We began last week to look at Paul's message to the Ephesian Elders. Paul is finishing up his third missionary journey. He is on his way to Jerusalem, and his ship lands at Miletus. He sends word to the elders of Ephesus asking them to meet him at Miletus, which was about twenty five miles down the coast from Ephesus. When they arrive, Paul calls them to follow his example and give them a prophetic warning. One of the significant things about this message is that this is the only time in Luke's writings that Paul delivers a message to a believing body.
As we saw last week, Paul calls the elders to follow the pattern of Godly conduct that he has set. Remember, elders, overseers, and pastors are all the same office and there is to be a plurality of leadership in every church. The Lord knows the propensity of the human heart to abuse power, and so He designed leadership in the local church to be multiple, not singular, to check that tendency and to provide the wisdom of several over one.
Paul now turns to warn and exhort these elders:
"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 NASB)
Paul, is in effect saying, "I fulfilled my responsibility, I am pure from the blood of all men, and now it is your responsibility to take heed to yourselves and to the flock, which belongs to the Lord God."
"Be on guard for yourselves"--Paul could mean, "Elders, be on guard of each other's needs and weaknesses and faults." Or it could mean, "Elders, each of you be on guard of his own heart and doctrine and behavior." Probably it means both.
Talking to Timothy, who was an elder in Ephesus, Paul writes:
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16 NASB)
An elder must first and foremost be on guard for his own spiritual life. He cannot shepherd the flock if his life is a mess.
Paul guarded his own life with extreme diligence:
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 NASB)
Paul didn't want to be disqualified from the ministry, so he disciplined himself. Paul's life was an example to all, and he told Timothy to also be an example:
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:12 NASB)
Timothy is at Ephesus, and Paul tells him to be an example, which is basically what he is saying to these elders, "Be on guard for yourselves."
They are not only to guard themselves, but also "all the flock of God"--and then he tells them to "shepherd." Notice the "sheep" symbolism that Paul used here. The flock were the "sheep," and the elders were the "shepherds" of the flock, who were appointed by the Holy Spirit to protect and to feed the sheep. The danger was to come from the "wolves" who would savagely seek to destroy the flock and to devour some of the sheep. In Jeremiah 13:17 and in Zachariah 10:3, God calls Israel "the Lord's flock." And in John 10 Jesus is called "the good shepherd":
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11 NASB)
As good under-shepherds the elders are to guard the flock of God against all dangers to it's spiritual well being.
Paul says, "The Holy Spirit has made you overseers"--Notice that they are made overseers and elders, not by self-election, not by human ordination, but they are made elders by divine appointment. It was the Holy Spirit who made them overseers.
Now my question is, How? How does the Holy Spirit appoint someone as an elder?
Well, I think that when the apostles were around, they appointed elders, and those who were apostolic delegates appointed elders:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, (Titus 1:5 NASB)
So the apostles and their delegates could appoint elders. Their appointment was the Holy Spirit's appointment. But once the apostles died off, how does the Holy Spirit appoint elders? Look at 1 Timothy 3:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Timothy 3:1-2 NASB)
I see from this text two ways that the Holy Spirit appoints elders: First He plants a desire in their heart for the work. The Greek word for "aspires" is oregomai, which means: "reach out after (long for), covet after, desire."
And secondly, the man fits the qualifications that are listed here and in Titus 1. So it's not that elders appoint elders. Elders recognize those whom the Holy Spirit has appointed and who have begun to function as elders.
Paul tells these elders that their task is to "shepherd the church of God." Shepherd is from the Greek word "poimaino," which means "to shepherd." It's the word from which we get the word for pastor. So all of the elders do the work of pastoring the flock.
Peter tells the elders the same thing in 1 Peter:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (1 Peter 5:1-2 NASB)
Here Peter uses all three terms to describe Church leaders; they are, "elder, overseer, and shepherd." Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people.
