Grace Bible Church
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 10, 2006
Integrity & Ministry in God’s Church
In our study last week we followed Paul as he went through Macedonia and Greece encouraging the churches that he had started on his Second Missionary Journey. The third part of the Jesus’ Great Commission to the church, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” is a life long endeavor for not only will there always be something new to learn about God and the commands, principles and precepts that He has given to us, but we will need to be reminded of those things we have learned in the past and encouraged to apply the lessons to our lives. You not only have to know it, you also have to apply it, and that is often the difficult part. In order to apply a Biblical truth you often have to break an old habit and establish a new one which at times can be a difficult task. Then there is the emotional element that sometimes comes into play and we need encouragement to get us moving again. That is one of the reasons we need to be in fellowship with one another.
Paul and his ministry team left Philippi and landed in Troas. After ministering there for a week including an all night meeting they sailed quickly down the coast bypassing Ephesus but landing south of it at Miletus. Paul was hurrying to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost and he knew that if he went to Ephesus it would be very difficult to be there for only a brief time. That is where we will pick up the story this morning in Acts 20:17.
Farewell Address to the Ephesian Elders
Paul’s Ministry to them (17-21)
17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Though Paul had decided to not stop in Ephesus there were still important things he wanted to say to their church leaders so he sent for them. The elders in church at Ephesus placed great importance on hearing Paul so they made the journey 30 miles (50 Km) or so down to see him.
When the Ephesian elders arrive, Paul gave to them one of the great speeches that every Christian should be aware of and every church leader should know and heed.
In verses 18-21 Paul begins by reminding them of his example of ministry to them. It is a good example for every Christian to follow and especially church leaders. Paul states that he served the Lord with all humility. That is in contrast to many people who gain some position of leadership and become proud. They think more highly of themselves than they ought resulting in arrogance and treating other believers as their servants. Some churches even have a structure that promotes this because church ministry is presented as assisting the pastor even though Ephesians 4:11-12 make it clear that is actually the opposite. The Pastor / Teacher and Evangelist exist to assist the congregation by “equipping them for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
Paul was there to serve and he did so with dedication and diligence proclaiming the truth to them both publically and privately as needed for the purpose of helping them live for Christ. He also did it with emotion for verse 19 states that he ministered there with tears. Paul did this despite the trials he faced along the way which included the plots to murder him as we saw last week in Acts 20:3. All Christians would do well to follow Paul’s example of humility and dedication, and these are necessary characteristics of those who would be leaders in the church.
Paul’s Future (22-25)
In verses 22-25 Paul tells them what he is expecting to happen in the future.
22 “And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. 25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more.
The Holy Spirit had already revealed to Paul that he would have bonds and affliction, but this did not dissuade him in anyway from his dedication to ministry. Regardless of what might happen including his own death, Paul was committed to finishing the ministry God had given him. That is a dedication that should be part of every Christian’s life, but it is generally developed as the Christian matures in their walk with the Lord, for it takes both an understanding of the purpose of your life and a solid trust in God to place your life at risk for the sake of the gospel. This level of maturity that results in a willingness to take risks for Christ should mark every church leader.
Jesus spoke of the difference between a true shepherd and a hired hand in John 10 when he was describing himself as the good shepherd. Starting in verse 11 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hireling , and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters [them.] 13 [“He flees] because he is a hireling , and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
While this passage is specifically talking about Jesus’ character as the good shepherd, the specific contrast is between the religious leaders of that time that were in the positions of being the shepherds of Israel but were false and Jesus as the true shepherd of Israel who was sent by God. There will be those that have the titles and positions of leadership in the church but the true nature of what they really are will be seen in what they are willing to sacrifice in serving God. The hired hand is only in it for what they can personally gain from it and once the risk is greater than the personal gain they abandon the flock to save themselves. They may pose as servants of God, but they are false. We will talk more about these hirelings that pose as shepherds later. Paul was not a hireling. He was following in the footsteps of His Lord.
It is in large part because of Paul’s conviction that he would not see these men again this side of heaven that compelled him to want to talk with them one last time. Paul has already reminded them of the example of his coming and what he expected to happen in the future. In verses 26-27 Paul speaks of his integrity.
Paul’s Integrity (26-27)
26 “Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
The reference here to being innocent of blood comes from Ezekiel 3:16-20. In this passage God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. 18 “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 “Yet if you have warned the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.”
