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The Spreading Flame - Series 6: Episode 2

Paul on the move with the gospel

| Martin Charlesworth
Acts 20:1-12

A plot to kill Paul makes him decide to travel by land to Jerusalem with a large team. On the way he visits the churches he has established to encourage them and organise leadership. At Troas, he shared with the church at length; Eutychus fell out of a window and died but then was resurrected.

A plot to kill Paul makes him decide to travel by land to Jerusalem with a large team. On the way he visits the churches he has established to encourage them and organise leadership. At Troas, he shared with the church at length; Eutychus fell out of a window and died but then was resurrected.


We are continuing in Series 6.

Background and Introduction

Having seen the extraordinary work that Paul did in the city of Ephesus, we now find that he is on the move with various objectives in mind. He is heading from Asia Minor, Ephesus, on the western coast of modern-day Turkey, to Macedonia and Greece across the Aegean Sea. Then he wil be going to Jerusalem and, as we have heard in previous episodes, mentioned in Acts 19: 20, his real goal is to head to Rome. This is why Series 6 is entitled ‘The Gospel to Rome’.

Paul on the Road

In this particular episode, we are going to find out about his work in Macedonia and Greece: what he is doing, the things that happen, and a particularly surprising incident that occurs on the journey. Let us read Acts 20: 1 - 6. This is speaking of Paul leaving Ephesus after the uproar in the amphitheatre.

1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He travelled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

Acts 20:1-6, NIV

Paul decided that it was time to leave Ephesus, having spent between two and three years there. His work was done, the church had been established and he moved forward to follow some colleagues he had already sent to Macedonia in advance and he went to join them, as described at the beginning of this passage. We find that as he is in Macedonia, he travelled through the area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people. We know of three churches that he had established there, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. There were probably others that are either not mentioned in the narrative of the book of Acts, or have been planted by those churches in the nearby communities since Paul had been there. We know he would have visited those three cities and because we know what happened when he was there before, we know that his time in those three cities was very short. He left Philippi, having been imprisoned and beaten, and he left rather hastily. He left Thessalonica after some difficulties with the Jewish community and in Berea when the Thessalonian Jews came over to stir up trouble in Berea and he left very hastily. He has only spent a very short period of time in these three major centres and now he returns for the first time, having had painful partings with these new Christians in each of those three cases. He would much prefer to spend much more time with them, but he simply couldn’t do it because the fierce opposition was threatening his mission, and indeed his own liberty and his life. So, he comes back. He does much to strengthen them through many words of encouragement to the people. This reminds us of what Paul did in his first missionary journey, which was in Asia Minor - having planted a few churches in cities in a particular region, he then went back to each one, soon after he planted the church and he strengthened the church. This is described in a parallel passage in Acts 14: 22,

22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith’ is how Luke describes it in that particular instance saying, “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” and then ‘Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.

Acts 14:22, NIV

Probably something similar was happening here in Macedonia: teaching, preparing them for opposition, encouraging them in their faith, and probably appointing leaders. New Testament leaders are generally called elders or sometimes shepherds or overseers. Paul made every effort to appoint eldership teams in the churches that he had planted. He probably did that at this point in these three churches in Macedonia, and any other churches in the region that are not named here. Leadership is important to hold new Christian communities together in stability and security. He encouraged them.

Then he travelled south to what is described here as Greece, the southern part of the modern country of Greece. We know from the previous account that he planted two churches there, one in Athens, although we don’t know very much about the community itself, but we know he preached the Gospel there and we know there were a few converts. We also know that he spent eighteen months in Corinth planting and establishing a church, where there were many people who believed and were baptised. These three months he probably spent mostly in Corinth.

It is interesting to think about Paul’s team. First of all, we notice in Acts 20:5, that the word ‘us’ is used, implying that here Luke is in Paul’s team. If you have been going through this teaching through the book of Acts, you will know that there are several occasions when Luke appears to be an eyewitness on the team. At that point, he describes the team as ‘we and us’ rather than ‘they and them’. Luke appears to be here with them. Also, there’s quite a big team because we know that Paul had already sent Timothy and others forward to Macedonia before he went, but here in verse 4, we find a whole other series of team members mentioned from all sorts of different places; Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, Trophimus, as well as Timothy. He has gathered quite a large team. This is partly because he is taking up an offering, a collection of money, from the churches. These men are probably going to be helping to keep the money secure, and provide accountability that none of the money is misspent, or wasted, or lost on the way but gets to its eventual destination in the city of Jerusalem. There is quite a strong team here, and he is travelling around.

When he is in Corinth and Athens, he then wants to move back from and head towards Jerusalem. The most obvious way to do that is to go by sea; it iis by far the quickest way. Perhaps it might take a week or two by sea, depending on the tides and which ship you take, and how many stops there are on the journey to get by sea from Greece, across the Aegean Sea, round the south of modern-day Turkey, past Cyprus and then down the Syrian coast, down to a port like Caesarea, and then take the journey to Jerusalem, or other places in Judea. Maybe that would take a fortnight to do that journey, if the winds and circumstances were good. But it is interesting here that he decided, in verse 3,

3 Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.

