I invite you to take your Bibles at this time and turn with me to the 20th chapter of the book of Acts. Acts chapter 20. And we’re continuing and completing the second in this look at the 20th chapter of Acts, on the particular study of New Testament church leadership, “A Charge to Church Leaders.”
Acts chapter 20. And we’ve been considering, particularly, verses 25 to 38, and have already looked at some detail into verses 25 to 28. We’ll review briefly and then go from there.
Throughout the years of God’s kingdom on earth, he has always mediated His rule through specially chosen and qualified leaders. In the Old Testament time, patriarchs were the first group of leaders. They were followed by judges, and then there were prophets, and priests, and kings. In the New Testament time, God mediates His rule in the church through evangelists and teaching pastors, as well as through the indwelling Holy Spirit who guides the individual believer.
Now, leadership, in terms of all of what God is doing in the world, is very important. God recognizes that because of the chaos of sin, things have to be made subject to authority. And so, there is authority and submission as a two-fold operation of God in the world. I put it on an overhead to perhaps give you a little view of it.
We see, first of all, that God ruled directly in the beginning. And in the direct rule of God, there were no leaders. There was no need for leadership because there were perfect human relationships under a single authority. There was no need to rule over people, because there was no unruliness; there was no disorder; there was no discord. God ruled directly then, in the case of Adam.
Then came sin and the fall. And in the fall, the result was disrupted human relationships. Immediately there was a conflict between Adam and Eve, and Adam questioned God in terms of the statement, “The woman that Thou gavest me.” And then we find the disruption of human relationships so obviously illustrated with the story of Cain and Abel. And that is only the beginning. We see the chaos of city life that begins in Genesis, and so it goes.
And in response to the chaos and disorder, and the unruliness of men after the fall, God has instituted another kind of order in the world. And God now rules over people through a directed order that falls into three categories: the family, the Church, and the state. And in all of these areas, God has set in order that there be leaders and followers; that there be authority and submission. In the family, the parents are the leaders. In the church, the pastors and elders are the leaders. In the state, the government officials are the leaders. This is God’s ordained pattern.
And we have now a multiple kind of authority. Disrupted human relationships are brought into some kind of harmony, at least so that humanity can exist in some kind of ease, and some kind of peace, if not total peace.
Now, within the framework of a God-directed order, we could single out any of those three areas. And the Bible does that. We could talk about the order of the family and how God has instituted authority in the family through the father, first of all, over the wife, and then through the father and mother over the children.
Or we could talk about the area of government, and we could go to Romans 13 and to 1 Peter and find that the Christian is to be subject to the authority that is ordained of God governmentally.
But for our time and for our study, we draw our attention to the middle one, and that is to the Church. God directs His rule in the church through pastors and elders. And that takes us directly into Acts chapter 20. And I only use that just as a lead-in to get you to the place where you’ll understand the perspective of this chapter.
Now, as we look at Acts chapter 20, from verse 17 through 38, the apostle Paul is giving information to church leaders, namely pastors and elders. And we’ve said before, and only remind you now, that a pastor, or an elder, or a bishop, or a presbyter is the same thing scripturally. He is the individual given the responsibility of leading the Church of Jesus Christ. He is to the church what the priest, and the prophet, and the patriarch, and the king was to the Old Testament, to God’s people then.
Now, what is it that makes an effective leader? What is it that makes an effective leader anywhere, particularly in the church? Well, the world has its standards, don’t they, and we’re kind of getting into the political melee again, as we start hearing all the radio and television advertisements regarding so-and-so is running, and for this primary, and that primary. And we hear a lot all the time about national government. And we’re well aware of the fact that there are qualifications, supposedly, for leadership.
But, you know, if you look at the world’s evaluation of leadership, it isn’t necessarily the way God evaluates it. For example, Israel decided they wanted a king. And they found the perfect one. And you know why he was the perfect one? Because there was nobody handsomer in the whole land. And not only that, he was taller than everybody else. Tall and dark and handsome Saul was anointed king. What a disaster.
You say, “Do people still choose leaders on that basis?”
Frequently. Given a certain amount of mentality, and a certain amount of glibness, and a certain ability to communicate, anybody can become a leader in our world because of the qualifications. Sad to say, the qualifications are not always innate, internal things. They are mostly external things.
For example, the average leader that we know of, in terms of the things that we’re familiar with, would fall into the psychological category of the an SNL. Have you ever heard of an SNL? That psychological abbreviation stands for strong natural leader. And most people that get in the categories of leadership and exert a rather dramatic influence are called SNLs. Strong natural leaders.
They can be characterized by – and we could do a whole study on this, but I’m just going to give you the terms – they’re characterized by being, one, visionary. They’ve always got great worlds to conquer, great visions of grandeur out there in the future. They are action oriented. They are involved; they’re aggressive. They are courageous. And, you know, this even happens in the church. Very many times, in the church, we assume that a man is a great leader in terms of God’s eyes, when all he is is a psychological SNL who happens to be a Christian.
And especially in the area of courage. We look at a guy with a lot of courage, and we call it faith very often. And what it really is it’s just that he’s got the guts to do anything. And we say, “What great faith.” It may not have anything to do with faith. It may be faith; it may not be.
SNLs are also energetic. They are normally objective oriented rather than people oriented. They are egocentric, and they are always indispensible. In other words, the whole thing rises or falls on them. And in most cases in the world, these are the people that get into leadership.
But you know something? There’s no such category or cataloging of leaders in the Bible. The Bible does not lay down for the church that all of its leaders be SNLs. And, you know, I sadden sometimes when I realize that today a lot of people in the church are being sold a bill of goods that those are the guys that are really doing the job. But it’s the visionary, action-oriented, crusading, one-man show, dramatic kind of guys that are dragging a whole bunch of people along, and they’re all falling all over each other, not knowing what’s going on or where they’re going, but going like mad.