God gave Ezekiel the responsibility to declare to the people whatever God told him. If Ezekiel failed to declare God’s warnings and the people suffered because of that then their blood would be on Ezekiel’s hands. On the other hand, if Ezekiel did warn them but they ignored the warnings then Ezekiel would be innocent. Paul is identifying himself as having the same type of ministry. He was given a responsibility by God to declare what God had said. Paul was compelled to preach the gospel even saying in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Paul had been faithful to declare the whole counsel of God and so he was innocent even if they did not follow the Lord.
Let me add here as a side note that declaring the whole purpose or counsel of God is one of the greater challenges for a preacher for several reasons. First, there is just the fact that time is limited and it is not easy to cover everything that should be covered. One of the reasons for our concentration on personal discipleship for the new Christian is to at least give them an overview of the most critical issues in living the Christian life over a relatively short period of time. It is tragic when someone makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and then it takes years for them to figure out the basics of what it means to walk with God.
Related to this restriction of time is tackling difficult subjects. It can take a lot of time to study in order understand it yourself and then to present it to the people in a way that they can understand it. Teaching through meaty theology can be tough to chew for both the teacher and the students. Sometimes time limitations on the preacher keep him from doing the kind of in depth study required for such subjects. If the preacher is also either lazy or slothful in his work, and there are those that are, then such subjects will never be broached.
Next, there is the problem of personal interests. Every preacher has their favorite subjects and it is easy to keep talk about those things. We all like to ride our hobby horse even though that can quickly degenerate into beating a dead horse to death. The preacher that wants to be like Paul in declaring the whole counsel of God must discipline himself to move beyond his favorite subject to talking about the rest of what God has declared. This is one reason why I do expository preaching through books. It keeps me from falling to the trap of preaching just what I am interested in so that I instead do declare the whole counsel of God.
Finally, there are also factors of fear. Fear of failure keeps some men focused on simplistic messages they know they can handle. Fear that the people will not like what you have to say keeps many more from telling them what God has said on a whole host of subjects. People never seem to mind hearing about other people’s sins, hence the reason that gossip flourishes. They do not seem to mind when the sins that other people commit are condemned. However, people generally do not like to hear about the sins they are also committing.
For example, you can hear a lot of amens in churches if you preach about how bad people are when they murder, abuse others, mug someone, rob a bank, steal your car, or commit a host of sexual sins including fornication, adultery and homosexuality. As people leave they will tell you that was fine preaching. However, if in the same church you preach about personal holiness and being careful about what you see and hear (your entertainment choices), or speak about honesty, not lying, not cheating on your taxes, or address such heart issues as kindness, brotherly love and charity and those same people can tell you that you should go back to preaching and quit meddling. Most people don’t mind if you are convicted about your sin, but they do not like to be convicted of their own sin. Their responses can vary widely from being defensive, bad mouthing the preacher, withholding their giving, to leaving the church. No wonder so many American churches, including those that claim to be evangelical, have now either redefined sin or don’t mention it at all. Their preachers live in fear.
Paul did not hold back in declaring the whole will of God. He was not there to please people, but to declare God’s word and warn, admonish and encourage them to follow it. A preacher that does not do that is a failure regardless of how many people come hear him preach and how much money he can raise. You will get the whole counsel of God here even when it makes you uncomfortable because we are seeking to help you be conformed to the image of Christ and not conform the Scriptures to what you would like them to be.
In verses 28-32 Paul warns the Ephesian Elders about the dangers they faced in the future while charging them with the same type of responsibility in ministry as overseers of the church.
Paul’s Charge & Warning (28-32)
28 “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. 29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 “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. 32 “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.
This is a passage that is full of important truths that must be implemented in order to fulfill the responsibilities God had placed upon them in caring for the church in Ephesus. In order to feed and protect the flock they would have to be right with God themselves and trust Him to enable them to fulfill His will.
The first responsibility that Paul mentions is that they would have to “be on guard” for themselves which would then be followed by their being on guard for the rest of the flock. You can not lead others if you are not in proper shape yourself.
