Paul is a pastor to pastors. He bypasses Ephesus as he hurries to arrive in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, but he requests that the elders of the Ephesian church meet him at Miletus. He who has “kept back nothing that was helpful” (Acts 20:20) addresses the elders for the last time: “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more” (Acts 20:25).
Paul begins his instructions to the elders by reminding them that he has not “shunned to declare to [them] the whole counsel of God” (20:27). He describes their role as shepherds or overseers of their flock and instructs them “to shepherd the church” that ultimately belongs to God, “which He purchased with His own blood” (20:28).
Paul demonstrates that shepherding requires two categories of alertness: personal and communal.
Personal - Shepherding requires personal discipline and self-restraint, “Therefore take heed to yourselves” (20:28). The phrase “take heed to yourselves” first appears in Ex. 19:12: “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base” (Ex. 19:12). Moses uses this phrase again when he addresses the next generation as they prepare to enter Canaan, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things you eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Deut. 4:9, 15, 23). Shepherding requires personal restraint in passions, thoughts, and ambitions. Shepherds must establish boundaries for themselves over which they refuse to cross. They must be men of restraint.
Shepherds must also understand that ultimately their flock is His flock, and that they will give an account to Him about how they have led—“The flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (20:28).
Communal - Shepherding requires alertness against predators. Paul warns the elders about two types of savage wolves: those from the outside and those arising from the inside:
Savage wolves entering from the outside, “After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (20:29, emphasis added). The gathering of of people makes an attractive target for men of impure and evil motives, men who do not care for the flock, but use the flock to fulfill their personal agenda.
Savage wolves rising from within, “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (20:30, emphasis added). The gathering of people offers an opportunity for leaders—both good and bad—to emerge. Paul warns that shepherds must protect their flocks from leaders who arise from within—men with impure and evil motives who use the sheep to fulfill personal agendas.
Shepherds, therefore, are personally and communally attentive. They guard themselves, and they guard the flock.
Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian elders highlight three crucial truths about shepherding:
Describe Paul’s ministry to the believers and the elders in the church at Ephesus. What does Paul teach them about false teachers? About Bible literacy?
What means does the Lord use to reveal what lies ahead for Paul? How does Paul respond?
Describe the controversy between Jewish- and Gentile-background believers. How had the gospel been misinterpreted by the unbelieving religious Jews? What problem does that create for Paul?
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