Acts 20:2-21:17

Acts 20:2-21:17

Living in Submission to the Holy Spirit

Sermon Text: Acts 20:2-38; Acts 21:1-17

Sermon Theme:  The church that lives in submission to the Holy Spirit will gather together for instruction and fellowship, be pastored by Spirit formed elders, and trust the Lord in all circumstances.

Sermon Reflections


Tumults or opposition may constrain a Christian to remove from his station or alter his purpose, but his work and his pleasure will be the same, wherever he goes. Paul thought it worth while to bestow five days in going to Troas, though it was but for seven days’ stay there; but he knew, and so should we, how to redeem even journeying time, and to make it turn to some good account.

Though the disciples read, and meditated, and prayed, and sung apart, and thereby kept up communion with God, yet they came together to worship God, and so kept up their communion with one another. They came together on the first day of the week, the Lord’s day. It is to be religiously observed by all disciples of Christ. In the breaking of the bread, not only the breaking of Christ’s body for us, to be a sacrifice for our sins, is remembered, but the breaking of Christ’s body to us, to be food and a feast for our souls, is signified. In the early times it was the custom to receive the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day, thus celebrating the memorial of Christ’s death. In this assembly Paul preached. The preaching of the gospel ought to go with the sacraments. They were willing to hear, he saw they were so, and continued his speech till midnight. Sleeping when hearing the word, is an evil thing, a sign of low esteem of the word of God. We must do what we can to prevent being sleepy; not put ourselves to sleep, but get our hearts affected with the word we hear, so as to drive sleep far away. Infirmity requires tenderness; but contempt requires severity. It interrupted the apostle’s preaching; but was made to confirm his preaching. Eutychus was brought to life again. And as they knew not when they should have Paul’s company again, they made the best use of it they could, and reckoned a night’s sleep well lost for that purpose. How seldom are hours of repose broken for the purposes of devotion! But how often for mere amusement or sinful revelry! So hard is it for spiritual life to thrive in the heart of man! So naturally do carnal practices flourish there!

Paul hastened to Jerusalem, but tried to do good by the way, when going from place to place, as every good man should do. In doing God’s work, our own wills and those of our friends must often be crossed; we must not spend time with them when duty calls us another way.

[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]


