Gospel Goodbyes (Acts 20)


They say, “It’s so hard to say goodbye.” (Boyz II Men)

  • Vacations in beautiful places.
  • Teens in love who stay on the phone to listen to each other breathe. “No, you hang up.” “No, you first.”
  • Sending grown children off to college.
  • Aging family members who live out of state.
  • Military deployments
  • Traveling in uncertain circumstances: natural disasters, crisis, etc.
  • Funerals

Goodbyes are hard because…

  • We do not like change. We want life to be stable and reliable. We find anchors of association (people, places, networks) and activity (routines [same seat, driving routes, etc.], traditions, music, etc.) that create consistency. And yet, the shifting sands of time remind us that the only constant of life is change.  
  • We are not in control. We realize there is nothing we can do to stop ongoing change or the coming end of life. There is very little we can control, outside of our response to people or circumstances. God’s sovereignty can either be a beautiful mystery or bitter medicine.

The last message in our study was the apostle Paul spending 3-years, the longest of any place in his ministry, in Ephesus. Today’s passage describes Paul’s farewell report to the church and its leadership.

*Voelp: Bill & Brooke

EXAMINE       Acts 20 Gospel Goodbyes

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.

  • Christians regularly gathered on the 1st weekday (Sunday) to remember Jesus’ tomb is vacant and His throne is occupied. Death is defeated and sin can be forgiven through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. 
  • The early church valued faith and friendships. They met formally for worship and informally for fellowship (not just food; ministry & mission).
  • Paul starts his sermon sometime in the late afternoon and continues past midnight. (I don’t want to hear any more complaints about long sermons!)
  • Humorously, or not, a young man was sitting near an open window and in his drowsiness fell out the window from the third story. And he died! “Hey Paul, killer sermon dude.” My friends, drowsiness can be dangerous in church! (Illus: Arlene giving elbows to Mr D; finally sat in back.)

10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Miraculously, the boy is revived – just like the OT prophets, Jesus, and Peter who revived persons after tragic circumstances (cf. 1 Ki 17:21-23; 1 Ki 4:32-34; Mt 9:24; Ac 9:36-42). God’s resurrection power is available by faith (Rom 6:5; 1Cor 15:12-13; Php 3:11; 1Thes 4:13).

  • God can and does revive individuals after death. We believe this not because of their testimony but Christ’s. In other words, we must be careful with stories about post-death visions. The Christian faith is established on verified history not fiction or hoax.[1]

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

Luke’s narration returns to participation (“we”) in the mission journey with Paul. They travel by ship in route to Jerusalem, but Paul goes by himself inland. No reason is given for why Paul travels separately by foot, but previously it was for safety reasons (cf. Ac 20:3). Further, Paul’s travels were not easy as the land was quite rugged and mountainous.[2] His destination is Jerusalem in time to celebrate Pentecost, however, he sends for the Ephesian elders for a last fellowship and charge to their ministry.

Gospel goodbyes are often extra effort but essential to relationships, especially as Christians. The word “goodbye” is actually a contraction of the phrase “God be with you.”[3] This perspective helps us to embrace the good in goodbyes because we are reminded that though earthly partings can be upsetting, being alone is never permanent.

Paul’s farewell with the Ephesian elders provides us characteristics of gospel goodbyes and gospel leadership.

18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;

Gospel goodbyes shape our character.

  • Paul lived with integrity, humility, and compassion. While he would not see them again, he wanted them to remember the positive features of their time together.
    • Integrity: His life matched his lips, practicing what he preached.

20:33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Unfortunately, far too many relationships have ended in  embarrassment or indignity than integrity. We should be thankful for friends who are faithful in character and their Christian walk.

  • Humility: He sacrificed and served with no task beneath, no time too long, no travel too far. He was the Lord’s servant and his “yes” was always on the table.
    20:22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Many hope to live a lengthy life on earth. Paul’s aim wasn’t to live a long life but a full life to the glory of God.

  • Compassion: Tears are mentioned 3x in this passage (Ac 20:19, 31, 37). Their relationships were deep and Paul understood his life was short. He believed this would be the last time he would see the Ephesian elders. His tears revealed his care and compassion.

à à Personally, I’m a crier. As a dwindling fan of Washington football, I cry often. Seriously, I’m one of those who cries at celebrations or sendoffs; weddings and funerals. Some may be bewildered why I cry so much. I don’t know, it’s just part of my personality. But, what moves me the most is thinking about eternity, and I’m bewildered at those who do not sow the gospel with tears and prayers. Like the Psalmist, I believe “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of oy. Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely return with shouts of joy carrying his sheaves.” (Ps 126:5-6)

Gospel goodbyes refresh our purpose.