This admonition may be a self evident truth but it is an important reminder to anyone in a leadership position for several reasons. First, the mindset of a godly leader is self-sacrificial and in putting into practice the admonition of Phil. 2:3 to “regard one another as more important than himself” they at times can become neglectful of themsevles. A church leader can get so busy feeding other people spiritually that they neglect feed themselves. That is one reason for conferences, but more important than that, the church leader must be careful to not get so busy that his own devotional life suffers. You can not do much good in helping others walk with Jesus Christ if your only hobbling along yourself.
There is a saying that pastors should practice what they preach. That is a truth for every church leader. You need to practice what you teach. Be mindful to apply the lesson in your own life before applying it to the lives of others. Be careful of becoming so busy with the stuff of life that the priorities of life in walking with the Lord are neglected.
Another reason this is an important reminder to church leaders is because there are those that must be careful not to let their position go to their head and become proud. There is a real danger here because if you are in a leadership position you have people that put you on a pedestal and give you all sorts of compliments which can inflate your ego. That is one reason that Paul placed a restriction on overseer (bishop) in 1 Timothy 3:6 that he “not be a new convert lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
The church leader must first guard themselves against the various things that could lead them astray from walking worthy of their calling. There are the various schemes of the devil, so you must be sure that you put on the armor of God daily (Eph. 6:10-18). There is pressure from people to do or not do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. You need to make sure your focus remains correct. Jesus warned many times about the dangers of loving the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 5:44f; 12:42f; etc.). Then there is your own selfishness and / or pride. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). A church leader must guard themselves before they can properly also guard anyone else. Paul specifically charges the elders here to do this and to guard all the flock. Paul then goes on to make a couple of extremely significant statements concerning the responsibility and work of elders.
First, remember that the term “elders” back in verse 17 is from presbuteroV / presbuteros and it refers to the position or office that they held. This word is transliterated as presbyter in some church denominations. This was a common term in Israel to refer to those who were in some position of leadership and authority in the community. It was first used in reference to the older men who were the head of their clans within that patriarchal society. It later developed as a term for a community leader without direct reference to any particular tribe or clan. The term was first used in relationship to the church in Acts 14:23 when Paul appointed elders in every church he had started during his first missionary journey. Men were appointed to lead those churches after Paul had departed.
While there are many church traditions which claim there is to be only one elder in each church that is a claim that is contrary to the massive weight of the Biblical usage of the term which is consistently plural. This is another passage demonstrating that truth, for Paul sent to Ephesus and called to him the “elders” (plural) of the church (singular). While every church may not have a plurality of elders because men have not yet attained to the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, it should be the goal of every church to develop a plurality of such godly men to lead the church. That is true here.
Next, notice here in verse 28 that Paul says that it was the Holy Spirit that made them “overseers” over the flock. Overseer, also translated as “bishop,” is from episkopoV / episkopos and describes their responsibility. Exactly what is this responsibility? It to ensure that the things done by those in the church are done rightly. It can also be translated as curator, superintendent or guardian. In this passage we find that the elders are given the responsibility of being overseers. The terms elders and bishops refer to the same men.
It must also be noted that this is a responsibility placed upon them by by the Holy Spirit and not by other people. That means their primary accountability is to God. Hebrews 13:17 addresses this same issue stating, “Obey your leaders, and submit [to them]; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Leaders need to be very careful to make sure that they remain faithful in pleasing God and not to fall in the trap of being men pleasers. God has placed you in that position to please Himself and not the people.
Let me add here in light of my earlier discussion from John 10 about hirelings. Just because someone has the title does not mean that God is the one that placed them there. There are many “hirelings” who have managed to get the title, but their very actions show that they gained a title of office from men, but not approval from God. It is the one who does the work of ministry that demonstrates who God has chosen regardless of what title is present. That is why in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul’s emphasis is aspiring to do the fine work of an overseer and not on the office itself. All the qualifications that follow are directly related to the ability to carry out that work.
Another important item to note in this verse is that the Holy Spirit made these elders overseers among the flock and not over the flock. They are part of the flock themselves and not somehow superior to it. 1 Peter 5:3 addresses the temptation for leaders to abuse their position by telling elders to not lord it over those allotted to their charge, but prove to be examples to the flock. While church leaders must have the right spiritual gifts to fulfill their responsibilities and also meet certain standards of spiritual maturity, they are also still just sinners saved by God’s grace. In other words, pastors are also just people.
