Acts 20:16-38 – Farewell to the Elders of Ephesus


Acts 20:16-38


On his way to Jerusalem, Paul stops in Miletus for a last encounter with the leaders of the Ephesian church. Knowing he will not see them again, he defends his ministry among them, exhorts them to faithful leadership, and provides a poignant glimpse into the affection he shares with fellow ministers of the gospel.


From Asia Minor (western Turkey), Paul plans to visit Jerusalem (20:16). The letters of Paul indicate that a major purpose of this visit is to bring the funds he collected from his Gentile congregations to help the poorer Jewish community in Jerusalem. 

In order not to be delayed in Ephesus, he meets the elders of the Ephesian assembly in the nearby port of Miletus. He delivers a farewell speech that reprises his three-year ministry among them. He emphasizes his persisting commitment to proclaim “to you the whole counsel of God” and to seek the welfare of others, not least the poor and weak. To this end, he reminds the elders that “I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions,” in alignment with Jesus’ statement, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (20:34‒35). Though we have no record of Jesus saying these exact words, the Gospels consistently stress the “giving” priority of Jesus’ mission.

Paul does not recount his Ephesian ministry as a point of pride but rather as a pattern to follow. He offers a prophecy, warning the elders to emulate Paul’s vigilance in the face of “savage wolves” who will seek to invade and devour the “flock.” It will remain vital for the Ephesian elders to distinguish religious charlatans from those who truly serve God and share God’s good news with God’s people.

The passage ends with an extraordinarily touching scene, in which  Paul and the elders pray and grieve at the prospect of not seeing one another again. They all know what Paul faces. And yet, there is no attempt to hold Paul back, no sign from Paul that he hesitates to go.