Let's look at a conversation that Jesus has with Peter:
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep. (John 21:15-17 NASB)
Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. And three times Peter confirms that he likes Him a lot, Peter uses the Greek word phileo, which is a word that means: "to be a friend, to have affection for." In this text three times Jesus says this, "Tend my lambs. Shepherd my sheep. Tend my sheep." One of those times, the middle time, He uses poimino, to shepherd. But the first and third time He uses the word "bosco," not "poimino." Bosco means simply: "to feed them."
So from what Jesus says to Peter, we see that the primary responsibility of the shepherd is to feed the flock, to teach them the Scriptures. This is the elder, overseer, pastor"s primary responsibility, to teach the Word of God. This is what Jesus called Peter to do, this is what Paul did, and this is what Paul calls the Ephesian elders to do.
In Ezekiel 34 is a divine rebuke of the "shepherds of Israel," who have forsaken their task and calling as shepherds, and have begun to feed themselves from the flock, rather than feeding the flock:
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? (Ezekiel 34:2 NASB)
Their job was to feed the flock, but they were not doing it. God goes on in this text to rebuke the shepherds of Israel for the fact that His flock had been scattered and was being devoured:
"As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; (Ezekiel 34:8 NASB)
Then the Lord promises:
For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. (Ezekiel 34:11 NASB)
"I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD. "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. (Ezekiel 34:15-16 NASB)
So God promises Israel that He will "seek the lost" sheep of Israel. Now notice what Jesus says:
"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10 NASB)
Jesus, quoting Ezekiel, is saying, "I am God." Jesus is God in the flesh who has come to seek and save the lost. He is the Great Shepherd.
This flock that these elders are to feed is "The Church of God,"--this flock belongs to the Lord God. And then, he says, "Which He purchased with His own blood." The word "purchased" here is not the common word for "to buy" in the sense of buying a slave out of the slave market. This is the Greek word peripoieomaia, which means: "to get for one's own." The force of this word is, "I have made these things my own."
This flock was purchased with "the blood of His own One." These sheep were so valuable to God that He purchased them with the precious blood of His own Son. As Peter wrote:
knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NASB)
When we think of the cross as the divine purpose, by which the Son of God, the second person of the eternal Trinity, came to earth, took to Himself a human nature, and in that human nature offered the atoning sacrifice to the Lord God for the people of God, then we have the eternal purpose of God, and it's God who is active at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, preeminently, and not man. So, "He has purchased the Church with the blood of His own One." Knowing how valuable the Church is to God, the elders are to do all in their power to shepherd the flock of God.
Paul tells the Corinthians:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB)
Believers, when we get up in the morning we should say, "I am not my own today. I belong to another. I have been bought with a price. In all I do today I am to glorify God."
Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in this verse: The Father, who purchased the flock; the Son, who shed His blood to pay for their sins; and, the
Holy Spirit, who appointed elders over the flock.
"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; (Acts 20:29 NASB)
The word "savage" is a word that sometimes means simply: "heavy." But most of the time in a context like this, it means: "fierce, ferocious." Jesus warned about these wolves in:
"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15 NASB)
In this text "sheep's clothing" is not talking about a wolf with a sheepskin over him so he looks like a sheep. That picture comes from Aesop's Fable, where a hungry wolf came upon a sheep's fleece lying on the ground in a field. The wolf realized that if it wore the fleece, it would look like a sheep from a distance. When the shepherd watched the flocks on the hillside, his garment was a sheepskin, worn with the skin outside and the fleece inside. This sheepskin mantle became the uniform of the prophets, just as the Greek philosophers had worn the philosopher's robe. It was by that mantle that the prophet could be distinguished from other men. But sometimes that clothing was worn by those who had no right to wear it. There were those who wore the prophet's clothing that were not prophets of God, they were false prophets.
Paul was probably thinking about the Judiazers. They had already come to the churches in Galatia and Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-9). They did not preach the true Gospel, they preached a doctrine of faith and works.
and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:30 NASB)
The shocking news was that some of those who would prove to be "savage wolves" were among them. Some of these elders would actually cease to be shepherds, who fed the sheep and protected them from danger, and became wolves, preying upon the flock and speaking perverse things to achieve their destructive ends.
