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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Acts 20:28-35

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[a] which he obtained with his own blood.[b] 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s description of his ministry to the elders of the church of Ephesus, who had come to Miletus before the Apostle sailed to Jerusalem for Passover.

The second half of his address to those elders was about a similar conduct towards the congregation.

Verse 28 is a complex one, worth analysing in sections.

In saying, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock’, Paul means that the elders must be above reproach themselves and so encourage the flock to be likewise.

John MacArthur applies Paul’s words to his own ministry in California:

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; your 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.

Paul reminded the elders that the Holy Spirit made them overseers of the flock in Ephesus. St Luke, the author of Acts, recorded this in Acts 19:6:

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

As such, the elders were under a heavy obligation to be diligent in their care of the Christians in Ephesus. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

They took not this honour to themselves, nor was it conferred upon them by any prince or potentate, but the Holy Ghost in them qualified them for, and enriched them to, this great undertaking, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, Acts 19:6. The Holy Ghost also directed those that chose, and called, and ordained, them to this work in answer to prayer.

Paul reinforced this serious obligation by referring to ‘the church of God,[a] which he obtained with his own blood.[b]‘ Henry explains that this is different than in the days of the Old Testament, because Christ, God’s Son, purchased the Church by giving His life — His blood — for Her:

This church of God is what he has purchased; not as Israel of old, when he gave men for them, and people for their life (Isaiah 43:3), but with his own blood. This proves that Christ is God, for he is called so here, where yet he is said to purchase the church with his own blood; the blood was his as man, yet so close is the union between the divine and human nature that it is here called the blood of God, for it was the blood of him who is God, and his being so put such dignity and worth into it as made it both a valuable ransom of us from evil, and a valuable purchase for us of all good, nay, a purchase of us to Christ, to be to him a peculiar people: Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me. In consideration of this, therefore, feed the church of God, because it is purchased at so dear a rate. Did Christ lay down his life to purchase it, and shall his ministers be wanting in any care and pains to feed it? Their neglect of its true interest is a contempt of his blood that purchased it.

MacArthur says:

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.

Paul correctly stated that wolves — false teachers — would arrive after his departure among the congregation (verse 29). Furthermore, even a few of the elders would become false teachers, drawing away some of the flock (verse 30).

Paul would later write about this to Timothy, who was subsequently in charge of the church in Ephesus. Henry tells us:

While Paul was at Ephesus, they kept away, for they durst not face him; but, when he was gone, then they entered in among them, and sowed their tares where he had sown the good seed … This was there fulfilled in Phygellus and Hermogenes, who turned away from Paul and the doctrine he had preached (2 Timothy 1:15), and in Hymeneus and Philetus, who concerning the truth erred, and overthrew the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:18), which explains the expression here.

MacArthur has more:

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 prophets. He reminds people to watch out for doctrines of demons, and he reminds people to watch out for seducing spirits.

For those reasons, Paul encouraged the elders to be alert, night and day, as he was, in order to guard against false doctrine (verse 31). Paul mentioned his own tears in this regard. Henry discusses the tears and the obligation on the elders after his departure:

He warned them with tears of compassion, thereby showing how much he was himself affected with their misery and danger in a sinful state and way, that he might affect them with it. Thus Paul had begun the good work at Ephesus, thus free had he been of his pains; and why then should they be sparing of their pains in carrying it on?

And, so, with Paul’s departure imminent, the only obligation remaining for him was to commend the elders to God and to His divine grace, so that they would be built up and sanctified in their holy work (verse 32). Henry reminds us that Jesus also did this with the Twelve:

Paul commends them not only to God and to his providence, but to Christ and his grace as Christ himself did his disciples when he was leaving them: You believe in God, believe also in me. It comes to much the same thing, if by the word of his grace we understand the gospel of Christ, for it is Christ in the word that is nigh unto us for our support and encouragement, and his word is spirit and life: “You will find much relief by acting faith on the providence of God, but much more by acting faith on the promises of the gospel.” He commends them to the word of Christ’s grace, which he spoke to his disciples when he sent them forth, the commission he gave them, with assurance that he would be with them always to the end of the world: “Take hold of that word, and God give you the benefit and comfort of it, and you need no more.” He commends them to the word of God’s grace, not only as the foundation of their hope and the fountain of their joy, but as the rule of their walking: “I commend you to God, as your Master, whom you are to serve, and I have found him a good Master, and to the word of his grace, as cutting you out your work, and by which you are to govern yourselves; observe the precepts of this word, and then live upon the promises of it.”

Then Paul said that they should not ask for any riches in their work (verse 33), but rather work as necessary just to cover one’s own needs and and those alongside them (verse 34). MacArthur tells us:

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.

Paul concluded his counsel by telling the elders to work hard and care for the weak. He also reminded them of Jesus’s words about giving being more important than receiving (verse 35). MacArthur gives us an interesting fact:

“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.

Next week’s post discusses the farewell that Paul bade the elders.

Next time — Acts 20:36-38

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