The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 20:28-38

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 1, 2016

Text in red are my additions.

Act 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the Church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood.

“Take heed to yourselves.” The first and chief thing for pastors if they wish to have their labours successful and abiding, is to attend first to the work of their own sanctification. This St. Paul inculcates (Tim. 4:16), attende Tibi and doctrinæ. See Commentary on.

“And the whole flock.” Our Lord himself is fond of using a pastoral image or metaphor, when speaking of his people, whom he often represents under the image of a flock, cared by shepherds, of whom he is himself the chief and head.

“Wherein.” That portion of the universal church over which “the Holy Ghost has placed you bishops.” The word “bishop” means overscer, superintendent, with power communicated by the spirit of fortitude and strength, to oversee all, priests and people. No doubt, several bishops were present, as also some priests. The designation “bishops” marks their office of superintending and ruling priests and people, and of conducting them in the way of salvation.

“To rule.” The Greek word—ποιμαινειν—a pastoral term—means to rule, guide, govern and direct. This is specially addressed to such of the audience as were bishops or priests of the first order, of whom some, no doubt, came together from the outlying districts, bordering on Ephesus.

“The Church of God.” There is a diversity of reading here, some MSS. have the Church of the Lord, others, the “Church of the Lord and God.” The Vulgate reading is best sustained by the testimony of the Fathers. The Vulgate reading is more in accordance with the language of St. Paul, who, frequently in his writings, speaks of the “Church of God;” never, “of our Lord.” These words furnish an unanswerable proof of our Lord’s Divinity. He who purchased the Church is called “God.” It was our Lord Jesus Christ that, with the blood of His humanity hypostatically united to His Divinity, purchased the Church. It is said here, it was “God” that purchased the Church. Hence, our Lord is “God.” It was through His humanity he purchased it, by the effusion of His blood. It was His Divine Person that imparted an infinite value to all the works performed through His human nature.

Act 20:29 I know that after my departure ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

They should attend to their flock now more diligently, on account of the dangers they were exposed to from without, from the Judaizers after his departure.

“Ravening wolves.” In Greek heavy, destructive wolves, false teachers, hypocrites.

Act 20:30 And of your own selves shall arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Also from within. Heretics who sprung forth from the bosom of the Church, in which Gnosticism soon appeared. In his Epistles to Timothy, whom the Apostle appointed bishop of Ephesus, he refers to several false teachers (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17).

Act 20:31 Therefore watch, keeping in memory that for three years I ceased not with tears to admonish every one of you, night and day.

Surrounded with such dangers, they should “watch,” be ever on the alert to meet these heretics. They should also gratefully remember the zeal and burning charity he himself displayed in admonishing all, both by night and by day. The fruit of such zeal among the people should not be allowed to be lost through their fault.

“For three years” or thereabouts. He was only two years teaching in the school of Tyrannus (19:8–10), and about three months more in the synagogue, “three years” more or less.

Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, who is able to build up and to give an inheritance among all the sanctified.

“Now” about to leave them for ever, he commends them to God.

“The word of His grace,” viz., the word of the Gospel to which, provided it be faithfully believed and its precepts carried out in practice, is attached the grace of salvation, and all the particular graces that conduct thereto.

“Build up.” Make them advance in Christian life and the work of sanctification.

“And to give you an inheritance,” make you His heirs and partakers with all God’s saints in the inheritance in store for them.

Act 20:33 I have not coveted any man’s silver, gold or apparel, as
Act 20:34 You yourselves know. For such things as were needful for me and them that are with me, these hands have furnished.

He concludes this magnificent, valedictory address by inculcating disinterestedness, of which he gave so noble an example. They all knew his disinterestedness, free from not alone the stain, but the very suspicion of sordid avarice, or any desire to become possessed of any of their worldly goods. All he sought for was, not their worldly substance; but, their immortal souls. By labouring hard and with the work of his hands, he supported himself and those who were with him.

Act 20:35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring you ought to support the weak and to remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how he said: It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive.

“Showed” by word and example, “all things,” in regard to all things appertaining to the apostolic and pastoral mode of life. “How you ought,” by labouring, after my example, “to support the weak,” by administering to the corporal wants of the needy too weak to labour for themselves; or, it more likely means the infirm in faith. By thus labouring to procure a livelihood, we would accommodate ourselves to the weakness of our infirm brethren, who might be scandalized by seeing us receive temporal remuneration and support for having laboured spiritually in the cause of the Gospel. By thus labouring for our own sustenance, we would support and stretch to them a helping hand, so that they would not be scandalized at our seeming selfishness, and be saved from the temptation of abandoning the faith.

“And to remember … it is a more blessed thing,” &c. This saying of our Lord is found no where in the Gospels, which, however, do not claim to record all his sayings (John 16:15). St. Paul supposes it to be well known to those whom he addresses. He learned it from some of our Lord’s disciples. It has reference to temporal matters. By renouncing their just claim to temporal support, the Apostles would have fulfilled in themselves and realized this adage. In preaching the Gospel gratuitously, they give of their own to others.

Act 20:36 And when he had said these things, kneeling down, he prayed with them all.

Kneeling down. It should be remembered that St Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and knows that chains and afflictions await him (Acts 20:22-23). Jesus also knew what awaited him and he also knelt down in prayer (Luke 22:41).

Act 20:37 And there was much weeping among them all. And falling on the neck of Paul, they kissed him,

Kissed him. The word κατεφιλουν = kataphiloun is in the imperfect tense, denoting repeated action. It expresses intense sorrow and is found elsewhere only in describing the father’s response to his prodigal son’s return (Luke 15:22).

Act 20:38 Being grieved most of all for the word which he had said, that they should see his face no more. And they brought him on his way to the ship.

Being grieved. The same Greek word (οδυνωμενοι = odynomenoi) is used to describe the effect of the child Jesus’ absence upon Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:48. It is used to express intense emotional or physical anguish. It is also used to describe the torment undergone by the rich man in the Parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:24-25).



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