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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 17, 2006
Warnings to the Church
We will continue this week in our study of Acts 20 and Paul’s charges and warnings to the Ephesian elders. Last week we examined the first part of his message to them in which he reminded them of his ministry among them, his integrity and his future plans before charging them with their responsibilities and warning them about the dangers to come. In order to set the context for our study today of Paul’s warnings, we are going to quickly review from the beginning of his speech starting in vs. 18.
Paul’s Past Ministry
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.
Paul reminded them that he had served them with humility, dedication and diligence in proclaiming God’s word to them both publically and privately. He then went on in verses 22-25 to tell them about what he expected 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.”
There would be a note of sadness in this news that they would not be seeing Paul again in this life, yet that same news also strengthened the seriousness of what Paul was telling them. Paul was committed to finishing all the ministry that God had for him and that included charging them with their responsibilities in ministry and warning them of the dangers to come. Paul had set a good example for them to follow and taught them well. Paul reminds them of this in vs 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 to being innocent of blood comes from Ezekiel 3:16-20. 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. That is why Paul says in verse 27 that he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole purpose or counsel of God. They would have the same kind of responsibility.
As I mentioned last week, that is not an easy task to complete for a variety of reasons including limitations in time, personal interests and fear. Time is limited so you cannot always do everything you would like to accomplish. Personal interests can skew you into talking about your favorite topics to the neglect of other important subjects. Then there is fear from all sorts of sources. Fear of failure and fear of people are two major ones that often combine together and paralyze many preachers from declaring what the Scriptures say about a whole host of subjects. They fear that the people will not like it which would then have an adverse effect on their attendance and giving. There are now many churches, including those claiming to be evangelical, that have redefined sin in a variety of ways so that people can be comfortable in their sin. People do not like to hear that they need to repent because they have disobeyed a holy God and are under his condemnation. Christians do not like to hear that they have failed the Lord and need to repent and confess their sins in order to restore their proper fellowship with Him. We do not let such fear control us here at Grace Bible Church, so we do our best to give you the whole counsel of God even when the subject makes us uncomfortable.
Paul charges them with their ministry responsibilities in verse 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.” I went over this in detail last week, but in brief, Paul’s first charge is that they guard themselves so that they will be able to guard the rest of the flock. Those in leadership positions, whatever they may be, must be careful to protect themselves against the things that would lead them astray from walking worthy of their calling. They must daily put on the armor of God so that they can stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:10-18). They must set their will to please God so that they can resist the pressure to become men pleasers (John 5:44f, etc.). They must actively humble themselves before God that they may resist their own selfishness and pride (1 Peter. 5:5). If they are doing these things they will be in a good position to guard the flock from similar errors.
Elders must remember that it is the Holy Spirit that has made them overseers among the flock. Their responsibility is glorify God by ensuring that things are done rightly in the church, and God will hold them accountable for that. At the same time they must remember that they are part of the flock and not superior to it. Again, this is a call to humility in the midst of their leadership position as elders and responsibilities as overseers.
The duty of elders is to shepherd or pastor the church of God. 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.). They must always be mindful that the church belongs to God and not to them, any other church leaders or to the congregation. God purchased the church at the cost of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross as the payment for sin.
Paul’s charge to elders is a strong one. They have the responsibility to oversee the flock God has entrusted to them to shepherd or pastor. It is God’s church and they will be held accountable to Him. In verse 29 & 30 Paul now gives them warning of the dangers that they will face in the future.
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.”
In keeping with the terminology that the church is a flock and the elders are its shepherds, Paul calls those that pose danger to the church “wolves,” and Paul adds to this the description that they are savage. There are savage wolves outside the church that desire to come in among the flock and destroy.
As part of my training in college to be an Agricultural Biologist with a speciality in Pest Management, I had a class on vertebrate pest control which included how do deal with such predators as coyotes, mountain lions and wolves. At the risk of being politically incorrect, which really doesn’t bother me since almost everything advocated as politically correct is contrary to Biblical principles and practice, let me comment briefly what I learned about wolves in that class and over the years since.
