Acts 20:1-16: A Life of Joyful Giving
Topic: Default Passage: Acts 20:1–20:16
Acts 20:1-16: A Life of Joyful Giving
We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Acts, and today the next passage we come to is Acts 20:1-16. It says,
1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5 These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. 13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, what a blessing it is to be gathered together around your Word with the opportunity to immerse ourselves in it this morning. We pray that your Spirit would be present and at work in our midst, causing the truths and teachings we encounter to find a place in our hearts. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
One of the things I appreciate about children is their honesty. You don’t ever have to wonder what’s on their mind or what they want because, usually, it’s very obvious. And that’s especially true when it comes to receiving things. For example, when a child receives a card, what are they looking for? Money, right? They’ll rip open the envelope, open up the card, and if there’s money inside, their eyes will light up. The card might even fall down to the floor, but they don’t even notice because they’re so excited about the money. Adults, on the other hand, approach things differently. We still like receiving money, of course, but we’ve learned to hide our excitement a little bit and read the card first and at least act like we’re more interested in what’s written in the card because we know that’s the appropriate thing to do. But one thing that both children and adults have in common is that we all like receiving gifts.
Yet, we find an important truth stated at the end of Acts 20—specifically in verse 35—which tells us that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It’s counterintuitive, and yet, it’s true. There’s more joy to be found in giving than there is to be found in receiving. Now, we’re not officially going to be looking at that verse until next week, when we cover the second half of Acts 20. Yet that truth—“It is more blessed to give than to receive”—is quite relevant for our main passage this morning of Acts 20:1-16. Even though that truth isn’t explicitly stated until the next passage, it’s exemplified quite powerfully in this passage. The fact is that God invites us into a life of joyful giving. That’s the main idea of this passage. God invites us into a life of joyful giving.
Now, this passage isn’t an eloquent theological treatise or a masterfully written essay on the subject of giving. It’s a simple, straightforward narrative. Yet it’s a narrative that helps us see what a life of joyful giving looks like and, by implication, calls us to that kind of a life. And you’ll see what I mean as we go along.
First, look with me at verses 1-6. You may remember from the previous chapter that a riot has just taken place in the city of Ephesus as a result of Paul’s missionary activities. By telling people about Jesus, Paul was causing the local silversmiths who manufactured idolatrous statues to lose business, and they didn’t like that, so they started a riot. We then read this in verses 1-6: 1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5 These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.
So, if you look at this map here, you can see the city of Ephesus, where Paul’s been ministering for several years, close to the center of the map. However, verse 1 records how he departs from Ephesus for the region of Macedonia—in the upper left corner of the map. Verse 2 then records him traveling south from Macedonia to Greece, ending up eventually in the city of Corinth. That’s the farthest point Paul reaches in his journey. Then, after he reaches Corinth, the text records how he retraces his steps and travels back through Macedonia on his way to Jerusalem.
Now, you may be wondering, how does all of this relate to the subject of giving? Fair question. Notice, in verses 3-4, especially verse 4, all the people who are said to be with Paul as he travels back through the region of Macedonia on his return trip. It says he’s accompanied by a guy named Sopater from Berea, two guys from Thessalonica named Aristarchus and Secundus, a man from Derbe named Gaius, Timothy his longtime missionary companion, and two men from churches in Asia named Tychicus and Trophimus. Don’t you think that’s a lot of people? And isn’t it interesting how they’re all from different places? It kind of makes you want to do a little digging, doesn’t it? Maybe we should.
