Exhorting those who Exhort

ShacklesIn Acts 20, Paul sails from Macedonia toward Jerusalem where shackles, chains, and an angry Jewish mob patiently await his arrival.  Along the way, he finds himself in Miletus.  He sends word to the elders of the church at Ephesus that he desires to see them. The elders come to Miletus and meet with Paul for one final time.  There were many tears shed at this final meeting (Acts 20:37-38).  Goodbyes are always difficult.  The closing words of any final farewell always have a way of penetrating deep into a person’s heart and mind.  God knew this (He knows everything-Ps. 147:5).  Thus the Spirit took advantage of this final farewell and delivered an urgent message through Paul’s inspired mouth.  It was an important message for the Ephesian elders, but it’s also an important message for the elders of the church today.

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27).  Compare this with what Paul said to them in Acts 20:20: “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house”. I’ve always wondered if Paul might have had his Old Testament Scriptures on the table and opened to Ezekiel 33 as he spoke with these elders (Read Ezek. 33:1-9).  Paul was innocent of the blood of all men because he was a faithful watchman.  A faithful watchman never shies away from his duty to sound the warning when souls are in danger.  For Paul, it was time to blow the trumpet one last time in the ears of these Ephesian elders.

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). “Take heed” implies some sort of impending danger.  It means “be alert, keep your eyes peeled, don’t flock of sheeplet your guard down.”  Paul calls out those who were in this eminent danger: the elders themselves and their flock back in Ephesus.  Paul tells these spiritual shepherds how to prepare and confront the impending danger- feed the flock!  The church, the flock of God, meant so much to Christ that He purchased it for Himself with His own life blood!  Christ loves the church and cherishes it like a husband should care for his wife (Eph. 5:25-33).  The chief Shepherd is counting on the shepherds of the local congregations to watch and protect His most prized possession (I Peter 5:1-4).

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30).  Paul reveals the nature of the impending danger-grievous wolves- false teachers and prophets.  As an Apostle, Paul was a well-seasoned spiritual shepherd.  His departure would embolden those wolves who lurked in the shadows of immorality, lies, and doctrinal error.  wolf in sheeps clothingJesus warned us about false teachers. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15).  The wolves have discovered a highly effective method of infiltrating the flock- they masquerade as sheep.  In this modern age of religious tolerance and relativism, the idea of false teachers is so shocking to some people.  The typical response is, “Oh no, not my pastor!  Not my minister!  Not my priest!”  A lot of people marvel how a well-educated, enthusiastic, neatly dressed preacher could ever be a ravening wolf- a false teacher!  Stop for a moment and think carefully about the whole concept of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Jesus didn’t warn us of a “wolf in wolf’s clothing.”  In addition to the savage wolves attacking from without, Paul warns of evil shepherds arising from within to divide the flock.

Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:31). Paul’s final warning to these shepherds was not a new warning.  He had been warning of this very danger on a daily basis for three straight years.  Even though Paul was well aware of the life bible excitethreatening persecution that awaited him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24), he didn’t weep any tears for his own situation.  Instead, he cried tears of concern for the future of the church.  Paul loved the body of Christ!  And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32).  Paul wasn’t leaving these Ephesian elders without a source of comfort or guidance.  He leaves them in the good hands of God and entrusts them to God’s gracious Word.  Remember, the first-century church was guided into all truth by inspired teachers who spoke the inerrant Word of God by direct operation of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15).  The same Spirit is at work today, in the form of the written Word, building us up in knowledge, faith, and love so that “we be no more children, tossed and fro, and carried  about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph. 4:14).  The Spirit of truth, the Word, will not lead the church astray.

James Luedecke, Siloam Springs, AR


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