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Acts 20:17-38 – Preparing for the Future – Part 2

As we look toward the future, there is always some question as to how things will turn out. We wonder how the next generation will fare against the world, the flesh, and the devil. And we wonder whether they will continue down the same path that we have walked or whether they will turn away to some troublesome ideas and practices. Paul had the same concerns and he addressed them with the elders of Ephesus during a meeting in Miletus.

In the first part of this series, Preparing for the Future, we looked at Paul’s example. He had shown the elders how to be an example by his personal example in front of them while he was in Ephesus. In last week’s message, we saw three things. Being an example requires humility (Acts 20:19). Being an example will include emotional commitment (Acts 20:19). Being an example will not be free from trials (Acts 20:19).

In this message, we will consider a second point about being a leader. Paul was concerned that the Ephesian elders provide the right kind of leadership for the people in the church. This leadership can be seen in how he takes care of himself and how he takes care of the flock of God. Let us begin by considering the first thought.

  1. Take care of yourself (Acts 20:28a, 30).

    What does it say?

    In these verses, Paul told the elders of Ephesus two things. First, he told them to take heed to themselves. Second, he told them that bad men would come from among them who would speak perverse things and get some of the disciples to follow them.

    What does it mean?

    When we read “take heed” in our Bibles, we generally think of listening to something important and then applying it to our lives. The word translated “take heed” comes from προσέχω which can mean “to watch out, be on guard, beware; to pay attention, devote, apply oneself … to apply the mind to a thing, to give heed to, attend to, observe, consider.”1 Paul here was wanting the Ephesian elders to keep an eye out for two things that could affect them on a regular basis. They were to continually2 think about these things and how they could affect them and the local church.

    Church leaders must watch out for their own needs (Acts 20:28a).

    Paul told the elders to watch out for their own selves and for the flock. The elders of the church were to keep an eye on the flock but also to keep an eye on their own selves. This latter point will be our focus now. If I were to ask you what the main duty of the pastor is, you would probably say to shepherd the flock of God. Paul admits that but he also tells the elders to watch out for their own selves. Why is that? “Before they could provide for the flock they had to care for their own spiritual well-being.”3

    Custer says “It is significant that the pastor is to constantly care for his own spiritual relationship to God and then to also care for the flock. Some pastors busy themselves with the affairs of the sheep at the expense of their own spiritual walk with God. You cannot neglect your own prayer and Bible study before God and make up for it by any quantity of busywork. ‘You therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?’ (Rom. 2:21).”5

    1 Timothy 4:16 – Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

    Church leaders must watch out for misleaders among themselves (Acts 20:30).

    Paul told the elders to take note of those among themselves who would mislead the disciples. Paul was clear that some problems would come from without (savage wolves), but he also said that some would come from among these elders. McGee refers to them as “termites right in their midst.”6 Whether Paul meant these elders particularly or some that would join them later, I am not sure. But they would at some point come from among the elders of the church at Ephesus.

    What would they do?

    Paul said that these men would rise up, speak perverse things, and draw away disciples who would follow them. First, they would rise up. This means that they would at some point appear and make a difference. It usually takes some time for someone to rise to a place of prominence. Second, they would speak perverse things. We usually think of perverse as perverted talk. In a sense this would apply but in a different way. “The word pervert means ‘to twist’ or to ‘lead astray.'”7 So, these misleaders would start with the truth but twist it to mean something other than what God intended. Third, they would successfully turn people away to follow them. Just as these elders had followed Paul’s true teaching of God’s revealed truth, so these misleaders would gather a following who would believe and practice their perverted teaching.

    Did this actually happen?

    As we read through the New Testament, we find additional warnings about these misleaders as well as examples of some who did cause problems in the early church.

    2 Peter 2:1-3 – “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

    2 Timothy 2:15, 17-18 – “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. … And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

    Peter warned about the coming of false teachers who would creep into the church and teach destructive heresies. Paul pointed out four people by name who had left Paul and who had turned from the truth. Their teaching was not only wrong but was having a bad influence on others.

