Paul had a very important multi-purposed message for those elders, which begins at the next verse and ends at verse 35. His message to them is like sitting in on an elder’s meeting in first-century Christianity. As you read what he said, note what he magnified. (This should stir you.)
How a minister lives is shown to be very important. Paul mentioned his great humility, even when tested severely. All Christians can expect severe and painful tests as well (1 Pet. 4:12).
Verse 20 is commonly misused by the Jehovah's witnesses for their door-to-door spreading of false teachings. It was house to house that Paul taught those elders and other Christians. He didn’t go house to house to make new converts.
Verse 21 is one of the most important verses in the Bible regarding salvation. Note: Paul taught repentance as part of his salvation message besides placing their submissive faith in the LORD JESUS.
Even the Apostle Paul went to certain places not knowing how he and the gospel would be received.
To know your earthly life would consist of prison time and hardships would greatly discourage most, but not Paul. He elaborates in the next verse.
The real gospel is connected with grace and vice versa. When one ponders verses like 1 Cor. 15:2 and Titus 2:12, we can better understand each:
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Cor 15:2)
It [grace] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:12)
Verse 25, when joined with verse 21, is very important, especially for people who are Jehovah's Witnesses. The JW false gospel (which they think is preaching the kingdom) centers around them preaching about the 1,000 reign of Christ on earth, instead of as Paul's preaching of the kingdom, as described in verse 21 - repentance towards God and faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul knew under the New Covenant there would still be blood guilt for those who have been irresponsible, which Paul certainly was not. (Such is a real danger for spiritual leaders.) Paul preached the truth of God wherever he went. Ezekiel wrote much of this same thing. Blood guilt is also what David was fearful of (Psa. 51:14).
Oftentimes preachers hold back part of the message of Scripture, even though the listener/s need to hear it. Paul was not like that. In fact, there was no hesitancy in him to preach the whole will of God, even though some or most would not be very receptive at the time.
Verse 28 shows, in part, the responsibility of those spiritual leaders (elders in verse 17 and here called overseers). As a shepherd in the natural watches over the sheep, so they are to watch over the spiritual sheep. Here is a corroborating passage:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13:17)
Even though Christians are to guard themselves and are supposed to be guarded by spiritual leaders, many still fall way. This shows the intensity of our spiritual warfare.
Acts 20:28 is also a Scripture showing the deity of Christ. God bought the church with his own blood. That can only be referring to the Lord Jesus.
Paul calls false teachers savage wolves. Such creatures are sheep killers. Shepherds are to protect the sheep from such dangerous religious people. If not, the sheep will die due to their failure of duty. True converts (sheep) can die spiritually. Paul didn’t teach if they die they were false converts and never really saved, like some savage wolves do today.
Paul also knew the devil would send his servants to where the sheep are. This is reality and not a negative confession as some might accuse Paul of. The sheep will be confronted with dangerous false doctrine, sooner or later. Hence, the best safeguard is to learn the Bible, as soon as possible.
[A sound teacher of God's word is more rare and valuable than a good medical doctor because we are dealing with eternity. Conversely, a false teacher is much worse than a quack doctor, but few recognize these. Hence, the sound teachers should be appreciated and helped, while the false teachers should be refuted and opposed at every turn.]
In Revelation we get a glimpse of Paul’s warning about false teachers coming after he would leave. That is documented here:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. (Rev 2:1,2)
Those false teachers claimed for themselves, the highest office in the church—apostle (1 Cor. 12:28).
Shocking verse! Even some of those spiritual leaders he was talking with (the elders from Ephesus—real Christians) would change for the bad to distort the truth, cause splits and form their own church or following by doing so! It would be done intentionally to gain a following, which has often happened in our day.Distorted truth often goes forth through the teachings of eternal security, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, KJV Onlyites, Yeshua people, etc.
Wow! Ponder that verse. For three years, maybe thousands of times, Paul kept warning them with tears over the dangers cited in verses 29 and 30. Doesn’t that speak volumes of the danger the sheep would be in through false teachings, which Paul tried to prevent in every way.
Remember, Paul is addressing elders (spiritual leaders) and wanted those, who were already supposed to be leaders, to know God’s word can build them up even more and give them that inheritance.
Not being covetous (greedy) is a requirement for true ministers of the Lord. Even though Paul was often lacking, he still never coveted what others had. Greed will damn (1 Cor. 6:9,10; Eph. 5:5-7; etc.). Paul kept himself pure. Peter similarly wrote about this to shepherds:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; (1 Pet 5:2)
Greed was also a common problem among priests and prophets in the Old Testament:
From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. (Jer 6:13,14)
Some teach false doctrine to avoid persecution and others for the gain. The grace changers (eternal security teachers), according to Jude, rushed for profit into Balaam’s error (Jude 11). That is another way of saying for the financial gain.
The financial support Paul got from other churches must have been, at this point, so slight that he could make such a statement. Paul made tents (Acts 18:2,3) and apparently spent everything for the spread of the gospel, which even included helping to finance the way for his co-laborers.
Tentmaking was hard work. Verse 35 also records one of Jesus’ teachings, which is not found in the gospels. By referring to Jesus’ teaching here, Paul showed he was not like some dispensational people of our day who wrongly reject Jesus’ teachings for the church. (Too bad the Prosperity Teachers don’t teach helping the weak, like Paul mentioned, to be the more blessed.)
Paul is being an example again in front of those shepherds. He knelt down in prayer and surely prayed about those concerns he brought up, which would stretch into eternity.
Three times we read of Paul and or his elder audience shedding tears or weeping (verses 19, 31 and 37). That’s what that elder meeting was like. Paul’s sincerity and seriousness didn’t result in a laughing revival, but instead tears being shed by all those listening. Surely they understood the dangers they, and the sheep they were to guard, were in. As stirring as that was, the most hurtful part was they would not see Paul again in this life. That reflects how they loved and respected that champion apostle for his continued godliness, whom the eternal security teachers heretically impugn as the worst of sinners!