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What Was Paul's Busy Ministry After?
This morning, we’re looking at a story that’s situated within a very busy time during the apostle Paul’s life and ministry. We get a feel for that business in the two travel itineraries which sandwich this story about sleepy Eutychus. It’s no secret that the apostle Paul was a really busy, productive man. Some secular academics have said that Paul is the reason Christianity became a dominant world religion, rather than Jesus. Obviously, we don’t believe that—yet, it illustrates the case. Paul was a busy, productive man (and everyone knew it).
When we last considered Paul’s ministry in Acts from Acts 19, we were reminded that Paul was torn in a number of directions because of the ministry that Jesus had given him. As he was preaching in Ephesus with a phenomenal effect, he was also consumed with trouble in Corinth and trouble in Jerusalem—we’ll revisit some of that this morning. But to say it in a word—Paul’s patient, faithful ministry is a wonderful example for us. Paul’s ministry shows us how Jesus intends to strengthen us, and to grow his church. It’s not through revolutionary causes, and through riots, or any other prideful sort of endeavors. In Acts 19, we saw a striking contrast between Paul’s fruitful ministry and the fleeting riot at Ephesus. Paul’s words were empowered, changing hearts. The words repeated at the Ephesian riot—“great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”—were spoken into thin air, to no avail.
As we look closer at today’s passage, I don’t simply want to see Paul’s patient, faithful ministry pitted up against the empty riot and rage of men. That was what we saw in the previous passage. This week, our passage leads us to consider exactly what Paul’s ministry instilled within the church. What was Paul hoping to instill within the churches, at this point in his ministry? Was it boldness? Love? Fearlessness? Was it conversions? What is at the heart of Christian ministry?
Two Things to Look for in this Passage
As we look closer at our passage this morning, we’re going to look for two things. First, we need to find exactly that—whatever it was that Paul sought to instill within the churches through his ministry. Then, once we’ve seen it and talked about it for a bit, we’ll see four ways he accomplished that particular kind of ministry. So we'll look for (1) what Paul fundamentally sought instill within the churches, and (2) four ways he did it.
Paul’s Ministry of Encouragement (or Comfort)
So, what was Paul after in his ministry? What was he seeking to accomplish in all these ministerial journeys we read about in our passage?
A fundamental word that characterizes Paul’s ministry shows up three times in our passage. Look again at verses 1 and 2, you’ll see the word show up twice, there.
1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece.
What do you suppose is the word I’m after, here, that characterizes Paul’s ministry? “Encouragement”, as the ESV translates it. The last thing that Paul does before leaving Ephesus for his trip to Macedonia is to encourage the Ephesians. Then, he continued his ministry of encouragement as he went through all the regions of Macedonia (think Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea). At every turn, Paul was constantly seeking to encourage the churches he had established.
We certainly don’t want discouraged churches, do we? It’s easy for a church become discouraged—there’s ample reasons to fall into discouragement as individual believers or as a church. Perhaps there’s a difficult quarrel in the church. Or, perhaps the sermons have really been a drag to get through. Perhaps the outreach efforts haven’t been working. It our nature to slump into discouragement—and, just so we’re clear, what comes alongside discouragement? You might think of complaining, gossiping, complacency, ungratefulness, to name a few sins that we want to avoid.
Paul, rather, sought to encourage churches. The Greek word, there in verses one and two, is a very generic word. It parakaleo—literally, it could simply mean “to call for”. It’s a word that necessarily implies speaking, even to generically “call for” someone like a servant. That’s how the KJV renders it, for various reasons—that Paul simply “called for his disciples” to say goodbye to them. I don’t think that’s right. The word often means “to encourage”, or even “to comfort” a soul with words. That’s what Paul was concerned with. That’s what he did. He instilled encouragement and comfort.
By the way, I think Acts gives us the story of sleepy Eutychus whom Paul rose from the dead in order to further drive home Paul’s desire to encourage, or comfort the saints through his ministry. In some ways, the story might seem like an odd, little appendage to Paul’s travels. It’s caused some to pause and think—why is this story even here, in the first place? As Acts is telling us about Paul’s journey from Ephesus to Macedonia, to Greece, and then back to Macedonia, and back to Asia (near Ephesus), it’s here that Acts finally lets us breathe with this parenthetical story about Eutychus before describing the rest of Paul’s travels in verse 13.
