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Acts 20:1-6 by Robert Dean
You think you have problems? How about having a hit man hired to do away with you? Listen to this lesson to learn some of the troubles the Apostle Paul faced as he spread the gospel message on his third missionary journey. Find out how Paul instructed the churches to take up offerings for the poor and how these gifts differ from socialism. See the Biblical guidelines for Christian giving and how tithes were a form of income tax under the Mosaic Law. Find out if we should give a certain percentage of our income and discover the importance of having a consistent pattern of giving in our own spiritual life.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 50 secs

Follow-up; Giving
Acts 20:1-6

We start a new chapter and a new movement because Paul, as we have seen, has been on his third missionary journey but now he is leaving Ephesus. He has been there for a little over two years and is going to leave and retrace the steps that he took on the second missionary journey—going to Troas, crossing over to Philippi and Thessalonica, and spending some time in Macedonia and then moving south. And a lot of the first part of chapter twenty reads sort of like a travelogue, so of course it is going to be important to have a map in front of us (This is why they put maps in the backs of the Bibles).

The follow-up is that Paul is retracing his steps to the churches he has established. All through this chapter we see more of a glimpse of Paul's history as a pastor, as a guide, and a leader in these churches that he has established. Then there is something that is not brought out within the text but if we want to understand where he is going and what is going on, when we look at related passages in the epistles, especially 2 Corinthians and Romans which are written during this part of his third missionary journey, we see something related to the doctrine of giving that is important and needs to be emphasized every now and then. Whenever we look at the scriptural teaching on giving it is a little bit of a jolt, I think, to some people but it is something we need to pay attention to as part of our spiritual life.

Paul is going to leave Ephesus and head north to Troas and then head across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. Then on his return he will come back to Troas and Miletus. That is where he has a meeting with the elders at Ephesus.    

Acts 20:1 NASB "After the uproar had ceased …" So this places us in time at the end of the riot which occurred in Ephesus. As the gospel was taught it challenged their belief system, and as they turned to God and believed in Christ the result of that was that the people were no longer spending their money on all of the little magical charms and depictions of various gods and goddesses that were being manufactured by the silversmiths and it was hurting their livelihood. As has been pointed out, when people operate on biblical principles of finance, biblical principles emphasizing responsibility in how you handle money, not living on a debt system, then it impacts on how they personally handle their money. And it also impacts how groups of Christians who have been well taught biblically are going to emphasize managing their money well, their investments well, not living on debt, not spending frivolously. There are going to be families that save and build for the future. But when you see a country going more into paganism where people are more self-absorbed and there is a greater emphasis on satisfying whatever their wants and desires are right now, what happens is they spend frivolously and don't save for the future. They go into debt and live on borrowed money all the time and the end result eventually is that it brings about a collapse of the culture. And we are living in the midst of that.

We have all these things that are going on in Washington related to the debt crisis and to just funding the government and getting a budget, and it is just absurd. And we have seen this for forty or fifty years where government leaders seem to have this complete disjunction between how they handle large sums of money and how they handle their personal finances. No individual in Washington lives and spends their money the way they spend taxpayers' money. But the more we get into a pagan, self-absorbed, Me-oriented culture the more it impacts how we handle finances.

What we see in a microcosm in Ephesus is just how Christianity impacts how people handle their money.

"… Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia." What he means by the disciples here are the believers who are in Ephesus. These are the ones who are the learners. The word for disciple in the Greek is mathetes. The verb is not used in Acts here and it is one of the few times after the Gospels that the term "disciple" is used. It refers to those who are going somewhere in the Christian life. They are learners, they are studying the Word; the word disciple is not a synonym and never has been for a believer. Some people get into that error in the Gospels and before long you begin to realize that they have a works oriented salvation. Because as Jesus talks about the things a disciple should do, if you have to do something in order to be a Christian, in order to be saved, then you have a works salvation. This is typical of a variety of theological systems but most notably we see it in Reformed theology and in lordship salvation.

So he calls the disciples together. These would be the believers who have a more positive attitude, those who are growing, those who have demonstrated a desire to know the Word and to live it in their lives. Then he departs to go to Macedonia. We see that his ultimate objective is to go to Macedonia but how he gets there is not specifically stated in the passage. In fact, in these three verses we see more of a summary. We have to look at some of the things that are in the epistles to understand what was going on at this point in Paul's life. Luke gives us just a very brief travelogue.

