I've read the book of Acts more times than I can count. Yet, as I studied today, I saw something I'd never noticed before. Paul was a compassionate, caring man. The evidence is in Chapter 20, verses 13 through 38. The Apostle is nearing the end of his third missionary journey, for God's Holy Spirit is compelling him to press toward Jerusalem.
If you've followed Paul's journeys, you've noticed that he likes to revisit the towns and villages where he's ministered before. He doesn't plant a church and then leave it to flounder under the enemy's attacks. If he can't visit in person, he sends emissaries with letters to encourage and edify the saints.
He had spent several years with the Christ-followers of Ephesus. This passage makes it clear the Ephesians held a special place in Paul's heart. Because he must hasten to Jerusalem, he passes by Ephesus but called the church elders to meet him in Miletus. There he summarizes his work and witness among the Ephesians, saying that he served the Lord "with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews." (ESV, v. 19)
He proceeds to let them know what the Holy Spirit is telling him--that "imprisonment and afflictions await me." (V. 23) I think I hear a catch in his voice as he says, in verse 25, "I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again." We know he had travailed in tears on their behalf. Surely there were tears here, both in the eyes of the Apostle and in the elders.
In Verse 31, he again gives evidence of his tender heart toward these brothers and the body of believers whom they represent when he warns them to be alert, "remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears."
The passage ends in a tearful scene, as they gather round to embrace Paul and kiss him.
I'm a crybaby. There. I admit it. I cry when I'm happy. I cry when I'm sad. I even cry when I'm mad. Any strong emotion will elicit tears. Believe me, I had a hard time making through school. Perhaps that's why this passage touched my heart so much. (Yes, I'm a little wet around the eyes even now.) The Bible portrays Paul as a devout man (even when he was devoutly wrong), a hard-working, strong-willed, courageous, outspoken man, a Jew among Jews with a heart that embraces us Gentiles. But I'm so glad that our Heavenly Father also allows us to see his tender heart.