And as we do that, we discover that the reason all of these men are travelling with Paul on his way back to Jerusalem is because they’re carrying a love offering that Paul had collected from all of these different churches for the purpose of helping the believers in the Jerusalem church who are struggling to get by. The reason they’re struggling is that a severe famine had hit Jerusalem. And for some reason, the politicians of Jerusalem were really stingy and didn’t give everyone stimulus checks. So, these Christians in Jerusalem—who had already probably been impoverished by the significant amount of persecution they faced—were now under even more financial pressure because of this famine. So, Paul organizes a huge love offering among the churches he’s started across the Roman Empire in order to help the Christians of Jerusalem. He writes about this love offering in several places, including 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, where he states, 1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
And back in verses 3-4 of our main passage, that’s exactly what’s happening. Paul has now collected that money and is ensuring that it finds its way safely to Jerusalem. Obviously, it wasn’t really an option to wire funds from one place to another back then, so the money had to be physically transported. And as a way of demonstrating his integrity, Paul doesn’t transport the money himself but rather has representatives from many of the churches accompany him and be the ones to actually transport the money from their respective churches. That’s why we find all these names listed in verse 4.
And it’s from this whole endeavor that we’re provided with what is perhaps the richest and most detailed teaching on the subject of giving in the entire Bible. You see, as Paul’s traveling through Macedonia on his way to Corinth in order to collect the offering from the Corinthian church, he writes the letter that we now know as 2 Corinthians. Don’t miss that. Second Corinthians was written during Paul’s journey to Corinth recorded in our main passage. And I believe our study of our main passage can be enriched by taking a look at some of the principles for generosity that Paul taught as he was on the journey recorded in this passage.
So, in 2 Corinthians 8-9, we discover ten principles for generosity that I’d like to briefly share with you this morning. I won’t be able to elaborate on these, so I’ll more or less have to simply mention them and show you where they are in the biblical text. Feel free to write these down if you can write fast enough—or you can just listen to this message again online. The first principle is that giving is the fruit of God’s grace in a person’s heart. In 2 Corinthians 8:1, Paul writes, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” and then goes on to describe their generous giving. So Paul refers to giving as something that originates with “the grace of God.” Second, giving should be an overflow of our joy. As Paul writes in the next verse, “…for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” So, why did the churches of Macedonia give the way they did? They had, Paul says, an “abundance of joy”—meaning more joy than they could hold inside of them—and this joy “overflowed” in the form of their generous giving. Giving should be an overflow of our joy in Christ.
Third, there’s a time for sacrificial giving. Verse 3: “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” In other words, they figured out how much they could comfortably give without impacting their lives too much, and then they gave more than that. Their giving was “beyond their means” in the sense that it was sacrificial. Today, what that might look like is sacrificing the purchase of a new vehicle or a desired vacation or even something more significant than that so that we can engage in a higher level of giving. Fourth, giving should be first and foremost an act of worship toward God. In verses 4-5, Paul describes how the Macedonians were 4 …begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. The Macedonians weren’t just trying to make Paul happy by their giving but were giving as a heartfelt act of worship toward God.
Then, the fifth principle is that the genuineness of our love is seen in our willingness to give. After Paul urges the Corinthians to imitate the Macedonians in their generous giving, he states in verse 8, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” You see, biblical love is about more than sentimental feelings but about our willingness to serve and help the people around us—especially brothers and sisters in the faith. The genuineness of our love is seen in our willingness to give. Sixth, Jesus is the ultimate example of generous giving. Paul writes in verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left his riches to become poor in the sense that he left the glories of heaven in order to come to this sin-cursed earth for the purpose of saving us. He even died on the cross to pay for our sins so that we, “by his poverty might become rich” in the sense of possessing all of the spiritual blessings he purchased on the cross. Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity as the one who gave all he had to give—even his very life—for the sake of his people.
Then, moving forward from 2 Corinthians 8 to 2 Corinthians 9, we find the seventh principle for generosity, which is that bountiful sowing results in bountiful reaping. Verse 6: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” This is a fairly universal rule of agriculture. You might be a farmer or you might just be a suburban gardener. It doesn’t matter: the more seed you sow, the more harvest you’ll reap. Eighth, God loves a cheerful giver. That wording is taken directly from verse 7, where Paul states, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” God wants us to give not out of a sense of guilt or obligation but because we genuinely desire to help others and, ultimately, to see God glorified.
