In Acts 20:17-27, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to come meet with him and reminds them how he has labored to the point of tears in bringing the gospel. He has lived a life of lowliness, labor, tears, trials, and utter dedication. And in verse 27, he declares that he “did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
In verse 28, Paul is about to speak clearly about what they, as faithful servants of Christ, are to do as he leaves:
Acts 20:28-31 (NIV) “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
Verse 28 starts, "Keep watch …” then verse 31 says, "Be on your guard …" So, the paragraph begins and ends with a call to watchfulness. We must be alert, awake, open-eyed, and watchful.
This is Paul's way of saying that the church is always threatened. Satan never takes vacations. Sin lurks at the door waiting for the moment of doctrinal or moral carelessness. The command for the Christians, therefore, is this: Stay awake. Be alert. Know sound doctrine and watch.
But, watch what? Paul applies our watchfulness in two ways:
First, you must watch yourself. Verse 28: "Keep watch over yourselves…" It's not surprising that Paul says this first, is it? He spent half his message talking about his own life and work. The point was that it matters what kind of person you are, not just what you believe. So, the first command to these Christian leaders is to watch over themselves. One of the ways we keep watch over ourselves is those invited to walk with us—our brothers who we invite all the way into our struggles, habits, practices, etc. God saved us into the Church for a reason. We are not meant to do this alone!
Second, we must keep watch over each other—our blood-bought brothers and sisters!
WHAT ARE WE TO WATCH OUT FOR?
Watchfulness for Satan’s advances and those opposed to God looking to hurt His family
1 Peter 5:8-11 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
When a lion hunts its prey, all it has to do is get one claw into it, and then it pulls it in.
2. Watchfulness for false teachers so we can protect the church from false teachings
Acts 20:30-31 (NIV) “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
His message is clear: Be on your guard, because there are wolves among you.
The activity of a wolf is primarily presenting a false gospel that does not lead to life. The reality is most of us have grown up in church settings or have had experiences with Christians where false, inaccurate, life-sucking teachings have been sold as THE GOOD NEWS of Jesus. We must protect the flock with keen discernment, so we can determine who is truly a sheep and who is a wolf disguised as a sheep looking to hurt and tear apart the flock or detract exultation of God’s name.
Paul speaks to the danger of this in Galatians 1:6-7: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Paul talks about the people in Galatia believing a different gospel! False teaching = false faith = false living.
There is only one gospel that saves and that empowers! Standing on any other foundation is hopeless and powerless.
Acts 20:32-35 “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. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
Why this is good news? The word of God's grace brings us to the inheritance of everlasting joy. Let's read verse 32 again and take special notice of what Paul says the word of grace is able to give us:
Acts: 20:32 “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 of God's grace is able to give you an inheritance.
What is the inheritance? Well, the inheritance Paul sometimes talks about is the kingdom of God. Twice in 1 Corinthians (6:9,10) and once in Galatians (5:21), he says that people who go on living in sin and unbelief will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It's the inheritance Jesus talked about when the rich young ruler came and asked him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18, 25, 26; cf. Titus 3:7).
It's what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).
The inheritance is salvation, the kingdom of God, a restored relationship with the king of kings; it is eternal life—"the riches of the glory of God" (Ephesians 1:18; Romans 8:17).
This is what Paul says the word of grace is able to give the leaders at Ephesus and for us today; "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build you up and GIVE YOU THE INHERITANCE."
How does the word of God's grace bring us to inheritance? "The word is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." "Those who are sanctified" are the ones who receive the inheritance. So to receive the inheritance of eternal life and the kingdom of God and everlasting joy, you have to be sanctified. In short, it means that your heart is changed so that you love the holy God and His revealed will for your life, and you hate sin—especially in your own life.
The way the word gives the inheritance is by sanctifying. And this is exactly what Jesus said the word of God does. In John 17:17, He prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth." The word of God sanctifies; therefore, the word of God gives the inheritance of eternal life, because the inheritance is given to all who are sanctified.
Building Up & Sanctifying
The ability of the word of grace to build up is virtually the same as its ability to sanctify. "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build you up and [in this way] give you the inheritance among [all the others] who are [built up, that is] sanctified."
So, when Paul leaves Miletus and commits them to the care of God and His word, he is not committing them to something passive. The word of God is active and powerful. Paul says that the word of grace (the true gospel of Jesus) is a builder. It builds a useful structure out of a life of ruins. It builds design out of a life of confusion. It builds security out of fear and anxiety. It builds strength out of weakness. It builds permanence and stability out of wavering uncertainty. It builds beauty out of ugliness.
It brings us to the inheritance of everlasting joy because it has a sanctifying effect upon our lives.
Thank you, Jesus, for grace that brings inheritance—and new life. Thank you, Lord, for leaders and brothers who will pay a costly price to serve and protect the flock.
To close, Paul reminds them of the words of the Lord Jesus, saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." The last thing Paul is doing as he ends this message is just what he said he was doing: he is committing them to the word of grace. And one thing that the word of grace says is this: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Or to put it another way, The glory of God's inheritance will restore to you ten thousand-fold whatever you give up in a life of love. Because of God's unsearchable grace, supplying every need and lavishing reward after reward, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Why is this good news? The word of God's grace takes away the love of money and things. Verse 33 says, "I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel." If you believe that the wealth of God's grace and the glory of His inheritance are so immeasurable that giving is more blessed than getting, then the false idols of your heart are replaced!
One of the ways we are watchful against the enemy is to have a noble indifference to money. The result is it produces a passion to meet others' needs. Verses 34–35a say, "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak." The main point is that Paul did not want to get rich off anyone at Ephesus; instead, he wanted to meet people's needs. He wanted to make people rich with Jesus Christ.
Like Paul, we need to:
Serve the Lord with lowliness and tears and trials (v. 19).
Care nothing for our own lives, if only we finish our course, because faithfulness is better than life (v. 24).
Not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God or anything that is profitable (vv. 27, 20).
Night and day, admonish everyone with tears (v. 31).