First, though wolves have been eliminated throughout most of the United States, there are areas where they still pose a problem for ranchers, especially where they have been reintroduced. Ranchers in those areas have come to accept that they will have a certain amount of loss per year to wolf depredation. While that may be reality for ranchers, the analogy should not be true in the church. The shepherds in the church should never become complacent or tolerant of losing people to spiritual wolves. And though, like the rancher, the elder cannot seek out and destroy such wolves, we can do a lot to scare the wolves off and wrestle with them for any sheep they attack.
Second, the nature of wolves is to attack the weak. They go after the prey that will be the easiest to attack and bring down – crippled sheep, weak sheep and lambs. The same is true with spiritual wolves. They will attack those who are new to the faith, those who have remained ignorant, those who are unstable in their walk with the Lord, and those going through any crises of faith. They prey upon ignorance and doubt while exploiting sinful desires.
Third, while an overall generalization is that wolves will kill in order to eat, that is not always true. They do kill for the fun of it. In class we reviewed the documentation of wolf attacks in which the number of sheep killed was far in excess of what the pack needed for food with many of the sheep killed with little or nothing eaten from them. These are the savage wolves. That is the type of spiritual wolf Paul is describing here. They desire to disrupt and destroy the lives of as many followers of Jesus Christ as possible. They want to turn people away from being disciples of Jesus into being disciples of themselves or their religious system. But considering that such “savage wolves” are pawns of Satan it is no wonder that they would be marked by such efforts.
Paul speaks of this same danger from without in other passages. In Colossians 2:8 Paul said “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” He commanded in Eph. 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” In Phil. 3:2 Paul warned, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”
The Dangers from Without
That the church faces dangers from without is self-evident, though the particular danger a specific group may pose is not. It is obvious that false religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, various forms of paganism and many other “isms” are contrary to God’s revelation of Himself. The dangers of some philosophical positions such as atheism and agnosticism are also obvious. When the enemy is obvious, you become alert and prepare to defend against him which makes it very difficult for them to enter in and cause problems though they will still try.
However, the dangers of many religions, cults, heretical forms of Christianity and secular philosophies are not as apparent to most people and therefore more dangerous. They come in some disguised form.
Hinduism has entered into churches through its forms of meditation which have been embraced by many including those in evangelical churches. In Biblical meditation you actively focus your mind either on God or some principle or precept from His word you are trying to understand and apply. In Eastern meditation you are to empty your mind through various techniques. That can allow anything to come in including the demonic. It is often promoted as a method of relaxing or form of prayer. Hinduism has also made huge inroads into churches through promoting yoga wh ich is claimed to be just a form of exercise. It is not. It is a form of Hindu worship and meditation whose purpose is to release the kudalini force within you.
Christians are usually surprised when they find out they have accepted major tenets of atheism and agnosticism through their philosophy that is passed off as science and theology. These ideas are not only taught in our schools and by government entities, but also show up in many educational materials that are supposedly Christian.
What am I talking about specifically? The idea that the earth is billions of years old with death reigning on the earth for hundreds of millions of years before man even came on the scene only a few million years ago. That is contrary to both the facts of hard science that the declarations of the Bible concerning creation including that God said at the conclusion of the sixth day that it was very good. Then there is the idea that man developed his religious ideas over the millennia progressing from animism, to paganism, to polytheism, to monotheism. That is contrary to the Biblical narrative in which man started off with knowledge of the one true creator God but then descended into false religions upon turning their back on Him. Then there is the related idea that the Bible is the work of spiritually minded men who wrote, or edited and redacted earlier material until we have what exists today. The conclusion from all these ideas is that the Bible is not reliable and that if there is a God, He is not actively involved in our lives and we cannot really know Him or what He has said. That is the practical understanding of a large portion of those who profess to be Christians. They live as practical atheists or as deists. But Jesus said God’s word is true (John 17:17). Paul said the all Scripture inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction & instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Peter said God had granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3-4).
