Let’s look at Acts 20 for our Bible study this morning. In our continuing series in the book of Acts, we are drawing ourselves to the attention of the Holy Spirit as he speaks to us in verses 25 through 38 particular this morning.
We’re looking at Acts 20, verses 25 to 28, as a unit. We’ll take this in several parts, however, as we customarily do. Not by intent, but that’s always the way it works out. And we’ve entitled this particular portion, and I think it’s fairly obvious what it’s talking about, and will be to you as we go, but we’ve entitled it “A Charge to New Testament Church Leaders.” Here we have the basics or the priorities of leadership in the Church.
Leadership is a very important commodity. There are places today where leadership seminars are offered, and a person can go for a three-day leadership seminar and pay as high as $2,000.00, not including transportation or meals. That’s just the fee to be trained.
There’s a tremendous emphasis on leadership because anybody in any kind of business operation, or in any kind of commercial enterprise, or any kind of organization or institution knows that there is a great price to be paid for leadership. Poor leadership destroys institutions. Good leadership makes them.
God is no less but more concerned about leadership. In all of God’s kingdom, leadership is important. Even the angels, you know, are organized. There are principality angels. There are angels called powers. There are ruler angels. There are archangels. God knows that there must be authority and submission in everything. And so, there is leadership even in the angelic world.
As you look at the Old Testament, you find that there are many things in the Old Testament that indicate to us the importance of leadership. We could talk about great Old Testament leaders such as Moses, or Samuel, or David, and others. Leadership is a great commodity, and God has always ministered his kingdom through key leaders.
In the Old Testament, because of the importance of leadership, God takes a very strong view of inadequate or ineffective leadership. In chapter 4 of Hosea, in verse 9, God is not only commenting on the sins of Israel, but on the sins of Israel’s leaders. And he says this, “Like people, like priest.” In other words, God says, “I can’t expect anything out of the people that I’m not getting out of the leaders. Whatever the leaders are, the people will be. Like people, like priest.”
In Isaiah chapter 9, and verses 14 through 16, we find some more indication of God’s attitude toward leadership. It talks about, verse 14, “Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day.” God’s going to just devastate Israel. “The ancient and honorable, he is the head; the prophet who teaches, he is the tail.” In other words, God’s going to knock off all the leaders. “For the leaders of this people cause them to err, and they who are led of them are destroyed.” God says He’s going to punish the leaders because they have rendered the people sinful by a failure to lead them into holy patterns.
In Jeremiah 5:31, Jeremiah speaks to the same issue, “The prophets prophesy falsely; the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love it so.” In other words, the people are loving the inadequate leadership they’re getting.
In Ezekiel, again, another portion of interest to us in looking at God’s view of leadership and the important place it plays. Ezekiel 22, verse 26, “Her priests have violated My law, have profaned mine holy things. They have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shown difference between the unclean and the clean. They have hidden their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
“Her princes I her midst are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain. Her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ when the Lord hath not said. And as a result, the people have used oppression, exercised robbery, vexed the poor and needy,” and so forth. And so, he indicts the priests, the princes, and the prophets for failure to lead as he would have.
In Matthew 15:14, Jesus made a comment about leaders. He looked at the leaders of Israel, and He said, “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Jesus said, “People will follow their leaders. Therefore, God puts a premium on leadership God sets the standard high for adequate leadership. And if God set it high, so did Paul, because Paul was a godly man.
Paul is closing out his missionary journey, the third of his tours, in Acts 20. He has stopped because his ship has stopped at Miletus on its way to Jerusalem. And he is hurrying to Jerusalem to get there for Pentecost, and also to take an offering which he has collected for the poor saints there. And he has stopped at Miletus for a couple of days, because the ship stopped there. And while he has the opportunity, he sends about 30 miles away to the city of Ephesus and asks if the elders or the pastors of the Ephesian congregation will come to Miletus, that he may spend a little time with some final word.
And, you know, it seems strange to realize that Paul spent three years there, and he must have told them at least 1 point or 2 points or 500 points the same thing that he tells them here. But the reason he grabs this opportunity is because he’s so burdened by the absolute necessity of adequate leadership.
And so, in passing, he calls them, and he says, “This is something I must say again to you regarding the priorities involved in your leadership.” And so, from verse 17 through 38, actually that whole section, Paul gives information regarding leadership in the ministry, in the pastorate, in the work of Christ.
Now, there is a sense in which we have to take leadership as it comes in Scripture. And leadership in Scripture is a two-sided issue. It is an issue of great responsibility with great joy. And it is an issue of great responsibility with great potential for judgment. Good leaders are doubly blessed; bad leaders are doubly chastised. Because to whom much is given, much shall be required. And that’s a principle that runs right across the board in anything that God is involved in.
For example, in James, it says in chapter 3, verse 1, “Not many teachers, brethren, because theirs is the greater judgment.” But on the other hand, in 1 Timothy 5:17, it says, “The elders that rule well are worthy of double honor. So, you have the double honor for the good leader, and the double judgment for the poor leader. Leadership is a tremendous responsibility.
Now, the task of the early apostles and of the evangelists was to appoint such leader in each church. The apostles would go around appointing leaders; they would raise them up. He elders of the church at Ephesus – and when I say elders, I’m saying the same as pastors, as I’ll show you in a minute. And there always was a plurality, never a one-man pastor; it’s always a plurality in the Scriptures.
