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Acts chapter 20 verses 13 to 38 Instructions for Church Leaders

Instructions for Church Leaders

[From Troas] Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

"And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to 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. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ' It is more blessed to give than to receive. '"

And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

Introduction

This being a long passage, in the time before us, cannot be commentated on verse by verse. However, the passage is a whole story or account, and as such, needs to be read as a portion of Scripture that describes both the activities and journeying of the apostle Paul and his team, as well as being doctrinally important for our application today. Today I am not going to dwell on the journey, for this has less value (note I do not say 'no value'), and the doctrinal points are better serviced to be looked at in greater depth. In brief, we see Paul heading back to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, sailing south down the Turkish coast. We see that he was unable to visit everywhere on that voyage, and therefore, does the next best thing: Paul calls the Elders of the Ephesian church to come to him. The only point that may be important to note here is the coming together of Christians to a space where they can meet.

Conferencing can be a useful adjunct to visiting individual places, and can get together a group of people in a time pressed world. Also, church leaders should get together with other church leaders. The joy of having a unified church was that Paul an apostle was well recognised as a senior mentor, and therefore, gathering together with Paul and his team was seen as something worthwhile doing, so there was an immediate response, and not one without difficulty, for Miletus and Ephesus was a good 90-100 kilometres apart. In today's fractured church, we have few travelling elders (for the apostles died out with John and Paul) to would be able to help ensure the churches are united in doctrine and practical directions in ministry. In the world's 'mainstream churches' they have their own governance structures in which this type of visiting from senior delegates occur, but each mainstream denomination is separate from the others, and there are numerous independent churches who do not communicate particularly well across their own self-made boundaries. Today's situation is somewhat different to Paul's day in this aspect. The 'Brethren' assemblies are likewise poorly connected, and are completely fragmented into different sects, whereas, when established 170-180 years ago, were able to do as our text illustrates as a pattern for the different assemblies to do – connect and support each other.

However, what we can see and apply in this text is Paul's agenda for discussion. The agenda was doctrinal and functional in nature, providing instruction to the Ephesian Elders as to how they needed to be acting and teaching. It is important to note as well that this gathering was the final meeting of Paul with the elders of the local church at Ephesus. This portion of text therefore, in a snapshot, tells us what Paul felt was very important in a face to face meeting for such a final meeting (though we know he wrote to them after this). We also need to understand that the context of the meeting was as the Apostle to a young church that Paul had helped to establish. The context therefore needs to be considered, and understood, in order to get the complete message found here in our text. However, leadership, and direction from leadership should follow the same pattern even in 2015!

Living an Example of Christ

Paul's opening line to the elders was about the importance of living an example of Christ filled lives. This statement includes an attitude of heart – humility, and the struggles Paul had in the ministry – life was not a bed of roses, therefore, having a Christ filled life could be very tough. In fact the ministry was built on tears and trials. Paul highlights that the Jews were the main opposition to the ministry, yet despite the turmoil, he 'kept nothing back'. We read in 1 Corinthians: Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (11:1) Paul repeats this in his letter to the Ephesians, after this meeting when jailed in Rome: Therefore be imitators of God as dear children (Ephesians 5:1). Finally, for context, we find Paul writing to the Philippians: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself (2:3). If you read the preceding two verses in Philippians you will find further exhortation about living the life so that others may see Christ within. This passage is very clear, ministry starts with our own heart state. If we are not right with God in all ways, if we are not willing to be humble, and take the lower position, allowing Christ to speak through us, then to what end is our ministry going to be?

It is incredibly easy to talk the talk, but incredibly hard to walk the walk, being doers of the work (James 1:25). It was a common problem in the early church, we hear from James: Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away (1:9-10). Unless we are in a place where we may be elevated, where our position is not being false in humility, but truly without pride, we will fail. It bodes well to understand that as we are reminded by James - we are mortal! God will remove us if we fail to humble ourselves, we will no longer be useful and as a fading flower no longer is seen as a thing of beauty to be picked and displayed, God will deal with us. I think that this point is an absolutely critical one to learn and live, for God has repeated the same message over and over again: Imitate Christ, humble yourselves – I have only quoted three of many such verses. The message is the same across Scripture – live a humble life, reflect Christ not ourselves, imitate Christ, so that people we come across that either do not know Christ, or who are young in faith, or struggling in faith, have an living example of real Christianity. If we live with any pride, then people will be turned away, become disillusioned. Rather, when they see the glory of God reflected in a Christ centred life, Paul is noting that this will be the best example, the best opportunity to bring others to Christ.

