39/97 16.11.97 Scripture: Acts 20:25-38
CHRISTIANS are required in every congregation to help other Christians mature in their faith. There is great need for experienced Christians to come alongside and assist others mature in their faith.
Some Christians are new to the faith and still need to grow. Other Christians have not had the opportunity to become mature Christians and need help. Other Christians have been hurt by the sufferings of life and slipped back in their assurance. Some Christians have always stayed at the kindergarten level of learning, having made a commitment to Jesus Christ they remember what they learned in Sunday School, but they have not grown. They have not developed in experience, in teaching, in serving, in giving or in helping. They need a word of encouragement and an example of helpfulness.
It is a sign of the health of the church when there is a large number of lay people who are bearing others' burdens, sharing the concerns of others, teaching, witnessing, speaking, and building up the faith of others. Where there is strong leadership, the church will grow with mature members.
We have been looking at Paul's relationship with the church at Ephesus and long after he left the area he wrote a letter to them in which he said, (4:11-12) "It was God who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.<170> It is the task of the ministry to equip all of the people of God to work in His service.
Paul went on, (4:13) "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.<170> That was Paul's pattern of ministry. Leaders are called to equip others, to help them to become mature in Christ.
In our journeys through the Book of Acts with Paul, we left him at the port of Miletus on his way to Jerusalem. He invited the Elders of the church to make the thirty kilometre trip to the port so that he might speak with them for the last time. Last week we heard Paul speak about his own ministry: what he did and how he declared boldly the whole Gospel. We used the witness of Paul to look at the ministry of our own church - ministers, pastors and administrators - those recognised as professional clergy, to emphasise the need to follow the standard and example of the Apostle in ministry.
Now, with Paul, we turn our attention away from the paid ministry to look at the work of the other leaders of the church. The leaders of the Ephesian church were before him and Paul spelled out their role in the work of building mature Christians. Within the Uniting Church of Australia we believe that Christians should be encouraged to develop their gifts of leadership so that they may assist growth in others. We have set apart Elders to teach, visit, support and give oversight in ministry. We have Parish Council Members who give oversight in administration. We have lay preachers - who have the gift of preaching and leading services. We have over 300 trained and gifted counsellors in Life-Line, Tele-Counselling, and face to face counselling. We have administrators and significant volunteers.
These leaders are the spiritually mature of this church. They have been given the task of helping the rest of us to grow in the faith. Spiritual ministry is a position of service, not of status. After reviewing the ministry of ministers, Paul gives a charge to the Elders. Paul wanted them to do what he had been doing: training a group of Christians in maturity. In Acts 20, there are some of their names: Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, Trophimus, and Timothy. Some, as Timothy did, undoubtedly became committed full-time ministers.
Among those from Ephesus there would be counsellors, sharing their wisdom and spiritual insight. Some would be overseeing the stewardship of the church and also gathering money for the relief of the destitute in Jerusalem. Those before him would comprise all who were engaged in caring for the church. Paul had done his own work well, but he knew that time was running out for him. He said, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. .. I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.<170>
That was his first task. Then he added, "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.<170>
Paul placed his arms around their shoulders as he said good-bye. "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.<170> He was right. Within six weeks he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem and Caesarea. Then sent to Rome in chains, imprisoned and later, be executed. Paul's mind was not on the coming troubles, however. He was concerned about the growth of the church at Ephesus and there were three things most important for their service.
1. BE SHEPHERDS
That is a charge that is given to every Elder, lay preacher, and counsellor. Be shepherds the church. "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.<170> It is God's church, a church that God purchased through the blood of Jesus, His Son. The idea of a "shepherd<170> is very old in the Bible. The best-known Psalm begins, "The Lord is my shepherd.<170> Isaiah (chapter 40) says, "The Sovereign Lord .... will take care of His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs together and carry them in his arms.<170> The children of God, are given into the care of trustworthy men and women, shepherds of the flock. In the history of Israel, when leaders failed to give the example and guidance required, they were often likened to bad shepherds. Ezekiel has a whole chapter (34) using this imagery. God also condemns those leaders of the church whose task it is to care for the flock of God and fail to do their duty. "Be shepherds of the church of God,<170> commands Paul. Leaders must take care of the people in the church.
First "keep watch over yourselves and all the flock<170> so you can be a true shepherd. Check your own life. Timothy was to be minister of the church at Ephesus, so Paul listed to him the qualifications for elders, teachers, and leaders, the shepherds of the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 "If anyone sets his heart on being a church leader, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.<170>
These are the qualities of church leaders, elders, lay preachers and counsellors - be shepherds of the flock. I rejoice at the way our shepherds are growing in this church at Wesley Mission.
2. PROTECT THE FLOCK
The shepherds of the church are to protect the flock. It is the responsibility of the Elders and other leaders to provide protection, support, love and care. Paul said that attacks will come from two directions. One will be from outside. "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.<170> Jesus said that the unworthy shepherd (John 10:12) "leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.<170>
The other attack will come from within. There will be liars and false teachers. "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.<170> In the Seven Letters to the Churches in Revelation, the church at Ephesus was praised: Revelation 2:2-3 "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.<170> The Church at Ephesus tested leadership and protected the believers from attacks both outside and inside.
3. BE ON YOUR GUARD
Difficult times were ahead for the church at Ephesus. "So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.<170> He wanted to strengthen the Leaders. "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing.<170>
Paul's desire was that the Elders would grow in maturity so that they could help others mature in their faith. He had been an example to them.
1. He commends them to the care of God. Whatever they do is under the watchful eye of the Lord.
2. They must learn the word of grace. They must study the message of God's love in the Scriptures.
3. They must seek no personal reward. Paul had not wanted silver or gold or clothing, like the priests and astrologers had made a great deal of money manipulating the lives of the people.
Paul is saying: Now that you have become Elders, do your work without pay. Later on, it became a test in the church that if any man tried to receive money for his work as an Elder, it was a sign that he was not a true shepherd. Paul was quite entitled to receive payment for his service, but he is anxious to set an example. "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.<170> What is true for Elders generally is certainly true of the Elders in Wesley Mission. They give free service to build up other Christians. "We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'<170> We must help the weak, those who are young in their faith, or weak in their faith, those who are disturbed in their faith - help them to be stronger. He quotes the direct words of Jesus that are not found anywhere else: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'
Like the Apostle Paul, I commend you to the grace of God, encourage you to study the Bible, and work seeking no personal reward. You are to build up the faith of the weak and find true happiness in giving. At the docks in Miletus the leaders of the church met with Paul, prayed together, even cried together. Then Paul went on his way to more dangers, arrest and imprisonment. The Church leaders went back to the Church in Ephesus.
To church leaders: rededicate your lives to helping others mature in the faith. To those still growing in the faith: receive your elders and leaders so they help you grow. To those not yet Christian, give your heart to Christ, respond to the Gospel, and mature in your Christian faith.
Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes
Return to TRA home page