There are all sorts of other philosophies that have invaded the church through various means. One huge area has been in the realm of psychology. A huge portion of American Christianity has bought into the idea that only a qualified psychologist can give competent counsel to troubled people. The warnings of Psalm 1 not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly is ignored, or it is claimed that they are going to a “Christian” psychologist. However, the only difference between the vast majority of them and their secular counterparts is that they may pray as part of their counseling session. They have little to no Bible training with which to give Biblical wisdom. Instead they have been taught to use the same secular theories of psychology as the non-Christian. If the counselor’s advice is not firmly based in the Scriptures, then it is not Christian regardless of the claims.
Psychological philosophy has even invaded the church to an extent that it perverts simple Bible passages. For example, in Matthew 19:19 Jesus repeats the Old Testament command to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). Psychology has twisted this into a promotion of self-esteem teaching that you have to love yourself before you can love others. It turns the meaning of the command on its head. The command is based on the simple and true premise that people already love themselves and they should show the same level of care and concern for others. Psychology twists this call to be selfless in sacrificing of yourself for the good of others into a call to be selfish in loving yourself first.
There is much more that could be said about these types of dangers. For additional study there are many books detailing the specifics of the invasion of false religions, cults and philosophy into the church. A good overview is The Seduction of Christianity by Dave Hunt. (See also Psychological Seduction by Kilpatrick and Scientific Creationism by Morris. Check out www.GraceBibleNY.org/links)
The Dangers from Within
But the danger to the church is not just from without. The danger is also from within. Verse 30 specifically states, “and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
This is the greater danger because these are the ravenous wolves that come dressed in sheep’s clothing that Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:15. Jesus said that we would know them by their fruit, but because they appeared to be one of us we often have a hard time believing the evidence. Too often I have had people still claim that some individual is a good brother or sister in Christ even after all evidence brings about conclusive proof that the person is false resulting in their being disfellowshiped from the church.
Remember that while the primary reason we practice church discipline is in the effort to bring about correction and restoration (Mt. 18:15,16; Gal. 6:1), there is also the purpose of protecting the church from those who are false (cf. Matt. 18:17; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:14). Yet, we have lost many families over the years because they would rather associate with their friends who are false than those who are seeking their spiritual protection. Why does that happen?
God allows false teachers to come to test whether those who claim to love God actually do or not (Deut. 13:3; 1 Cor. 11:19). Many will fail the test because, as 2 Tim. 4:3 states,“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” In short, they simply do not want to hear the truth and they will find someone who will cater to their desires and make believe world.
In verse 30 Paul states two of the characteristics of these false leaders and then in verses 33-35 contrasts himself with a third characteristic.
First, they speak perverse things (diastrefw / diastrephô). The idea here is that they distort or twist the word of God into what they want it to say. That is usually done with a combination of 1) leaving out the sections of Scripture they don’t want to talk about 2) emphasizing passages that say what they want, and 3) interpreting passages contrary to their historical and grammatical context.
Preachers who speak perverse things are prevalent on TBN and many so called “Christian” radio stations. Their writings in books and magazines spread their false doctrine even farther. In radion, Harold Camping of Family Radio is a major wolf. I don’t watch TBN, so I don’t know most of those on it. Those that I do know something about on it that fit Paul’s description here include Hugh Ross, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Frederick Price, Robert Schuller and Kenneth Hagin. A lot more of the others probably also fit since Paul & Jan Crouch have never shown much discernment between the true and the false. As a general rule, beware of anyone that names their ministry after themselves. Because these preachers are popular, their perverted teachings spread into other churches. Again, there have been many books and articles written exposing such men. Resources such The Agony of Deceity, Horton and websites: John Ankerberg (ankerberg.com), The Apologetics Index (apologeticsindex.org), The Berean Call (thebereancall.org), Answers In Genesis (answersingenesis.org) and Christian Research Institute (equip.org) are all very helpful.
Second, they seek to build their own following. They are often very personable and seek to quickly build friendships with many people. Many are very good with flattery. Others are very generous in various ways seeking to ingratiate people to themselves. If they are in some lower position of authority in the church they are generally critical of the church leaders and their decisions while promoting how much better they and their ideas are. If they are in a position of church leadership, they are usually marked by an arrogance demanding submission to their Biblical interpretations even on very minor issues and methodology with little grace for those who disagree. They may claim that they are making disciples of Jesus Christ, but when push comes to shove the demand is loyalty to themselves, not Christ or the scriptures.