  • Why is the character and integrity of the shepherd of the flock so important? The New Testament teaches that the heart of leadership is example. Jesus reminded His disciples in John 13:15, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Luke described his gospel as the record of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The writer of Hebrews commanded his readers to “remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Peter exhorted his fellow elders to “be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). He instructed the Philippians, “Join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). He commended the Thessalonians because they “became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). His advice to Timothy on how to be a leader was to “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12). Living up to the godly examples in submission to the Spirit won’t be easy or even comfortable. But the Spirit is willing to shepherd you through the various aspects of personal surrender and guide the local church in the course of increasingly surrendering to Him.
  • Why was the collection for the Jerusalem church so important to Paul? First, because he had a love for the saints in Jerusalem who were impoverished by persecution. Those believers also carried the burden of the believers who had been pilgrims in Jerusalem when they were saved at Pentecost and then remained and needed provision. Furthermore, the other apostles at Jerusalem had asked him to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). To compound the difficulty of the Jerusalem church, the land of Israel had suffered a severe famine (cf. Acts 11:28). An equally important reason for taking up the collection was Paul’s deep concern for the unity of the church. Paul knew that the cultural tensions between Jews and Gentiles posed an ever-present danger to that unity. By generously meeting the needs of the poor Jewish believers at Jerusalem, the Gentiles would affirm their love for them (1 John 3:17; cf. James 2:15-16). That in turn would cement the bond of unity so important to Paul (Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Clearly, Paul’s love for the church was expressed by sacrificial giving. The apostle John expressed the inseparable link between giving and loving in 1 John 3:16-18: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”
  • Is the church using entertainment to attract people? Is the biblical teacher conveying the seriousness of the gospel? Nothing currently contributes more to the decline of biblical preaching than the rise of a market-driven philosophy of ministry. Attempting to be “user-friendly,” churches have jettisoned preaching in favor of movies, drama, concerts, the testimonies of Christian superstars, and other forms of entertainment. And no wonder, since preaching the biblical truths of sin, judgment, and God’s sovereignty in salvation is decidedly not user-friendly. In a philosophy of ministry where pragmatism reigns supreme, the large crowds drawn by such alternative “worship” services serve to validate them. Such shortsighted thinking misses the point. The problem with churches is not poor attendance but poor spiritual health. And what people need most is not to be entertained, but to be taught the truths of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-4). A sure mark of genuine love for the church is selfless, tireless exhortation from the Word of God. Though weary, busy, and persecuted, Paul devoted himself to teaching everywhere he went. His consuming passion, even at the risk of his life, was to see believers brought to spiritual maturity. For Paul “did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable” (Acts 20:27). This implies that some things that are profitable are difficult to receive, and thus difficult to teach. If Paul had been seeking to please men, he would have dodged these truths. If he had wanted to be a popular speaker, he would have chosen other subjects. But because he sought to please God, and because he knew that these truths were profitable for spiritual growth and health, he plainly taught what God wanted him to teach. What were some of these profitable truths? In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul defines what is profitable: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” Teaching involves communicating the principles of God’s Word; reproof refers to applying Scripture to produce conviction of sin; correction gives repentant sinners the biblical direction to turn from sin and follow Christ; and training in righteousness moves believers along the path toward Christ-likeness. Thus, the believer is armed with the Scriptures such that “the man of God [will] be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
  • Why would the incident of Eutychus death be of any concern to us? Why are some people asleep in the church? What are the consequences to us? Falling asleep in church should not concern us. It can happen for any number of reasons, both good and bad. What should concerns us are the thousands who warm a pew every Lord’s Day with their bodies awake and their souls asleep. Some use the church hour to mentally complete the unfinished business of the preceding six days. Innumerable churchgoers appear to be perfectly awake but are spiritually asleep. Some people are asleep because they have never been awake. We are probably familiar with that state because we were once like that. We attended church, heard God’s Word preached, sang the great hymns, listened to others pray ― but with no depth of comprehension. We were simply present where others worshiped. We were on the outside ― not alive to spiritual things. Perhaps you derive some vague comfort from being with religious people and doing Christian things, but inside you understand very little of what is going on. The pity is, it is possible to pass from this life into eternity without recognizing your slumber until it is too late — the final second death in hell. It is possible to be damned even in the church. As Screwtape, a senior devil, said to his trainee, Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ novel Screwtape Letters, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Have you ever been truly awake? Would you like to wake up? Some people have experienced an awakening and are truly Christians but have slipped into a spiritually comatose state. They allowed sin to enter their lives and put themselves in a compromising, backslidden position. And, here they rest in a state of spiritual slumber. Sometimes we hear of Christians who have fallen to unimaginable depths although they regularly attended church. Though they seemed to listen, they are spiritually and morally asleep. Sin desensitizes us, and we soon fall asleep, even in church. Though externally everything may appear fine, sin makes us indifferent and bored with spiritual things. Let each of us periodically make a personal spiritual assessment. If we have never truly been awake, we must ask the God of grace to help us believe. We must confess our sin, declare our faith in Christ, and ask Christ to make us brand-new ― to receive him as our Savior. Church will then become more alive than we ever imagined. If we are already children of God and our slumber is due to sin in our lives, we must repent and allow the joy of Christ to refill us. The joy of worship will then flood our souls and awaken us to His full glory. “Wake up, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).
  • Are you supporting your elders in guarding the flock; shepherding the flock; warning the flock? If false teachers are like savage wolves that do not spare the flock (Acts 20:29), then we certainly are not loving God’s people if we fail to warn them about specific false teachers or teaching that may destroy their souls. For the tragic result is a spiritually weak flock, ready to eat the poisonous weeds of false doctrine, or to follow false shepherds who deceitfully promise them greener pastures, while leading them to barren desert. Being a wolf is a matter of the heart, not of outward appearance. That’s why Jesus warned about wolves that come in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). It takes a fair amount of discernment for a sheep to recognize that this isn’t another sheep; it’s a wolf! Because of the serious danger they pose to the church, the Scriptures condemn false teachers in the strongest language. Peter vividly describes them in 2 Peter 2:10-22 as “those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority” (v. 10); “unreasoning animals” (v. 12); “stains and blemishes” (v. 13); “having eyes full of adultery … having a heart trained in greed … accursed children” (v. 14); “springs without water … mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved” (v. 17); “slaves of corruption” (v. 19); dogs returning to their own vomit and pigs wallowing in the mud (v. 22). For their evil deeds expose them for what they really are, false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, who are out for personal glory and gain, not for the glory of Christ. So, Paul warned them that men will arise from among their own, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Perverse is from diastrephō, which means “to distort,” or “to twist.” False teachers twist God’s truth for their own perverted ends. Draw away is from apospaō and could be translated “to drag away” or “to tear away.” If the under-shepherds are not vigilant, the wolves will drag their sheep away to devour them.
  • What is the centerpiece of your focus and values in life so you can finish the race? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit and the Word to speak to you, raising questions about your values, your focus in life? Paul had a proper set of values and focus when he told the Ephesian elders: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Paul gives a similar testimony to the Philippians: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). This is an exposition of what he said to the Ephesian elders, for it tells us that his goals involved forgetting what was behind — the failures, temptations, weaknesses, even the achievements — and pressing forward instead to the things God yet had for him, always having his eye on the prize to which God had called him in Christ Jesus. One reason why many of us are not more effective in our Christian lives is that we do not have our priorities in order. Are we valuing our lives far more than our witness? Are we valuing the praise of men far more than the approbation of God? May all of us reflect and follow Paul’s love for the church in his exhortation to the Christians in Romans 12:10-21. May God give all believers, not just church leaders, such a teaching, giving, persistent, available love for the church that Christ “purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
  • Have you ever asked why Paul was so effective as he went through the Greek and Roman world planting churches? Was it his preaching? Yes, his preaching was strong. He taught the whole counsel of God, and God blessed the hearers through His Word. But there is a sense that Paul’s success also had a great deal to do with the empathy he had for other people. He struggled with them in their struggles and grieved with them in their grieves. They remembered this and recognized that in Paul there was something they did not see in the world around them. Clearly when Paul says he served the Lord with tears he does not mean that he was given to frequent outbursts of emotion, except perhaps in prayer. He means that he was what we would call a man of great empathy. That is, he learned to identify with those to whom he ministered. We are told in Romans that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Paul obviously did so. If somebody was happy, he was happy with them because he was happy for them. If someone was weeping, Paul could weep with them because he identified with them and to some extent could live what they were going through. Francis Schaeffer made a great deal of tears. He believed in the need to separate from unbelief, but he always said, “If we separate, it must be with tears. And if we speak truth that hurts, it must be with tears.” He was right in that. He meant that we must empathize with others. And, as a church family, we have the Spirit to shepherd and strength us as we weep, pray, and trust in God together.

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