The Book of Acts (Chapter 20:17-38) (Part 32)
One of the things that constantly troubled Paul was his concern and anxiety for all of the assemblies he had planted. He had weathered many physical trials and tests and numerous spiritual storms of one sort or another but added to this was his burden for the spiritual welfare of those over whom the Holy Spirit had made him an apostle. Paul also knew that the leadership needed to be rooted and grounded in the Word of God and aware of the devil’s strategies. Paul knew full well that where ever the gospel of the Kingdom was preached that Satan would follow behind trying to undo what God had done. The danger Paul saw was not from without but from within the local assembly. Ephesus was to become a strategic city for the teaching of God’s Word and Apostolic doctrine. Ephesus was the first assembly that the Apostle John wrote to in the book of Revelation and it was associated with apostolic teaching but infiltrated by false apostles (Revelation 2:1-7). The assembly at Ephesus was known for its evangelistic zeal and work but eventually lost its first love. Out of his concern for all the assemblies he wanted to speak with the leaders at Ephesus. As yet the fellowship was spiritually solid but Paul knowing how the devil works wanted to make sure the elders at Ephesus knew what lay ahead of them once he had gone.
(Vs.17-21) “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 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, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul was a true apostle and one who lived what he preached. From the outset he had made sure that after preaching to others he would not find himself spiritually disqualified through sin or disobedience to God’s will. As he wrote; “Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, 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). He always strove to be faithful and diligent in his ministry. As he also wrote; “We proclaim Him (Jesus), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, striving with all His energy working powerfully within me” (Colossians 1:29). He was no chocolate soldier but a seasoned veteran and experienced commander with many spiritual battles under his belt. He knew that in his flesh nothing good dwelt and besides this he had tears and trials that were a result of persecution by his fellow unsaved Jewish leaders.
He did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. Not that he knew everything of course but what he did receive from the LORD he passed on to others despite the defamation of his character and reputation, the risks, the persecution and the setbacks in his ministry to the assemblies under his care. Everything he taught was profitable.
Today there are many pastors who do not teach the whole counsel of God but only what suits them or their congregations. Sometimes they will avoid subjects such as repentance, hell, the gifts of the Spirit and the coming judgement not to mention the doctrine of the last things or the second Coming of Christ. Also many no longer acknowledge the place of Israel in God’s end-time prophetic purposes. Today it is often hype and emotionally gratifying positive sermons mainly based on a seeker friendly self-image doctrine laced with Bible verses here and there out of context often that they use to boost their own opinions about God’s Word.
There are not many assemblies around where you will find a solid exposition of God’s Word or the ministry of the gifts of the Spirit practiced Biblically. Today it is all hype and show and entertainment in many assemblies especially the mega-churches today. Alpha and Purpose driven seeker friendly programmes come in the front door and the Holy Spirit departs through the back door.
Paul’s teaching was so important that it went beyond the public gathering for worship as he ministered from one home to the next and wherever the believers were gathered. It was no Sunday religion for his congregations. It was full on where understanding the Bible was concerned. It was always scripture first. As Paul also wrote; “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He was not ashamed to preach the gospel as he understood that it was the power of God that saved men and not anything invented by man. And so he also wrote; “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
He knew that his message had to be grounded upon repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance was the key component in all his preaching and teaching especially to the unsaved as it was in the preaching of the prophets, the Lord Jesus and with Paul’s fellow apostles. Today in many assemblies that claim to be evangelical repentance and judgement are hardly if ever mentioned these days. Biblical repentance will always precede saving faith (Acts 3:19). Unless people repent they will surely perish in their sins!
Many Christian leaders today are propagating Alpha and Purpose Driven programmes but if they read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans and took it to heart they would see the fatal flaw in Alpha and Purpose Driven programmes. There is no in depth teaching on repentance, hell, coming judgement, the Second Coming, Israel in Bible prophecy and the true state of fallen man before a Holy and righteous God. As to salvation it is virtually a discussion over coffee whether one should believe in Jesus or not. These courses do not produce any real conviction of sin. Some may get saved because God exercises His sovereign mercy towards them because He sees their genuine need and desire to be saved.