And these are the people that are put out as the ones who are the great leaders, when in fact some of them may be, and some of them may be God-blessed leaders. But the truth of the matter is that all of the biblical qualifications completely circumvent anything like that. And as we saw last time, all of the biblical qualifications for leaders in the church are spiritual and internal rather than external and physical. All of them. The biblical pattern does not hold up the external, but the internal.
Now, with that in mind, just to draw you to one thing, most SNLs lead by precept and power. In other words, “This is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to do it together.” You know? And they just sort of – they super motivate people verbally. And they sweep people along in the verbiage, and the dramatis, and the courage, and the energy, and the action of what they’re doing. That’s all right for some things, but in Scripture, there is one great way that biblical leaders lead, and it’s not by precept and verbiage; it’s by example. And that’s the difference. That’s the difference.
The leader that God ordains, and the leader that God blesses is the one who not only leads by precept, but who leads by example. And I think in a very real sense, this is exactly what America is now going through in the case of the president. The question that is in the minds of people is this: we know he has led us in his words, but does he qualify as a person to lead us by example? And that’s the struggle in the minds of people. And that is a justified struggle, because a true leader is one who leads not only by what he says, but by what he is. And this is biblical. Biblical leadership is seen in the area of example, not nearly so much in the power of the precept.
In 1 Peter – and I want to call these verses to your attention in order to support that statement – in 1 Peter 5:3, we saw last week that the Bible says that an elder is to be an example to the flock. An example to the flock.
In Philippians 3:17, some of you are stopped halfway to Peter – in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them who walk even as ye have us for an example.” Now Paul says, “Take notice and follow the example that is given to you.” Leadership is an question of example. And in the next chapter of Philippians 4:9, he says, “The things that you’ve learned, received, heard, seen in me, do those.” Again, example.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul reflects on the ministry he had in Thessalonica. He says, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only.” No. “The gospel came not in word only” - it is not a question of precept along – “but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, in much assurance; as you know what manner of men we were among you.”
In other words, there was no credibility gap between what we said and what we were. You know that our message was supported by our life. And in the next verse, “And you became followers of us” – and the word is mimētai, mimics. Paul was a great leader because he was an example.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which you received of us. For ye yourselves know how you ought to follow us” – he says, “Watch out who you pattern your life after. Turn aside from those who walk disorderly and follow us.” And then he goes on to say in verse 9, “Not because we have not authority or right” – and here he is, talking about the fact that he could have taken money from them, but he worked for his own wages. “We had the right, but we didn’t take any money, because we wanted to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us.”
In other words, “We could have asked of money to support our ministry, but we wanted to show you the example of servitude, so we earned our own living, and you should be willing to do the same.”
And so, Paul said, “We lead by example.” In 1 Timothy 4:12, he told Timothy to be an example to the believers in everything. He told Titus, in chapter 2, verse 7, this, “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works.” And the idea there is that you ought to be the kind of outline that somebody could put the tracing paper of their life on and copy you.
A true leader is one who leads by example. Now, leadership - if I can give you a definition of Christian leadership, here it is - Christian leadership is this: it is leading people into Christlike behavior by example. That’s what it is. Yes, precept is part of it, but the real dynamic of leadership is leading people into Christlike behavior by example.
You know what a leader is? I can give you a very simple definition. You know what a leader is? Somebody who’s got somebody following him. Yes, a leader is only a leader when somebody’s following. And a true – watch this – spiritual leader, a true godly leader is only one when somebody is following the pattern of his godliness.
I can only say, in the truest sense, that I am a spiritual leader when somebody is following the spirituality that I represent. Now, such responsibility of being a leader is not easy: believe me, it isn’t easy. It’s not easy to be in a position of being a leader. It’s like Snoopy said one day in the paper; he said, “I hate being head beagle.” It’s not always easy to be a leader, because built into leadership are certain problems. For one, it’s a tremendous responsibility to be given by God the charge of people.
Hebrews 13:17 says we have to give an account to God for what we do. And James 3:1 says that we have a greater condemnation if we fail. But on the other hand, it can be so blessedly rewarding that it well compensates for the possibility of failure.
What is a leader to do? To lead by example. Because leadership, in true sense, is to make people come to the place of Christlike behavior by following my life. I love what it says in Hebrews 13; I think it’s verse 7. He’s telling them about the elders. And he says, regarding the elders, “I want you to do this, whose faith follow.” If you’re an elder in this church, your life is to be exemplary to everybody that crosses your path. They ought to be able to line up beside you and walk with you, right behind you, the way you walk, “whose faith follow.”
Leadership is a question of example. Now, that brings us right to Acts 20, because Paul is talking to the leaders of the church at Ephesus, and it’s so very important that they follow the pattern of biblical leadership, and it’s important that they know that example is part of it.
So, what he does here is, he gives them all of the precepts of leadership. From verse 17 to 38, he covers them. All of these areas of leadership. And all the way through, he keeps saying, “You know, like I did it. You know, as I did it to you. You know, how I did it. The way I did it.” And over and over and over sets himself as the example, that they might know the precept, and they might learn the principle of example.
Now, as we look at the passage, we’ll pick it up at verse 28. And we find, in our section for this time, there are five priorities to leadership. Five priorities to church leadership. And he’s speaking to the elders and the pastors of the church at Ephesus, a church which he had founded. These are men which he himself has discipled. They have the responsibility of caring for the church.