Acts 20:2 NASB "When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece." At that time Greece was restricted to the southern area, the area of Achaia. All Luke is telling us in a very short manner is that he goes to that region which is Macedonia.

Acts 20:3 And {there} he spent three months …" That would be in Corinth. " … and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia." He is down in Corinth and then he is determined to go back to Jerusalem because he has purposed this by means of the Spirit. This is using the same phrase that we find in a number of places that reference some sort of specific divine guidance. In Acts chapter nineteen Paul specifically stated that this was done en to pneumati, in or by means of God the Holy Spirit (19:21). So he was getting specific divine guidance to go where? To go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia. So God the Holy Spirit is directing him to go to Macedonia and then to Achaia before he goes to Jerusalem and before he goes to Rome—the same terminology. Using the article before the noun pneuma for "Spirit" is unusual, and where it is found mostly in the Gospels and in Acts it is related to some sort of specific divine guidance. Sometimes the article is dropped off and it still has the idea of something more than the filling of the Spirit, it has to do with prophetic guidance. So again, Paul is making this determination under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit.

Paul heads north from Ephesus to Troas where he is planning to join Titus. There is no mention of Titus in Acts here. He plans to have Titus accompany him to Macedonia. Titus is coming with news from Corinth and Paul gets tired of waiting for Titus in Troas and so he leaves and goes on to Philippi in Macedonia where he will connect with Titus. The verses for Titus are in 2 Corinthians 12:12, 23. It is at that time when he meets up with Titus that he writes 2 Corinthians.  2 Corinthians 2:12 NASB "Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord …" By that he means he has had an opportunity to reach the Word and to proclaim the gospel in Troas. [13] "I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia." He is restless, he is impatient, his target is Macedonia, and Titus has not appeared. So Paul is there about a week in Troas and then he leaves. He goes on from there to Philippi where he finally connects with Titus.

2 Corinthians 7:5, 6 NASB "For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus." Luke doesn't go into all the details of the opposition and the persecution that Paul faced during this time. But Paul faced an increasing amount of opposition and persecution, part of which is described in 2 Corinthians. It was a time when they had little rest, he was physically tired and facing a tremendous amount of opposition—"conflicts without, fears within." Fears within doesn't mean that he was necessarily out of fellowship, it is that when we face certain circumstances there are anxieties, emotional reactions that take place in the area of fear or worry or anxiety. The issue at that point is how we are going to handle that. Are we going to handle that by using some of the ten problem-solving devices (the ten stress-busters)? Are we going to use the faith-rest drill or doctrinal orientation? Are we going to trust in God to solve the problems? Or are we going to give in to the anxiety or the fear that has arisen because of the external circumstances?

Paul is talking about the fact that on the outside he is facing adversity. (Adversity is what we face on the outside. On the inside is when we respond negatively or wrongly to the outside adversity. Then we experience stress.) His conclusion is, "But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus." What he means by "us" here is that there are more people with him than just himself. He is travelling at this time with at least Luke because in the narrative in Acts 20 when he gets to Macedonia he picks up Luke. The last time we saw Luke with him was when he left Philippi, and apparently Luke stayed behind in Philippi to pastor and lead that congregation.

This has been several years since his second missionary journey when he established churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, and now through these areas and beyond other churches are established. There are groups of believers now scattered throughout Macedonia. Paul takes his time to travel throughout Macedonia. The indication is from 2 Timothy that he has gone as far as Illyricum which is in the areas of Serbia, Bosnia, the former areas of Yugoslavia on the coast of the Adriatic. He does that until winter approaches, and as it does in the winter of 56-57 AD he has to head south down to Corinth because it is too cold to stay up in the area of Macedonia. There he is going to minister for three months … "and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia."

What we learn from this is that the typical port that you would depart from in Corinth to go to Syria is at Cenchreae. It was here that he would have departed, but they get word that the Jewish opposition has hired a hit squad to kill Paul. So Paul decides to leave the group and to head north.      