Acts 20:3, NIV

It appears he decided to go by road and not by sea because he feared a plot. This seems a very strange decision because if he goes by road, what might have been one or two weeks would become several months. It is going to take a very long time to go by road. All those hundreds and hundreds of kilometres, about 400 km north, then right across, and then all the way down through Asia Minor towards the province of Judea in Israel. What is going on here? He feared a plot. It probably means that he feared some Jews were going to get on board the ship that he was going to take. Maybe someone tipped him off, we don’t know all the details, we can’t prove this, but if they were going to get on board the ship, then of course, they could assassinate him, or poison him, or try and push him over the edge of the ship, or something like that. In other words, it was an enclosed space where he was vulnerable, and he didn’t want to take the risk. So, he took a very long detour which would cost him literally months of time. There must have been some serious evidence that something was afoot. We know from Paul’s writings in the letters to the Corinthians, how seriously the Jewish opponents tried to get rid of Paul on many different occasions and make it difficult, and this appears to include even an assassination or kidnapping plot.

So, he went by land and they travelled all the way through Macedonia and then took the short journey by sea over to a city port called Troas. We have encountered Troas before in our story because before Paul had ever got to Europe to Greece and Macedonia, he was in Troas. He was in that very place when he had a vision in the middle of the night, when a man from Macedonia said, “Come over and help us.” Now we have come full circle and he is back in the same place that he used as the basis for going on that missionary trip in the first place. But now he is heading in the opposite direction; he is heading south and east, ultimately for the city of Jerusalem.

An Amazing Resurrection;

Here we have just a fascinating story. Luke is present as an eyewitness and we see here an insight into Paul’s life and the life of his travelling companions. The things that happened in his life that are touching, poignant and fascinating for us to read. Let us read Acts 20:7 - 12:

7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third storey and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

Acts 20:7-12, NIV

What an amazing story. The first day of the week is when they met. It appears that some kind of a church community existed in Troas, though we have no mention of it earlier on in the narrative. Paul had been there before, as I mentioned, so he probably preached the Gospel there. His travelling group met with the local believers, probably just a handful of people, on the first day of the week. The first day of the week is a term for Sunday, and it is used on a number of occasions. For example, in 1 Corinthians 16: 2,

2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.

1 Corinthians 16:2, NIV

The first day of the week, Sunday, became the natural day of gathering for the church because it was associated with the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, John in the book of Revelation 1:10, describes it as the ‘Lord’s Day’, the day of resurrection. But we shouldn’t imagine that they met at some convenient time in the morning, or the afternoon, or the early evening because they were working, and they weren’t free. It wasn’t an official day of rest. It wasn’t recognised by the Roman authority. If they met on the first day of the week, they would generally meet very early in the morning before working hours, or late at night, as in this instance, they are meeting late at night. They broke bread which means they were sharing communion. ‘Breaking bread’ in the book of Acts describes both communion, the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament of Holy Communion on the one hand, and also a social meal on the other. It is referred to at the very beginning, in the Jerusalem church. Acts 2: 42 speaks of ‘breaking bread’. The communion was going to be shared, the Lord’s Supper, a time of consolidation of fellowship, of encouragement, of remembrance of the atonement of Jesus, a celebration of the new covenant which they had entered into. They were going to break bread.

As Paul was talking, a young man, Eutychus, falls asleep. He is on the third storey. The first storey in those buildings, in that context, means the ground floor, so there is a second, and then the third is the second floor above the ground floor. We know from archaeology that Roman architecture and design of housing meant that in urban areas most people lived in what we would call apartment blocks - very basic multi-storied housing. This was the housing for the poorer people and so it is not uncommon to have people living on the third or even the fourth storey. It is not surprising that this is the meeting room for this particular gathering in Troas, of Paul and his group and the local believers. But poor Eutychus had been working all day. He was a young man. He may have been a slave, he may have been a teenager, but he has probably been working all day, in one way or another. He sat on the windowsill, fell asleep and fell to the floor. He would have fallen some considerable distance from his windowsill right the way down to the ground outside. It was a dramatic moment.

Paul had the ability to talk on and on but if you imagine him preaching a single sermon, that would be a misrepresentation of what Paul was doing. He would be telling stories, answering questions, entering into dialogue, engaging in fellowship, having prophetic words for people, talking about his mission and encouraging them to participate in what he was doing in heading to Jerusalem. Paul was a great conversationalist, and these conversations could go on and on. They were having that kind of conversation when suddenly, Eutychus fell. Paul rushed down the stairs and laid on the boy saying, “He’s alive. Don’t be alarmed.” Amazingly, he got up unharmed and everyone was relieved. Luke specifically says that he was dead, so this wasn’t a concussion, this wasn’t just him being dazed or confused or injured. Luke describes him as having had a disastrous accident and actually being lifeless when he was discovered a few minutes later, when they had rushed down the stairs. So, Luke describes this story as if it is actually a resurrection that has taken place. Somebody who is dead but is now alive again. This is in the pattern of events that we have in the New Testament, where there are several similar accounts, which I am going to refer to in just a moment.

