17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
This is Paul’s farewell address to his best friends, and he knows it.
Just like Jesus had a night of solitary prayer before He chose the twelve apostles and the night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Paul has been alone for a while. He walked or rode some kind of transport for the last few days. He could have slept and ridden in a cart or on the back of a donkey or something. He could have walked. The boat with his entourage would sail short bits every day, stopping overnight in various ports.
He was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem for Passover, so he met with the Ephesian church leaders at a stop on the way like meeting friends passing through town for a few hours at IHOP. They are going to meet for a bit then get back on the interstate and head for Jerusalem.
This speech is a lot like many of Paul’s letters. It covers similar topics, it exerts them to live life in obedience to the Holy Spirit, it acknowledges difficulties in life, and it offers some retrospection on how Paul has handled his calling.
He is also setting an example for all of them that he won’t be able to show again. As the church grows, it is going to face persecution. He is hoping that they will wear that persecution well. As Paul faced opposition, he did not cease to preach the good news of Jesus. Even in Ephesus, the government and other civic leaders couldn’t bring any accusations against him. The silversmiths were worried about losing their business, but they didn’t have any legal or honest foot to stand on, just a mob mentality.
So Paul is going to convey the most important things he has to say to them. These won’t be deep theological teachings, so much. Instead, Paul is going to encourage them with instructions on how to be church leaders.
He is going to tell them how to continue on without him. This is what is important for them to make the church and their faith their own and to carry it into the next century.