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Acts 20:17-38 – Preparing for the Future – Part 3

Have you ever worried about what will happen to your family after you are gone? I think that many of us have felt like that. Paul had a similar response when he met with the Ephesian elders. After giving them an example to follow and reminding them of their responsibilities, Paul realized that he was limited in what he could do about the future of the Ephesian church. In these last verses, Paul shared what he was trusting in to keep them going in a right direction.

  1. Trust God to care for them when you are gone (Acts 20:32).

    What does it say?

    Paul told the brethren that he committed them to God’s care.

    What does it mean?

    It means that someone else would take care of them.

    The word commend (NKJV) means ” to entrust, commit.”4 It is a handing over of a responsibility to someone else. For instance, when a father hands over the care of his daughter to her husband, he is entrusting or committing her care to him. This is what Paul did in other cases as well.

    Acts 14:23 – “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”

    In that case, Paul and his team returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to strengthen and challenge the believers there. With an eye to their future, Paul ordained elders in each church and committed them to the Lord. This is ultimately what Paul was doing in Miletus. He was committing their care to the One who was ultimately responsible for their well-being.

    It means that God must be trusted.

    This seems like an unnecessary statement. We who have put our faith in God to save us, sanctify us, protect us, and much more. Why would we have trouble trusting in God to take care of the people we are leaving behind? For Paul, God was the only One who could be trusted to take care of the elders and the members of the church at Ephesus. Only God would never fail because He is the Almighty God who can do anything. He is able.

    How does it apply?

    Paul was confident in God’s ability to care for the people he left behind. But what about you? If you are a pastor leaving a church, can you give over to God those whom you have been ministering to over the years? If you are a Christian leaving a neighborhood, can you give over to God those neighbors you have witnessed to and worked with over the years? If you are a parent or grandparent, can you give over to God the care of your children and grandchildren? In every situation, there is One who is great enough to care for those whom you are leaving behind. Trust Him to do His work after you are gone.

  2. Trust God’s Word to sanctify them (Acts 20:32).

    What does it say?

    Paul told the brethren that he committed them to … the word of God’s grace which was able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all the people who are sanctified.

    What does it mean?

    It means that what God has said is sufficient.

    Here Paul uses the phrase “the word of His grace.” What does this mean? One commentator says that this means the gospel.5 I think this limits what Paul is saying unnecessarily. The words that God has spoken that bring grace to believers would include the gospel but they also include the teachings of the Bible that God uses to teach and strengthen believers.

    Paul had such confidence in what God had spoken that he was willing to commit the care of the Ephesian elders to the Bible. “We would expect Paul to entrust them to God, but he exalts the Word of God to that same powerful position.”2 What does this mean? It means that God’s Word, the Bible, is sufficient to inform people of God’s will. Consider two verses that also teach this.

    2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    Psalm 119:98-100 – “You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.

    Both passages teach us that God’s Word, the Bible, is sufficient for the care of those who read it.

    It means that what God has said can save and sanctify every believer.

    Notice that Paul commits the elders to the word of His grace to accomplish two things.6

    First, the Word of God enables each believer to be edified, strengthened, and developed. As we read earlier in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the Bible is able to teach reprove, correct, instruct, complete, and thoroughly equip the person who reads it. However, the reading of the Bible “must be accompanied by obedience to His Word.”1 When someone reads, understands, and applies the Bible to his life, God can develop them into a mature Christian who will continue in the right direction.

    Second, the Word of God is able to give each believer “an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” What does this mean? It means that the Bible has the power to open the eyes of an unbeliever, set him apart to God, and put him in the family of God where he will receive the inheritance of eternal life.

    Paul elsewhere talks about this Inheritance. In Acts 26, Paul told how God had saved him on the road to Damascus. There God told him that he would be sent to Jews and Gentiles to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Those who believed in Jesus would receive both forgiveness and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18). As Paul shared with them the truth from God’s revealed Word, they would be saved when they believed.

    How does it apply?

    In a time where so many are looking for something to draw people in to the church, we ought to remember what God has said here through Paul. We are to trust in God and the Bible to work in people’s lives. Remember that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). When we are tempted to look to something else to win over people or to get them growing in the Lord, we are moving away from what God has ordained to reach them in the first place. It is God and the word of His grace that will change people’s lives. Let us never forget that.

  3. Continue to pray for them (Acts 20:36).

    What does it say?

    After finishing his speech, Paul knelt down and prayed with all of the elders from the church of Ephesus.

    What does it mean?

    It means that things will happen after you leave.

    As Paul completed his challenge to the Ephesian elders, he did the best thing he could do at that moment. He prayed. What did Paul say in his prayer for them? “Matthew Henry suggests that he prayed over what he had just preached, that they would remain faithful to the ministry that God had entrusted to them.”3 That makes sense. He was so concerned about them that he immediately went to the Lord and prayed for them. It was a reality that Paul would never see them again, so praying for them was his only option after he left. No matter what happened in the future, he knew that praying to God would make an impact on their lives.

    It means that your prayers are important.

    You are familiar with this verse, I am sure.

    James 5:16 – “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

    In that passage, James reminds us that Elijah was a man like us but God listened to his prayers to hold back the rain for 3 1/2 years and then again when he prayed for it to rain again. The same God who answered Elijah’s prayer was the God who would answer Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian elders and the people whom they served. Paul knew that his prayers would be used by God to help the people whom he loved so much.

    How does it apply?

    One of the things that is hard to understand is how God incorporates our prayers into the accomplishing of His purposes. We recognize that he is the Almighty God who has the power over every situation, but for some reason He has included our prayers in what is accomplished in the lives of people. It is not something we understand but it is true.

    There may come a time when you will have to move on from a ministry, move to a different state, or stop being in a position of leadership. In those cases, you will need to commit those people into God’s care and trust that the Bible is enough to sanctify them. But even after you are gone, you can still pray for them. You can ask God to do those things that you are no longer able to do because of a change of location.

Conclusion

There have been many changes in our lives. We have lived in a variety of places. We have ministered in a number of churches. We have given the gospel to people in our neighborhoods and work places. But at some point, we had to leave those places. But we don’t need to feel hopeless. Knowing that God is in control and that the Bible is sufficient to meet their needs should bring hope to you. Today, as you consider what the future may hold for you, this church, and your family, will you commit them to God and let Him take care of them?

Footnotes

1 Toussaint 414.
2 Custer 296.
3 Custer 298.
4 παρατίθημι as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/paratithemi on 3/17/2024.
5 Kistemaker 736.
6 While you may be tempted to apply the building up and giving an inheritance to both God and the word of His grace, the Greek words τῷ δυναμένῳ limit these results to the word of His grace.

Bibliography

Custer, Stewart, Witness to Christ, Greenville: BJU Press, 2000.

Kistemaker, Simon J., Acts, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

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