Warnings to the Church – Acts 20:29-38

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

September 17, 2006

Warnings to the Church

Acts 20:29f


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.

Paul’s 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.

Paul’s Integrity

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

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’s Charge

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
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.

Paul’s Warnings

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

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

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

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 &

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
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

Paul’s Departure (36-38)

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



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.


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

2 Peter 2; Titus 1;11

1 Timothy 3:3

Paul’s Departure – vs. 36-38

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