What’s the point of the story? It’s the perfect story to show us what Paul’s ministry of comfort looked like. It’s the sort of story that ends with the statement in verse 12, “and they took they youth away alive, and were not a little comforted”—again, the same word, parakaleo. They were encouraged, comforted, by Paul’s ministry, as the Ephesians and Macedonians were in verses 1 and 2.
Does the Church’s Ministry Comfort You?
Does the church’s ministry bring you comfort? Does it bring you encouragement? Or, do you find yourself discouraged after time with the church? We’re supposed to be encouraged. In many ways, that’s the fundamental experience we should be pursuing in our faith—a godly comfort, or encouragement, or contentment, in whatever God decides to throw at us in our messy and complicated lives.
Sadly, the matter of comfort sometimes gets a bad wrap in the church. Sometimes we associate comfort with complacency—"we don’t want comfortable Christians”, as many preachers say. If by “comfortable” we mean “comfortable and complacent with sin” then we must agree. Yet, at the same time, it is comfort that we’re after. We want to be comforted by the gospel. We want to be comforted by God’s presence and blessings. The alternative experience before God’s holiness and law is utter despair. When the gospel of God’s forgiveness and grace settles upon a sinner who is trembling before God, comfort is the immediate experience that settles the anxious soul.
In fact, it is the experience of comfort and peace that often moves us from our trembling despair to our eager obedience and praise. As Paul said, “godliness with contentment is gain”.
By the way, sometimes it’s helpful to distinguish between all these “comfort” words we often use. Comfort, contentment, peace, encouragement—they’re all nuanced ways that the gospel effects distressed souls. Comfort is when a distressed soul finds in God’s promises relief from stress. Contentment is when that same comforted soul stays comforted—when the soul learns to steadfastly renounce all worldly anxieties, and like the proverbs 31 woman, to “laugh” at the days ahead. Paul says he “learned the secret to contentment”—it’s something you learn, grow in, and keep with you. Peace is the simmering sense of fullness and completeness, that all is at rest and cared for in God’s hands. Encouragement is the strength that all this peace and comfort instils within a person, as God’s promises allow us to serve and work for him freely, joyfully, in the victory of Christ. Whatever word we might choose to use in all this—it’s what Paul’s ministry was after. We see him referring to these godly blessings throughout all his letters, and his prayers, and his preaching in Acts. We’d do well to pursue them, by faith, as individuals and as a church.
This was Paul’s ministry—as we see it expressed in verses 1, 2, and 12 of our passage. It was Jesus’s ministry—“come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. There’s another word—rest.
Four Ways We Find Comfort and Encouragement
But with all that said, how did Paul instill this comfort and encouragement within the church? As I’ve been saying, Paul was a busy man during this time of his ministry—so, I trust there were many ways. I count four of them in our passage.
Paul’s Encouragement to the Ephesians
Let’s begin with his encouragement to the Ephesians, where his journey began. I’ve already illustrated that Paul’s last words before leaving the Ephesians in verse 1 of our passage involved encouragement. It’s certainly at this juncture where we have to do some reading between the lines, but it doesn’t hurt to ask—what do you suppose Paul said in that moment? It must have been quite a sacred moment, in many ways. Paul had been with the Ephesians for three years, and now he’s leaving them to themselves—“Time to do church without me, now. Hop in the driver’s seat!”
Again, we can’t know for sure what he said. Although, I think there’s enough material throughout our Bibles that we could certainly make some reasonable suggestions. Remember that Paul is leaving them right after the mob had dissipated. So, they have some interesting current events happening—their church disrupted the Artemis occult. More than this, they had recently seen Paul disrupt the demonic occult that was rampant throughout Ephesus as well. Remember the story of the Sons of Sceva, the traveling Jewish exorcists who were ready to appeal to any spiritual name to cast out evil spirits? I had mentioned when we looked at that passage that the Ephesians were obsessed with the spiritual occult—with demons and spirits. So, as Paul was leaving them, they might have had reason to think that Paul was leaving them to all of these massively powerful forces of darkness—the Artemis occult that ran the economy, and the spiritual occult that ran the spirituality in Ephesus.
