Thursday, 21 September 2023
“how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, Acts 20:20
The words are more closely stated, “how I withheld nothing of things that are profitable, not to declare to you and to teach you in public and among houses” (CG).
The words continue from the previous verse, “And when they came to him, he said to them, ‘You know from the first day in which I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, how I withheld nothing of things that are profitable, not to declare to you and to teach you in public and among houses.’”
With that context, we see that Paul’s words could not be made unless they were true. He is speaking to the people among whom the claims he is making pertain. Therefore, what he says must be the way things were. He is merely reminding them so that he can then encourage them based on what he says. And so, he continues by saying, “how I withheld nothing of things that are profitable.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but that is not what Paul speaks of here. Now, he says that he “withheld nothing.” We now welcome a new verb to Scripture, hupostelló. It will be seen just four times. According to Vincent’s Word Studies, “A picturesque word. Originally, to draw in or contract. Used of furling sails, and of closing the fingers; of drawing back for shelter; of keeping back one’s real thoughts; by physicians, of withholding food from patients.”
Ellicott thinks he used it specifically as a sailing metaphor where he “seems to say of himself, had used no such reticence or reserve, but had gone on his course, as it were, before the wind, with all his canvas spread.” This very well could be because he uses sea-related metaphors elsewhere, including Ephesians 4:14, 1 Timothy 1:19 and 1 Timothy 6:9.
No matter what his intent for using this word, it is clear that he was unafraid to teach them every doctrine and every counsel in accordance with the truth, regardless of whether they might find it offensive or unpalatable. Everything that was profitable was openly and fully shared with his disciples. From there, he turns to a negative clause to reiterate the point he has just made.
He said, “how I withheld nothing,” and now he says, “not to declare to you and to teach you.” The meaning is that instead of not declaring and not teaching, he did exactly the opposite by declaring and teaching. He did so without reservation and in a manner that was open to any and all. As he next says, “in public.”
Here is a word used for the last of four times, démosios. It is an adjective translated by most as publicly. But that is an adverb. Therefore, to retain the flavor of the original, “in public” more reasonably matches the intent. The word is derived from demos, a noun signifying “the people.” One can see the etymological root of the modern word democracy. As for the word démosios, you can wave it goodbye as it departs.
As for Paul, he was willing to speak about Jesus, the faith, holiness, righteousness, keeping from uncleanness, etc., all in the open and without shame or peevishness. He was bold and confident that his words were fully in line with the faith he professed. But, added to that, he next says, “and among houses.”
This would have been his talks and instruction in private settings. But don’t some people speak one way in public and another in private? Paul refused such a tactic. He spoke in the same manner when in a public forum and when in private. His words were not two-faced but always in accord with what the Lord had set before him from the start.
Life application: How nice it is when preachers continue to follow this same pattern today while we live in the face of ever-increasing wickedness. Who will be willing to unfurl the sails of proper doctrine and let the winds carry the whole counsel of God to every shore, despite the dangers? Who will teach publicly the doctrines that are found offensive to today's sensitive and dull ears?
Jesus spoke in this manner, setting an example for us two thousand years ago. Paul was a man who did likewise, and many have since followed suit. We know that the Lord is pleased with any and all who are willing to take such a stand. As it says in Matthew 10:27 –
“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.”
In Genesis 31:39, Jacob told Laban that he bore the cost of any lost sheep himself rather than having it charged to his master. Considering the value that Jesus places on the souls of men, as noted, for example, in Matthew 16:26, Paul felt the cost of losing any for his Master. He was willing to expend himself to ensure those who heard and accepted the word would be kept safe from the ravages of the world around him.
And more, he did all he could to glorify God through evangelism and teaching. In verse 27 of this chapter, he will say that he did not shun to declare to his hearers the whole counsel of God. Let us be willing to hold fast to this word and to never waffle on what it proclaims, and to declare it in its fullness. This life is temporary. We might as well please God now with our conduct because eternity is a long time to regret not having done so.
Glorious Lord God, You have given us instruction through Your word, and You have provided examples of how we are to share that through the actions of the apostles. May we be willing to expend ourselves in the furtherance of the gospel and in the necessity of living in accord with the word that You have blessed us with. Help us in this, O God. Amen.