The second significant statement related to the responsibility and work of elders is the next phrase of verse 28, “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” The first part of the phrase is the work the elders are to accomplish. They are to shepherd the church of God. Shepherd is the verb poimainw poimainô. The noun form of this word gives us our word “pastor” through the latin translation. A shepherd is to feed and care for the flock. They do this by preaching and teaching the word of God and encouraging, exhorting, reproving and rebuking the people of God as necessary (2 Tim. 4:2; etc.).
The terms elder (presbyter), overseer (bishop) and shepherd (pastor) all refer to the same individuals. Elder is the title of office. Overseer describes the responsibility. Shepherd (pastor) is the work that is to be carried out.
But notice here that is the church of God. The church does not belong to the pastor or the church leaders or to the congregation. The only person that the church belongs to is God. The term for church, ekklhsia / ekklêsia, refers to those called out to an assembly. God is the one that has called individuals from out of the world to form an assemble of people to worship Him. 1 Peter 2:9, 10 says of the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” And the calling to be part of the church can only come from God for no one can come to Jesus Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).
Next, notice the cost God paid for the church. He purchased it with His own blood. That is a direct reference to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the sacrifice for our sin debt. People do not become part of the church based on anything they have paid or anything they have done. There is no payment a man could make to gain entrance and there is no work of righteousness he could accomplish that would qualify him. John 1:12 adds that it is not by genealogical heritage nor by the individual’s will or anyone else’s will other than God. We were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). We were redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18) who is God in human flesh. This is another one of those passages that gives those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ fits because they cannot explain how God could purchase anything with His own blood since God is a Spirit (John 4:24).
The church is not an organization developed by humans. It is an organism, the body of Christ, that was brought into existence and continues in the present directly due to the intervention of God into the lives of individuals. And though the reputation of the church has been maligned horribly over the centuries because of both the sins of those who belong to her and even more so by those who falsely claim to be part of her, it is still the means by which God has chosen to proclaim Himself and the plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to the world. Those who would be leaders within her take on an awesome responsibility for which they will be held accountable directly to God.
If in the course of the ministry of this local manifestation of the church you are offended by something that is said or done by one of the church leaders here, then you need to stop and think before becoming upset. If your offense is because one of us failed in our God given responsibilities or in communicating in a manner befitting our Lord, you will find we are humble people who are quick to apologize and ask for your forgiveness. If, however, the offense is because your own sin and failure has been exposed, then take heed that your problem is with God and not us. While the messenger is often blamed for bad news and sometimes is even shot for it, that does not change the truth of the message delivered.
While this passage is specifically speaking in reference to elders, the principles given apply to all church leaders. We are committed here to telling you the whole counsel of God and then working with you so that you might live according to it.
Next week I will conclude the study of this chapter and Paul’s warning about those false teachers that will arise and tell you what you want to hear and in that way lead you astray from the truth and to destruction.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many times Paul’s name is used. 2) Talk with your parents about the responsibilities of church leaders and the importance of praying for them.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. The questions are based on Acts 20:17-28. Why didn’t Paul stop in Ephesus since he wanted to talk with the elders of the church there anyway? How did Paul demonstrate humility and diligence in his ministry in Ephesus? What was Paul expecting to happen to him in the future? Why? What is the difference between a true shepherd and a hireling? Why did Paul say he was “innocent of the blood of all men?” What is the whole counsel of God and why was it so important that Paul did not shrink back from declaring it. What factors can make it difficult to declare the whole counsel of God? Why did the Ephesian elders need to “be on guard” for themselves. What dangers would they face if they did not do that? What is the Biblical meaning of the term “elder.” What is an overseer? What is their relationship to the church? What are their responsibilities to the church? What is the difference between a man made overseer (bishop) by the Holy Spirit and one that gets that title from men? What does someone who is to “shepherd the church” supposed to do? What is the relationship between elders, overseers (bishops) and shepherds (pastors)? How does someone become part of the church? What is God’s purpose for the church? How is she to carry it out? What role do you playing in that endeavor?
Sermon Notes – September 3, 2006
The Church of God – Acts 20:17-28
Paul’s Farewell Address to the Ephesian Elders (20:17-38)
Paul’s Ministry to Them (17-21)
Paul’s Future (22-25)
Paul’s Integrity (26-27)
Innocent of the Blood of All Men (26)
Declaring the Whole Counsel of God (27)
Paul’s Charge and Warning
Be On Guard
The Church of God
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