But the elders there, the pastors there had been trained, discipled, matured by Paul. And they had been appointed by Paul. Raised up by the Holy Spirit, Paul became aware of who they were and appointed them to pastor the church at Ephesus. The apostle said to Titus, in Titus 1:5, he said, “Now, you set the things in order that need to be set in order in Crete, and you ordain elders in every city.” Pastors in each city were to be ordained by the evangelists or the apostles.
So, Paul is talking to men that he himself has discipled. And he gives them a charge that really is much bigger than just the scene that you see in Acts 20; it’s a kind of a thing that can be timeless. Because what Paul tells these people is just basic stuff to any kind of biblical leadership in the church. And believe me; if the church is the church of the New Testament, and the church is the church of Jesus Christ, it ought to follow the biblical patterns. Right? And I found this to be true, that if the church does not follow biblical patterns at the point of its leadership, it will never follow them at the point of its laity. It just doesn’t happen.
Like people, like priests was true in Israel, and it’s still true in the Church. Real reform in the Church, real New Testament revitalization and revival must come at the level of leadership. It must.
Now, as we look at this passage, we’re going to see not just a word from a man to some people in history, but a word from the Holy Spirit to the Church of Jesus Christ throughout history.
And so, we don’t just make these things historical and lock them in the box and throw them away after the time of the writing of Acts, but we say that they are as apropos and appropriate to the church today as they were the very second that Paul uttered them from his lips. They give us, for all time, God’s perspective on the role of the pastor and the elder in the church, who are one and the same.
Now, as always, the Church, like every other dimension of God’s kingdom and His rule manifested on earth, depends upon its leadership. We find that in Ephesians chapter 4, a very familiar passage to us. God desires that the Church be built up. He wants the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body. He wants unity of the faith; he wants deep knowledge of the Son of God. He wants the perfect man, that is the Church, to be matured to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. He does not want the Church to be any more children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. He does not want the church to be loveless, but speaking the truth in love. He wants the church to grow up and increase in love and all of those things.
But before any of that can happen, before the Church can ever be united, before it can ever be mature, before it can ever be Christlike, before it can ever be insensitive or ungullible, if here’s such a word, to false teaching, there must be something that takes place prior, and that is this: He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some teaching pastors for this purpose.
In other words, the life of the Church, in its productivity and its fruitfulness, is directly depended upon its leadership. In 2 Timothy 2:2, a verse which we studied yesterday in our Men’s Day, we found that God’s design for the Church is to teach faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. Therefore, leadership is the priority in the Church, and it’s a tremendous responsibility, believe me.
Now, because leadership is so very important, we ought to understand very clearly what New Testament biblical church leadership really is. First of all, let me show you what it is not. Turn to Matthew 20. And just a little look at an interesting passage here that I’m not even going to take time to explain in great detail, but just to throw at you. But it does give us some very good insights into what New Testament Church leadership is not.
I heard a fellow give a message on this passage one time and draw out these points, and it always stuck with me. Matthew 20, verse 20, “Then came to Him” – that is to Jesus. And you see, Jesus had announced His kingdom. So, “Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons” – here comes mama, Zebedee, and James and John. And James and John were no, you know – what should we say? – inferior people. I mean they were class-A disciples. But they come along with mama, and mama butters up Jesus – “worshipping Him and desiring a certain thing of Him.” So, she lays it on a little thick.
“He said unto her, ‘What wilt thou?’” What do you want? He knew.
“She says” – and He could tell she wanted something when she didn’t even say anything. “She says, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left in the kingdom.” Now, this had been a running argument among the disciples. They had argued the whole time, since the kingdom was announced, for the most part, about who was going to get to sit in the right spots.
In fact, that’s what they were arguing about the night of the Last Supper, when nobody would stoop to wash anybody else’s feet because they would never do that when they were arguing about who was the greatest.
And so, this was a little problem. So, finally, James and John said, “Mama, would you go ask for us?” See? Real men’s men.
So, anyway, she goes and she asks. “And Jesus said, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’
“They say unto Him, ‘We are able.’” They didn’t even know what they were talking about. They had no idea what he was going to go through.
“And He said unto them, ‘Ye shall drink indeed of My cup’” – all right, you’re going to get it – “‘and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give; it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by My Father.’” They didn’t get what they want, but they did get what they didn’t want.
“And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.” You know why they were made? Because they go there first.
Number one, leadership is not political power play. New Testament biblical leadership is not political power play. You are a leader in the Church rightfully when God has appointed you as such. That’s the Father’s to give. Right?
Second thing, biblical leadership is not dominant dictatorship either. Verse 25, “Jesus called them unto Him and said, ‘You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.” No. New Testament biblical leadership, leadership in God’s kingdom is not dominant dictatorship. “But whosever will be great among you, let him be your” – are you ready for this? – “servant” – not dominant dictatorship.
And New Testament biblical leadership isn’t charismatic control either. Verse 27, “Whosever will be chief among you” – you know, some people just want to be up there. And the implication of chief is the – the one that everybody looks at and says, “Oh, isn’t he wonderful?” See?