Almost every theological school that has ever gone astray has gone astray with a Christian president. Study history. Every church, true church of Christian doctrine, has gone astray with Christians at the head. The First Testament is a picture of the departure of Israel in so many ways with believing men involved.
We must guard against those who pose as Christian teachers, but teach contrary to the Bible. Tony Campolo urges the Church to overcome its "homophobia" and to "work to stop discrimination that denies homosexuals their civil rights." He also said that many Christian homosexuals had been born with that orientation.
The Scriptures condemn homosexuality, it is an abomination, and the Church must side with the Word of God and not our culture.
"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:31 NASB)
The elders must be on the alert against those, even from their own ranks, who would teach false doctrine. Paul had spent three years teaching them the truth.
There are some core doctrines, where there can be no room for tolerance. These include the inspiration and authority of the Bible; the Triune nature of God; the person and work of Christ, including His absolute deity, His sinless humanity, His substitutionary death on the cross, His bodily resurrection, ascension, and Second Coming; and the Gospel, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We cannot give an inch on these truths, or we compromise the Christian faith.
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 NASB)
Paul had most likely led these men to Christ and discipled them for three years. And now, he is saying, "I'm leaving." I can just imagine how people would feel. Paul's leaving. What are we going to do? And so Paul says, "I commend you to God." Now, that's a tremendous statement. "God will take care of you."
Jacob, when he was dying, said to his family, "I die; but God shall be with you." Moses, as he knew that his days were coming to an end, said, "The Lord hath said unto me, thou shall not go over this Jordan (Deut.3:27), but God will go with you:
"Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you. (Deuteronomy 9:3 NASB)
Moses will die, but Yahweh, the eternal God, does not die. Paul says, "I'm going, I commend you to God."
"And to the word of His grace"--the word of God had taught them about the grace of God. In verse 24 he had spoken about the "Gospel of the grace of God." In Paul's thinking, the Word of God was the word of grace.
We cannot understand Christianity if we do not understand grace. It is the distinguishing Christian doctrine, contrary to works of all kinds. Grace says salvation is of the Lord. The word "grace" means: "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment."
In fact, the thing that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions is the principle of grace. No other system of truth, that claims to bring man into relationship with God, contains that principle of grace as Christianity does. All other systems of thought, all other religions, all other philosophies that claim to bring man into relationship to the Lord God are grounded in the principle of works or human merit. Christianity, in its purest form, is grounded simply in the grace of God.
All of the Christian life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally and practically sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.
To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ. To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight. To live by grace means that we understand that God's love is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience, but by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ.
Pau in writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, says:
who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, (2 Timothy 1:9 NASB)
So the initiating power behind the saving work of the Triune God is the Lord God Himself. Grace says salvation is of the Lord in its conception.
It is God who came down after Adam and Eve have sinned, to seek them. The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. In your salvation, it was not you who sought God; it was God who sought you. And if you thought that you sought God first, it's only because you didn't recognize that he was already working in your heart.
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 NASB)
The work of salvation is the unaided work of the Lord Jesus Christ. As one of the prophets of the First Testament, perhaps the greatest one, Isaiah, in chapter 63, verse 3, speaking of the work of the Messiah, giving words that the Messiah speaks, has the Messiah say:
"I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. (Isaiah 63:3 NASB)
Salvation is the work of God alone. It is striking, a testimony to the sinfulness of the human heart, that we have attempted to mix human works with divine grace; and thus destroy the Gospel of the grace of God.
And in the Doctrine of Free Will, man has sought to take the ultimate source of salvation to himself. And today the Doctrine of Free Will is almost universally believed. But the Christian Church, historically, did not believe in free will. From Augustine, down to the Christian Reformation, free will was anathema in Christian doctrine, because it was recognized that the Doctrine of Free Will; that is, the decision arising from the human heart, unproduced by the Holy Spirit, is a violation of the grace of God.
The Roman Catholic Church denies God's grace by mingling it with human works as necessary for justification. Legalism, the attempt either to justify or to sanctify oneself by works, is a perpetual error that seeps into the Church. Any system of righteousness through human effort or works glorifies man and feeds human pride.