Paul however, does not make it sound easy. He reminds the elders that there will be tears and pain. Paul also is saying in this opening portion of text, that tears and pain come from teaching the whole truth, therefore, we are to be careful not to hold back on the whole truth, despite this guaranteed consequence! In today's world the modern 'Christian' church wants to adapt Christianity to the commonly held standards of the world. They want to embrace the homosexual without expectation of them changing their lifestyle – that of practicing homosexual acts. Women no longer wish to serve the Lord as He has ordained, but view church leadership and preaching from the pulpit as the better choice. They defy God by calling His order sexist and patriarchal, and they cry 'oppression!' Churches are not willing to preach hell fire; some even deny the existence of hell. They are not willing to admonish the congregation for poverty in giving to the Lord, or for poverty in serving without expecting something in return. Churches, in my view, tend to admonish a member for many things that are not specifically doctrinal, but rarely stand and openly condemn a person who will not retract or repent from a heresy for fear of offending, or causing dissent. I am sure part of the problem is the poor adherence to Paul's opening pleading in our text today.

We, especially those who are nominated [as elders], or those who for reason of age and maturity in their Christian walk are elders of the church community, fail to meet the Christlike standard that Paul has set. We fail to walk as imitators of Christ. We fail to shine forth the light that is the glory of God within, preaching half the gospel – what we may see as the best bits about heaven and love, and we actively quench the Holy Spirit when He convicts us to speak of sin, hell, repentance, the redeeming blood of Christ, and God's perfect ways. We do this in case someone labels us as different or radical and causes us pain and tears through harsh opposition. We forget that we have the armour of God, and with that armour, no fight is too much, no fight is unwinnable. This is the sad reality of the modern Christian church. Unfortunately, the greatest detractors to preaching the truth at times are the very leadership of the churches to whom Paul's example of today should be a shining illustration and act to follow. We see failure in the popes, bishops, moderators, presidents, deacons, priests, cardinals, arch-bishops and so forth depending on your brand of Christianity. This mediocrity and wishy-washy religion is well heralded in Scripture and therefore, unfortunately does not surprise: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked–… (Revelation 3:15-17). We need to recognise these attitudes and work hard at ensuring we do not fall into the same traps and disappointing leadership.

Suffering for Christ

I believe that the next verses show why this is so (disappointing leadership who fail to follow Paul's example), for to be able to follow Christ completely, one must be willing to suffer and lay one's own life on the line. Few today have that willingness. Paul was going to Jerusalem, for the very reason of being led there by God, in order to be taken in chains to Rome. He knew this, yet, his love for His Father in heaven, his faith and complete commitment to the Lord's work is evidence of how Paul lived as an imitator of Christ. Jesus came into this world, having with his Father made that plan before creation, knowing that He would need to suffer and die for the sins of the world. Yet Jesus not only came to earth as a man, not a handsome man, not a universally loved man, but one whose face was marred more than any other: There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:2-3).

He [the Messiah] was one they tried to kill; the one they plainly ignored, one whose followers were more fickle than a summer breeze. Jesus went to the cross, knowing that the suffering and pain laid on Him were that of the whole world, not from His perfect life, the sinless One. Jesus did not shy away from arrest, did not defend Himself, nor call down a legion of angels to defend His integrity. Paul was the same within the limit of his humanness, going to Jerusalem to be persecuted for no other reason than being a gospel preacher, knowing that the road led to Rome and death, for his Saviour's sake, to get the gospel message spread, to save the soul of the sinner from certain hell.

Paul states that: chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy (Acts 20:23-24). Note the disconnect with the world view. Chains and tribulations equate to joy. Jail equates to running a race – freedom to finish a work. Neither are compatible with how the world would see such 'impositions'. We see people, even governments fighting hard and lobbying non-stop for the freedom of convicted (falsely or for good reason) criminals. It is easy to understand why one would fight for freedom of a case such as Peter Greste (the Australian journalist jailed for seven years for a crime that he does not appear to have committed), but not others whose crimes were proven beyond doubt also have lobbyists and people fighting for their release. Paul was jailed for preaching Christ, and saw that as something that enabled him to run his race and win it, to be filled with joy, despite the physical depravation. Are we willing to be jailed for our convictions? Are we willing to be falsely accused and punished by the world, so we may reflect Christ, preach the gospel, and save souls? This takes humbleness, often beyond that of even the best person to do this. The world has humble people, but true humbleness can only come as a gift from God. God will enable us that grace and mercy, that attitude of mind, for Jesus said: Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30). The highlighted words in this text would be 'learn from me'. It is not in us to be humble but it can happen with the Holy Spirit's support.