    Because of this, the elders of Ephesus had to keep an eye out for those among themselves who might promote deviations from right doctrine or practice. While this must have been awkward to hear Paul’s words and to realize that some of them would become misleaders, this was not the first time this had happened. Do you remember what happened at the Last Supper. Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him but the disciples didn’t turn and point to Judas. No, they were surprised that one of them would do this.


    How does it apply?

    Pray for your pastor.

    Pastors need a “personal walk with God.”4 This requires personal time reading the Bible, meditating on God’s truth, communing with God, making right choices, and acting out God’s truth in his own life. If he does not take the time to do this, he will become a shallow hypocrite. So pray for your pastor that he will look out for his own spiritual needs.

    Watch out for your own spiritual needs.

    But I think that there is more here. While we know that the pastor must keep himself right with the Lord to be a good leader, we also know our own needs. Right now, as you consider your own spiritual needs, are there things that you have let slip? Have you been faithfully reading your Bible, thinking about it, applying it, and obeying it? This is a great need in each of our lives.

    If you don’t have a personal time set aside for this, will you do make plans to implement this into your own life today? It helps to set aside a specific time to do this. Sometimes it may be best to do this in the morning before your schedule gets busy. Or, if you have to get up very early, it may work best at the end of the day. But whatever you do, be sure to watch out for your spiritual needs. When this is neglected, it will have a negative impact on your life.

    Watch out for misleaders.

    While we shouldn’t become detectives that are constantly looking for pastors or teachers to do wrong, we do need to have discernment when something doesn’t seem right. When a teacher begins to veer away from a Bible-based doctrine, starts to avoid certain topics, or adds an unnecessary something to what you need to do, this should cause a red flag to go up in your mind. Wait a minute! Is that what the Bible really says?

    Listen to your pastor’s warnings.

    There have been times when the warnings of pastors have been belittled because it seemed overly separatistic. But when your pastor points out a problem, don’t immediately have a bad attitude toward it, Consider that the pastor is trying to guard you against some who may be a bad influence on you. When Pastor Ashbrook wrote his book New Neutralism II, some thought he was too divisive to point out names of problematic teachers. However, much of what he said was needed because of the influence of these people.
  2. Take care of the flock (28-31,35).

    What does it say?

    Paul told the Ephesian elders to take heed to all the flock. They had been made overseers of the flock by the Holy Spirit. They were to shepherd the church of God which He had purchased with His own blood. Paul knew that after he departed, savage wolves would come in among them not sparing the flock from harm. He also knew that men would arise from among them who would speak perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves. Because of this, he told them to be alert so that they could warn the flock as Paul had done for three years day and night while crying. They were to support weak people as he had done by laboring. This was supported by Jesus who said it was more of a blessing to give than to receive.

    What does it mean?

    They were to oversee the flock (28).

    Paul says that the Holy Spirit had made the Ephesian elders overseers of the flock. What is an overseer? The word overseer comes from ἐπισκόπος which refers to “an inspector, overseer; a watcher, guardian … an ecclesiastical overseer.”8 The term overseer “emphasizes the responsibility of the office, namely, ‘to look after’ others.”13 With this in mind, they were to keep an eye out for the flock to make sure things were going well. But notice that this oversight covered all of the flock not just a certain group.

    They were to shepherd the flock (28).

    Paul reminded the elders that they needed to act as shepherds of God’s church. The word shepherd comes from ποιμαίνω which means “to shepherd, take care of sheep; to rule, lead.” A shepherd looks after a flock and makes sure that each is safe, fed, watered, and going in the right direction. This was how the elders of the church were to shepherd the people in the church. The church consisted of those whom God had purchased with His own blood. So, they were to be treated with the same value as God did.

    They were to warn the flock (29-31).

    Paul informed the elders that they would experience “savage wolves” and perverse disciple makers. These would be people with “wolf-like character”.9 What does that mean? Think back to what you know about wolves. They are known for preying on the weak in a flock with a desire to devour them. It is not a pretty picture. These wolf-like people would not refrain from harming the people in the church.