Acts 20:4 NASB "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." So he has a group of Gentiles (there may have been one or two Jews) and they are from different churches in different areas that he has planted. They took a ship and head back to Troas whereas he takes off on his own, accompanied by Luke.   

Acts 20:5 NASB "But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas." The "us" indicates that Luke, the writer, has joined up with Paul. The two of them take the land route and the others take a ship back to Troas. 

Acts 20:6 NASB "We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread …" Another name for Passover. So they celebrate the Passover. "… and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days." So they observe the Jewish holy days in Philippi with the believers that are there. This is another indication of the transitional nature of Acts. This is not something that most believers would do today. Most Christians would have no idea what the Jewish calendar was. But this was part of their culture. They are not putting themselves under the Law, this is their ethnic background, their culture, and they have observed the Jewish high holy days on their calendar, not as part of their Christian life or something that makes them more spiritual. It was something that was very much a part of their ethnic heritage. At this time Paul has further ministry in Troas.

A side trip for just a minute to talk about one facet of his ministry. Paul has been teaching, encouraging, and strengthening them. As part of what he has been doing, we learn from 2 Corinthians and Romans that he has been taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem. This is important to understand in terms of the doctrine of giving because we come from a theological heritage where there are some different views on the whole methodology of giving. Our tradition has been heavily influenced by some Plymouth Brethren theology—in good ways and some not so good ways. The Plymouth Brethren was a breakaway denomination that broke away from the their perceived apostasy of the Anglican church in the early 19th century in England. They are called Plymouth Brethren because on of the first places where they met and began to really formulate their understanding of the ministry of the local church was in Plymouth, England. They are called Plymouth Brethren because of their emphasis on the fact that the men in the congregation were the ones who were to lead the congregation and to teach the congregation. Plymouth Brethren do not believe in an official, professional, pastoral leadership of the church. In Plymouth Brethren ecclesiology they believe that the men in the church should lead the church. At almost every meeting of the Plymouth Brethren they will observe the Lord's table.

One of the more famous Brethren ministers in the mid-nineteenth century was a man named George Meuller, of Bristol. He had an orphanage. He is known in church history as a man did not believe that it was right to ever ask anybody for a dime, and that if God was going to supply his needs for the orphanage then all he needed to do was talk to God about it and God would provide, and that was all there was to it. You did not ever mention financial need to anyone. And there are some remarkable stories about how the orphans were down to the last little crumb of bread and they would gather together for breakfast in the morning and pray that God would provide bread for them, and a bread truck would break down in front of the front door. Things like that. God was always supplying their need.

Well that is wonderful; that is his conviction. But that is not biblical. That is not something the Bible teaches. In fact the apostle Paul did just the opposite and went to the congregations and said there was a famine going on in Jerusalem and our brothers in Christ are suffering because of it. He instructed the Corinthians church to set aside money on the first day of the week for the collection for Jerusalem. Then when he came he would take what they had collected back with him to Jerusalem. He went through the churches taking up a collection for a specific need which he talked about, prayed about, indentified, and challenged people in the churches to meet. 

Too often in our environment we react to the crazy extremists on television. I've been in services where six or seven collections were taken up. People are just done for money in many situations in Christianity, and so there is a tendency to react to that and go to the other extreme and never mention money. But neither is a pattern that is authorized by Scripture. Scripture doesn't authorize a specific pattern, and so it is a decision that should be made by each ministry and each congregation as to how they are going to handle these kinds of things.

Romans 15:25, 26 NASB " but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." Macedonia and Achaia refers to the Gentile believers and the saints in Jerusalem are the Jewish believers. This recognizing that there is a relationship and that Christians are dependent in some sense on their Jewish brethren because they were the ones who were the custodians of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and they are the ones through whom the Messiah came. Paul talks about that as a form of indebtedness to their fellow Jewish believers in Jerusalem. [27] " … For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things." The Gentiles have been blessed through the Abrahamic covenant, they have been blessed through the descendants of Abraham. Their duty as Gentiles is also to minister to them, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, in material things. So he is clearly teaching that there is a responsibility on the part of believers to financially and materially take care of other believers who are in legitimate need.