Now, if you really want to be that, be servant, be a slave. New Testament leadership isn’t political power play, dominant dictatorship, or charismatic control. It’s slavery. Service.
And I love verse 28, because it lays down the basic commodity of leadership, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many.” The greatest leader that ever lived was a servant, wasn’t He? The greatest leader that ever lived was a servant. And He taught us the greatest principle of leadership example. What He was is what we’re to be.
Now, there’s the key. Real leadership is the exemplary life. I am a leader. Honestly. I may have a title of a leader. I am a true leader, a true elder, and a true pastor only as long as you follow what I say and what I do. Right? When you don’t follow anymore, I’m not leader. I may have the title, but I’m not. And you’re only going to follow my words when you can look at my life and see some consistency between what I am and what I say. Right?
And Paul was able to disciple leaders not only by what He told them, but by what He was. Now, that’s what New Testament biblical leadership isn’t. Let’s look at Acts 20 and see what it is.
Now, in Acts 20, Paul closes out his instruction to the Ephesian elders. And he charges them to order their ministry after the priorities that God has set down. I know there are people in our congregation this morning who are elders. Some of you are elders here at Grace Church. Some of you are staff pastors, which is the same. Elders can be pastoral elders, laboring in the Word and doctrine, subsidized by the church, or they can be elders who have outside employment but are responsible for the care of the flock here and leading of the flock and so forth. There are elders here at Grace Church. God has blessed us with a marvelous group of – I don’t even know how many – 18, 19 or so elders God has given us, and probably more of you are elders in the plan of God. And as the days go by, and you mature, and the Spirit of God lays His hand on you, and the congregation recognizes that, and the elders see it, you’ll be put in the position of leadership as well.
But there are others of you who are young people, who are preparing now. You’re going to someday be pastors. You’re going to be laboring in the word and doctrine. In addition to that, all of us should know the responsibility of those who are to lead over us – shouldn’t we? – in order that we might make sure that we pray for them intelligently and pray for them along the lines of what the priorities are, and that we allow them to major in those areas.
And so, the idea of leadership is important to all of us. Now, Paul lays out some priorities for the New Testament Church leader. And they were priorities that he didn’t talk about only, but that he lived in his own life.
And beginning in verse 17, he talks to them, and he pointed out – remember last time, from verses 17 to 24 there, he pointed out the four dimensions of the ministry.
First of all, he said the ministry toward God is service to the Lord. To the Church it’s teaching, toward the lost it’s evangelism, and toward myself it’s sacrifice. We covered that in detail.
Paul says, “I see the ministry in four dimensions: serving God, teaching the church, evangelizing the lost, and sacrificing myself.” Now, having finished that, he wants to concentrate on the Church aspect. He’s given the overall picture, now he zeroes in and says, “Now, I’m going to give you the priorities for teaching the Church, for being effective in the Church.”
But before he launches into that in verse 28, let’s look at his summation of verse 25 to 27. He says to them, “And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.” Now, he says, “I just gave you all the ingredients for the dimensions of the ministry. You know what your obligation toward God is; you’re always to remember you’re in service to Him. Not to men, to Him. For the Church you’re to teach, to withhold nothing that is profitable,” he said. “Toward the lost, you’re to evangelize, testify unto Jews and Greeks repentance and faith. Towards self, to think nothing of yourself, to sacrifice yourself, not to count your life dear at all.”
Now he says, “All these things I not only told you, but all those things I showed you. I did that. I served the Lord. I taught the Church. I evangelized the lost. I sacrificed myself. Therefore” – he says – “I’m now leaving, and you all know that I have gone through preaching the kingdom of God. You’re not going to see many anymore. This is it; it’s over. I’ve given you all the facts regarding the kingdom of God, and that phrase is a general statement, speaking of all of God’s operation and God’s rule.” He’d given them everything.
“Wherefore” – he says in verse 26 – “I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all.” And what he means by all is all the Jews and Greeks, any class of men. I have discharged my responsibility to all: to the Church, to the saved, to the unsaved, Jew and Gentile. I’ve done the job.”
“You can’t condemn me for being unfaithful,” is what he’s saying. Why? Verse 27, “For I have not failed to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Paul says, “I’ve done my job. I finished it. I did it. I fulfilled it.”
Now, it’s interesting that he makes the statement that he does in verse 26 regarding the fact that he’s pure from the blood of all men.
You say, “Is it – is it true that a leader or a teacher or a pastor is going to be guilty of the blood of certain people? Apparently it is. You go back to Ezekiel 33:8 and Ezekiel was told that he was to speak what God told him. God would give him a message, and he would relay it to Israel.
And God said, “You better be faithful in relaying the message.” Verse 8, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, thou shalt surely die,’ Ezekiel, if you don’t say the same thing to the man, his blood will I require at your hand.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Ezekiel’s going to be damned; it means Ezekiel’s going to be chastised for unfaithful ministry.
And Paul is saying here, “I will not be like that warning in Ezekiel 38.” And I’m sure he had that on his mind. My hands are clean. I am pure from the blood of all men.” There’s a responsibility for every man of God, and he has to recognize the responsibility that if God has committed unto him a ministry, and he doesn’t fulfill it, he’s going to be chastised for the failure to fulfill it. And I’m sure that there are some pastors who wonder why everything in their life seems to go wrong. And when they wonder that, they ought to examine a little more closely whether or not they are really fulfilling the ministry that God has committed to them, because if they’re not, then they’re under the punishment of the blood of those that they have failed to minister to in the way that God designed them to minister. Serious responsibility.