Paul’s First Example of Ephesian Comfort
It is really, quite interesting, how Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians—that’s one place in our Bibles where we see Paul encouraging the Ephesians. He reminds the Ephesians of Christ’s sovereignty over these things over and over again. “You were dead in your trespasses and sins…. following the course of this world [Artemis], following the prince of the power of the air [the devil and his demonic occult]”. That’s who you were, Ephesians! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”—That’s who you are! You’re alive! You’re seated, by faith, through grace, at the highest position of power in the universe—“far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21). Throughout all of Ephesians, Paul is reminding the church in Ephesus that by grace, they have nothing to fear. There’s no spiritual or worldly power that can harm them, because Jesus is alive and risen, and you’re seated with him by faith. He’ll protect you. “Put on the full armor of God”, is how Paul closes that extremely comforting and encouraging letter.
When Paul encouraged the Ephesians before leaving them in our passage, perhaps he reminded them of these things, so that they might not fear the powers that faced them.
Paul’s Other Example of Ephesian Comfort
Or, perhaps Paul encouraged the Ephesians with the same sort of words that we are going to read about next week, when Paul addressed the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. It’s quite interesting—we’ll see next week that Paul doesn’t actually go back into Ephesus as he passes it, en route to Jerusalem. He didn’t want to get “stuck” there with ministerial needs. So, he called for the Ephesian elders to meet him nearby. Guess what he did? He encouraged them. Look ahead to next week’s passage, to chapter 20 verse 28. There, Paul says this—
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
This is rich encouragement. Paul isn’t avoiding the weightiness of any given matter. He isn’t offering fluffy words that ignore the struggle. “Pay careful attention to yourself”—don’t you fall into sin, elders— “and to al the flock”. All of them. Don’t let yourself or anyone in the church fall away from the Lord, or get stumbled up into sin. That’s not encouraging, is it? It’s real. It’s honest. Then, the encouragement—“in which [flock] the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.” Paul is saying, “you becoming an elder wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t any man’s idea. The risen Lord Jesus himself, through his Spirit, made you an overseer. It’s all in his hands—so, look to him! He’ll carry you along!” Yet, more than this, the sheep you’re caring for (verse 28) were “obtained with his own blood”. They were obtained. He has them in his hands, and he paid the ultimate price for them. He’s the chief shepherd.
That’s us, by the way. If you’ve struggled with the idea of “man-made religion” and “man-appointed religious authorities” in the church—this ought to be of encouragement. The Lord himself is personally overseeing every affair in his church—(1)he’s appointing his ministers, and (2) he himself obtained his people—even you—through his blood. No doubt, any given minister has his flaws. Only Jesus offers the perfect ministry from heaven.
Then Paul gets all the more real with the Ephesian elders. Verse 29—
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.
The word is powerful—and, it’s the center of ministry in the church. The word is able “to build you up” and to “give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified”.
So, what sort of encouragement might we suppose Paul desired to give the Ephesians as he was leaving them? We might say that Paul was encouraging and comforting them unto endurance. The Ephesian church needed endurance—and, Paul gave them reason to endure by commending them to Christ’s victory over the demonic occult, over the Artemis occult, over their own sin. He encouraged them to endurance by reminding them that Jesus himself established their church, appointed their elders, and obtained them with his blood. That’s stuff for endurance in God’s grace, right there.
So, one way Paul sought to encourage the churches in his ministry was to call them to endurance. What’s another way he encouraged them?
Paul’s Encouragement to the Corinthians
If you look at verses 2 and 3 of our passage, you’ll see that Paul went from Macedonia to Greece, and that “there [in Greece], he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia”.