This is not socialism. Socialism is when a government comes along and imposes requirements, mandates and percentages, and taxes people to shift wealth from one group to another group, and in order to transfer that wealth from one group to another group. But Christian giving is all based on individual volition.  

One of the things that can always be noticed is when a liberal who reads a passage like this says that we need to take care of the poor, and immediately they translate it into some sort of government program. They say the government needs to do this. They go back into the Old Testament. God accuses the wealthy in Israel of ignoring the poor, and so they say we need to have programs to take care of the poor. It is an individual responsibility. In every one of these circumstances and contexts it had to do with individual believers who were failing in their personal, individual responsibilities to provide for the needs of those who were destitute. It didn't have to do with a corporate or government responsibility, it had to do with individual responsibility.

In the Old Testament there were two ways of giving. First of all there was a mandated way of giving, called the tithe. There were three tithes. And there was also freewill giving. There was no command in the Old Testament to give anything until the Mosaic Law. Prior to the Mosaic Law there are two times in Genesis where there is a reference to believers giving a tithe. Once with Abraham and the other was Jacob. It was a freewill offering though, not the result of a mandate. The first command for believers to give anything to God was in the Mosaic Law, which had three different tithes. The first one was a ten per cent tithe. It was like a tax. Under the theocratic government of Israel where God ruled over Israel this functioned similar to an income tax to supply the financial needs of the bureaucrats, i.e. the priesthood. 

Numbers 18:21 NASB "To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting."

The second tithe was imposed upon all Jewish citizens, both believers and unbelievers, to support the costs of the temple sacrifices.

Deuteronomy 14:22, 23 NASB "You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always."

This was like having a large national celebration every year. They would take ten per cent. If there was a really bad year they wouldn't be taking very much, and so they wouldn't be eating and drinking very well at the national birthday party, so to speak. But if they had prospered well during the previous year and the national gross product was high then they would be eating the finest of everything. They would have a tremendous celebration. In the Old Testament God tied physical blessing to spiritual obedience. This was an annual barometer, as it were, to measure the spirituality of the nation. If they were obedient God would prosper the people, and bless them in terms of the abundance of their crops. If they were disobedient then just the opposite would happen. The women would be barren, they would have droughts, the ground would become hardened, their livestock would not produce and their incomes would go down.

The third tithe was only taken every third year. This was to be taken up in order to provide something of a safety net for people who were truly without within the society and with no one to provide for them. First of all, the Levite, then the stranger [foreigner] who is left destitute in the land, the fatherless [orphans] and the widows.

There is nothing wrong with having some sort of safety next, but what has to be guarded against is a safety net turning into a hammock. This is exactly the kind of thing that we have in our society. We have built a safety net that has formed into a hammock and people don't want to get out of the hammock. This was taken care of in the Mosaic Law because this wasn't going to provide an enormous amount of income for those who were destitute. It would keep them alive and provide the basic necessities. 

These three different tithes were mandatory; they were part of the Mosaic Law. They don't apply to anybody anymore.

Then there was also a freewill offering.

Leviticus 22:18, 21 NASB "Speak to Aaron and to his sons and to all the sons of Israel and say to them, 'Any man of the house of Israel or of the aliens in Israel who presents his offering, whether it is any of their votive or any of their freewill offerings, which they present to the LORD for a burnt offering … When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it."

What survives into the New Testament church is only the freewill offering. It is not something where a percentage is mandated. But giving is mandated.

Malachi 3:8 NASB "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings." If they were not giving their tithes into the storehouse of the temple they were stealing from God; they were taking God's money. He is speaking to the nation Israel because they were disobedient in relation to the laws of the tithes. They were not giving to the Lord to take care of the widows and orphans. The giving was individual. There was a mandate for ten percent, which would be used to provide this minimum safety net. It is not a socialistic scheme. But they didn't want to do that. The correction was to bring all of the tithes into the storehouse. The storehouse is not the church. In the ancient world temples were used as banks.

Malachi 3:10 NASB "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows."

As pointed out earlier, under the Mosaic Law there is the connection between physical material prosperity and obedience to God. Remember, they didn't have the Holy Spirit, they didn't have the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and there has to be some ways to have some concrete, measurable and quantifiable metrics for determining whether or not they were being spiritual.