Believe me, that’s what James meant in 3:1, when he said, “Don’t hurry into the teaching ministry, because there is the greater condemnation if you fail to be faithful.”
But Paul says this, “I saw my ministry for what it was: toward God, toward the Church, toward the lost, toward myself. And I fulfilled it, and I never failed to declare the whole counsel of God. I did it. Therefore, I release my responsibility. I can walk out of this place and know that nothing is going to be held against me. I was faithful.
Now you say, “Is he saying that out of pride?”
Not at all. What he’s saying is this, “From now on, men, the responsibility is yours. Make sure that you discharge your ministry in a way faithful, equal to the way I gave you by example.
Leaders have great responsibility, great responsibility. The entire plan and purpose and principle of God is committed to us to be committed to you. And to fail to do that, to fail to give the whole counsel of God is to fail to release the responsibility God has committed to us. We are to teach the whole counsel of God. For a person who fails to teach the whole counsel of God, there is chastisement.
Well, Paul then has given us some pretty clear instruction about the importance of leadership. And as I said earlier, it’s a double blessing, but it’s double chastisement if you fail. That doesn’t mean you lose your salvation; that just means that you’ll know chastisement. Punishment.
Now, from this reflection on the general ministry, he zeroes in on one dimension. I told you there were four dimensions; he zeroes in on the idea of teaching the Church. And starting in verse 28, he says, “Now, in particular - I’ve given you the general thing, but now, in particular, let me zero in on your responsibility to the Church. You elders primarily are responsible for the Church in Ephesus. Now, here are your priorities.”
Let’s look, first of all, just a little thought, and I’ll give you the footnote before we get into it. Notice verse 17 the word “elders.” That is the word presbuteroi or presbuteros from which you get Presybterian or presbyter. Then you notice the word in verse 28, “overseers.” That’s episkopos, which is translated bishop elsewhere. Then you see the word in verse 28, “to feed.” That’s poimainō, that’s the word for pastor. So you have these same guys called elders, bishops, and pastors.
You say, “Why are you making a point of that?”
Because that means they’re all the same thing. There’s no difference in the Church between a presbyter, a pastor, an elder, or a bishop. They’re all the same thing. I’m all of those. You can either call me Pastor; you can call me Elder MacArthur; you can call me Presbyter MacArthur. But I would like for you to call me Bishop MacArthur if you would.
All of those things – all of those things are the very same. There is no difference. They’re all the same term. That’s why all of this hierarchy that comes in the Church, where you’ve got all different levels of all the bishops, and so forth and so on, is just not the pattern. There is no difference in the use of those terms here; they’re all three in the same passage, speaking to the same people.
Now, Paul, then, is going to speak to these leaders. Those men in the pastorate, the eldership, responsible for the direction of the Church. And he gives them five keys to leadership. And I gave them to you on the outline, and we’re going to only cover two of them this morning.
Five keys to leadership. These are the priorities; they’re so basic but so important. Principle number one, make sure you’re right with God. Make sure you’re right with God. Look at verse 28, here he goes, “Take heed, therefore, unto” – what’s the next word? – ourselves.” Let’s stop it right there for a minute. The priority begins with you. “Take heed unto yourselves.” You’re not ready to minister; you’re not ready to endure what is involved in ministry. You’re not ready to face the responsibility of ministering unless you’re right with God. This is a basic ingredient in the ministry. It is basic.
In Mark 13, verse 9, just to give you some idea of how the New Testament points this out – Mark 13:9, “But take heed to yourselves, for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues you shall be beaten; you shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.”
Now, he says, “You’re going to get persecuted. In order for you to endure that persecution, he says, “Take heed to yourselves.” In other words, if you’re not right with God, you’ll never be able to handle what’s going to happen. You won’t be able to handle it. If you’re not spiritually strong, you’re in no position.
Also, in Luke 21, verse 34, the Lord says, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and the day come upon you unawares.” He says, “You know, the day of Judgment,” or, “the day of the Lord is coming, and you better take heed unto yourself so that you’re ready when it happens.” Self-examination.
Now, directly in reference to New Testament leaders, the apostle Paul expressed this to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 4:16, he simply says this, “Timothy, take heed unto thyself.” That is a priority right in the middle of everything in the ministry is, “Take heed to yourself.” That’s character. Take heed to yourself; that’s character.
Then he says, “And to doctrine.” That’s creed. Then he says, “Continue in these things.” That’s conduct. “Take heed to your character, your creed, and your conduct.” You are the key to your ministry.
Paul even put it a little more bluntly to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:20. He says, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but wood and earth, and some to honor, and some to dishonor.” In other words, he says, “If you have a big house, you’ve got two sets of china: the fancy stuff for the friends and the outsiders that come in that you really want to have a nice thing for, and the rest of the junk that we all eat on. And those are the two kinds. Vessels are unto honor, but some are just unto dishonor, everyday stuff.
Now, the obvious implication here is that in God’s house there are going to be some vessels that God will really honor, and it’ll be used for the greatest tasks. Verse 21, “If a man therefore purse himself from these” – and he’s talking about iniquity, from iniquity – “he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and fit for the Master’s use” – listen – “and prepared for every good work.”