Now, I do assure you, it is possible to make sense of this confusing itinerary—although, I’m not going to drag you through all that this morning. I just want you to understand two things, this morning. First, this whole journey that Paul is taking through Macedonia and Greece is a fund-raising journey. I mentioned two weeks ago from Acts 19:21 that Paul originally aspired to take this journey in order to help the saints in Jerusalem who were hurting, economically. So, from Ephesus, Paul travels north and west, crossing over to the other side of the Mediterranean sea to Macedonia and Greece, and then he travels back, passed Ephesus (which is when he talked with the elders), en route to Jerusalem with the funds he had received from all the churches. So generically, that’s what is behind all these itineraries. We’re making way to Jerusalem (two weeks ago, we looked at all the verses that made this more clear). So, hopefully that at least helps to re-orient you. That’s the first thing that’s important (or at least, helpful) to understand about verses 2 and 3.
However, notice that Paul spends “three months” in Greece—and, that he probably would have stayed around longer if a plot hadn’t been made against him. If Paul is so eager to get to Jerusalem, why would he spend these three months in Greece?
Among other reasons, Paul stayed in Greece because Greece is where Corinth was. This is another way to say that Paul stayed in Corinth for three months. If you remember our discussion on this from two weeks ago, Paul had a complicated history with Corinth. He wrote letter after letter, calling them to repent from their sins. He even made a “painful visit” to them during his 3 year stay at Ephesus, just to call them to repent. Then, it was around the time that Paul left Ephesus that Paul sent Titus to them with a “painful letter”, earnestly calling them to repent. As Paul was making his rounds through Macedonia, to collect funds for the church in Jerusalem, he finally connects with Titus who reports to Paul that the Corinthian church had, indeed, repented. So, he sends an incredibly comforting letter back to them, and he personally shows up shortly afterwards for that three month visit.
I’m telling you, folks, the more you think through all this, the more there’s encouragement to be found. Paul didn’t stop pursuing the Corinthians. In every letter, he encouraged them toward repentance. I trust he reminded them of who they are in Christ—that Jesus is better than their sins. That Jesus’s forgiveness is offered immediately, without regret. As Paul reminds them in 2 Corinthians, the letter of comfort he sent them after they repented—
2 Cor 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly griefproduces death.
“That’s you, Corinthians”, Paul tells them after they repented. Your godly grief produced a repentance that leads to salvation “without regret”. Isn’t that wonderful? After all the struggle to repent, all the wrestling with sin and the flesh thinking you would regret repenting, you finally repent without regret. It’s a wonderful thought—to say, “I don’t regret turning away from the flesh—from my old desires—one second. They have no hold on me, now that I’ve tasted in God’s incomparably better riches and salvation in Christ.” That’s what a godly grief produces.
So in all these journeys, Paul is encouraging the churches. He’s encouraging them unto endurance (as he did the Ephesians), and repentance (as he did the Corinthians). It’s all a ministry of comfort in the gospel, folks, as it is the same comfort of Christ that produces endurance and repentance. The gospel truly is powerful. What else was Paul after in his ministry?
Paul’s Encouragement in His Travel Companions
Real quick, if you look at verse 4. I’m not going to read it, but if you look at it, you’ll see a bunch of names, along with the people’s nationalities. So, “Sopater the Berean”, for example. Why is Acts giving us the names and nationalities of Paul’s travel companions, here?
Generically speaking, we see again that Paul doesn’t do ministry alone. We’ve seen that all over Acts—even the great apostle himself leans heavily up the body of Christ for encouragement and strength in the ministry. Yet more than this, all the cities mentioned describe the churches that Paul had planted throughout that region. You see Paul’s fruitful ministry, here—he’s traveling with people whom he quite possibly saw converted, finding encouragement and fellowship and strength from them. It’s a beautiful thought, folks—the apostle and teacher receiving encouragement from his spiritual children.
Yet, it’s also possible that these folks were traveling to Jerusalem with Paul, as representatives of all the churches represented in the offering. I think that’s quite possible, and many have suggested it as a possibility. When these churches heard about the struggling church in Jerusalem, they didn’t simply say “here, have our money”. They sent a personal messenger on their behalf with Paul, to bring all the more encouragement to the struggling church in Jerusalem.