A repentant heart

Moving forward in today's text, a further point to note is the message that Paul was delivering: repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is the combination of these two foundational truths; 1) a repentant heart, one that goes to God and admits our failure in meeting His standards as found in Scripture, and repenting all our sins and 2) absolute faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. We can thank Him for sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, for dying on the cross, and now living, resurrected, seated at God's right hand, being our advocate. Repentance needs to be both a confession and praise, glorifying God for His forgiveness of our confessed sins. We need not ask for forgiveness, for they are already forgiven, but we do need to confess, for that enables us to connect ourselves back to God in righteousness.

The second point of Paul's message is faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. We have to believe that through His death and resurrection we have been saved. We need to believe that Jesus overcame sin and death, and has given us the same outcome as Himself. We have to believe that we are as good as walking the streets of gold today as we will be when called to glory, that is not something we have to wait for, we have it now, guaranteed through the covenant we have through Christ.

Our application point for this portion of text is simple. First, to preach repentance toward God we must also preach sin, hell, and damnation of the lost. How can someone repent if they are unaware of what sin is? The Epistle to the Romans tells us: As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." (3:10-12) We not only need to establish and convict the unbeliever of sin, but when saved, teach them about the life to live, which also can be found in Romans – in fact all of Romans is a great basis for ensuring we have the right foundation for gospel preaching, but specifically: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (6:12-14). This is all about repentance, and constant revaluation of each minute of life, and repenting wherever a sin is found. This text is very active in its nature, we actually have to act, we have to consciously be alive to Christ, to die to the old life, and actively flee sin.

Romans will also help us preach the 'faith towards Christ' part of Paul's testimony. Our second practical application will be to apply to our everyday lives: …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed (Romans 3:23-25). We acknowledge our sin – repentance, we have faith that sin is forgiven through the blood of Christ Jesus, and because of that spilt blood, God passes over our sin, He cannot see it; He just sees Christ. Once we grasp and live these two doctrinal points, we will be a step closer to humble hearts – for how can we be anything more, in knowing the work of Christ and the forgiveness of the Father? How can we be anything less than being imitators of Christ, for if it is through Him our sins are passed over? Why would we want anything less than having Christ, the sinless one, controlling our lives, living through us, we the vessel, He the Potter, moulding us into the vessel for His work, His purpose, His blessings?

Duty to Preach the Gospel

As we move forward through our text we see a curious statement in verse 26: Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. We can understand this statement better if we go back to Old Testament times and the words of Ezekiel. We find that Paul is not talking about the deeds of his past lives, nor the forgiveness of sins (if thinking about Paul's consenting to the death of Christians, and in particular – the death of Stephen). Ezekiel states:

Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: 'When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand' (Ezekiel 32:1-6).

Here we see a very clear message for each and every Christian, particularly, those in leadership positions. We see in Ezekiel that if the person responsible for sounding the alarm does so, and the people who hear do not respond, when they stand before God, they will have no other position but to accept responsibility themselves. However, if a person stands before God, and God knows that I, the Christian responsible for sounding the alarm of impending doom – hellfire and spiritual death for that individual, and I did not sound the alarm – that is: did not preach the gospel when I should have, or I preached a watered down populist gospel that had no saving power, then I am responsible for the failure of that person to take hold of salvation. What a woeful place to be! God specifically tells us the consequence of that failure.

Hebrews states about the person who holds office in church of leadership: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (13:17). I must give account to God for my actions, and for my teaching as one who must give account. Those whom elders hold office over also have responsibility, but, as today's message is for the message giver I will leave this point for another sermon! However, in noting the Hebrews' text and placing it in the context of what Paul stated, Paul is saying that he can stand before God knowing that the blood of those who have rejected the preached gospel is on their heads, not his. He has preached solidly, and all the truth, never watering down, never changing doctrine for his own gain, or community palatability. We must do the same. No matter the perceived harshness of the message, the gospel must be taught in all its dimensions, from teaching that all people are sinners and destined to hell, through to repentance and faith that are the key characteristics that will bring a person into heavenly realms. We must preach and exhort all Christians to 'die daily', to humble themselves, to crucify self, to put away the things of the world that distract us and take us away from the things of God. Some will not like it, and will leave. Some will claim offence at being admonished, when their self-discipline is so lax that they fail to see their sin, and therefore do not bring themselves to repent. Yet, as the watchman, as the person designated by God to sound the trumpet, the elders must sound it, no matter the response.