Principle number one, priority number one in spiritual leadership is, one, make sure you’re right with God. We covered this last time. Make sure you’re right with God. You need to be a vessel unto honor, holy, before you’ll ever be fit for the Master’s – what? – use. You are the key. Personal holiness is foundational.
Now, just from my own standpoint, I could illustrate it this way. My most important task is to prepare myself, not my sermon. Do you understand that? If you’re a teacher, your most important task is not to prepare your lesson; it’s to prepare yourself to be a channel through which God can effectively work. And more than that, if your lesson is one thing, and your life is something else, you have destroyed the meaning of your lesson. Therefore, it is more important for me to prepare myself than it is my sermon. My sermon’s important; myself is more important.
And so, my primary responsibility is to make sure that my life before God is what it ought to be. Verse 28, “Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves.” He says to these elders, “Take heed unto yourselves.” This is where it starts. As we saw in 1 Timothy and in Titus, the qualifications for an elder last week, for a pastor, were all spiritual. They were all personally spiritual. No man is really useful to God who’s not holy. And you are only as useful as you are set apart unto God.
To illustrate this to you, from an Old Testament illustration that is very graphic, 2 Samuel chapter 11. We go back to David. 2 Samuel 11:1. Now, listen to this, “It came to pass, after the year was ended, at the time when kings go forth, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.”
Now, all of Israel’s army and everybody goes out to fight a war, and David stays home. You could make a lot about that, the fact that David was where he shouldn’t have been. He should have been out there with the people that he expected to fight.
But what happened was interesting in verse 2. “It came to pass at eventide, that David arose from his bed and walked upon the roof of the king’s house.” He went out and walked on his roof. And in those days, in those parts of the world, the roof was functional and you did walk on it. “And from the roof, he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look on.
“And David sent and enquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’
“And David sent messengers, and took her” Now, that’s pretty bold stuff. Right? I mean it wasn’t any kind of clandestine, sneaky meeting. He just sent a bunch of messengers and grabbed her. “And she came in unto him, and he lay with her.”
And verse 5 says, “The woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, ‘I am with child.’” Now, you can’t imagine anything much more gross than that; much more immoral; much more violently, overtly sinful than that. And if you think that’s bad, the next thing he did was he wanted this woman so badly that he made a situation that would result in the death of her husband.
And in verse 15, he wrote a letter to the soldiers, and he said, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat, that he may be left there and smitten and die.” And he was. He was killed.
So, he’d committed adultery and murder. And you know what happened when he did that? He rendered himself in terms of any usefulness to God zero. He was an unholy instrument. Useless. But, you know, God spoke to his heart, and he broke under the weight of his sin, and when he broke, he wrote down his feelings in Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is the broken heart of David over the sin of Bathsheba and Uriah. And I want you to hear what he says, because I think this illustrates very poignantly our truth.
Here’s David crying out to God in the midst of the punishment of his own sin, “Have mercy upon me, O God” – Psalm 51 – “according to Thy loving kindness: according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity; cleanse me from my sin. Of I acknowledge my transgressions. My sin is ever before me.
“Against Thee, Thee only, God, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and clear when Thou judgest.” In other words, he says, “I deserve anything I get.”
“Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; in sin did my mother conceive me. Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; in the hidden part Thou shalt make me know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou has broken may rejoice.” What he’s saying is, “God, restore me, bring me back.”
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”
Verse 12, “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit.” Now watch, next verse, “Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.”
David wouldn’t have been worth anything in teaching or in converting anybody until he was cleaned. Do you see what he was saying? And it’s no different now. The first priority in the ministry of any man is his own holiness.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, whose memoirs I’ve been reading in the last couple of weeks, just as a kind of a devotional study, was a great leader by precept and example. And he wrote a letter to a fellow pastor that he had had a great effect on, and he wrote the letter in September of 1840.
And these were his words, listen, “Everything I meet with, and every day I study my Bible makes me pray more that God would begin and carry on a deep, pure, widespread, and permanent work in Scotland. If it be not deep and pure, it will only end in confusion and grieving the Holy Spirit of God. I am also deepened in my conviction that if we are to be instruments in such a work, we must be purified from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
“Oh, cry for personal holiness, constant nearness to God by the blood of the Lamb. Be filled with His Spirit, or all success in the ministry will only be to your everlasting confusion. You know how I have always insisted on this with you. It is because I feel the need thereof myself. Take heed, dear friend. Do not think any sin trivial. Remember, it will have everlasting consequences.
Be as holy as God is holy, pure as Christ is pure, perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Oh, how much more useful might we be if we were only free from pride, self-conceit, personal vanity, or some secret sin that our heart knows. Oh, hateful sins that destroy our peace and ruin souls.” End quote.
He knew what I know, what Paul says, what you know. A man is only as good as his holiness in the service of the Lord. Take heed to yourself. Principle one in leadership, make sure you’re right with God.
Two – principle number two is also in verse 28, “Feed and lead the flock.” Feed and lead the flock. “After you’ve taken care of yourself, then to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He’s purchased with His own blood.” The second priority is to lead and feed.
To lead. What is that? Overseers we saw last time, to rule. Some of us, perhaps, are familiar with what is commonly known as congregational rule, where the congregation rules. That’s foreign to Scripture. In the Scripture, the congregation does not rule; the congregation is subject to the authority of the elders.
And one of the saddest things, I think, in the church is congregational rule. And I don’t say that because I want to exercise authority over people; I say that because it’s biblical. Because when you put all the people over the leaders, you have violated God’s pattern for authority in the church. It would be the same as letting the children run the parents, or the people run the government from their level and have no leadership. It’s just not God’s way.