You see, there are some vessels God can use, and there are some that He can’t use. Believe me. And I say it simply: there is no ministry for an unholy minister. None. And you may have the title of pastor, or the title of leader, or the title of elder, or the title of minister, but if there’s no holiness there, there’s no leadership there. There’s no blessing there. God is not working through you. YouTube to be an honorable vessel, sanctified, which means holy.
And he says in the very next verse, “Flee youthful lusts and follow after righteousness.” God uses holy instruments, people. Holy instruments.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “A holy man is an awesome instrument in the hand of God.” And it’s true.
Paul knew this. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9, he said, “I run that I may obtain the crown. You know, they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I run that I may obtain.” He says, “I fight not as one who shadowboxes, not as one who beats the air.” And he says, “All the time I do this, I beat my body to bring it into subjection lest myself, in my own preaching, I should become a castaway.”
In other words, the one thing Paul knew was that the day that holiness ceased to be a part of his life, effectiveness also ceased. That’s 1 Corinthians 9:27. I’m only useful to God as long as I live a holy life, as I yield to the Holy Spirit, as there’s purity in my life. God uses holy instruments, believe me.
You know, you wonder sometimes how it can happen. You see a guy in the ministry involved in so many, many things, so very active in the church, and in all kinds of other things. And all of a sudden, some great, terrible, moral thing comes into his life. We’ve all seen this, haven’t we? And he’s been disqualified.
And I’ve had people tell me, “Well, such-and-such used to be in the ministry, but, oh, such-and-such happened, and now he’s gone.” And you know what happened was simply the fact that there was this whole area of making sure of his own relationship to God that he lost out on. He just began to become an unholy man. And once that happened, he was disqualified. He became a vessel useless, dishonored. And even though he maintained his redemption, because justification is a forever thing, he lost his meaning to the body, to the service of Christ, and became a worthless vessel.
Holiness is the basic commodity in all leadership. It isn’t your tremendous charisma. It isn’t your powerful, forceful, dramatic, dynamic leadership. It isn’t the fact that you’ve pulled off the right political moves to get where you are. That doesn’t qualify you to be a leader. What does is your own holiness and the call of God.
To give you an illustration of this, I only have to turn to passages that are very familiar to us, and that is to the lists of the qualifications for New Testament leaders. The first one’s in 1 Timothy 3. If a man desires the office of an overseer, or a bishop, or a pastor, or an elder or whatever, if a man desires that office, here are the qualifications. He must be blameless. Well, that’s a good way to start. It doesn’t leave much to say, does it?
And after that, after being blameless, “He must be madly in love with his wife. Temperate. That means a moderate man, not given to excesses. Sober minded. That means he orders his priority in a spiritual way. Good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, doesn’t linger long beside his win. He isn’t violent. Not greedy of money. But patient, not a brawler, not covetous. One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if he doesn’t know how to handle his house, how would we ever expect them to take care of the Church?”
And verse 7 says, “He must have a good report of them that are outside.” Now, you find anything in there other than a spiritual qualification?
I said to a fellow the other day – he said – we were talking about the Church and the fact that the Church can never go any higher than its leadership. And we were talking about the problem of spiritual leadership. And is said, “Well, how are people picked for the board of elders in your church?”
“Well,” he said, “it’s simple. The ones who have the most money, and have the biggest businesses, and have shown that they have the most wisdom in worldly matters.” And he said, “That’s the problem.”
And, you know, that’s the case in many churches, if not most churches. I think it’s a great thing when God blesses these kind of men and prospers them. And that’s up to God to do, for it’s God who gives you the power to get wealth. Right? And that’s a blessing. And I’m not saying that all the elders are to be poverty stricken either.
But what I am saying is that the New Testament never suggests the hint of any kind of qualification that has anything to do with worldly position, or money, or anything like that. Or personality, or looks, or anything. It is always the same. The only qualification is a spiritual one, because this is a spiritual work. And sometimes what would be the smartest thing to do in a business sense is the absolute opposite of what God wants, because He works in wondrous ways, and we must step out on faith.
In Titus 1, just in case anybody missed Timothy, he put it in Titus. Titus 1. Now, here’s the qualifications for elders or pastors. “They must be blameless” – again. That is the church has nothing against them. You know, that’s one of the reasons – you know, some people say to me, “John, do you think that a guy who is – who’s had a sin in his past life, maybe he’s divorced and remarried, do you think he can still serve as an elder, or a pastor of a church? Or do you think a guy who’s done something very tragic in the past,” and etcetera, etcetera, “can still function in a ministry in the church?” And then they always throw up this thing, “What is the husband of one wife mean?”
And my answer is always this, “I don’t even think the husband of one wife is the issue. I think the issue is the issue of blamelessness.” Because invariably, when you lift up a man to the position of spiritual leadership, if he has a huge blotch on his life, somebody’s going to throw that in his face just at the point where he has to exercise authority in that issue.
