Acts 20:32-38 – Paul’s Economy

Acts 20:32-38 – Paul’s Economy

Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 20:32-38
The title is drawn from the sentiments Paul expounds in verses 33-35.

Paul teaches the Ephesian elders some important economic principles.
In our text today, he hits on three issues.
We will try to uncover the significance of the three.


In verse 33 Paul says, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.”
This is easy enough to say, but it speaks to something profound about coveting and echoes the 10th commandment.

Ephesians 5:5 - For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
To covet is to be an idolater.

James 4:2a - You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
To covet is to fight and quarrel.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 - He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
To covet money brings no satisfaction, but only a black hole of never having enough.

Matthew 6:24 - No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money
If to covet is to be an idolator, then we idolize or serve what we covet.
This is why Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.”

Hebrews 13:5 - Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
To covet (love) money is to say you do not trust in God.
Contentment in what you have is the proper response to God and His love for us.

Paul’s interest in all he did was not his gain but the gain of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
Here Paul is clearly saying this attitude also applies to his finances.
Paul is not indicting money itself, but our relationship with it.
Covetousness reaps only more vice and impedes our relationship with God.
And for the Ephesian elders, it would be a dreadfully poor example to the flock.


The second principle Paul deals with is that of working for a living.

In verse 34 Paul says, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.”
While in Ephesus for three years, Paul worked to provide his needs and even the needs of his disciples.

We also have other evidence of Paul’s work ethic.

Acts 18:3 - and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13 - To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

1 Thessalonians 2:8-9 - For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

POI – Interestingly, this last verse reveals Paul had a right to be accept help or be paid for his work for them.
But, Paul did not accept money from churches where he was currently working.
And as he made clear, he refrained from doing so to set an example to them.
For as he said to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

POI – It is interesting to note that Paul, however, did accept financial help from churches he had previously planted.
Philippians 4:15-20 - And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.

2 Corinthians 11:9 - And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers [Silas & Timothy Acts 18:5] who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.

We are to work.
It takes the burden off of those that might support us and it sets an example for others.


The third principal involves the giving of what is yours to others.

In verse 35 Paul says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.”

The obvious question here is, “Who are the weak”?
The Greek word is astheneo.
The word elsewhere is translated sick, ill and invalid.
Being any of these can put you into financial need and even poverty.
Being “weak” is not the lack of food or clothing but the lack of means to secure food or clothing.
Paul here says that we work hard that we may help these “who are weak”.

In fact God, when speaking of the abominations of Jerusalem to Ezekiel, says:
Ezekiel 16:49 - Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Jesus himself said this:
Matthew 25:35-40 - For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

POI - It goes without saying that astheneo is not the only thing that can lead to poverty…corruption, natural disasters, etc. can also bring about a “weak” or impoverished condition.

Who are not the "weak"?

Idleness is not “weakness”:
2 Thessalonians 3:6, 10-12 - Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us…10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Paul gives a command to not feed the idle.
Clearly, the idle to whom Paul said “let him not eat” are not what he would consider “weak”.
Not to mention, this seems to be a pretty harsh command.

Who is this person Paul is describing?

It helps first to understand that we are to work:
Genesis 3:19 - By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,…

And that God is dissatisfied when we can and don’t:
Proverbs 21:25 - The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.

So we can now see who Paul is describing.
The word "idleness" denotes a soldier who is walking disorderly and out of step with the ranks.
In his specific usage of it, it is describing an able-bodied person who is walking “out of step” (not working) with the “ranks” (God’s intent) due to laziness.

This both confirms that working for a living is part of God’s plan for humanity and that idleness not only causes societal problems but is also disobedient to God.

The word "busybodies" denotes one who appears busy but is engaged in “trifling, needless, useless matters.”
In other words, they are still “out of step” even though they appear to be working.

Is Paul’s command as harsh as it sounds?

One reason for this command is that the lazy can cause systemic societal problems.
In the words of John MacArthur, “The results of a welfare culture are visible for all to see - family breakups, immorality, crime, hopelessness, meaninglessness, and bitterness."

Dr. Adrian Rogers described the potential for problems like this:
“What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, they my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

Secondly, we find that this command is not a form of punishment, per se, but an attempt at restoration.
Most believe that Paul’s intent here is best summed up in the word’s of Solomon:
Proverbs 16:26 - A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.
In other words, when they get hungry enough they will rejoin the work force as they should.

The weak are not those who lack food or clothing but those who lack the means to secure food or clothing.
The idle are not the weak; they are those out of step with God's purpose (working) and are therefore disobedient to God.
So there is a clear difference between the “weak” in need and the “idle” in need.
The first we are to help, the second we are to withhold help (as Paul teaches) so that they might be restored to a working frame of mind (as Solomon illustrates).

But all of this naturally leads me to another question.


“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.” - Bono (Singer from the band U2)

Granted, this statement is tinted with pantheistic characteristics, but Bono rightly places an obligation on those of us who can help to actually help.
However, when he says, “if we are with them” what does he mean?
We as Christians must take our cues from Christ on how to be "with them".
We have learned from Paul who the "weak" are as opposed to the "idle".
And we have learned from Jesus & Paul that we are to help the weak.

But is there more to it than this?
Does the Christian have an even greater responsibility than the one Bono alludes to?
After all, the world can only offer physical food.
Jesus says there is another kind of food people need.

John 6:55 - For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

John 6:35 - Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…”

John 6:9-51 - Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

So, without question, if we give physical food and do not give the food that gives eternal life we have come up short.

In fact, Jesus makes this so very clear in the following:
John 6:26-29 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The world elevates the physical above the spiritual – as if the spiritual does no good.
Jesus’ words make certain to us that from His perspective the “Word of Life” is the more important food.

The world, in its disdain for Jesus, may ask this, “How does the Gospel help a starving child?”

How do we respond to such a question?
Honestly – if the church has not helped feed the “weak” we have failed in a calling Christ has placed on us.

After all, James asked the same question:
James 2:15-17 - If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But we are also never to be shamed into thinking that feeding with "the bread of life" is useless!

So again, we must do both!

As Randy Alcorn says, “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving” [The Treasure Principle (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2001], 71).