A Farewell Sermon (Acts 20:13-38)

A Farewell Sermon (Acts 20:13-38)


Read Acts 20:13-38

Paul ending his 3MJ. Imagine the physical & emotional strain. Departing all-night Worship Service – he walks 20 miles South. There is no quit in this man! We would expect him to seek peace and quiet, but he appears to be encouraging others.

Fueled by a task much greater than him. He knew churches would close doors without strong leadership. He calls the elders for one last word.

Every Church needs to have men of compassion and courage to oversee the flock.

Shepherds Serve the Flock. Shepherds Feed the Flock. Shepherds Tend the Flock. Shepherds Guard the Flock.

Shepherds Serve the Flock

Is Paul avoiding Ephesus? (v.16) He knew it would be difficult to get away. Maybe he was avoiding another civil disturbance. Either way, he intended on celebrating Pentecost in Jerusalem in a month (cf v.22).

Paul “lived among” the Ephesians (v.18) modeling a tireless ministry involving humility, tears, and trials (v.19).

Paul never coveted money (v.33), he not only provided for himself, but for his partners in ministry too (vv.34-35).

Paul was self-forgetful (v.24). Serving others is unnatural. We want to put ourselves first. Our ego (self-image, self-esteem) craves attention. 1 Cor. 4:6 Pride is being “puffed up”. Paul pictures pride as an empty ego – filled with air – beginning to talk. And what does it say? Whatever gains attention. It compares and boasts (Apollos vs. Paul). It is like an overinflated balloon that is ready to pop.

So what can you do about your ego? You must forget yourself! How? The gospel tells us we don’t need to clamor for everyone’s attention because we already have God’s acceptance through his Son.

Once a shepherd is convinced of his need to serve the flock, he begins to feed it.

Shepherds Feed the Flock

Declaring, teaching, and testifying (vv.20-21).

  • Character: bold and compassionate. His appeals to repent and believe the gospel were made with tears. His confidence in God’s sovereignty “never bred in Paul a cold indifference to his hearers.”1
  • Context: public and private. Ministry not 8-5, 40 hours per week.
  • Content: message of forgiveness through repentance and faith. Profitable (v.20) = The whole counsel of God (v.27). Paul wasn’t afraid to warn and rebuke his listeners. Taught several hours 5-6 days per week in the hall of Tyrannous (Acts 19:9). Paul preached the Old Testament to an audience mixed with believers and unbelievers. Summarized (vv.21, 24, 25, 32). Gospel ministry is more important than life itself (v.24; Gal. 2:20).

Spurgeon, “I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at the foot of the cross until he comes. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there until he does.”

Faithful shepherds will feed Christ’s sheep by preaching the Word. They know that is how people are edified and receive assurance (v.32).

Despite serving and feeding the sheep, they still get hurt…

Shepherds Tend the Flock

Paul does not anticipate seeing them again (v.25, 37-38), so he calls “elders” (v.17) = “overseers” (v.28). His first command is to “pay careful attention to”:

  • “yourselves” – 1 Tim. 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Lead by example. Can I testify like Paul (v.26)? Robert Murray McCheyne “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.”
  • “All the flock” – Don’t neglect anyone. They were responsible for caring for everyone. Young, weak, corrupt, backsliders, strong, etc.

Israel’s leadership would be replaced (Jer. 23:1-6).

The pattern of Paul’s ministry corrects wayward churches today. Church leadership across evangelicalism need to hear the responsibility to show compassion and the centrality of the Word of God.

Paul’s ministry corrects all of us. Some of you see doctrine and preaching as key, but you consider compassion to be optional. For others compassion is what the church needs more than anything and preaching is replaced.

But in reality, Paul’s ministry model is gospel-centered. Almost cliche today (i.e., TGC, T4G, etc.), but simply the heart of a ministry that upholds Truth and Compassion.

Serve > Feed > Tend > Guard

Shepherds Guard the Flock

In The Patriot, Reverend Oliver joins the militia declaring, “A shepherd must tend his flock. And at times… fight off the wolves.” Although a little context would have corrected his interpretation, what he said was technically accurate.

  • Wolves will come from outside (v.29).
  • Corrupt elders will arise from within (v.30). The flock needs to be guarded from disingenuous leaders.
  • Be alert! (v.31) Constant admonishing.

Revelation 2:4-5 provides a look into the future of Ephesus:

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

Apparently, Paul’s warning went unheeded – and it came true. Zealous enthusiasm > cold indifference. Only hope = repentance.

Outside: Elders must provide protection. They must be willing to lay down their lives if necessary. This is no small task.

Inside: The PCA takes “accountability” very seriously, especially regarding gospel truth. As the leadership goes, so goes the church and all who are in it.

Elders must serve, feed, tend, and guard the flock.


Paul has passed the ministry on to qualified elders. Pray the Lord will raise up men who demonstrate this kind of love & sacrifice.

“With this weighty duty, however, comes the heartening promises of Jesus, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5), and his assurance, ‘I will build my church’ (Matt. 16:18). We are not orphans, left to our own devices, for Jesus comes to us and accompanies us, in his Spirit of truth (John 14:18).”2

We must run to Jesus for forgiveness and help if we are to fulfill this calling.

  1. Dennis Johnson, Let’s Study Acts. ↩︎
  2. Dennis Johnson, Let’s Study Acts. ↩︎