And so, it’s very important that this man be without reproach, that he be a blameless man who gives off a holy testimony and a holy example that is consistent. I’m not saying God doesn’t forgive, and I’m not saying God can’t put such a person who has been restored, and who has recovered from such a thing, in a position of leadership. I’m just saying that he better not be the kind of person who will be blamed, who has a right to be blamed for something else that will be thrown in his face when he tends to exercise authority in the same kind of issue in regard to the lives of others. So, blameless is important. That’s a holy qualification.
Then again, the husband of one wife, which means a one-woman man, and I interpret to mean he’s furiously in love with his own wife. I mean he’s not looking around. There are a lot of people who are the husband of one wife physically, but mentally they’re all over the place.
“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children” – there’s another qualification: believing children – “not accused of profligacy or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God.” In other words, you’re going to take care of God’s business; you better be a godly man. “Not self-willed, not hot tempered, not given to wine or lingering beside his wine, not violent, not given to filthy lucre” – money – “a lover of hospitality, a lover of good” – it’s one thing to do good, something else to love it. Some people do good, but they don’t have much choice – “sober minded, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word” – I like this – “as he hath been taught, so that he may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and confute the opposers.”
This is a man who is a holy man. All the spiritual qualifications and the knowledge of the Word; and he doesn’t just know the Word, he holds the Word. He transmits it into his life pattern.
Paul summed it up to Timothy in a very simple statement. 1 Timothy 4:12 he said this, “Timothy, be thou an example of the believers. You show the world what a holy man is” - and he says in six areas here, “in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity.” All those areas are spiritual areas you’re to be an example. All right, the New Testament leadership boils down to the man. Get yourself squared away with God. Be a holy man.
And there’s a second priority, and we’ll just look at this and do the rest next time. The second priority of the man of God, the man in the church position of leadership is that he is to feed and lead the flock. To feed and lead the flock.
See, after your own spiritual care, then comes the care of the flock. I think there are some people who put the care of the flock, in a sense, in front of their own lives. You know, you wonder how a guy – you say, “Well, this guy spent so much time in the church. And such-and-such had a terrible problem, but it was right when he was busy in the church. And he was doing this, and he was teaching that. And he was carrying on this. And he was doing...”
Sure, he was running around, and in some measure trying to care for the flock, but he failed to do the one priority that comes first, and that’s take care of himself.
You know what my greatest obligation is? You know what my greatest obligation is as a pastor, as a minister of God? My greatest obligation is to make sure my life is right before God, first of all.
Secondly, to make sure I carry out my responsibility toward you. If I’m not right, I’m not going to mean anything to you. And the reason across America and across the world, in all kinds of Christian ministries, nothing happens is because there are some people in positions, and nothing’s happening in their lives.
But secondly, once – verse 28 says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves” - then it says - “and to all the flock.” See? My priority, the priority of anybody in leadership, I don’t care whether you’re teaching a Sunday school class, or whether you’re working in a Bible study in a home, I don’t care what it is that you’re ministering, in any function that you do, your second obligation is that ministry; you’re first obligation is between you and God. And if that isn’t right, all the stuff you’re doing the other side of it isn’t going to make a bit of difference.
Now, notice this. He says, “Take heed to the flock.” Not just the flock but what? “All the flock.” No favoritism. Nope. I like the fact that the church is seen as a flock. There’s something about sheep that’s characteristic of Christians. A little clump of helpless, ignorant, stupid followers. That’s us. But that’s been a historic term that God has used for his people in the Old Testament. You know? In Jeremiah 13:17 and in Zechariah 10:3, God calls Israel the Lord’s flock.
But also, I like Luke 12:32, I think it is, where Jesus looked at the group of a few disciples, and he called them His “little flock.” Remember that?
And then you come to the Gospel of John, and you see even a broader interpretation, where you see in the Gospel of John repeated reference to all of the children of God, all of God’s people, those that are going to believe even in the future as His sheep, and he is the Great Shepherd. John 10, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep, and He knows them by name, and they follow Him, and they hear His voice, and they know its Him. And no man’s able to pluck them out of My hand.” You know, and thieves and robbers try to come and steal them, but He protects them. And that whole idea of the flock concept in John 10. We’re a flock. And God is the one who is our Shepherd. He’s called the Good Shepherd in John 10; in Hebrews 13, the Great Shepherd. So, we are a flock under the Great Good Shepherd.
But one thing I want to pull out of this flock concept, and there’s all kinds of angles on it, but let me just pull this idea. As a flock, the total Church is a flock. One flock. Right? One flock, with one Great Shepherd. But God takes that one flock and it’s all apportioned out in local areas. Right? We’ve got a little flock right here.
Now, we’re a part of the one flock, but we’ve been localized. Ts what Peter meant when he said in 1 Peter 5:2, “Feed the flock of God among you.” And he uses the Greek word en humin which is a local term; en is local. He says, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, not as those who Lord it over the ones apportion to you.”
God takes the whole flock, cuts it up into little apportioned flocks and says, “Here’s an apportioned flock,” and then He selects undersheperds and places them in the care of those apportioned flocks. Now, that’s really what I am; I’m just an undershepherd, and the elders here are undershepherds. And pastors everywhere are undershepherds.
Now, we have a rather simple task in definition, although it’s not simple in function. It is to do two things. To all the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit has made you – you see, there you have the Holy Spirit apportioning. And incidentally, this is supported in 1 Peter 5, too. I could just point this out to you. Verse 3, “Neither as being lords over the charge allotted to you,” is really what it’s saying there. The word is translated heritage, but the literal world is the segment allotted to you or apportioned to you.
