On Acts 20:13-17

Acts 20:13-17
Such was the close of the visit to Troas. At this time the apostle appears to have been deeply impressed that his ministry, in the east at any rate, was soon to close. So he had intimated to the saints in Rome a little before, for he lets them know that as he had been hindered these many times from coming to them, so now that he had no more any place in these regions he hoped to see them (Rom. 15:22-2322For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. 23But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; (Romans 15:22‑23)).
He was bent on his ministration of the contribution from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. This done, his purpose was to go on by Rome into Spain, assured of coming to the saints in the capital with the fullness of the blessing of Christ. This deep feeling appears to have affected his ministry wherever he went. It was no doubt in the earnestness to which it gave rise that he had discoursed so long the last night of his stay at Troas.
But now the journey must be entered on. “But we, having gone before on board the ship, set sail for Assos, there intending to take up Paul, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go on foot” (vs. 13). Here was another effect of the same solemn feeling. There is a time for social intercourse, there is a time also for isolation; and the apostle who enjoyed fellowship of heart with his brethren as no saint ever perhaps equaled, realized that it was now a season to be alone. One can hardly doubt that this was by no means an unfrequent thing for one so actively engaged in public work as Paul. His habitual piety would dispose him now and then to seek such an opportunity of unburdening his spirit, and of renewing, in a marked and fall way, his sense of dependence on the grace of Christ. These secret dealings with the Lord were so much the more needful, because the exigencies of the work called for energy and prominence before men. At this juncture, beyond any question, we see that he had appointed to be apart from his beloved companions, who went on board ship, even though it involved his own more laborious progress by land. It is left for us to judge its motive and meaning,1 and we cannot but think that what is here suggested is a better key than the mere notion of a visit to one and another by the way. The general context rather adds to the conclusion that Paul was avoiding all but indispensable visits just then, and that having but a short time for his journey, he gave what time he could spare to the most important objects before his heart. Unnamed visits would scarcely have furthered this aim. “And when he met with us at Assos, we took him up and came unto Mitylene; and having sailed thence on the morrow we arrived over against Chios, and on the next day we touched at Samos, and [having remained at Trogyllium] the day after we came unto Miletus. For Paul had determined to sail past2 Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:14-1614And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene. 15And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus. 16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:14‑16)).
There is no spiritual reason to dwell upon the associations which Assos or Mitylene, Chios or Samos, Trogyllium or Miletus might suggest. They are here brought before us simply as the varying points of the apostolic journey, from which it would divert as if we occupied our minds with historical questions interesting enough as to each of them.
Suffice it to say that, although Paul had his heart filled with that which was of the deepest importance for the saints in Ephesus, Miletus was the point of approach, rather than the capital of Asia. Here too the motive seems plain. Had he gone to Ephesus itself, with a strong affection, and the many ties he had with the numerous saints there, he could not have left them without a considerable delay. He therefore preferred to sail past Ephesus, that he might not frustrate the object of his journey to Palestine. If one so known and loved and loving as he was, had visited Ephesus, he could not have avoided a stay of some length among them. He therefore made Miletus his place of passing sojourn, in order that nothing should hinder the fulfillment of his desire to be at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost.
On the other hand, it was of the utmost moment that the saints at Ephesus should receive words of wise and gracious counsel at this moment. The apostle therefore adopts a method by no means usual. “And from Miletus he sent unto Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church” (vs. 17). These presbyters were the fitting medium. They had the regular and responsible ecclesiastical charge in that city. We can hardly doubt from the general impression of the rest of the chapter, that they were not a few in number. As this does not fall in with the usual habits and thoughts (not to say, selfishness) of men, the notion slipped in even from ancient times that the elders of all the churches round about are meant. But such a tampering with the word of God is not to be allowed for a moment. The apostle sent to Ephesus and called to himself the elders of the church, not of the churches around. There may have been many meeting-places in Ephesus; but, as is well known, scripture never speaks of the assemblies, always of the assembly or church, in a city. Hence, however numerous, they are here styled, the elders of the church; and they no doubt cared for the affairs of all. Whilst local responsibility was also preserved in its place, unity was not therefore forgotten. Common action would be the natural and proper result. So it was in Jerusalem, as we know from the revealed notices of that assembly, which consisted of many thousands of saints; and so we see it here in Ephesus, though no details are given. The grand principles of the church prevailed and were the same everywhere, though at first there were Jewish elements at work in Jerusalem, if some of them indeed did not linger still. But such unity was of and for heaven, not of Judaism, being preeminently of the Holy Spirit. “There is one body and one Spirit.”
Another matter may claim brief notice here, though it may seem somewhat of an anticipation. The elders of the church are designated “overseers” or “bishops” by the apostle in verse 28. “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.” This identification falls in with every scriptural notice we possess. Such is the genuine inference from 1 Timothy 3 as well as from 1 Timothy 5, and still more plainly from Titus 1:5-65For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. (Titus 1:5‑6), compared with 7,9, as well as Acts 11; 14; 15; 16, and 21, and from 1 Peter 5 and James 5, no less than Philippians 1:11Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1). The great distinction which soon reigned between bishops and presbyters is wholly unknown to the word of God. Not one, but more, were appointed in each assembly or city, where charges were conferred at all. There was regularly a plurality of elders and bishops. They might be men of gift, teachers or evangelists; but the indispensable work was to “rule” or “preside.” This was the object of their appointment; for appointed they certainly were by apostolic authority, direct, or indirect when an apostle could not be there (as for instance by Titus commissioned for the purpose by the apostle Paul). The gifts, on the other hand, were given by Christ without any such intervention. A pastor, teacher, or evangelist, as such, was never nominated by an apostle or an apostolic delegate. The distinction from elders or deacons, it is well to bear in mind. “The seven” at Jerusalem, who rendered diaconal service, were chosen by the multitude of the believers, before they were appointed by the apostles. That this election by the church does not apply to elders is plain from every scripture that treats of their appointment, which lay exclusively with apostles or their expressly authorized deputies. Still less was there an election by men of those so-called gifts: in their case Christ chose. As Christ gave them, they preached or taught on their direct responsibility to Him. Where Christians gave of their means, they were allowed to choose dispensers in whom they had confidence. Such is the uniform teaching of the New Testament, and the only legitimate inference from it. The painful departure of Christendom, rationalists or dissenters, Catholics and Protestants, is so glaring that one only wonders how godly men can overlook the facts in the word which make the will of God manifest, or, how, if they apprehend them, there can be indifference to the truth and the inalienable duties it involves.