And so, there is in the church the prerogative of the congregation to choose out from among them men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom and faith. But once those men are chosen of God, and ordained of God, and placed of God, it is there’s to rule in God’s place as they stand as undershepherds for Christ. And so, leadership is important. Leading the flock, making wise decisions, leading them into the places and the things that are going to be beneficial to them.
But also feeding them, verse 28. As you lead them along, where are you leading them? You’re leading them always to greener pastures, to more food. And feeding is important. And we feed with the Word. And we’ve studied this again and again and how important it is.
So, first of all, a New Testament church leader must, one, take care of himself. Two, he must lead and feed the flock. He must give his life to the feeding of the sheep, to the pastoring that God has called him to.
Now, a third thing, and this is the flipside of number two that I just gave you. The positive is feed and lead. Here’s the negative: watch and warn the flock. That’s the third one. The faithful pastor, the faithful elder – and incidentally, there are some pastors, like myself, who labor in the Word and doctrine; there are others who are in the area of ruling, who may not be always the ones preaching and teaching, but have the same responsibility. And their responsibility, as is my responsibility, uniformly is to watch and warn the flock.
Now, that’s an important thing. This is the flipside of feeding. This is – feeding is the positive, and watching and warning is the negative. This is protection. A good shepherd doesn’t just blissfully lead his sheep out into some nice meadow and sack out. No, he watches the hillsides around. He checks the crevices and the caves and the nooks and the crannies. And he’s watching for wolves who may come in and strip his flock. Vigilance.
Yes, feeding and leading is part of it, and that’s the forward look, but the backward look is watching what’s coming up from the rear. And believe me, one of the greatest, and one of the most – what should I say – strenuous kind of struggles is to protect the flock.
Look at verse 29, and I’ll show you why it’s important. Paul says, and I like this, and it’s pretty clear what he’s shooting out, in verse 29 he says, “For I know this” – now, I like that. This isn’t a “maybe” is it? He says, “I know this.”
You say, “Why do you know it?”
Because I know Satan, and I know how he works. “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous” – and the word could be translated dangerous, could be translated strong – “grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” False teachers.
Paul says, “I know one thing, false teachers are going to arrive as soon as I’m gone.” How do you know that Paul? “Because I know Satan. Wherever the word is sown, Satan’s going to sow lies. Wherever the wheat is” – what’s going to be there? – “the tares. Wherever the truth is proclaimed, Satan will come in with lies to undermine it. I know this.”
And I know it, too. I know it because it’s been – it’s in the Scriptures. I know that false teachers are going to attack Grace Community Church. I know that. In fact, a few months ago, a girl came to me and said, “Do you know that there are three people, in your church, from a false religious system, who have decided to infiltrate your church and one by one try to influence people?” We know this. And when we find out about it, we act on it, because it’s our responsibility not just to feed and lead, but to watch and warn, to protect.
And false teachers will come. And he describes them as grievous wolves. And this is the language of Jesus. In Matthew chapter 7, in verse 15, Jesus made reference to wolves. And you remember the statement – you will when I read it – “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” And again in chapter 10, Jesus sending out people who are going to preach for him said this, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” And the 12 went off, knowing they could expect to run into some wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Yes, there are going to be those who come with a sweet kind of, holy kind of, religious kind of aura, and are going to appear to be so good and so godly, and oh, they have the Bible, and all they are are wolves. Satan’s wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’m not sure all them even know that. So, if any of them are here, I’m announcing to you that that’s what you are. Because I think there are some people who are so deluded, that they ac believe that what they’re propagating is the truth.
Now, Paul says in Acts, to these Ephesian elders, he says, “Get ready; they’re coming.” And you want to know something? They came. Paul wrote to Timothy twice. Paul wrote to Timothy both those times while Timothy was the pastor at Ephesus. Did you know he was the pastor at Ephesus? Yes. Those two letters were written to him while he was at Ephesus. And in both of those letters, Paul makes reference to false doctrine. It came. Believe me it came.
In 1 Timothy, for example, the first time he wrote Timothy, while Timothy was still at Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 4 he says, “The Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times” - and the latter times had already begun; it began when Messiah came the first time – “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” There will be seducers. You know what seducers are? They’re people who lure away somebody that doesn’t belong to them. They lure them away, speaking lies and hypocrisy, forbidding to marry, all kinds of false doctrine. He goes on to say, in verse 6, and this is the point I want to make, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.” You know, what a good minister of Jesus Christ does? He reminds people to watch out for false profits. He reminds people to watch out for doctrines of demons, and he reminds people to watch out for seducing spirits.
Somebody came to me a few weeks ago and said, “Did you know that one of our teachers in our Acts program is being lured away by such-and-such a movement?” It didn’t surprise me one bit. It surprised me when they told me who the individual was, and I think it’s something that’s over and done with. But it didn’t surprise me a bit that it was being done. I expect more of it than I’m seeing.
And I just praise God, for the purity of the Word, that we don’t have more of it than we could have easy were we not so conscientious. I thank God for elders who watch and who warn. Because they’ll come. Believe me; they’ll come from the outside to try to tear away those that are God’s. And the Bible condemns these people so strongly. You just read 2 Peter 2. It’s unbelievable. Do you know what God calls them in 2 Peter 2? He calls false teachers filth, spots, and scabs. Filth, spots, and scabs. “Wells without water,” He says. “Clouds thrown around by a tempest.”
And they come in, and they rip off people just escaping from the world. You know who they attack? They attack the people searching for God, looking for religious answers, just turning away from the world and moving toward God. And they come in and tear them away. That’s 2 Peter 2:18. Those are the ones they’re after.
