Hello, it’s good to have you with us today. Last week, you will remember we began looking at Paul’s famous final farewell address to the Ephesian elders who had come to see him in Miletus before he continued on his journey to Jerusalem. And in the first section of his address, he relates to the Ephesian elders the example he has set (20:18-27). He had identified with those under him in every way possible. He had taught them (v.20). He was a witness to the gospel (v.21). And last but not least, he had suffered because of his obedience to Christ’s call upon his life. And that is characteristic of all God’s faithful ones; the life of the cross. But now let’s move on to the next section, which we find in verses 28-31. He says…
Acts 20:28-31 (NKJV)-- 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
SECTION 2: PAUL’S CHARGE & WARNING (20:28-31)-- Now this second section of Paul’s message is his charge and his warning (20:28–31). Paul knew how quickly things could go bad in a church; and especially at a church located in a place like Ephesus, where Satan really had a stronghold and where the spiritual forces at work against them were very strong. Keep in mind Ephesus is where the whole “sons of Sceva” episode happened, where these runners of an exorcism business get thrashed, beaten, and sent away naked by a man they (being unbelievers) tried to exorcise in the name of Christ, unsuccessfully. It’s a very dark place. And so Paul charges the Ephesian elders with three things:
Keep Watch Over Yourselves-- (1) First, they are to keep watch over themselves (v. 28). That is because even mighty men of God who may even be spiritual leaders in their congregations are susceptible to the attacks of Satan. And Satan knows that if he can get a Christian leader to fall, he can wound his flock through that leader. Plus a leader who falls into sin becomes (because of that sin) distant from God and less susceptible to the leading and anointing of the Holy Spirit. That can lead to (1) messages without the power of God and (2) leadership for the church that is man’s leadership rather than God’s, because the minister may no longer be able to discern the voice of God. That is why a minister must always remember that, as Robert Murray McCheyne once so eloquently put it, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”
Keep Watch Over The Flock-- (2) Secondly, Paul charges the elders to watch over the flock as “overseers”. And the word “overseers” here in Greek is “episkopos”, a word that has often been translated “bishop” but is used elsewhere in scripture as a synonym for “elder” (see v. 17). By the way, “elder” is the word “presbyteroi” in Greek. It simply refers to a mature man; one who is mature not in age, but spiritually. The term “elder” focuses more on the maturity of the minister, whereas the word “overseer” focuses on the function, which is to care for the people as a shepherd/pastor. Now what does a shepherd do? He/she keeps watch over sheep; and that involves feeding, caring for, and guarding them from predators. And so it fits with Paul’s imagery to begin the next section by talking about savage predatory wolves who will (not might, but will) seek to ravage the flock of God.
The Lions of Tsavo— Some time ago I re-watched a movie called The Ghost and The Darkness. If you are unaware of that movie, it tells the true story of the building of the railroad across the continent of Africa. And there was a bridge that needed to be built over the river in the southern Kenyan region of Tsavo; and a particular Christian architect (Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson) had been hired to oversee its construction. But for 9 months in 1898, during the construction of the bridge, two lions began attacking and terrorizing the crew. Now this had never happened before. Man-eating lions always hunted alone. But these lions hunted and coordinated their attacks together. They would sneak into men’s tents and drag them off. But they didn’t eat the men. They would just drag them off and have fun killing them. In fact you see in the movie that they eventually find their den, in which there are piles of human bones that these lions collected, both from the railroad and elsewhere. And there are varied reports about how many men specifically working on the railroad were killed; some go as high as 135. That may be exaggerated. But they still killed a very high number of people. They would attack during the day as well as during the night. Men would shoot at them and hit nothing but air. And this among other things suggested to many then and afterwards that those lions were somehow being influenced by the demonic. Even in the movie Patterson reflects on how they might be Satan’s means of trying to keep the railroad (a means of spreading the Gospel further into Africa) from happening. Now Patterson and another gentleman eventually track down and are finally able to kill these lions; and they then go on to build the bridge. But you get this sense (even in the movie) that not only were two lions killed, but a much deeper darkness had been conquered. Now Patterson had the lions stuffed and you can go and see them today at The Field Museum in Chicago. But in the movie you really get this sense of fear; because all around the encampment is this very tall grass. And you never knew what or when something might come out of it. Now all of this was a very real and tangible representation of the truth we read about in…
1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV)-- 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
The Wolves-- Now in a spiritual sense, this is what Paul is worried about regarding these elders and those under their care; he knew (with amazing foresight that must have come from God) that they would come under the influence of those who would seek to destroy their faith. Now these wolves he said would come from both without and also from within the church, and would be those who seek to distort the truth (vv. 29-30). They would be twisters of the Word of God. And Paul here reminds them that when he was with them in Ephesus, he warned them about these wolves day and night with tears (v. 31). And here he does the same.