As for Alpha and Purpose Driven programmes they have not produced a Biblical revival in the western democracies. As for countries like North Korea, Pakistan, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and in China where believers are persecuted for their faith in Jesus they do not need or have Alpha or Purpose Driven material but they do have the blessed Holy Spirit working powerfully in them and through them in bringing untold numbers of people to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. They may not have silver and gold as such but what they do have they freely dispense in the power of the risen Lord Jesus! In everything he said and did in the LORD’s service Paul was very aware of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And so we read…
(Vs 22-27) “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so 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. “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
The Bible says; “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Every moment of every day we need to be regularly led by the Holy Spirit. If we walk moment by moment by faith in the Lord Jesus and we are being led by the Spirit then we will be empowered to walk in all of God’s will. Paul was an apostle and God had a special plan for him. A lot was at stake and the LORD had entrusted a great work for Paul to do, a work he had been set apart by God to do before he was even born (Galatians 1:15).
He was bound by the Spirit freely operating in his human spirit. The course set for Paul at this time was Jerusalem. He did not know what would happen to him once he got there but he knew intuitively from the Holy Spirit that opposition and persecution awaited him wherever he went. Paul was a driven man, driven not by his flesh but by the Spirit of God because his ministry had an urgency attached to it. He was aware of the fact that time was of the utmost importance. As he would write later; “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:17-18).
Being filled with the Holy Spirit and walking in God’s will is inseparable. Firstly, in the Greek text to be filled with the Holy Spirit is a command and not an option and secondly it is written in the present and continuous tense. We are to be constantly, moment by moment, filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. Paul realized that his main focus was to be on his ministry for the LORD as it should be for every disciple of the Lord Jesus. A believer filled with the Holy Spirit will sense urgency within their spirit from the Holy Spirit to continue and to persevere in their calling whether it is in ministry of in the secular world. Our calling is a sacred calling.
Whether we are soldiers on the front line or behind the lines or in the supplies department we are all called to be faithful and filled with the Holy Spirit. For Paul his mission was clear “to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” This should be at the heart of all ministries, namely “to seek and to see the lost saved.” This is the call and ministry of the local Body of Messiah or assembly. A truly Biblical assembly whose members are filled with the Holy Spirit will see souls regularly saved and saints sanctified and made fit vessels for the master’s use! Evangelism without discipleship will amount to nothing in the end. The goal of any ministry is not just to see converts but to see souls saved and sanctified. And so Paul was conscious of this fact when he spoke to these Ephesian elders.
Paul also knew that this might be the last time he would see the local assembly at Ephesus. Whether he knew from the Holy Spirit that he would never see them again or that some of them might apostatize and leave the fellowship which was not beyond the realm of possibility. He also knew that a time might come when on one of his Missionary journeys his life in this world might be terminated before he was able to return to Ephesus. One thing Paul knew was that he had fully discharged his duty to preach the whole message God had given him and not withheld anything back. So far wherever he had been he had been faithful to declare the whole counsel of God being everything the Holy Spirit had instructed him to say and to teach. The wonderful truth about the blessed Holy Spirit is that being God the Spirit He knows what needs to be said and done and how it should be said and done. Our responsibility as believers is to hear and to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Remember Elijah experienced the wind, the earthquake and the fire but God was not in any of them but after that came the still small voice; “This is the way, walk in it!” God is not always in the spectacular but most of the time speaks in a steady and even unemotional voice. It is not so much an audible voice or though at times it will be like that, but for most of the time it is an inner conviction, a settled peace, a persistent conviction that you are in the centre of God’s will. It is not something to be taught but experienced. This conviction and confirmation can only come from walking by faith in the Lord Jesus and seeking to be filled with the Spirit moment by moment. Once Paul had confirmed the authenticity of his message to them he wanted to warn the elders to be diligent overseers of the flock God had placed in their care. And so he said…
(Vs.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.”
The first and foremost thing that the elders were to be aware of was the fact that they themselves, even though they were seasoned veterans spiritually, that they could still be deceived if they were not alert at all times to the devil’s plans. In the spiritual life we often forget that Satan and his cohorts from hell are working 24/7 around the clock to destroy our faith and confidence in God. In warfare the snipers always go for the officers first because they know that without leadership an army is vulnerable. This calling to be shepherds or overseers was a sacred calling and not something that these men had called themselves to do. They had been appointed by the Holy Spirit as is the normal state of things for every assembly.
As Paul wrote to Titus; “The reason I left you in Crete was that you would set in order what was unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). A shepherd was one who led the sheep and did not lord it over them. As Peter also wrote; “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you, watching over them not out of compulsion, but because it is God’s will; not out of greed, but out of eagerness; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). The sheep are very precious to the Lord Jesus who purchased them with His own blood because of His undying love for them.