Following his exhortation to them, Paul then ensures the Ephesian Elders understand the ministry that is designated their responsibility: Therefore take heed to yourselves and to 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 (v.28). They had to look after, care for and be responsible for their flock. God expected them to be as Paul was, preaching the whole counsel of God to the flock without wavering. They were to ensure that the hungry wolves did not come in with, false doctrine or evil ways. What this really means is that the spiritual lives of the congregation is, in part, the responsibility of the elders under whom that congregant meets. This is the principle reason for having elders. It is not to run the 'business' of the church, rather it is to ensure that the gospel is preached in its complete fullness; it is to root out and expose false doctrine and teaching; it is to ensure that the standards of God, as expressed in His Word are taught and lived. It is a ceaseless and strenuous task.

Paul talks of doing so for three years, and he talks of tears and suffering that one must go through to enable the job to be done. Of great significance Paul reminds the Elders of the price paid for salvation. He reminds them that it was purchased with 'His own blood', that is, the blood of Christ Jesus God's own Son (therefore 'His own'). Paul fundamentally says – the price paid was infinitely high, and if God was willing to pay that as the price for saving people to himself, selfish, sinful people who rejected His Son and continues to reject Him, then we who are saved should hold the same value for lost souls that we see, who can be purchased with the self-same sacrifice that we were purchased with. Christianity is not just some religious thinking made up by some 'off-with-the fairies' individual. Christianity had a price, and that price was paid for by God, and it was the sacrifice of His Son. Elders, take note, this is something amazingly precious that has to be protected. Do it no matter the pain and tears, for it is worth it. Congregation, support your elder's for this is God's charge to them, to root out all evil that devour the people of God like wolves in a flock of sheep.

In today's churches with its many fractures, differing sects and groups, we see people refusing to change their ways, or come under the authority of the elders, they just leave, and go somewhere either more liberal, or where there is less accountability and less chance of being admonished for holding doctrine that is not God's, teaching lies of Satan, rather than the gold and silver of God's own Word. It is a sad era for the church, as it matters not how wrong a person is, when the elders hold someone to account for their error in way and teaching, they often walk, they refuse to repent, and just go elsewhere. What we see from our text today, is if the Christian, be they an elder or not, brings a person speaking perverse things to account for that, and corrects that wrong, and that person refuses to repent but choose to walk elsewhere, the blood or the action they may receive from God is on their own head, not the one who pointed out the error, even if they fail to make an impression. What we need to take hold of here is that sin is sin. There is no grey zone. Either it is sin, and must be rooted out, or it is not sin, therefore, is doctrinally sound. As an example, if someone holds to the notion that the church must meet on Saturday, and demands that this occurs, and creates a following for this notion, it must be rooted out, even if it means a dozen people leave the church. This must happen is with much prayer, meditation on the Word, and the elders presenting God's Word; we hope in Christ and pray for repentance and reconciliation. Whatever the cost to ourselves, tears, pain, abuse, we can remember that God paid for our freedom with the blood of His own Son – a perfect salvation, not one for us to use and abuse, modify and change as we see fit, therefore the struggle to uphold the Truth is always worth it!

It will do us well at this juncture to remember that Paul wrote to the Corinthians that some amongst them were falling asleep (dying) because of their chronic sin (1 Corinthians 11:30). Many people do not like Scripture when it says: But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32). But this is God's message to each of us – if we do not listen to one who speaks to us – a Christian friend, brother, elder - if we are living an unrighteous life, preaching bad doctrine, or even just preaching loose doctrine - omission preaching, the nice stuff only, and we do not listen to that correction and repent, God will judge us, and chasten us, so that we are not condemned like the world. Here again, as seen in many different Scriptures, we see the eternality of salvation, and what God will do to the sinning and unrepentant Christian, so He does not have to withdraw salvation and send us to hell for eternity. (God has given us a promise of eternal salvation and that promise will always stand, so God has set in the covenant correction methods for the unrepentant, but saved Christian). It is a serious and pointed message. Paul is reminding the Ephesian Elders that they must act, it is their job. If they do not act, the blood of that person is on their head, but if they do as Paul did, do the hard work of rooting out those who are subverting the doctrine, not caring who they harm, then the penalty is not theirs, but the person who has been admonished. It is a message for all Christians, God does not want you to die, does not want you to appear before Him as by fire, therefore, God has placed amongst you elders, and dedicated humble Christian souls to help you see the error of your way. God has created a system that provides a buffer between you and Him, in terms of chastening, however, if you fail to repent, and the person God has as your 'trumpet blower' sounds the alarm, beware, God will act.