It is the Word of God, "which is able to build you up"--the Bible is alive, and it has the power to address the deepest needs of your soul and change your life for the better. It has the power to save the sinner, sanctify the saint, soothe the sufferer, and satisfy the scholar:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 NASB)
According to Hebrews 11, what is it that pleases God? Faith! And where does faith come from? It comes from hearing the Word of God! This implies that the Bible will transform your life by strengthening your faith. I encourage you to read, study, meditate, and practice the Bible on a daily basis. Believer, this is God's inspired Word, and therefore, demands our attention. As Christians, we must spend time reading this book. When you look through the New Testament to read the final, parting words of the apostles, you will discover that all of them turn the focus of their readers to the Word of God (see 2 Peter 1; 2 Timothy 3 & 4; 1 John 2:18-29).
The Word will not only build you up, but it gives you an "inheritance." The inheritance is salvation, the Kingdom of God, the New Heavens and New Earth, eternal life--"the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, " (Ephesians 1:18).
"Among all them which are sanctified"--is inclusive of all Christians, because all believers have been sanctified, that is, set apart by the Lord God for special relationship to Him. That's why all believers are called saints or sanctified ones:
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:1-2 NASB)
All believers are sanctified in Christ Jesus.
"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. 34 "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. (Acts 20:33-34 NASB)
Paul reminds them one more time of his own example both of hard work and generosity. He had made tents to meet his own needs, and from any surplus, he had helped support the men who worked with him in the Gospel.
We all know that the world is constantly besieged by Christians who are asking for money. In fact, that's the general impression that much of the world has of a church. They think of a church as a place where you go on Sunday morning, and you hear a sermon, but you also have the offering plates passed. Did you notice we don't have any offering plates passed here?
Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? (1 Corinthians 9:5-11 NASB)
Paul makes it plain here that if an individual shares with us God's spiritual things given to him, we are responsible to share with him our fleshly or carnal things. So he doesn't deny the principle. In fact, he says that the apostles had the right to be paid for his labor:
"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:35 NASB)
Again Paul appeals to his example, "I showed you". In Luke and Acts "the weak" are normally the chronically, physically ill who come to Jesus or the apostles for healing (Lk 4:40; 9:2; Acts 9:37; 19:12).
"It is more blessed to give than to receive"--where did Jesus say that? We have no idea. This is one of the agrapha, that is, things not written in the Gospels, but, nevertheless, known to the early church; sayings of our Lord, which are not in the Gospel records. This was one of the things that He said, which was known to Paul, and which he cites here.
Lazarus tells us at the end of his Gospel, the Lord Jesus did many things that are not recorded here:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 NASB)
"It's more blessed to give than to receive," is a beatitude illustrated in the whole life of our Lord. Paul is saying here, "One thing you have to remember in all your ministry, you're gonna have to look at it as a giving, not a receiving. Right?"
Some shepherds care more for wool than they do for the sheep. Some shepherds fleece the sheep instead of feeding the sheep. Shepherds must be more concerned about what they can give their flock than concerned about what their flock can give them:
When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Acts 20:36 NASB)
Paul's dependence and that of these elders, was upon God. And so they called upon Him for grace. He probably prayed that God would keep them from false teachers, that each man would be a Godly example to the flock, and that through them the Church would be built up and expand all over Asia.
And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship. (Acts 20:37-38 NASB)
They fell on his neck and repeatedly kissed him, as Middle Eastern men do to this day when greeting one another. They were grieving because not only was Paul leaving them, but so far as they knew, it was for the last time. They were convinced that they would never see his face again.
What we see here is the heart of the apostle toward these saints, and their deep love and affection for him. The man who had once brought tears to the eyes of the saints by his persecution now brought tears to the eyes of the saints because of his coming persecution.
The things that Paul says to these elders are things that apply to all of us, because elders are to be models for the flock. What God expects of elders, He expects of all of us. Elders are to be our example, we are to follow them as they follow Christ.
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