Number nine, God promises to provide for the needs of those who give. Verses 8-10: 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. So, notice how God will not only “supply…your seed for sowing” but will also “multiply” that seed. It’s a wonderful cycle. The more seed you sow, the more of a harvest you’ll reap. And the more of a harvest you reap, the more seed you’ll have to sow again. Then, finally, the tenth principle for generosity is that God entrusts us with wealth so that we can give it away. That’s his purpose for giving it to us. As Paul states in verse 11, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way….” The reason God gives us monetary blessings isn’t so that we can hoard all of those blessings for ourselves but rather so that we can use those blessings to be generous.
So that’s a brief overview of what Paul writes about giving while he’s on the journey recorded in verses 1-2 of our main passage in Acts 20. And I’d encourage you, in light of that, to think about how you can implement those principles in your own life. One way in which we give, of course, is by giving to the church since that’s the central mechanism God’s established for accomplishing his purposes in this world. So, think for a moment: what’s your next step in terms of giving? If you’re a Christian and are a part of this church and yet aren’t giving consistently, let me encourage you to start giving consistently—that is, to give at regularly scheduled intervals that are established in your personal budget. If you don’t have a budget, then see me and I’d be glad to connect you with someone in the church who can help you establish a budget. So maybe that’s your next step.
Or, if you’re already giving on a consistent basis, let me encourage you to start following the biblical model of giving a tithe—that is, ten percent—of your income. That’s the level of giving we find consistently commended in the Bible, not only in the Old Testament law but even outside of it, such as with Abraham in Genesis 14:20 and Jacob in Genesis 28:22. So maybe that’s a good next step for you to pursue. And if you’re already doing that, maybe your next step is to view a tithe not as the limit of generosity but instead but simply as the beginning of what generosity might look like for you. That’s the mentality that seems to be at the very heart of Paul’s teaching on giving—a joyful desire to excel in our generosity to the fullest extent that we have opportunity to do so. I’ll just tell you that Becky and I know from experience the thrill of consistently giving above a tithe—actually giving pretty significantly above a tithe—and I can tell you that it’s an absolute joy for us to do that.
Yet, as we continue going through our main passage of Acts 20, we see that the giving of our wealth isn’t the only kind of giving there is. God invites us into a life of joyful giving not only of our wealth but also of our very selves to the people around us.
Look at verses 7-12. Remember that Paul’s on his way to Jerusalem and makes a pit-stop in the city of Troas, where it says that he spends seven days. Then here’s what we read in verses 7-12: 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
Now, to address the most memorable feature of this passage first, we read about how poor Eutychus just couldn’t quite make it through Paul’s lengthy sermon. Now, in all fairness, it was a pretty long sermon. Paul knew he was only there for a few days and wanted to make the most of it and so kept on talking, it says, until midnight. And keep in mind, he didn’t start at 10:30am like we do for our Sunday worship. The early Christians actually met on Sunday evening—after a full day of work, by the way, which no doubt also contributed to Eutychus’s drowsiness. But even for a Sunday evening service, midnight is still really late. I don’t know how many slides Paul’s PowerPoint was, but it must have been massive. It also didn’t help that, as the text says, there were a lot of lamps in the upper room where they were gathered, which means that there would have been smoke and fumes since the lamps would have been oil-burning lamps. So, if you put all of that together—a full day of manual labor, a long sermon, and a stuffy room—you can see how Eutychus struggled to stay awake. So, contrary to what some may prefer, this does not give you permission to sleep in church—unless you’ve worked the night shift and our air conditioner breaks and I keep talking for six hours. Then, we might cut you some slack.
Yet, we actually haven’t even gotten to my favorite part of the text yet. My favorite part is how, after Paul raises Eutychus from the dead, he just keeps right on going with his sermon until daybreak. This guy straight up preaches through the night. After all, he already had their undivided attention after raising Eutychus from the dead, so why not make the most of it? Now, I will say that one of the verbs used for Paul’s speaking here is διαλέγομαι, from which we get the English word “dialogue.” So it’s not like Paul was the only one talking the whole time. Much of it was probably closer to a Q&A session than it was to a traditional sermon. But still…that’s a long time.
