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Acts 20:17-38 – Preparing for the Future – Part 1

As time marches on, there are some questions that come to our minds. What does the future hold for our church? Our membership is growing older and will someday be gone. Who will take their place? Where will the new people come from? Will the next generation continue in the right direction? How can we grow but also remain faithful to the Lord? How can we guard the church from future dangers? Paul seemed to have some of these questions on his mind as he addressed the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17-38).

As you look through Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders, you can tell that he was preparing them for his departure. They would never see him again and he wanted to say something helpful before he left. As we look at what he said, I would like you to see three things that can apply to leaders who are currently ministering to the church and those who are handing over the reins to the next generation.

  1. Be an example (Acts 20:18-21, 24, 27, 33-34).

    As Paul looked back on the time he had spent in Ephesus, he remembered personal interactions he had with them and others. He had worked hard to be a godly example of a Christian and also of a godly leader. In effect, Paul was telling the elders to follow his example.

    Live among the people (Acts 20:18-19).

    What does it say?

    Paul reminded the Ephesian elders how he had lived among them. He was emphasizing the fact that they had rubbed shoulders with him and seen how he acted, responded, and spoke. During his time with them, he had humbly served the Lord. But this had also involved many tears and trials due to Jewish opposition plotting against him.

    What does it mean?

    Being an example requires humility (Acts 20:19).
    Being an example will include emotional commitment (Acts 20:19).
    Being an example will not be free from trials (Acts 20:19).

    How does it apply?

    Many people want to be used by God but are not always aware of what that requires. Do you remember the various men who came to Jesus wanting to become His disciples? Each of them was confronted with something that would have to be removed before he could follow Jesus. Being an example to other Christians requires a large dose of humility, tears, and trials. It is not as easy as it looks.

    Do you want to be an example to those both in and outside the church? We would all probably say that we want to be an example. But are you humble or proud? Are you willing to love people and go through the emotional turmoil that goes with that? Are you willing to face opposition that will come at some point? At some point, being an example stops being glamorous. It is simply hard work. But those who are willing to be an example, will also find the joy of ministering, loving, and being loved by others.

    Teach the people (Acts 20:20-21, 24, 27).

    What does it say?

    Paul noted that he had not kept anything helpful from them. He proclaimed the truth and taught them both publicly and in various homes. He testified the same message to both Jews and Gentiles. That message was repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. Despite reports of future problems, Paul wasn’t concerned with his own welfare. He just wanted to joyful complete the ministry given to him by God. His ministry also included proclaiming all of the truths that God had revealed.

    What does it mean?

    Teaching must be public and private (Acts 20:20).
    Teaching must include repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
    Teaching must have the right motivation (Acts 20:24).
    Teaching must cover the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

    How does it apply?

    Are you willing to invest your life in other people? This will involve going to people’s homes as well as speaking in public. And that will take time out of your already busy schedule, but it can be productive.

    Are you giving a clear picture of the gospel as you speak to people? It would be easy to get people to pray a prayer or to turn over a new leaf, but giving the gospel must include both repentance toward God and faith in Jesus.

    Do you have the right motivation? We can’t let personal problems keep us from doing what God has called us to do. If we hold back because of what might happen, we will be hindered from accomplishing God’s will.

    Are you willing to speak all of God’s truth? In a world where people’s minds have been corrupted by false teaching, it would be easy to hold back on speaking the truth. But we must speak all that God has revealed and not be afraid of how people will respond.

    Don’t burden the people (Acts 20:33-34).

    What does it say?

    In his personal time with the church of Ephesus, Paul had not coveted what other people had. On the contrary, they had seen him work with his own hands to provide for his own needs and those who were with him.

    What does it mean?

    Your example can be affected by covetousness (Acts 20:33).
    Your example can be affected by hard work (Acts 20:34).

    How does it apply?

    Have you been coveting what other people have? If so, you need to repent of that. When we covet, we stop being grateful to God for what He has already provided. It is as if we are accusing God of not taking care of us. One of the ways to avoid covetousness is to work to provide for your own needs. In another place, Paul told those who used to steal to work with their hands and then give to those in need. When we are thinking of the needs of others and are actively trying to help them, we will not have time to feel sorry for ourselves.


As Paul looked toward the future, he knew that his time in Ephesus had come to an end. He would never be there again to be an example. But he also knew that this group of elders had seen his example and could follow in his footsteps. As he reminded them of what he had done, he didn’t do this in a proud way. Instead, he did it in an instructive way. He had given them a good example to follow.

This week, we have the opportunity to be an example to the people we meet. We can be an example to our own family, our coworkers, our neighbors, our church family, and people we meet this week. With God’s help, let’s strive to be an example that will point people to the Lord.


Touissaint, Stanley D., “Acts” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.