    The other type of problem would come from teachers who were perverse. Their goal would be to “to distort, turn away … to pervert, corrupt”10 the people. What would they be turning them away from? They would turn the people away from sound doctrine to something different. We talked this morning about the need for a pastor to “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). Do you see the need for it now? If people don’t know God’s truth as revealed in the Bible, they will be easy prey for those who teach distorted ideas. And the worst part is that these people would come from among their own ranks.

    People like this are mentioned throughout the New Testament.

    1 Tim. 1:6-7 – “from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”

    1 Tim. 4:1-7 – “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”

    2 Tim. 2:17-18 – “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

    Rev. 2:2 – “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”

    Because of these dangerous people, Paul told the elders to watch and warn. The watch would involve keeping an eye out for such problem people. The warning would involve pointing out the error involved. Paul mentioned that he warned the church for three years day and night with tears. He was so concerned that they would turn away from the truth that he became emotional about it.

    They were to support the weak (35).

    Paul told the elders that they must support those who were weak in the church. They were to “aid, assist, help”11 those who were susceptible to spiritual weakness, hesitation, and doubt. Paul’s example was one of having a job to provide for his needs and thus being able to help with his own money those who were struggling with needs. So this may also include helping those with financial needs.

    1 Thess. 5:14 – “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.”

    Kistemaker suggests that “the Gentile world of Paul’s day lacked the virtues of love and mercy. N one cared for the poor, the destitute, the sick and physically weak persons. The Christians reached out to those in need because of the love and mercy they themselves had received from Christ.”14

    How does it apply?

    Pastors must remember who the Chief Shepherd is.

    “The present-day pastor must see all these responsibilities as his own. Yet he must always keep in mind that the church is God’s flock and the Chief Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”12 This is true. If a pastor is not careful, he may begin to think that the local church he serves is his own church. But that is not the case. Pastors are called to be under shepherds who serve at the bidding of the Chief Shepherd.

    Pastors must keep an eye out for problems.

    When your pastor brings up problems with certain popular preachers, teachers, or writers, try to understand why. He has a desire to keep you from being harmed by the false teaching or sinful practices of those people. This is only one of the responsibilities of the pastor, but it is important. Many people have been led astray by false teachers. And that is something that God doesn’t want and that your pastor doesn’t want. So patiently listen as he warns you about error.

    Pastors must shepherd the flock.

    When a shepherd is leading a flock of sheep to another pasture, there are some sheep that try to go a different direction. What does the shepherd do? He has to use his shepherd’s crook to get them back to the right path. I don’t use this illustration to encourage pastors to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” But the flock needs to understand that this is the pastor’s responsibility. He has been put in place by the Holy Spirit to feed, protect, and correct the flock. So when your pastor addresses something in your life, be patient and accept his remarks as from someone who cares.

Conclusion

If you haven’t noticed yet, the responsibilities given to a pastor are weighty. Can you recall the five responsibilities listed in this passage? The pastor is to (1) oversee, (2) shepherd, (3) warn, and (4) support the people given to him by God. But when God gives great responsibility, He also gives the strength to do it. As you consider the work of the pastor, consider what direction you are going. respond well to the teaching, correction, exhortation, and warning given to you and become a faithful sheep in God’s flock.

Footnotes

1 “προσέχω” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/prosecho on 2/25/2024.
2 http://www.misselbrook.org.uk/Parsing.aspx?PNum=12427
3 Toussaint 414.
4 Custer 299.
5 Custer 295.
6 McGee 604.
7 Custer 296.
8 Mounce “ἐπίσκοπος
9 Mounce “λύκος
10 Mounce “διαστρέφω
11 Mounce “ἀντιλαμβάνω
12 Custer 295.
13 Grassmick 414.
14 Kistemaker 738.

Bibliography

Custer, Stewart, Witness to Christ, Greenville: BJU Press, 2000.

Kent, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome Studies in Acts, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972.

Kistemaker, Simon J., Acts, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Toussaint, Stanley D., “Acts” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.