And Paul, probably, when he writes this, is mainly thinking about the Judaizers, the legalists. But, you know, it wasn’t long until all the false teachers you could imagine plopped themselves into Ephesus. I mean they got a little bit of everybody.
And, you know, Ephesus was just one city in Asia Minor. There was also Smyrna, Pergamos, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and the rest of the cities that are mentioned in Revelation 2. And you know that by the time Revelation was written, already some of those false systems had moved in and taken over those churches?
He writes to the church at Ephesus in Revelation, does Christ, and He says, “You know something?” He says, “I like one thing about you anyway, that you hate the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” We don’t know what the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is. I mean specifically we don’t know; we can guess that it’s some kind of gross immorality. But it already had begun to move against Ephesus.
And the next statement he makes to Smyrna, He says, “You have been subjected to the synagogue of Satan.” And then he says to Pergamos, “You have been subjected to the doctrine of Balaam.” And then to the next church He says, “And you have been subjected to the Jezebel who brought in fornication.” False doctrine blitzed the little churches of Asia Minor just a few years after Paul finished his work. Expect it. We expect it.
The second approach of false doctrine is in verse 30, not only from the outside, but from the inside. And this, if anything, is more subtle, isn’t it? “Also,” Paul says, “of your own selves shall men arise,” right out of your own congregation, “speaking twisted things, perverse,” diastrephō, to twist, “speaking twisted things, to drag” – literally to drag – “to drag disciples after them.” Boy, false teachers always want to get a following. Always after a following.
Ever notice how false teachers always publish their followings? “We now have two million all over the world following.” See? Sure, that’s the whole point. They had that little guru character on, the little guy who was trying to grow a mustache. He married some girl, and they always have to say, “Guru whoever-he-is with so many followers,” or it’s, “Sun Myung Moon with so many followers,” or it’s, “Such-and-such with so many followers,” dragging away people.
And so, the apostle Paul says, “Not only from the outside, but watch from the inside. They’ll come up to draw away disciples.” Yes, false teachers on the inside. I guess this is probably the thing that would even be the most heartbreaking to God: inside.
You say, “Did that happen at Ephesus?”
Yep, it happened at Ephesus. Do you know that that church started out under Paul? And the eldership of that church were all discipled personally by Paul? And the leading elder in that church for years was Timothy, and still it happened.
You say, “How do you know it happened?”
Because Paul even names them. I mean he just singles them out by name. First Timothy, for example, he doesn’t even get three verses into 1 Timothy before he’s already nailed them. The first letter he wrote, only a handful of years after Paul left there, he says to Timothy, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus” – 1 Timothy 1:3 – “when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Do you know that some people had already crept into that church, in a handful of years, and started teaching false doctrine? People who had risen right out of the congregation.
He says to Timothy, “Don’t you listen to their false and endless genealogies which minister questions rather than godly edification.” Don’t listen to them. And they were apparently teaching legalism. And listen to this; he even names some of them. The 1st chapter, verse 19, he says, “Some have made shipwreck f the faith” – now listen – “of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Hymenaeus and Alexander. He says, “I gave them to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme.”
In 2 Timothy, when he wrote, same thing. Verse 15, 2 Timothy 1, “This thou knowest, that all they who are in Asia turned away from me” - a staggering statement; I mean they’re turning away from Paul and what he’s taught them – “of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” And he names two more of them.
In chapter 2, verse 17, he’s not done. He says, “And their word will eat doth a gangrene: of whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus.” They’ve got plenty of them. And then the rest of the unnamed ones are included in 2 Timothy 3:1 to 9. And he says in verse 5, “They have a form of godliness, and they deny the power of it. Of this sort are they who creep into houses and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with various lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. They’re like Jannes and Jambres who withstood Moses: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.”
Yes, it was inevitable inside-outside, false teachers. Believe me; they’ll come. They’ll come from the outside, and they’ll rise from the inside. And they’ll speak twisted things. They’ll speak perverse things to draw away the people just escaping from the error of the world.
Jude said this, “Beloved, when I give all diligence to write unto you the common salvation. It was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Do you know we have to fight – do you know you got to fight to hold onto the faith? No easy going thing. The ministry isn’t some kind of a lark. You fight to hold onto it. Why? “For there are certain men who crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And, you know, he says in the same little book that they showed up at the love feast. They are spots on your love feasts. They got right into the life of the church. You know, you think about that in the past, but think about it in the present. I say this, and I say it without fear of contradiction, most churches – most churches in America are dominated by false teachers. Most. It’s sad. That’s sad. It’s true.
Paul says, in response to that, look at verse 31 – and I use the word “church” in a very blanket, general sense in that frame of reference – Acts chapter 20, verse 31, here’s Paul’s statement, “Therefore” – if you know it’s coming from the outside, you know it’s coming from the inside, “Therefore” – what’s the next word – “watch” – that’s the first one – “and remember, that for a space of three years I ceased not to” – what? – “warn” – that’s the second one. Watch and warn. Those are the two priorities in point number three of our outline.
And vigilance is important, people. You know, one of the things that you have to do, as an elder or a pastor, and you do it not because it’s some kind of an obligation or duty, but because you care for the flock, is you got to watch for false teachers, and you’ve got to watch for the tares being sown among the wheat. You know, in Matthew 13, Jesus said that the tares would be sown. Right? And He said, “Don’t you try to go around and find all the tares, because that’s too difficult. They’ll grow together until the harvest.” You know, that’s a scary thing to me, because that means if the tares get in, you can’t get rid of them.
