicate instrumentality. He is talking about the fact that he has already been bound by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. We look at this in comparison with Acts 19:21, "Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit [by means of the Spirit] to go to Jerusalem …" What these two verses tell us is that Paul's decision to go to Jerusalem is done by means of the Holy Spirit—under the leadership of God the Holy Spirit.

We are emphasizing this because we are building forward into the next couple of chapters when some of these prophecies get a little more direct toward the apostle Paul, and because of one particular prophecy that comes up in the next chapter which sounds like the Holy Spirit is telling him not to go. We have to be able to correlate these passages. Here we have several passage that are very clear that Paul is being directed and led by God the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. There are some who thought that Paul was in carnality and out of fellowship when he went to Jerusalem, but that can't be validated in light of the clear statements we have in Acts 19:21; 20:22. But the Holy Spirit is warning him that he is going to face opposition, but that doesn't stop Paul. Just because we face opposition and things are going to get difficult doesn't mean that we should give up or that we are not doing God's will. Doing God's will and doing the right thing many times isn't easy.

Paul has purposed or determined by means of the Spirit. That means he has thought this through under the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit and His guidance. I believe the apostles had more direct guidance apart from the Scripture than we do. Our guidance is through the Scripture; their guidance was direct because they did not have a completed canon of Scripture yet and they were being directly led by the Spirit in a way that was unique to the apostles.    

Acts 20:23 NASB "except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me." Every time he goes to a different location there is somebody with the gift of prophecy in the congregation (the gift of prophecy was still valid at that time, but only during the apostolic period) and they were warning Paul through the Holy Spirit of what he was going to face when he went to Jerusalem. It was not going to be easy.

Paul's response is then given.

Acts 20:24 NASB "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself …" He has the right priority. " … so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God."

WE see here a mentality that we need to adopt. We need to understand that our life is not our own; our life is Christ. Galatians 2:20 NASB "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the {life} which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." Our life is to serve him. Paul recognizes that whatever negative things happen in our life, whatever opposition we may face in our stand for the truth or stand for the gospel, that is well worth it because we are serving the Lord Jesus in what we are doing. Te focus needs to be on the end game, and we need to think in terms of the principles that is set up in Hebrews 12:1, 2 in terms of our occupation with Christ: "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross …" So we need to have our focus on that end game of joy and our eternal destiny, serving the Lord, and our future inheritance that we will receive at the judgment seat of Christ. Fixing our hope on that enables us to face and surmount whatever challenges and difficulties we may face in this life.

Basically, if we are going to imitate this attitude the first thing we have to do is make our spiritual life our priority. It is not something that is just optional. Learning the Scriptures, assimilating the Scriptures, learning to think like the Bible says isn't just something that is what we do. Our meaning in life comes from the Lord and we have to decide whether we are really going to serve the Lord or not. The most important question we can answer is: is our life going to count for eternity or are we going to live out our life simply to serve our own good pleasure and our own desires? If we are going to make the spiritual life our priority then we have to get into the Word of God and the Word of God has to get into us. And that only happens when we make it a priority to be in Bible class, listen during the week (we can't all be here every night)—we have all kinds of tremendous media today where we can listen to the Word again and again and again. When we go into eternity the only thing we carry over is what we have assimilated from the Word of God during our time here on earth.

We have to get the Word of God into our life, and that involves the fact that we have to focus on how we live and how we think. We have to stop, think, focus and train ourselves, and retrain ourselves over and over again because our default position is always to go toward the sin nature, and always go toward self-absorption, self-indulgence, self-justification, and to let arrogance rule in our souls. So we need to constantly discipline our thinking to focus on the reality of life and not just go along and go with the flow. Paul demonstrates that attitude for us that we need to put into the ministry that God has given us—every one of us has been given a spiritual gift (at least one).  

Paul goes on to say some more things about his own ministry.    

Acts 20:25 NASB "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face." Again we see this emphasis on the kingdom of God. He is wrapping things up; he knows that he won't see them again. [26] "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men." He has made this kind of statement before, and what he means is that he has been faithful in proclaiming the Word so that the issue is clear, and he is innocent in the sense that he has made things clear and if somebody doesn't respond, of they don't have eternal life, it is not because he has failed in his mission.