Paul contrasts himself with a third characteristic of these wolves in verses 33-35, but first he commands them, reminds them and commends them in verses 31 & 32.
Paul’s Commands and Commendation (31-32)
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.
In view of the danger they faced from these wolves they needed to remain on alert. This was no time to relax and become complacent. The example of the diligence they needed to have was seen by them in how Paul had diligently admonished them over the 3 years that he had been with them. [Paul had taught them for a total of 3 years. The 2 years mentioned in Acts 19:10 was just the time teaching in the school of Tyrannus]. The confidence they were to have in being able to carry this out is found in Paul’s commendation of them to God. They could not do this on their own, but God could accomplish it through them through the word of His grace. They in turn would receive the reward of an imperishable and undefiled inheritance in heaven (cf. 1 Peter 1:4).
Paul’s Example (33-35)
In verses 33-35 Paul reminds them of his example when he was with them which was in contrast to a third characteristic of wolves. 33 “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. 35 “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.'”
There are many descriptions of false teachers in the Bible. One of the more detailed ones is in 2 Peter 2. The Apostle Peter describes their perverse teaching in verses 1 & 2 saying that they will “secretly introduce destructive heresies,” and that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.” In verse 3 Peter adds, and “in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” Paul warned Titus about those who were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11).
Wolves fleece the flock. They will exploit the people to get what they can out of them. Keep that in mind when you hear one of these TV or radio preachers trying to entice you to give to them. Compare them to the example set by Paul here. He did not covet anyone’s money and proved it by the example of his actions among them. One of the elder qualifications in 1Timothy 3:3 is that he is “free from the love of money.” Beware of those men that do love money and even more so of those who encourage you to love it.
The godly attitude toward money is given in verse 35 in his quote of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” [This quote is an agrapha which is a saying of Jesus not recorded in the gospels]. Paul spoke of this subject in several other places including Ephesians 4:28 where he says that one of the reasons the Christian is to labor is so that they may have something to share with those who have need. Spiritual wolves do not understand that.
Verses 36-38 describe Paul’s departure from them.
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 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 should see his face no more. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
It was quite an emotional departure. They knelt and prayed and then Paul went to get on the ship. Men who think it is wrong for them to cry should take note of this passage. There are things that cause us grief and sorrow and it is proper to show our emotions including weeping. In fact, there is something wrong if you do not weep at a final farewell such as this one.
Next week we will see Paul’s determination to complete his mission regardless of the personal dangers involved.
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 the following words are used: Paul, Elder, Danger. 2) Talk with your parents about how God protects you from those who would lead you astray.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the context of Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders? Describe his prior ministry among them? What did Paul believe would happen in the future? How did Paul demonstrate his integrity? What is the relationship between these terms: elder, overseer, shepherd? What is the responsibility of elders? Who are they accountable to for that responsibility? Why? How do elders fulfill their duties to the church? Who does the church belong to? Why? Describe the nature of wolves? How does that compare to the nature of spiritual wolves? What dangers do Christians face from wolves that come from outside the church? What are some of the effects of false religions upon American Christianity? What are some of the effects of secular philosophies upon American Christianity? What effect have false religions and secular philosophies had on you? What dangers do Christians face from spiritual wolves who claim to be part of the church? What characteristics can help you identify these wolves? What are the purposes of church discipline? How did Paul’s character contrast with these wolves? What was Paul’s final command to the elders? Who would enable them to obey it? Should real men cry?
Sermon Notes – September 17, 2006
Warnings to the Church – Acts 20:18-38
Paul’s Past Ministry – vs. 18-21
Paul’s Future – vs. 22-25
Paul’s Integrity – vs. 26,27
Paul’s Charge – vs. 28
Paul’s Warnings – vs. 29, 30
The Nature of Wolves
Dangers from Without
Atheism & Agnosticism
Dangers from Within
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing – Matthew 7:15
They Speak Perverse Things
They Seek Their Own Followers
Paul’s Commands & Commendation – vs. 31-32
Paul’s Example – vs. 33-35
Paul’s Departure – vs. 36-38
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