  • For the Christian, our purpose is to glorify God not self. So, the question in every relationship is did we point others to Jesus?
  • Paul pointed others to Jesus even when it cost him dearly. Just look at the bruises on his back and listen to the concerns and compassion in his conversations.
  • He describes himself as “innocent of the blood of all” (Ac 20:26). Here he is recalling the prophet Ezekiel, whom the Lord called a “watchman” to warn others of pending danger (Ez 3:16-21; 33:7-9). If the watchman spoke the warning faithfully, then he was no longer responsible; though if the watchman was asleep or silent, then not only would the people be doomed but the watchman would be blameworthy and guilty.
  • Paul’s innocence is because he “did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God” (Ac 20:27). The purpose of witnessing and evangelizing is not just to share the good news of God’s love but the context of pending condemnation for those who turn away from God. I/we are only responsible for delivering the message not people digesting it. Further, Christian discipleship goes beyond casual commitment to uncompromising obedience to all of God’s commands.

  • Are you an alert and active spiritual watchman for family and friends? Or are you spiritually drowsy or disloyal to God’s kingdom?
  • Are you selectively ignoring God’s counsel or diluting God’s commands on certain topics:
    • Honoring the Lord with wealth % of income rather than just token dollars as a checklist to say you gave.
    • Singles upholding purity instead of premarital intimacy.
    • Parents prioritizing gathering with the Lord’s people – weekly (Sunday or other).
    • Parents being examples of Christ and regularly communicating the Scriptures at home.
      Deut 6:7-9 “Repeat God’s commands to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you wake. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
    • Reflecting peacemaking rather than stirring up controversy or conflict. Forgiving others instead of lashing out because you want others to hurt when you hurt. We live in an age of rage where people devour one another with callous attitudes and spiteful words.

Realizing there will be a last day in all our relationships motivates us to remember our purpose as God’s representatives of light and love.

Finally… Paul’s closing message to the Ephesian elders:

Gospel goodbyes preserve God’s church.

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd/pastor for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Paul’s lasting legacy is equipping elders to pastor, protect, and preserve God’s church. In this passage we see 3 synonymous/interchangeable words.

  • 20:17 Elders (πρεσβυτέρους) exercising discipline
  • 20:28 Overseers (ἐπίσκοπος) exercising direction
  • 20:28 Shepherd/pastor (ποιμαίνειν) exercising doctrine.

The NT describes three offices/roles in the church: members, deacons, and pastors. Each church establishes leadership and in the NT there is a pattern for plurality to protect again human weaknesses and flaws. In all, the apostle Paul’s primary reasoning for meeting with the Ephesian elders is to protect and preserve the church.

Paul knows God’s flock are prey to fierce wolves that are both outside the church and inside masquerading as sheep. Such wolves and counterfeit Christians know enough Scripture to twist and misrepresent its meaning. And it is part of pastoral ministry not just to be nice but to knock the teeth out of wolves. I am not implying Christians employ physical violence, only that we are fervent to uphold God’s standards and Holy Scripture.

  • Pastors/Elders, pay careful attention to yourself (20:28) / watch your life and doctrine closely (1Tim 4:16).
  • Church, sincerely pray for your pastors – Psalm 78:72 shepherd with integrity of heart and skillful hands.
  • Friends, if you identify with this church family and benefit from its preaching and pastoral ministry, then we need you to sincerely participate in the preservation of God’s local church. Please examine your time to grow, talent to share, treasure to give. 

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.


Paul lived his life and ran his race to finish well. There are many things that prevent people from finishing strong.

  • Fatigue. It’s ok to feel burdened, tired, discouraged, or overwhelmed. Many have been through so much. Our SPBC family is a place of peace, healing, and renewal. Come to the altar for fresh fire and return warmed with God’s presence and power in your life. 
  • Fights. Sometimes people are so busy fighting that they forget who their enemy is. Church, let us remember we cannot reach a world we hate. Further, we must not turn on one another but stay united in the family of faith.
  • Focus. One of the most tangible and practical items that prevent us from running our race is we lose focus. Either we lose sight of the big picture motivation of serving our Savior who gave His life for us, or turn our eyes from taking single steps – one foot in front of another / moment by moment / day by day – trusting and obeying the Lord.
    • God’s word is a lamp to our feet not a spotlight for our entire future. It gives just enough light so you can take your next step. What’s your next step to obey God?
    • What is preventing you from running well and finishing strong?

[1] See https://www.gotquestions.org/90-minutes-in-heaven.html, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-there-proof-of-heaven/, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/i-dont-have-to-read-the-book-or-see-the-movie-to-know-heaven-is-real/, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/heaven-real/, https://www.epm.org/blog/2014/Apr/18/heaven-real-movie, https://www.equip.org/articles/heaven-real-heaven-real-really/.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 621.

[3] https://www.dictionary.com/e/why-do-we-say-goodbye/

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