Acts 20:27 NASB "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." Three words he has used. He is preaching the kingdom of God, he is "testifying" [martureo], and "declare" the whole counsel of God. These are different words to talk about the communication ministry of an apostle and a pastor. It is a communication ministry to teach the Word.


1.      We have the word "teach" used nineteen times in Acts. This is the word didasko, meaning to teach, to instruct, to explain to people what the Word of God means, and to do it in a clear enough way that they can see under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit how it can apply in their lives.

2.      The second word he uses is encourage. The Greek word is parakaleo which has the idea of encouraging people, strengthening them, urging them to a particular course of action. It can be translated exhorting or challenging to a particular course of action.

3.      The word proclaim. This translates the word katangello which means to announce, to declare something. It is similar to the word kerusso where something is announced. It is not necessarily gone into in detail or explained. There is no question answered, there is no debate, it is just the announcement or explanation of a declaration.

4.      This is what a pastor does. He instructs. His instruction is also designed to challenge and encourage people to go forward in their spiritual life. It is to proclaim the truth of God's Word, to proclaim the gospel, and to announce or report on what God has done in Jesus Christ in His gracious provision of salvation.

5.      Another word that is used is the word proclaim or preach, which often translates euaggelizo which means to evangelize, to proclaim the good news of the gospel. Often when the word "preach" is seen in Acts it is not kerusso, which is just the proclamation aspect, it is the deliverance of good news.

6.      "Strengthen" people. This is episterizo which means to strengthen, to support. This is done through the Word of God that gives the stamina, the perseverance and endurance to hang in there when going through difficult times. 

7.      "Preach" is kerusso, which has the idea of just to proclaim or to preach. Preaching in the Bible has to do not so much with an oral style. We hear a lot today that preaching is different from teaching, that it is a certain rhetorical style, a certain homiletical approach—a structure where you have three or four points, tell a couple of stories and have a conclusion. That is not what the Bible means by preaching. What the Bible means by preaching is to simply proclaim the truth, make a proclamation, an announcement. And often it is related to the gospel message as opposed to teaching, which would be the instruction and explanation of what a passage of Scripture means. They are not contradictory. It is not preaching or teaching; often they would go together.  

8.      "Warning" – noutheteo, from the root nous which refers to the mind, and it means to challenge the mind, admonish the people, to warn and advise people. 

These are words that are used to describe what a pastor is supposed to do. He is supposed to warn people, instruct them challenge them; all of this through his teaching of the Word of God.

1 Corinthians 1:23 NASB "but we preach [kerusso] Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." 

2 Timothy 4:2 NASB "preach the word; be ready in season {and} out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction."

The role of the pastor-teacher is not administrator, not the CEO of the congregation; he is the spiritual leader, teacher and trainer for the congregation.

In Acts 20:27 Paul says, NASB "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose [counsel] of God." The word declare is anangello, which means to announce or proclaim. But the word counsel is the word boule, which many times has the idea of will—will of God. It also has the idea of the counsel of God in the sense that this is the way of describing the entirety of Scripture. The role of the pastor is to teach the whole counsel of God. We are to teach the whole counsel of God. Not just salvation, not just the spiritual life, not just a different way of teaching the gospel every Sunday, but the whole counsel of God. We are supposed to address every issue in life that the Word of God addresses, which is every realm of our thinking. Sometimes this touches on economics, sometimes on politics, sometimes on law, ethics, and sometimes things that are considered more spiritual like prayer, salvation and different things of that nature. But we are to teach everything that the Word of God touches on so that we can learn to think about everything in life the way that God has revealed to us so that we can think about His creation the way He designed it.

A warning.

Acts 20:28 NASB "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."

Before we get into that verse we want to look at church leadership and the terms that are used for church leadership. Earlier we looked at the word presbuteros, referring to these men that were meeting with him, that that is a term for elders. Some denominations—Presbyterian for the most part, but many Bible churches—have adopted a Presbyterian form of government where they have two boards. One board is referred to as the elder board or the session, and the other board would be the board of deacons. The board of deacons would relate to more mundane tasks in the congregation whereas the elders would be concerned about spiritual leadership in the congregation. In some of the ways in which these "elder" governments are set up it is as if they are all equal they won't make a decision unless it is unanimous. There was one church that had a similar setup and it led to a tremendous split in that church and it caused tremendous spiritual harm to people.