A Shepherd whom the Holy Spirit has called will always keep this in mind because God will deal severely with the shepherd who has abused the sheep either through heavy shepherding or through wrong teaching or by failing to protect the sheep or by not dealing with the wolves sneaking around the sheep pen to seize a lamb or two that might wander from the fold. Also a true shepherd will be aware of those within the sheep pen who are wolves in sheep’s clothing and seek to expose them for what they are. Sometimes a shepherd will need to name these false teachers and shysters. The prophets named them, the Lord Jesus named them and so did the apostles. Primarily then, a shepherd whom the Holy Spirit has called, gifted and raised up will lead and guide and feed the sheep in his care and if the wolves are circling he will warn the sheep and expose their strategies. Also he will teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. If the doctrine is wrong the lifestyle will be wrong.
At the end of the day we will be in our words and actions what we are on the inside. As the Lord Jesus said “As a man thinks in his heart so is he…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks!” What is in abundance in a person’s heart will come out of their mouth. Sadly today Christendom is plagued by many shepherds who do not have the welfare of the sheep at heart. It is their salary, their career, their pension, their standing in the denomination, their ecumenical stance, their compromise with the Word of God and their failure to warn the sheep against false prophets and teachers. This is why those of us who teach will be judged with a greater strictness.
The LORD spoke about this to His servant 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. “When I say to the wicked, ‘You will 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. “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” (Ezekiel 3:17-19).
Unless the blessed Holy Spirit has called a man into the ministry and gifted him for that office within the Body of Messiah he had better stay out! Many a man has gone into the ministry, maybe out of genuine motives because they have a degree in theology but God has not called them nor has the Holy Spirit gifted them and so they not only bring a burden on themselves and their families but also on the assembly to which they have been assigned to. God does use scholarly men in ministry but for the most part those who are called may not be intellectually giants as it were but they will be men who carry the burden of the Holy Spirit for the welfare of the sheep, men whose life’s experience has been shaped by life’s circumstances and more so by the Word of God.
A true shepherd first and foremost is a servant of the Word of God. He is one who preaches the word in season and out of season. He dare not preach anything else! Now Paul also knew that after he had departed that the flock would be attacked by savage wolves, not from outside the assemblies but from within them. And so he said…
(Vs.29-30) “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
Paul was going to leave the elders but it may be also that when he mentioned his departure he was saying that after he had fallen asleep in Christ that there would be those who would through stealth secretly introduce destructive heresies, men and women who would lay truth and error side by side to deceive the flock. These would be savage wolves that would spiritually rip the sheep apart without the slightest qualm. Peter and Jude wrote about these kinds of false shepherds, prophets and teachers calling them “shepherds who feed only themselves” and that they were “an accursed brood!” Some of these wolves would sneak into the fellowship but others show their true colours once the apostle had gone. In the case of all false shepherds and teachers and prophets their goal is to draw men and women after them and to make themselves spiritual gurus. All sects and cults are this way. There is always a leader or leaders who want unswerving obedience and loyalty to the things they are teaching.
These men speak about what is perverse, about what they really do not understand spiritually and preach their twisted doctrines and commandments of men and not what is in accord with sound doctrine. Those within the assemblies who have itching ears to hear what these men and women are teaching follow them blindly and without rational reasoning from scripture. Their emotions run away with them and they are mesmerised and bedazzled by the razzle and dazzle of these false teachers with their satanically inspired charisma and with their bogus and counterfeit miracles signs and wonders! These are enchanters deceiving others as well as themselves. Many of them appear regularly on national television and they are always talking about signs and wonders and feel good doctrines but especially about money! What they are doing from God’s perspective is perverse to say the least!
(Vs.31-32) “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. 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.”
When the Lord Jesus was speaking about the signs at the end of the age he warned about wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence once but mentioned spiritual deception at least four times. Virtually the first words out of His mouth was “let no one deceive you.” In fact spiritual sobriety in all things is especially needed these days with all of the spiritual deception assailing the Body of Messiah both from without and from within. Peter gave us some wise advice when he wrote; “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9a).
Today in many churches we see anything but spiritual sobriety with all kinds of excessive manifestations and doctrines that excite the flesh that is pumped up with loud rock music of one sort or another, not to mention the strobe lights and the feel good sermons and pop psychology laced here and there with isolated Bible verses usually out of context. Many are unsatisfied unless they see a show or a display of some sort. In almost every case those preachers up front spend no time is exposition of the Word of God. Today we are plagued with ‘super apostles’ of one sort or another that in reality are drawing naive and undiscerning Christians after them just as Paul warned about here in Acts.