And there’s only one way to keep the tares from getting in, and that’s to watch. And to watch is part and parcel of responsibility spiritually. And it’s up to us to make sure we know who’s here as a part of Grace Church, who’s teaching, who has responsibility, who sits in a place of leadership. We owe that to the Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of the purity of His chaste virgin that He wants presented to Him as chaste as He desires to be.
Some people sometimes say to me, “John, you know, I applied for a membership in the church, and it took so long. I wonder what’s going on.”
One of the reasons that it may take a long time is because we are careful, and because we want to know beyond a shadow of any human doubt that the person we’re dealing with truly knows and loves the Lord Jesus Christ, lest we, because of our lack of vigilance, allow tares among the wheat. So, be patient.
Paul told Timothy, in simple words, this, “Watch thou in all things.” Feed them, but look around and expect it; it’s coming. False teachers.
God said to Ezekiel, “Ezekiel, you’re my man, and I have set you as a watchman upon the wall.” Look for the enemy; he’s coming. The second thing is to warn. And the word there is nouthesia. It means to admonish. Admonishing is giving counsel with a warning involved. Giving counsel that includes warning. It’s a kind of firm gentleness, where we not only are looking around, but we’re warning. And I do that to you this morning; I warn you, be aware and be alert, and expect that false teachers will arise, and they will infiltrate. Expect it.
And my dear beloved people, be in a position to earnestly contend for the faith. And the only way is to be sure that you know the faith that you claim to believe. So, I warn you.
Paul warned them. Look at this, “For the space of three years I ceased not to warn.”
You say, “That’s a broken record.”
No, it’s a priority. “I ceased not to warn everyone” – personally everyone – “night and day with tears.” You know why he wept, because he knew the terrible, terrible consequences of false teachers infiltrating. He didn’t sleep much. First Thessalonians 2:9, he said, “I labored night and day.” Second Thessalonians 3:8, he said, “I work like night and day.” Here he says, “I warned night and day.” I don’t know when he ever slept. I mean, you know, when he laid his head on the block, and his head got chopped off, that may have been the first time he put his head down in a long time. He personalized his ministry. He warned everyone. As the shepherd watches his flock by night, so the pastor is to be vigilant, so the elder is to protect them from the wolves of false doctrine. And Paul is saying, “Do it,” and then he’s saying, “Do it like I did it.” Example again is leadership.
All right, then, in addition to your own spiritual life, to leading and feeding, there is watching and warning. Then fourthly, a fourth priority is to study and pray. To study and pray, or to pray and study. This dual priority isn’t new; it’s as old as Acts 6, at least in the book of Acts, where the apostles said, “We’ll give ourselves” – you remember in verse 4 – “continually to the prayer and the ministry of the Word.” This is the heart of the leader’s life. What do I spend my time doing? Praying and teaching, praying and studying.
Verse 32, and I like this, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God” – stop there. You know what that is? That’s what prayer is. People, I’ve told you everything I can tell you. I’ve given you all truth that’s in my heart to give you. I’ve given you all the information that’s in my head to explain. I’ve done everything I could do to you. You know what I have left to do? Commit you to – whom? – to God.
And I’ll tell you something, I’m glad I could do that. And I’ve done it – and I do it all the time. I say, “God, I gave them what I knew. I told them what I gained out of the Word. I gave them the best that I could offer, and now, God, I can’t take them any further. All I could do is give them to you.
That’s really a part of the ministry. When you get to the place where you’re satisfied with what you’re accomplishing, you’re dead. This is His flock. This is His church. And I commit it to Him. Because if it’s His, it’s His ultimately to safeguard and care for.
And so, Paul says, “I commit you to God.” And everything the church ever does should be bathed in that kind of committal. That, I believe, becomes a priority for every kind of ministry. We must pray about everything. Everything we do must be committed to God.
Do you know you can take the book of Acts and just start going through? You find that when they met together to choose somebody to take Judas’ place, they were praying, Acts 1:24. By the time you come to chapter 2, they’re praying again. In chapter 2 – in chapter 2, verse 42, it says, “When they came together, they came for the apostles’ doctrine, the breaking of bread” – communion – “and prayer.”
You go on further, and the Gospel begins to expand, and they’re praying. They anoint deacons in chapter 6, and they pray and they anoint them. Later on they pray when they send out Paul and Barnabas. When they get to a new area, they pray and commit it to God, and they go in and minister. Prayer bathed everything they ever did. Why? Because they gave everything to God.
But nowadays, the church has got methods for that, and we don’t need prayer. Prayer sometimes becomes tokenism, doesn’t it? “Lord, we’re going to do this. Pray You’ll bless it.” That’s the first time we’ve even acknowledged He exists. We get this whole thing invented and all mapped out, and laid out our fantastic thing. Now, “God bless this,” which is sort of a parachute in case the plan doesn’t work, we’ll at least have a soft landing.
But that isn’t how it is in terms of the New Testament. You know, there’s no substitute for prayer? That sounds a little bit archaic and hackneyed, but it’s true. There’s no substitute for prayer. Not prosperity, no. Not good ideas. Not good programs. Not growth. Not success. Not confidence. Not talent. No, none of those things are substitutes for prayer. But sad to say, it’s so easy for the church to get so organized. Got a wonderful program, good committees, great methods. Have a lot of carnal success and take the credit for it.
Well, you know, if you just commit everything to God, just say, “God it’s Yours, now You do what You want,” then when it’s done, who are you going to thank? God. But if you did it all, and it went well, who are you going to thank? Modestly, see? And you’re robbing God of glory, and He doesn’t like that. “I will give My glory to nobody,” He says, Isaiah 48.
Prayer. Everything the church ever does, everything you ever do in our ministry should be committed to God. Not as an afterthought. Not as sort of a sanctified salt on your human ideas. But before it’s ever brought to fruition, it should be committed to Him.