How this functions is not described in Scripture. That there are two categories of leaders, one that focuses on the spiritual and one on administration, is clear. But God doesn't tell us how exactly that is supposed to work. And it functions differently in different cultures. How a nineteenth century church organized itself is different from a twentieth century or an eleventh century church. It depends on the culture as to how it is expressed.

In Acts 20:28 there are two words "overseers" who "shepherd" the church of God. In some translations the word overseer is translated as bishop [episkopos]. The elders here are overseers. Remember Paul called the elders to Miletus, and now he says that the Holy Spirit made them overseers. An elder is an overseer. We will see that these words are used interchangeably in other passages. That word emphasizes the leadership and the oversight role of the pastor. The word episkopos emphasizes his responsibility of oversight of the congregation.

The second word is not the noun pastor, it is the verb poimaino, which means to feed or to shepherd, and it emphasizes the very function of the elder or bishop which is to feed the sheep spiritually. So these three words are used: episkopos emphasizes the leadership, oversight role; presbuteros emphasizes the maturity aspect of the pastor-teacher, that he needs to have a measure of spiritual maturity so that he can lead and guide the congregation; poimaino emphasizes his primary function which is to feed the sheep.

Philippians 1:1 NASB "Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons". Here are two offices, the bishops and the deacons.

1 Timothy 3:2 NASB "An overseer [episkopos], then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach."

Titus 1:7 NASB "For the overseer [episkopos] must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain."

One other place the word is used is 1 Peter 2:25 where it is linked to the noun for shepherd. NASB "For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." It ties the shepherd aspect to the oversight aspect. These are connected; they are not two separate things. One looks at the function, one looks at a responsibility for oversight.

The word elder is also used in 1 Timothy for the same group as described earlier 1 Timothy 3:1 by the word episkopos. Later we have the discussion of elders. 1 Timothy 5:17 NASB "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching."

1 Timothy 5:19 NASB "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses."

Titus 1:5 NASB "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." In verse 7 gives the qualification for a bishop [episkopos] but two verses before Paul says to appoint elders. Now here are the qualifications of the bishops. He uses the terms interchangeably; they are synonymous. The function of the elder, of the bishop, is to pastor/feed the sheep.

Ephesians 4:11 is one of only about four places where the noun pastor is used in the Scriptures. It is used there in reference to a spiritual gift. The word teacher describes how the pastor functions. The word "pastoring" is a general word that is always defined by the secondary concept of teaching. How do you pastor? By teaching.

Hebrews 13:20 NASB "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, {even} Jesus our Lord." This refers to the Lord Jesus Christ as a shepherd there, and in 1 Peter 2:25. So the word pastor as a reference to the leader of the church we really don't find in Scripture. Usually it is the verb to shepherd or to pastor that we find in Scripture.

After the resurrection Peter and the other disciples had gone back to fishing. Jesus appears on the shore and they can't really tell who it is.     

John 21:15 NASB "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, "Tend [bosko] My lambs."

Jesus is basic saying to Peter, "If you love me, feed my lambs." What did Jesus say earlier in the upper room? "If you love me you will keep my commandments." So this has to be understood in terms of that broader command. Pastor, if you love Jesus, you feed my sheep. That is the primary directive for a pastor.

John 21:16 NASB "He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Shepherd My sheep.'" Here it is the verb poimaino—to shepherd, to feed a sheep.

John 21:17 NASB "He said to him the third time, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend [bosko] My sheep.'"

That is the role of the pastor. He is to feed the sheep. Again and again and again we see that is the prime directive given the elder, bishop, pastor is to feed the sheep, to give them the teaching of God's Word.

1 Peter 5:2 NASB "shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight [episkopos] not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to {the will of} God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness."

What does the shepherd do? The shepherd leads the congregation. He is the one to whom God has given the vision for that congregation. That doesn't mean that he doesn't listen to anybody else, that he doesn't take advice and guidance from deacons and other mature leaders in the congregation. But the pastor is the leader, the one who sets the agenda, the priorities for the congregation, and he should lead not only in word but also in his life.