When Paul goes on his second missionary journey he is met in Macedonia by Titus who brings him word.

1 Corinthians 16:1 NASB "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also." They have already been taking up a collection. Notice both the word for collection and then the word for saints has a different article. It is "the collection" for the saints in Jerusalem, and then "as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also." Notice this is not an option. He is using the word diatasso in the Greek, which means to command, to issue and order. He is issuing an order because this is a part of the Christian life responsibility. [2] "On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come." He recognizes that it is important to do this in an orderly manner and that it was to follow a certain methodology where every week they would put aside something and not just wait until he got there. This is also indicated in Romans 15:26.

The point that we see here is that Paul is not hesitant to instruct on how believers should use their personal resources. He is very bold in terms of how he tells them they should use their time and their talent and their treasure. So this gives us some great insights into the doctrine of giving. The believers in Jerusalem were destitute and so other believers were solicited to aid them financially.

The order was that on the first day of the week they were to lay something aside. So there was a plan and this is what every believer should do. The giving should be regular and consistent, just like saving for the future. Sometimes people like to give for special events and special times, and that is nice, but Christian organizations don't operate on big gifts coming at different times. What really helps Christian organizations is consistency, because when they have a consistent regular income they can somewhat predict on the basis of that income and then they can responsibly budget their resources because there is a regular consistent income being provided.  

1 Corinthians 16:3 NASB "When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem." So they were going to pick someone who was responsible and trustworthy who would be given the money to take to Jerusalem.

That is a general approach in 1 Corinthians 16. There is more detail in 2 Corinthians 8.

2 Corinthians 8:1 NASB "Now, brethren, we {wish to} make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia … " Where was Paul when he wrote 2 Corinthians? He is in Macedonia. Were the Macedonians very wealthy? Not at all. Several time he mentions that they are very poor, yet they gave out of their poverty. He is bragging to the Macedonian believers to the Corinthian church. [2] " … that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality." It wasn't easy for them to give but they gave even though they didn't have much. Their motivation was their joy in Christ. We are motivated by our own spiritual gratitude for what God has provided for us. The word there for deep is bathos, which indicates something of great depth—the depth of their poverty. It is not that they are giving from their abundance; they are giving from their lack of anything. They are giving in a way that shows their grace orientation. Grace orientation supplies abundantly the needs of others, just as God's grace abundantly supplies ours.

2 Corinthians 8:3 NASB "For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, {they gave} of their own accord…" Beyond their ability doesn't mean they pulled out their Visa card and put it on their card and were then going to pay it off. They didn't have credit like that, they just recognized that they were going to have to refrain from certain things in their life instead of spending what little they had on some of the pleasures of life. They were going to give that money for the ministry of the Lord.

In 2 Corinthians chapter nine they go on to describe a bit more about their motivation from their orientation to God's grace.

2 Corinthians 9:5 NASB "So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness." He is going to send some of his entourage down to Corinth to teach giving and to have them set aside money that would be collected when Paul arrived.

2 Corinthians 8:5 NASB "and {this,} not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God." Paul talks about the fact that the foundation is first of all our relationship with the Lord. It is not about the money; it is not about how much we give; it is about our relationship with the Lord. The priority is our own personal spiritual life and spiritual growth, and giving is a byproduct of that. 

The foundation begins in verse 9 with the understanding of salvation. NASB "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." He is following the pattern of God's grace giving through salvation.

Also emphasized is consistency in verse 11: "But now finish doing it also, so that just as {there was} the readiness to desire it, so {there} {may be} also the completion of it by your ability. [12] For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what {a person} has, not according to what he does not have." Some people have more and some less, and each has to give as unto the Lord in relation to how God has prospered us and according to the principle of generosity.

2 Corinthians 9:6 NASB "Now this {I say,} he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. [7] Each one {must do} just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." A cheerful giver there has to idea of someone who is generous and grace oriented in their giving. [8] And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER."

God is the one who provides for us.

This is what Paul is doing in part of his ministry. As part of his teaching, encouraging and strengthening  believers he is also teaching them about giving and taking up a collection that he will take with him to the church in Jerusalem.