Interestingly enough, this didn’t stop Paul talking. He just carried on for several more hours. I think Paul loved to have these moments of warm fellowship and mutual encouragement because he had such a hard time travelling, preaching, and facing opposition. This was a moment of affection and togetherness in the church, and of relaxation for Paul. I think when Paul relaxed, he talked. I think that was his personality. Some people do that, don’t they? People wanted to hear what he said because his story was so amazing. It was very hard for people to get news of what was happening around the churches because communication was so difficult in those days. There were no newspapers, there was no social media,; there was no Internet, there was no postal system of any significance that could be used by ordinary people. Paul was telling story after story and answering questions. That’s what he loved to do. That is what the Jewish system of education was all about - telling stories and concepts and then answering questions in detail. Paul did that right the way through to the morning and then he left, heading step-by-step towards Jerusalem. If I had been a church member in Troas, that would be a night I would never forget for the rest of my life. What a story! What an encounter with Paul!


What can we learn from a passage like this? I think it is a very touching and meaningful story and I think it is interesting that Luke includes it because it doesn’t carry a lot of strategic purpose for the grand mission of Paul. It is just a human story of him interacting with fellow believers and responding with faith in a particular circumstance. But here are some things that I think we can reflect on and learn about from this passage.

First of all, about the status of Sunday. Sunday has become a very special day and sometimes even a sacred day for Christians. We need to remember that at the time of the Early Church, Sunday had no special status in the Roman Empire until the fourth century, about 300 years after the time of Jesus, before the Roman Emperor, Constantine, had become a Christian and changed the law so that Sunday was a day of rest. We are so used to this idea in many parts of the world, we think it has always been there but it wasn’t in the days of the Early Church. In fact, the Early Church knew that we can worship and gather the church community on any day of the week. We are not committed to a particular day because of a divine command. The Jews were committed to a particular day - the Sabbath - because of the divine command in the ten Commandments. But that commandment is never applied to the Church and there is no attempt by Paul or anyone else to enforce attendance on any particular day, or make it a day of rest. In the world today, Christians in Jewish communities will often gather on the Jewish Sabbath, the Saturday. Christians operating in Islamic communities will characteristically have their church meetings on Friday, the Islamic holy day. Christians in Western communities, and other parts of the world influenced by Christianity, will generally gather on Sunday because that day has been set aside by culture and legislation as a day of rest. But actually, there is no law about it and we shouldn’t elevate any day to have any sacred status.

The second reflection I learn from here, is about the power of encouragement. There is a lot of emphasis here on encouragement. Paul encouraged all the churches he had previously visited. Words of encouragement have a tremendous power to strengthen Christian community. His discussion with the Christians at Troas must have included lots of encouragement to them, as he spent many hours talking to them through the night, on that famous night that is described in the second half of our passage. Encouragement is really important. Encouragement means coming alongside other people; helping them with positive words. These words can be the words of Scripture, our own words of encouragement, or words of prophecy from God himself. Paul was very committed to words of encouragement that were just what we think is going to be most helpful to other people. He emphasises this in Philippians 2: 1 - 2, for example.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, becoming one in spirit and one in mind.

Philippians 2:1-2, NIV

Encouragement is really important, it builds up the church. Even the Holy Spirit is described as an encourager, or as a comforter, an advocate, in John 14: 16, or our helper. The Holy Spirit comes to strengthen us through words that come from God. My second application here is to think about the power of encouragement.

My final point will be to talk about physical resurrections in the New Testament. I’m distinguishing these from the resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection of Jesus was a once for all permanent reality: when Jesus was raised from the dead his body was transformed in such a way that there was no decline or future death possible in the body of Jesus. What I am talking about is the resurrections where people who have died physically come back to life, for the lifespan of their lifetime, as a sign of God’s powerful activity and the authority of Jesus Christ. There are three resurrections of this type recorded in Jesus’ ministry: the widow of Nain’s son who was just about to be buried, going to his funeral, lying down on a funeral bier in Luke 7, and he was raised from the dead. Jairus’ daughter as described in Luke 8 and Lazarus, as described in John 11. There are three recorded resurrections performed by Jesus. But there’s also a resurrection performed by Peter in Acts 8 of Dorcas, otherwise known as Tabitha, who had died; a lady who had died and was raised again from the dead, miraculously. To those four resurrections we can add this fifth one, the resurrection of Eutychus through the prayers and faith of Paul. All these are signs of God’s supreme power, even over life and death.

Thank you for joining me for this episode where we look into Paul’s life in a little more of a personal sense, a personal meeting with friends, a powerful church meeting, sharing communion and a miracle in the midst of it, with lots of encouragement, and then a parting of the ways as Paul continues with much determination on his journey. He must get to Jerusalem. He has financial gifts to give and then from there, he must get to Rome to witness in the capital city of the Roman Empire. We will continue to follow him on this exciting but extremely risky journey that he’s now undertaking.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. How important is encouragement to you?
  • Discipleship
    1. How can you encourage others in your church? Be practical as well as with words
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Research the people who were with Paul. Where did they come from?
    2. Use tagging to find Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath.
    3. What do we learn about Paul as a person from this passage?
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