Costly Liquid-- Now just recently I had to do something very painful; I had to fill up my car with gas. Costed me almost an arm and a leg. I couldn’t believe it; and that was at one of the cheaper stations. And unfortunately the cost of gas is expected to rise even more. Is there any more fluid more precious and costly than gas right now? Well yes, there is.
A High Price-- (3) The third element to Paul’s charge is that the elders must shepherd the flock because of its value in having been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood is the most costly currency there ever was. And so these elders need to tend, care for, feed, protect, and lead their flocks with that in mind. And what’s more (and we’ll come back to this) just as Jesus gave his own blood as the good shepherd in order that they might live (cf. John 10:11), so also these elders were to give their lives for the people under them. Now go ahead and look with me at the third section in…
Acts 20:32-35 (NKJV)-- 32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
SECTION 3: COMMITTING THE PEOPLE TO GOD AND HIS WORD (20:32)-- Now this third section of Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders finds Paul committing them “to God and to the word of his grace.” The teaching of the message that they received from him would enable them to stay close to God, to stay pure in their doctrine, and to be safe from the wolves. Now at that time they did not have a New Testament, and so they had to rely strictly on what they had been taught through Paul in order to understand what that message was. But today we have the full Word of God, which gives us that message in its fullness. And so we (like they) need to devote ourselves to knowing that message. Heresies and divisions most creep in when people do not know and abide in the Word of God.
Back To Example-- Now in verses 33 to 35 Paul again returns to his own personal example, finishing his speech by once again presenting his own life as an example for these elders to follow. When he had been with them, he showed undying and sincere commitment. Also, he says he did not covet anything that anybody else had (v. 33). Instead he worked hard with his own hands to provide for his own needs and the needs of his team (v. 34). And in doing that he really demonstrated one of the chief aims for the Christian’s earning of money: helping those who are in need. In fact, he wrote to them in…
Ephesians 4:28 (NKJV)-- 28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Paul’s Generosity— And so whenever Paul appealed for money for the poor, his request always rang with credibility because it was not just an dictatorial command he gave for the members of his congregations to obey, but was something that he himself led the way in, being extraordinarily generous with everything God had given him. I mean even now he is bringing with him to Jerusalem an offering for the impoverished Christians there. And some of that money was his own; tent-making money he had made by the sweat of his own brow. May we also be just as generous and oriented towards meeting the needs of the weak and poor as he was. Now let’s look at the final section. It says in…
Acts 20:36-38 (NKJV)-- 36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.
SECTION 4: A GRIEF-FILLED FAREWELL— Now this last section of this passage is of course the farewell itself (20:36-38). This is where he actually kneels down and prays with them, they all weep bitterly, and then fall upon Paul’s neck and kiss him. And, like we said before, this overflow of grief and emotion reveals to us just how much these Christians had to come to love Paul; because first and foremost he loved them and poured out his life to them, opening his life to them in every possible way. And here they return that love in a very real and powerful way. They accompany him to the ship and he (like his Master Jesus before him) sets his face towards Jerusalem, knowing that suffering would await him there.
The Example of Christ – Now one of the things that we need to remember is that shepherds are leaders who are willing to lay down their lives and even die for their flock. We don’t often think about that element of leadership, but it is one of the chief ones given to us in Scripture. And of course Jesus is our primary example of this. As Jesus had said in…
John 10:11 (NKJV)-- 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
Not So Easy-- Now that is all fine and dandy when Christ does that for us. Most of us have been raised to understand that basic element of the Gospel; and we who are naturally self-oriented don’t have much trouble receiving that. But the idea that what Jesus did for us, we are to do for others? That’s not so easy. But Jesus says clearly in…
John 15:12-13 (NKJV)-- 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
Miniature Good Shepherds-- So we see that He laid down his life for us; therefore we must be willing to lay down our lives for our friends. And that is what Paul was (even at that moment) demonstrating to them and calling them to do as well. As miniature “good shepherds,” they were to lay down their lives for their flocks just as he (and Christ) had done. And it is Christ’s call to us today to live that way for each other. May we embody all of Paul’s love, generosity, selflessness, and devotion to truth and to the Word; because we know that that was also the pattern of Christ. Let’s do so. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.