My philosophy on the thing may be even strange to some, but my philosophy is if you think you have an idea that might work, just start praying about it and see if God makes it happen. I’m not interested in inventing any kind of programs at all. I’m just interested in saying, “God, I had an idea the other day. I don’t know if it’s from You or not, but here it is. I’m just going to offer it to You in prayer, and if You want to make it happen, go ahead and make it happen. We’re ready for it.”
I just – I suppose when I was younger, and I tried to make programs, and then stuffed the Holy Spirit into the box that I had invented, that I found out it didn’t work well. So, I’d rather let the Holy Spirit be independent and pick me up and take me along when He’s moving. Much more exciting.
Second thing, prayer and study the Word. He says, “I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace.” And so, what happens? He says to these elders, “Guys, I just give you to God and to the Word.” And that’s Acts 6:4 again. Our whole commitment is to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And the Word is able to build us up. Spiritual growth. 1 Peter 2:2, “That you may grow thereby; the pure milk of the Word.” The Word causes us to grow.
“And to give you an inheritance among all them who are sanctified.” The Word is that which secures the promise of our inheritance.
You know, when people say to me, “I’m not too sure – oh, I am so insecure; I have so many doubts,” I say, “Do you study the Bible? Because if you study the Bible, faithfully, the Bible continues to guarantee your inheritance.”
And “among all those that are sanctified.” That means set apart, holy unto God, there is an inheritance. But if you don’t have the assurance of that, it’ll come when you study the Word. So, he says, “The Word feeds you and makes you grow and gives you assurance.” So, prayer and the Word. Prayer and the Word. Priorities.
As you study the Word, you’re built up. And you’re assured that the promised inheritance is really yours, set apart for all those who are holy through Christ.
Well, lastly, very briefly, the last priority for the elder is this, for the pastor, freedom from self-interest. Freedom from self-interest. And this touches close to my heart, because I’ve seen so much of this that grieves me. And Paul uses himself as an example, verse 33, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yeah, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me.” He says, “I not only worked for my own needs, but I worked to supply the needs of others. I have shown you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It’s more blessed to give than receive.’”
Now, what’s Paul saying here? He’s saying, “One thing you’ll have to remember in all your ministry, you’re going to have to look at it as a giving, not a receiving.” Right? “And I never coveted any silver, and I never coveted any gold, and I never coveted any clothes.” Freedom from self-interest, people. Simply put, it says this: God does not bless the ministry of a man who is concerned about money. I have never yet seen a man in a ministry who got preoccupied with money who didn’t have Ichabod written on his ministry. You can’t serve God and mammon, money. It can’t be done.
Freedom from self-interest. This was Paul’s heart. He came into town; he says, “I have the right to ask of you, but I don’t. I’ll work to earn my own keep just to show you the pattern of example, that that’s how it’s to be. And if God wants to bless you by giving you something, fine. Fine.
Paul even said that a elder who was faithful was worry of double honor in 1 Timothy 5. And most commentators would say that means financially. And Paul made the statement that, “I have the right to receive from you. That’s fine; it’s wonderful. I have that right, but I’ve chosen to show you an example of earning my own and not being a burden and not asking for anything.”
I don’t believe a man of God in the ministry should ever ask for anything. And I have talked to people who said, “Well, you know, when I went to such-and-such church, I told them what I ought to get, and we worked it out, and I got what I asked for.” And I just – it makes me sick. I’m afraid I’d get what I deserve. And I’d just rather say nothing and let grace be grace. Whatever God gives me, I’m just thankful. I don’t believe it’s right for a man in a ministry to ask for anything. In fact, I’m so strong on this, I don’t believe it’s right to ever set a price on anything you do as a minister of God. Ever.
People call me all the time on the telephone, you know, to speak at a conference. They say, “John, we’d like to have you come to such-and-such conference. What’s your fee?” Oh, that just irritates me when they do that.
And I always say, “Well, what do you mean what’s my fee?”
“Well, how much do you charge?”
I say, “I don’t charge anything. If God’s in it, I’ll be there.”
I think when you put a price tag on your ministry, you price yourself right out of blessing. I know how that works. I traveled for two-and-a-half years in meetings, and when you go into town, it’s – you’re just carnal enough and just crass enough and just human enough to say, “Oh, wonderful meeting. This is going to be terrific. And wow, do they give big love offerings. Ooh-ooh.” See?
I don’t like that. I don’t like to know anything about any kind of money – period, paragraph – at all while I’m ministering. That just messes up my mind. I want the liberty to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and whatever happens happens. And if they give me something, fine. If they give me nothing, that’s just as fine, because I don’t care anyway. God help those people who have to set a price on their ministry.
Paul would go and do anything for anybody, anytime, for nothing. And if God sent an offering along, fine. Remember the Philippians chapter 4? He says, “Hey, I’m so glad you sent your offering. It’s so wonderful. Not because I need it, because you needed the lesson in giving.” I like that. He says, “Look.” He says, “I know how to – I know how to make, and I’m content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. In everything, in all ways, I’m content.” And then he says, “Incidentally, I know you gave sacrificially, but keep this in your mind; my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. Don’t you worry about it; God’ll give you back multiplied what you gave.”
Listen, whenever a man in the ministry, whenever a man in spiritual responsibility gets concerned about how much money he’s getting, he prices himself right out of blessing.
He says – in verse 34 he says, “You see these hands?” You know, he was Jewish; he talked with his hands. I can just see him there; he’s dictating – he’s dictating to the scribe, and he says, verse 34, “Yeah, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and not only mine, but to the necessities of them that were with me.