Paul had worked hard at his preaching and teaching and often without sleep and with tears as he saw spiritual deception advancing on the assemblies in the future. He had been with them for three years and in that time there was no letup in his ministry. This was part and parcel of the apostolic ministry. Having done everything that he could he commended then firstly to God and then to the Word of His grace to build them up in their faith so that they could enter into the fullness of their spiritual inheritance which belonged to all those who had been separated to God. The Bible says that “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
The only safeguard for these elders from Ephesus was to commit themselves to the word of God in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, showing themselves as an example of those who truly believe. They were to “fight the good fight of faith” and to “earnestly contend or agonise for the faith once delivered to the saints” and to preach the Word, prepared in season and out of season to correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction and above all teach what was in accord with sound doctrine.
Only by remaining faithful to the Word of God would they be enabled to persevere in their ministry to the saints. The Word of God is the foundation of any healthy assembly upon which to spiritually build. Any other foundation is like building on sand. It may look very splendid but when a real spiritual storm hits the place it collapses. In days to come many mega-churches are going to go to the wall with the spiritual storm that is coming. For many of them their finances will dry up! One of the distinguishing marks of a false teacher or prophet or elder is that they covet the silver and gold of others. Not so with a true apostle. As Paul declared…
(Vs.33-35) “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 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.’”
The first century believers did not have much silver and gold but they knew what they had in the Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit was working powerfully with them. A true apostle, prophet and teacher or elder will not be into money at all. They are in the ministry because God has called them to it and placed on their hearts the welfare of the sheep over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. They are not in the ministry for what they can get out of it. Many ministers and elders in this world work at secular jobs to support themselves and their families. Paul himself did this when appropriate to do so. If a local fellowship can support their elders then they should as scripture says “not to muzzle the ox that treads out the grain.” The Ox is a hard working animal who tread out the grain in the field. A true pastor, elder, day and night if necessary because the days are evil! In fact those who teach and preach God’s Word are to receive double honorarium, in other words they should be paid well (1 Timothy 5:17).
Today there are the pastors who do not tread out the nutritious grain of God’s Word but are paid huge salaries. Would you pay a quack who says he is a doctor but is not qualified? Would you trust your physical health to such a man? Then why give your money to a man who does not rightly divide the Word of Truth that is able to save and sanctify your soul and keep it spiritually healthy? Yet many are doing just this today! They are paying huge salaries to men who are not preaching the Word of God but the dreams and visions of their own deluded imaginations propped up with isolated Bible verses usually out of all context. Just look at the mega-pastors doing this on television and on the internet! Why would any sane and discerning person give their money to these spiritual shysters? But they do!
Two things Paul mentioned were hard work and helping the weak. As James wrote; “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Like the Lord Jesus, the true shepherd and bishop of the soul, faithful shepherds will be following the advice given by the Lord Jesus when He said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” The catch cry of these covetous money preachers is that “it is more blessed to receive than to give!” A faithful shepherd, pastor, elder or presbyter will give themselves to the ministry and to their flock without expecting anything in return. They may not be rewarded in this life with much as far as material wealth and possessions are concerned but in the life to come they will receive a rich welcome into the kingdom of the Great Shepherd our Lord Jesus Christ and the unfading crown of glory from Him for their faithfulness! (1 Peter 5:1-4).
(Vs.36-38) “When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 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.”
I believe it was John Wesley who said; “God buries His workers but continues His work.” And so it is with His ministers of righteousness. When they have done their part they go to their eternal reward and lay down the baton of ministry and another picks up the baton and continues the race. Once Paul had admonished the elders he knelt down with them and prayed. There is something very humbling about kneeling before the LORD. It is very hard to remain proud or stiff necked when kneeling as it is a sign of submission to a higher power. It also demonstrates that the one kneeling is humbly waiting upon the LORD.
When Paul prayed with them it was not a formal and rather cold prayer meeting as such but more of a heart wrenching prayer time that evoked weeping and sorrow and physical embracing because they would not see their beloved Apostle again. They were grieving over the fact and accompanied him to the ship. For many years after that Ephesus was a bastion of Biblical truth and the home of the Apostle John in his later years. Some have even said that Jesus’ Mother Mary also lived out her days at Ephesus.
Sadly over time the assembly at Ephesus they lost their first love and today Ephesus is a small Muslim village with a handful of professing Christians if any. Because they lost their first love their candlestick of spiritual light was extinguished. Possibly, by the foresight given to Paul by the Holy Spirit, he had a vision of the future of the assembly at Ephesus and because of this he wept for them as he had done day and night for three years. His job was done and others would carry the torch of Biblical truth from Ephesus but despite all of their hard work, their zeal and their evangelical endeavours the oil in their lampstands would eventually run out and the flame of Love for the Lord Jesus extinguished even as it remains to this day!