So, we are shepherds over a flock apportioned to us. Now, verse 28 of Acts 20 says it’s apportioned to us by whom? By the Holy Spirit. You know, it’s an exciting thing to think about, as I look at my own life, and see that somewhere back in eternity past, when God was laying out the whole sovereign plan, he said, “Now” – and, of course, He had somebody to talk to, because there was the Trinity there – He said, “Now, about 1970, MacArthur’ll be ready, and We’ll stick him in with that Panorama City flock. And then We’ll include” – and then all the others that God has granted to us here to be elders of the flock.
And, you know, it’s a fantastic thing to realize that before the world began, we were planned into this whole thing. And to be a part of it is – you can’t believe the thrill of knowing that, being assigned as an undershepherd of Jesus Christ to take care of the flock. And the Holy Spirit did that.
Now, you’ll notice here that there are two responsibilities that are given to the undershepherd with the flock, and that is overseers – that’s to lead – and to feed. To lead and to feed.
Now, there is a general word used here to feed poimainō, which means to do all that’s shepherding. It means to pastor. It’s more than just the simple act of feeding. To pastor would be to care for, to discipline, to bind up their wounds, to exercise authority over them, to guide them in the right path. Everything and anything that could fall into the category of shepherding is included in poimainō. But the heart of shepherding is to feed. Because what the shepherd does most is to get the sheep to the place where they can feed. And so, the heart of this is feeding. But it involves the whole concept of leading as well in the word poimainō.
Now, just to give you an illustration of the importance of feeding in relation to everything the pastor does, in John 21 – and don’t turn to it – Jesus is getting Peter confirmed into the ministry. And He asked him three times if he loves Him. Remember? And three times Peter confirms that he likes Him a lot, uses the word phileō. And three times Jesus says this, “Feed My lambs.” “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My sheep.” One of those times, the middle time, he uses poimainō. Pastor them; do all that is needed.
The first time he uses the word boskō, not poimainō. The third time he uses the word boskō and not poimainō. Boskō means simply to feed them. Nothing more. Well, if two out of the three are just feed them, that kind of lets me know what the priority is: to feed them. To feed them. Feed the flock of God. And in most cases, poimainō is even translated that way because that’s obviously the emphasis. Sure it includes the areas of care and discipline and authority and other things, but primarily it is feeding.
People say to me all the time, you know, and I suppose there’s not a day goes by somebody doesn’t say, “Oh, I was so glad to come here, and we’re so glad that such-and-such is has a class. We’re so glad to go to such-and-such a Bible study because we’re getting fed.” I imagine that one time or other all of you have said that.
And people say to me, “Well, we came from such-and-such and they’re not feeding us.”
And for the life of me, I cannot conceive of a shepherd who does not feed a sheep. I don’t understand that at all. I mean what are you doing, just leading them around from desert to desert? Or you just leave them in the same desert all the time. What kind of a concept of a shepherd who doesn’t feed his sheep? We’re to feed and lead.
Leading is important, too. What do we mean by leading? Well, we mean ruling. The elders that rule well are worthy of double honor. What does this mean? This means selecting the direction of the church. The sheep didn’t decide which field they’d go to next. The sheep didn’t decide where they’d build the fold. The sheep just followed the shepherd. God has committed the leadership of the church into the hands of the elders and the pastors. And it says there we are overseers or bishops. That simply means those in authority.
The shepherd rules and leads, and the flock is in subjection. Now, we’re not leading – remember this now – we’re not leading by dictating and dominating and lording it over you, but as examples. Right?
Now, in Hebrews 13:17, we have just a lovely verse that expresses the relationship between the elders and the people. Listen, “Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves.” Right?
You know, I just praise God for that. The great joys – of all the great joys that I have, one of them is the fact that this church – that the people are submitted to the elders. And that when they decide something, there’s a beautiful kind of spirit of obedience. And we just don’t have that kind of problem where people buck and fight and scratch against things that are decided. And this is a godly response. “Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves.”
Listen, “For they watch for your souls as they that must give account.” You know, I think that most elders in most churches don’t know that verse. You know, when I stop to think about the fact that I have to give an account to God Himself for how I care for the flock, and so does every other elder, that may change the way I care for the flock. I’ve got to give an account.
So, he says, “Obey them and submit to them, that they may do it with joy and not with grief.” And, you know, every once in a while, when you do get somebody who bucks it and fights and retaliates and won’t submit, it’s a grieving thing. Believe me, there’s enough grief in ministering and fighting against Satan, there’s enough grief in the anguish of the resistance that you get in the ministry without having grief from the people you’re trying to love and feed. And then he goes on at the end of the verse and says, “And when you do that, it’s not even profitable for you either.”
In 1 Peter 5:4, you have a similar indication of the response of the people to the leadership. It says, “And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away.” Well, how do you get that crown of glory? “When you have led the flock as an example.” There’s a clown of glory for the one who’s a faithful example. The flock is to be in subjection. The one who leads is to be the one responsibility to God, and if he’s faithful, he’ll receive the crown of glory.