The Word of His Grace

We then come to the section of today's text that is also a straight forward application, as completely compatible with 2015 Christians as it was for these early Christians. Paul says: I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance… (32). Where do we get the facts from – the word of His grace? How do we know what we should teach? How do we know what doctrine to hold to, and what is false doctrine?

The answer today is the same as it was then – from God, and His Word – where grace will be found. God and the Word will give us the inheritance God wants for us, not just heaven, not just salvation as by fire, but every benefit of knowing God, every benefit of knowing the saving grace through the blood of the Lord Jesus, every benefit of being a fully functional child of God spreading the gospel as He wants from us, and living the gospel - this being the best way of getting the gospel message across. God will teach us through the Holy Spirit as His Word tells us: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things (John 14:26) and also: But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1 John 2:27). Note that this verse teaches that we actually could sit in solitary confinement, and the Holy Spirit will teach us if we allow Him, and we need no other input! The Psalmist knew this when he wrote: Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Your commandments from me (Psalm 119:18-19). He knew that the wondrous things of God, found in the law, could be explained to him by God Himself. He knew that he was but a stranger on earth – something we need to remember is our state as well – a pilgrim, just passing through to the heavenly land, our eternal and real home. He knew that as a citizen of 'heaven', he needed to know God's law, for that is the law of heaven, so we ought to do our best to live it here as well. He knew that his best was not good enough, so needed teaching from the ultimate educator – God, who wrote the curriculum as it were, and who knows the subject completely – not one jot or tittle is missed when God teaches us. Paul tells the Elders that they must be in the Word to get the full inheritance planned for them, and to use that Word to do their role as shepherds of the flock. After all, how will you know false doctrine if you have no idea as to the topics, subjects and teachings of Scripture?

It is More Blessed to Give Than Receive!

Paul's final piece of advice to the Elders is also a useful one to remember. Being an elder does not bring privileges. Sure, Scripture does not discount paid pastoral work, but the principle group within the church who hold such an office would be expected to work in other paid jobs, and so care for their own needs, so that the needs of those that truly need it – the poor, the widowed, the orphans, the refugee are met. One should never seek church work as a means of supporting oneself – unless one has been called to be a full time pastor. Churches should have more people willing to work and pastor voluntarily than paid workers, therefore, not require an income from the church, so that the income that comes into a church can be used for better purposes. In fact, Paul says that it is more blessed to give than to receive, therefore, an elder should be a living example of giving, both monetary if fortunate enough to earn more than needed to live, as well as of time, in keeping the wolves from the flock. I believe that this teaching applies to all aspects of church ministries. A Christian should have their hands up to be part of the ministries of the church, not for financial gain, but by obeying the edict – it is more blessed to give than receive. Work to ensure the individual and their family are not lacking; that is good. Work to provide support for the church; that is even better, but also leave aside time for the things needed in the business of a church – cleaning the windows, vacuuming the floors, visiting the sick, supporting the widow, managing the finances, managing the hospitality – ensuring those who need food have food, who need help to get to the doctor, gets that help, who needs their front lawn mown, gets this done, and so forth – the list is endless.

Final Farewells

The final picture we are given by Luke is the farewell – a prayerful farewell. Who was praying though? Was it the Elders: as Paul was going to Jerusalem and certain persecution? Was it the Elders as Paul was leaving them for the last time, and leaving behind an incredible inheritance, a rich foundation built on the whole counsel of God? Not at all, it was the apostle praying for the Elders! In some ways this shows us a couple of useful considerations. One, Paul was the apostle, and as such, had responsibility for the elders. He therefore, was meeting his obligations to them, by praying for them. Second, Paul knew what a tough job it was to be an elder. He himself was in that capacity when helping to establish the churches in Asia and elsewhere, and as we have seen already, it took many tears to hold the flock together and fight the many false teachers that attacked the young church. He knew that it was going to be an ongoing battle; his was a personal battle, one that he was willing to bear. Theirs was going to be an epic battle against many people, and as elders, they would need every ounce of defence they could get from God. We know a little of that battle, for by the time John wrote to them in the letter found in Revelation, he had to write to them:

I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:4-6).