Yet, it gives us a glimpse into the passion Paul had to minister to the people God put in his path. Paul was pouring himself out for the sake of these dear brothers and sisters in the faith. And he doesn’t stop. The subsequent verses, verses 13-16, record the next leg of Paul’s journey toward Jerusalem. Yet, there as well, we see Paul pouring himself out in ministry. For example, instead of taking the time at his next stop—the city of Miletus—to rest, Paul can’t pass up the opportunity to invest in others there and give the Ephesian elders a final word of encouragement.
So the picture we get of Paul’s life is one of him selflessly giving of himself and pouring himself out for the sake of those around him. His ambition, unlike that of so many today, wasn’t to live an easy life or a comfortable life but rather to essentially give his life away for the sake of other people. And that should lead us to examine our own lives. How are we using the very limited time that God’s given us on this earth? Are we using it merely for our own gratification or are we seeking to glorify God by investing our lives in the people around us? Friends, God invites us into a life of joyful giving not only of our money but also of our very selves in ministry to those around us.
I’m reminded of a great quote by John Wesley, a theologian and preacher from the eighteenth century. He said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” And, by the way, Wesley didn’t just say that—he lived it. Over the course of his preaching ministry, it’s estimated that he travelled around 250,000 miles—not in a car, of course, but on horseback—and, according to his journal, preached more than 40,000 sermons. That’s around 15 sermons per week for 50 years. Now, of course, few, if any, of us have Wesley’s energy or stamina—and that’s okay. We’re only responsible for what we do have in terms of energy and opportunity—not what we don’t have. Yet, how are you using what God’s given to you? Like Paul in Acts 20, are you giving of yourself and investing your life in the lives of those around you?
And, by the way, in case you need some ideas about how you can do that, we’ve put together a booklet some of you may have seen before—especially if you’ve gone through the Membership Information Class recently. It’s entitled the “Top 6 Most Overlooked Ways to Serve,” and it talks about the incredibly significant opportunities you have to invest your life in the lives of others, including being intentional about engaging with people on Sunday mornings, practicing hospitality, seeking to develop discipling relationships, reaching out to people you haven’t seen in church lately, comforting those who are hurting, and sharing the gospel through Evangelistic Bible Studies. So, you may not have the prominent platform for ministry that the Apostle Paul had or that John Wesley had, but there are incredible opportunities for you to engage in meaningful ministry in your life right now. And, just so you know, there are a stack of these booklets on the resource table in the back, so feel free to take one after the service.
And the reason we should give of ourselves in these ways is, ultimately, because of the way in which God has given to us. We’ve said that the main idea of this passage in Acts 20 is that God invites us into a life of joyful giving. Yet he’s given us not only an invitation but also an example. The greatest “giving” verse in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God “gave” his own Son to purchase our rescue. You see, the Bible teaches that every one of us has rebelled against God. Instead of living life God’s way, we’ve lived life our way and, in so doing, made ourselves deserving of God’s judgment. That’s what John means when he talks about perishing. That’s what we deserve.
Yet God loved us so much that he didn’t leave us in that desperate and wretched condition but gave his own Son, Jesus, to come to this earth and rescue us. The way Jesus accomplished that was by living a life of perfect conformity to his Father’s will and then voluntarily dying on the cross in order to take the punishment for sins we’ve committed—fully satisfying the justice of God the Father. Then, three days later, Jesus resurrected from the dead in order to open the door for all of us to share in his victory over sin and death.
However, we don’t get to share in these blessings automatically. As John says, it’s those who “believe” in Jesus who will not perish but have eternal life. “Believing” in Jesus means not that we just give intellectual assent to certain facts the Bible teaches about Jesus but also that we trust him and put our confidence in him alone as our only hope of rescue. That means renouncing all of our misguided and prideful attempts to earn God’s favor through our own effort and instead looking to Jesus to do for us what we could never do for ourselves—saving us from our sin and making us right with God. So, a right relationship with God isn’t a feat we achieve but rather a gift we’re given. And it’s this extraordinary gift God’s given to us that motivates us to give to others.