“I’ve shown you these things” – he said – “and I worked among you” – in verse 35 – “to support the weak. I did it as an example, and I want you to remember the worlds of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” You want to know? That’s probably one of the most interesting little quotes in all the Bible. It’s what we call Agraphē. What that means is that’s a quote of Jesus that never made it into the Gospels. That’s a quote that Jesus gave that nobody ever wrote down. And Paul quotes it. You look for that in the Gospels, you won’t find it. But Jesus said it.
You say, “Did Jesus say things that aren’t written in the Gospels?”
Oh, did He. Why, you read the end of the Gospel of John, He said so many things I suppose John says, “The books all in the world couldn’t contain everything He said.” And this is just one of those things that He said, “It’s more blessed to give than receive.” He says to those men, “Remember in your ministry, the most thing is giving, giving, giving, giving; not receiving.” God help us from getting crass.
Just to give you an illustration of this, the world, I think, expects – I don’t like the fact that the world, I think, sees the image of a minister as somebody who always needs a handout. Right? One thing that bugs me is when ministers ask for a clergy discount. Ooh, I hate that. “What do you want? Who are you? I mean you’re some poor soul that deserves to take some money out of somebody else’s pocket because you’re a minister? Don’t you do that to the Gospel.” What do you think a guy thinks when you come and say, ‘I happen to be a minister. Does that mean any discount?’ What does that do to Christianity? Don’t do that. If you need a discount, come see me; I’ll give you the rest. I’ll make it up to you. Don’t ask for it.
I went to get a car not too long ago, because we needed a bigger one; we had another baby. So, I went to this place – it was so funny, because I walked in there, and I looked at the car, and I said, “That’s a nice station wagon there.”
He said, “Oh, I’ll give you a terrific deal.” And he told me thing that was a lousy deal, because I had read Consumer’s Guide; I knew everything I needed to know. And so, I was ready.
And so, “A terrific deal.”
And I said, “No, that’s not a terrific deal; that’s terrible.” I said, “In fact, you’re not being honest with me. You’re trying to take me.”
Boy, you know,. So, he went back to see the next guy up the ladder, and finally came back, and we continued to talk, and I knew what the car was worth, and I knew the whole thing, because I’d done some homework on it. And I want to be a steward of the Lord’s money. So, I said, “This is what would be right, and this is what would be fair, and this is what I’d like. Now, if you can’t do this, that’s fine.”
So, he went back. And finally he came back and he said, “Well,” he says, “you’re really getting into us.” He said, “There’s nothing in this for us. This is oh-oh.” You know? And went on and on.
And so, finally, I said, “Well, good.” I said, “You know, I’m a Christian.” And I said, “The most important thing to me is that the Lord be honored. Now,” I said, “you probably need the money more than I do, and the last thing I ever want to do is take a penny from you, from your commission, from this company. I want to do what’s right. And I believe this is right and fair in most cases, and if it’s not right for you, then don’t do the deal. I’ll just go somewhere else.”
And he said, “No, no, no, don’t do that; don’t do that.” “We can work it out; we can work it out.”
And he went in the backroom, and I had somebody along with me who overheard the conversation in the backroom, and they were saying, “Well, we can’t believe this. Can you believe this guy?”
You know, it was really interesting, because my concern, as a Christian, was that they get what was right for them within the bounds of what was right. And they hadn’t dealt with that before. I got the car, incidentally, at what I felt was the right one.
Yes, I really feel that, in the ministry, one of the great ways that our godliness is manifest is in our love of Jesus Christ and the ministry with absolutely no thought for money. And I’ll tell you, God takes care. When all things are right before Him, and you’re the kind of man you ought to be, God will supply over and above, won’t he?
What are the priorities of the ministry? Self-examination, feed and lead the flock, watch and warn, pray and study, and no self-interest. You minister like that, and you know what your reward will be? Look at the verses that follow, and we’ll read them in closing, 36, “And when he had thus spoken, he knelt down and prayed with them all.” Here’s a group of elders, and they’re all kneeling, praying. It says something for the posture of kneeling when you pray. Humble, bowed before God.
“And they all wept much and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him” – you think they liked him? Think he meant something to them? Sure he did. You know why they loved him? Oh, they loved him because there was a consistency between what he said and what he was.
They fell all over his neck, and tears ran down their faces and trickled down his neck, and they continually kissed him. They kept on kissing him and embracing him. And they were sorrowing I says in 38, “Most of all for the word which he spoke, that they should see his face no more.” When he told them he wouldn’t see them anymore, they just sobbed. And then it says, “They accompanied him unto the ship.”
I’m just human enough to want to be loved. I’m just human enough, I guess, to want to be loved like that. And I know that if I, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can come anywhere close to ministering the way the Spirit wants me to, that God will reward me with the love of the saints. And that’s important.
And I want people who love me not for me, but like it says in verse 38, they loved him “most of all for the words which he spoke.” A faithful minister has that marvelous reward. Let’s pray.
Father, thank You for our time. We rejoice in the truth that we’ve learned. And our hearts are somewhat saddened, at least mine, as I think about the fact that by the time the letter of the Lord Jesus to Ephesus was written in Revelation, You had to say that they had left their first love. And that if didn’t something happen, You’d remove them as a church. And Father, we know historically that You did that, and there is no church at Ephesus.
We can’t understand it. We can’t understand how under the leadership of Paul and Timothy, so fast it could happen. But we know Satan works. Father help us to teach, to lead, to feed, to watch, to warn, to pray, to study. Protect the flock, that this may be a pure people till the day that Jesus comes, in whose name we pray, amen.
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