My Bible has the header – 'The Loveless Church'[1]. They left their first love - I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints (Ephesians 1:15), this being what Paul commended them for when he wrote to them. However, we note that their hate for the deeds of the Nicolaitans was commended, and therefore, they had not forgotten what Paul had said to them here in Miletus, and had continued to root our bad doctrine and those that taught it. Sadly, we know from history that within 200 years the Ephesian church died, and went over to the ways of Satan, becoming a stronghold of what is now known as the Catholic faith. Paul's prayer was important, and one to imitate. Your elders cannot do the work required without the prayers of the saints. We do not have an apostle to pray for us, but Scripture tells each and every Christian to pray for its leadership, for without it, the leadership will flounder, and its teaching and preaching will fail (Colossians 4:2-3). As a footnote, it is interesting to see the state of the so-called 'Brethren' assembly and its variances at 170 years, and one wonders what will be left at its 200th year anniversary!

Conclusion

In conclusion, we have seen a solid example of an elder's responsibility towards a church. We know that this is what God wants, as we have this entire section of text that tells us what Paul discussed with the Ephesian Elders on their last meeting together. Luke skips over much of what must have happened during their travels and interactions, but took the time here to record faithfully the key points of this meeting. We found that the elders had a key role in stopping deceivers coming into the church and preaching false doctrine.

We know that the leadership, especially the teachers had an absolute requirement to preach the whole gospel, not just parts that are palatable, and to do so with humility. We found that at times meeting these charges will cost the individual a lot, even to the point of their own life. God gave His own Son, therefore, we should be no less willing to give of ourselves, at minimum, we need to 'die daily' to ourselves, be humble. We have found that in doing this, no matter the success of our work, so long as we have been faithful in the deliverance of the message, the failure of some to accept the message and repent is on their head not ours. However, if we fail to sound the warning horn, or deliver a message that waters down the truth, or fails to tell the whole story, and the recipient fails to repent, the blood of that person is on us.

The elder is responsible for the spiritual lives of the flock in this respect. We have heard that leadership in a church is not one of freeloading. It is one of work, responsibility for one's own livelihood, and a role of giving, both personally in time, energy, and output, as well as financially as one is able. We have been shown that prayer is integral for the elders to meet the requirements of the role, and that prayer must be a church as a whole approach, as Paul himself knew when asking the Colossian church for prayer. On a final note, we can see that this passage teaches us the importance of having God, through the Holy Spirit, teaching us all things. We need to be discerning about doctrine. Within the churches of today, various bad doctrines, bad arguments, and non-Biblical ways of practising Christianity will be found. However, there is only one right way, only one correct doctrine, only one standard. To know this in its entirety will take a life time of study, prayer, meditation, and openness to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us all things, as He wills us to learn. Spiritual growth is an individual thing, we are all at different stages in maturity, but spiritual growth must be the aim of everyone. Then we will be able to enjoy being built up, and receive the inheritance waiting for us amongst the sanctified.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon and put into modern English by Alistair Begg: A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ. You have read lives of Christ, beautifully and eloquently written, but the best life of Christ is His living biography, written out in the words and actions of His people. If we were what we profess to be, and what we should be, we would be pictures of Christ; yes, such striking likenesses of Him that the world would not have to hold us to the mirror and say, "Well, it seems somewhat of a likeness"; they would, when they saw us, exclaim, "He has been with Jesus; he has been taught by Him; he is like Him; he has caught the very idea of the holy Man of Nazareth, and he works it out in his life and everyday actions."[2]

Post-Script: As a note of caution, Scripture also says: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:15). What this tells us is that elders are not infallible. They do make mistakes, some make enormous errors. However, there is a process, a protocol for dealing with such a problem. This is why there needs to be more than one elder, each elder needs to be responsible for the spiritual health of his colleagues, and most of all, the church needs to be in constant prayer for the spiritual health of all their elders. When dealing with a spiritual matter, such as making an accusation against a Christian as teaching falsely, the elders need to gather, pray, study the Scripture, seek guidance from the Holy Spirit, then make the correction. This is the same that must happen when an elder is seen to fall from the Way through the guile of the devil, which often is rooted in that elder failing to keep themselves active in the Word, active in prayer, and being actively supported by those he serves.

Let us finish with 2 Timothy 1:8-12:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

[1] Revelation from Bible+ for Windows Desktop v5.4.1 Olive Tree Software © 1998-2015,

[2] Imitate Jesus (11 February 2015) https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/2/11/2015/  (accessed 12/02/2015)

Stephen B Simon 5 April 2015
Acts\Acts chapter 20 verses 13 to 38 (SBS)