Either way, verse 4 reminds us that Paul’s ministry of encouragement involved the sort of encouragement that comes through mutual assistance from believers. Fellowship, if you will. We need one another, to keep true to our faith and hope.
So Paul sought encouragement in his ministry through calling for endurance and repentance, and through seeking assistance. Endurance. Repentance. Assistance. All ministries of comfort available through the gospel. What else?
Paul’s Encouragement in Troas
Let’s look at the story about sleepy Eutychus. It’s an awesome story—and, it illustrates much more than God’s power to raise the dead.
This is a window (excuse the pun) into the early church’s Lord’s Day Worship. Verse 7 tells us that “on the first day of the week, when we gathered together to break bread”. This is a reference to the early church gathering on the Lord’s day, to hear the word, and to partake in the Lord’s Supper together. It’s actually shocking how the Lord’s Supper serves as a centerpiece to this story—a story that literally involves the a boy being raised from the dead. When you read this, it’s quite hysterical. Paul’s not fazed by the dead or sleepy boy one bit. He’s not fazed by the fatigue that likely overcame a whole number of people as he talked on and on through midnight. Verse 8 tells us that his long talking was made all the more daunting by “many lamps” in the room where they were gathered. These were oil lamps—so, they’d fill the room with a thick, musty aroma that’d put anyone to sleep. Yet, Paul isn’t fazed by any of it. He had gathered to preach the word, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper together.
Notice what happens when the boy fell out of the window and died. Paul doesn’t say, “yikes, I didn’t realize how late it’s gotten, let’s go to bed”. He goes down, revives the boy, comes back up, and then he breaks the bread for holy communion. Paul is a devoted man, here—it’s the Lords Day, we partake of the Lord’s meal. It’s that simple. It’s that important. It’s central.
The people were engaged, by the way. We like to joke around about sleepy Eutychus and long-winded Paul, and how miserable that evening must have been for everyone. It wasn’t miserable. It must have been thrilling. Paul had just written his letter to the Romans—all of that was fresh in his mind. He was on fire—and, he was conversing. This wasn’t just a long monologue sermon—although, there may have been some of that. Paul was conversing—one of the Greek words in this passage is the word we get “dialogue” from. No doubt, people were asking him questions, “Paul, tell us more about justification, or free grace, or sanctification?”. “How do we overcome sin? How can we not fear persecution?”. It was all on the table—only, a young boy just got a little bit sleepy. Thankfully, the Lord was merciful to use Paul as a means to display his life-giving power, and restore the boy back to life just before it was time to enjoy the Lord’s Supper together.
What was the effect on the people, after all this? What did this late-night, Lord’s day worship service do for them? Verse 12, “and they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted”.
They were comforted in every way that a Lord’s Day worship service should provide comfort. The word had filled them with a deeper understanding that Jesus’s death and resurrection is sufficient for their salvation and peace before God. God’s wrath against them is satisfied, and they are clothed with Jesus’s righteousness for full acceptance before the Father. The Lord’s Supper—the bread and wine—further confirmed that to them through visible signs that the Lord himself instituted for our comfort and assurance. More than this, Eutychus’s resurrection reaffirmed their faith in the Lord’s resurrection, which they celebrated every Lord’s Day, just as we do today.
All this to say—this worship service in Troas comforted the church with assurance. That’s another part of Paul’s ministry. He encouraged and comforted the church by strengthening their assurance that Jesus is Lord.
So, this all begs the question for us this morning. How do you find your comfort? To where do you go? I think it’s fair to say that many Christians struggle to find comfort in Christ—either, they don’t understand what comfort is available to them, or they’re too distracted by the false comforts of this world. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
This morning, we have seen that our Lord provides a manifold ministry of comfort through his church, through his ministers, through his gospel. Paul himself sought to comfort and encourage the churches through calling them to endurance and repentance, through seeking assistance, and through seeking a greater assurance in a Lord’s Day worship service. These are all comforts that Christ makes available to us. Make good use of them through the gospel of faith, Christian, and find that comfort, peace, contentment, and encouragement you need.