And so, it’s a question of faithfulness toward God. And you know something? When you’re an unfaithful elder, an unfaithful pastor, there’s a high price to pay. Did you know that 1 Timothy 5:19 says that you should never receive an accusation against a pastor or an elder unless there’s two or three witnesses firsthand?
How many times have we heard something about somebody from somebody who heard it from somebody and passed it to somebody else? Something to accuse somebody in a… Don’t speak a word against God’s anointed unless it’s in the mouth of two or three eyewitnesses who can confirm it.
If you find that it is true, the next verse says, “The elder that sinned is to be rebuked before everybody that others may fear.” There’s a high price to pay for leadership. Whatever we do is in public. If we live a holy life, that’s public. If we sin, that’s to be made public, too. And we believe and – and we believe that it’s biblical, that if elders sin, the sin is to be exposed to everybody. Why? That others may learn that we deal with sin.
So, it’s a high price to pay. But I’ll tell you, it’s a great joy when you’re faithful to see the blessing of God. And they’re double honored, as 1 Timothy 5 talks about. Just to add to the responsibility that we have, he says this - as if it isn’t bad enough already to know what weight of responsibility, he says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God.”
You know, what really motivates you is that this isn’t my church. This isn’t our church as elders. Whose church is it? It’s God’s Church. I’m caring for His property. Have you ever had the responsibility of caring for the property of somebody, where you’re just a nervous wreck, hoping they’ll get back before you’ve lost it or broken it or – sometimes I think that’s the reason I’d like Christ to get here soon. Just to get a hold of this deal before I’ve got it totally messed up.
This is His Church. Jesus said to Peter three times, “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My lambs.” They’re not his; they’re not Peter’s. They’re not mine. They’re His.
Listen, I love my Lord, and I want to take care of His sheep. He’s said to me, “MacArthur, these are my sheep. Now, you take care of them till I get back.” And I’ll tell you, that’s a motivating thing, people, to stop and think. Peter said, “Feed the flock of God.” They’re not mine.
Well, that’s enough motive for me, but the Holy Spirit probably knew I needed even more, and added this at the end of verse 28, “Which He hath purchased with His own blood.” What is that saying? That’s saying that that flock of God is so precious, that He paid the supreme price. And if it’s that precious to Him, it ought to be that precious to me. Right? I mean if God would go to the extent of doing that, I want to make sure I take care of it.
God Himself, in the form of the Son, shed His blood for the purpose of the Church. “God paid the highest price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ,” Peter says. Could I dare treat this church, which he bought with his own blood in any less of a sense than would be commensurate with the price He paid? Could I treat the church as nothing? Could I use the church? Could I manipulate the church? Can I take advantage of the church? Could I starve the church?
Could I fail to teach the whole counsel of the church when this is what He wants and this is what price He paid to gain the church? And gave it to my care, and I should be unfaithful? It’s a precious flock. You’re a precious commodity. You cost a precious price; I better treat you as precious as you are.
You know, Paul did this. And again, he’s our example. In Ephesians 5 – listen; I’ll read it – “Husbands, love your wives” – listen to this – “even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
Now, listen to that. Christ loved the Church, gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, purify it, present it as a glorious Church, without spot, without wrinkle, without blemish. If He wants a holy Church, what should I want? A holy Church.
You know, Paul wrote the Corinthians, and I mean he let them have both barrels. He absolutely unloaded on them. He unloaded on them for 16 chapters, turned around and wrote them 13 more. Twenty-nine chapters he spent on them. Now, somebody was probably saying, “You know, that guy’s got something against us. Why us? What’s the hang-up, Paul?”
And this is what he says in 2 Corinthians 11:1, “Would to God that you would bear with me a little in my folly. Now, I hope you’ll endure what I’m doing.” Why? “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy.” What do you mean, Paul? “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Paul says, “I know one thing. I know that God redeemed you to be a holy church, and that God gave you into my care, and I’m your pastor. And I’m your undershepherd. And I got to take care of you. And if God’s will is that you be a holy church, that’s what I want, too. And that’s why I speak to you the we=ay I speak.”
The undershepherd must have the same attitude that the Great Shepherd has: the purity and the holiness of the Church. And if the Lord wants someday to present the Church to Himself without spot and without blemish, that’s what I want, too. See? And in order to make that happen, I’m going to have to feed, and feed, and feed, and feed the flock the truths of God and lead the flock in the paths of righteousness.
Well, those two basics: the priority of being right with God myself, and feeding and leading the flock, that the flock may be presented to the Savior someday as pure as He desires it to be. Let’s pray.
Father, thank You for our time. We are grateful that we can express our thoughts, the thoughts of our own hearts, in the framework of Scripture. Thank You, Father, that the ministry is not just acquiescence to some historic description, but that it is the outpouring of the heart that’s generated by the Holy Spirit; that these are not just the feelings of Paul that we’re subject to, but they’re the feelings of our own heart; that the Spirit has taught us from within.
Father, we pray for every person in leadership in this church, that You would cause them to first of all be sure they’re right with You, and secondly, to take the responsibility of feeding the flock the Word of God and leading them in the paths of righteousness.
And for every young person who someday is going to be in the position of leadership, that You would begin now to prepare their heart to minister in the way that pleases You. We thank You for what we’ve learned today and for what we shall use and see practical in our lives, in Christ’s name, amen.
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