Saturday, May 27, 2023

2023.05.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 20:29–38

Read Acts 20:29–38

Questions from the Scripture text: How sure is the apostle about what he is saying (Acts 20:29)? To what time is he referring? Who will come in among whom? What won’t they do? From among whom will another problem arise (Acts 20:30)? What will these men speak? What will this do to the disciples? What two things must these elders, therefore, do (Acts 20:31)? What are they to remember him doing? For how long? How frequently? To whom? In what manner? If they heed his instruction, to Whom will they be entrusting themselves (Acts 20:32)? And to what? What is this God, by this Word, able to do to them? And to give them? Who are going to receive this inheritance? What hasn’t the apostle done (Acts 20:33)? What do they know that he did instead (Acts 20:34)? What was he trying to do in every way (Acts 20:35)? Who else must do this? What are they to remember, to encourage them in this? After his parting words, what does he do with them (Acts 20:36)? How do all of them respond (Acts 20:37)? For which words did they sorrow the most (Acts 20:38)? Then what did they do?

What are the hope, goal, and pleasure of a faithful minister? Acts 20:29–38 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twelve verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that a faithful minister hopes in God, aims to help the feeble with God’s help, and communicates the goodness of God to the flock. 

Two grievous dangers. Having given his final charge to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, the apostle gives them one final reason to keep it. He has emphasized to them the divine glory that love to God must seek to bring Him. He has emphasized to them the priceless value of those to whom they are to minister. Now, the apostle highlights two grievous dangers that repeatedly threaten the churches.

In this case, the two dangers are not merely threatening the church as they do in perennial fashion, but the apostle knows that the Ephesian congregation is about to face both dangers, after he departs.

The first danger is that savage wolves would come in among them, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29). The apostle here uses the language of Jesus in Matthew 7:15 to describe false prophets, who themselves bear false fruit and whose followers will be condemned by the Lord in the last day (cf. Matthew 7:16–23). 

Often, people come into the church hungry for acclaim, hungry for admiration, hungry to appear to be something. They may even learn to use the language of the church, “in Your Name did we not…” But faithful shepherds and safe sheep are not identifiable by spectacular works but by obedient ones.

The second danger is like it, except for this time it is not ravenous wolves coming in from outside but misguided and misguiding elders arising from within. “From among yourselves men” in Acts 20:30 are sobering words. The word “men,” is the male-specific word and indicates that the apostle means that this second danger arises quite specifically from among the elders. 

Elders are supposed to guide straightly through the Word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:16). But, they are tempted instead to word-battle (cf. 2 Timothy 2:14) or babble or speak that which is empty noise (cf. 2 Timothy 2:16). Anything that isn’t straight according to the Scriptures is a twisting away or making crooked—what NKJ translates here as “speaking perverse things.” The language specifically recalls what Paul said to Elymas in Acts 13:10, when that man spoke things to turn Sergius Paulus away from hearing the Word of God.

Sadly, there are disciples in the churches that if one of the elders begins speaking things other than the Word, these disciples are drawn away after the one man (end of Acts 20:30). Considering what Paul has said about innocence of blood, this is quite dreadful both for the elder in question and for the disciples who follow after them. 

These are not new dangers. They existed even at the time that Paul himself was ministering in Ephesus. For, he ties the reminder in Acts 20:31 to the warning in Acts 20:29-30 with the word “therefore.” It was precisely because side-track teaching is so frequent and so dangerous that Paul himself had constantly warned. And he had warned everyone. And he had done this night and day. And he had done this for three years. Most of all, he had done this with tears. Tears over the danger, and tears over the reality that some of the flock would be lost. Some of those to whom he ministered would hear from Jesus on the last day, “depart from Me; I never knew you.”

A Great Hope. The apostle had charged them to take heed to themselves and to all the flock, but he was not leaving either them in their own hands or the flock in their hands. Rather, this charge was for them to employ the Word of God has the apostle had done. For, the hope in ministering the Word of God is that the God of the Word will use it. How strengthening and gladdening it is to be able to say, “I commend you to God” (Acts 20:32)! 

Sometimes, we go away for a few days and must leave our dog with someone. How happy we are when we can leave her with someone whom we know has both the character and ability to care for her well. But how much more important is the flock of God, and how much better is His character and greater is His ability than any of ours! Am I a parent with children? Am I an elder with a congregation? Then let me be able to say, “I commend you to God.”

But those will be empty words if we are not doing this commending via God’s own means. We must be able to add, “and to the Word of His grace.” For, He uses His Word to build up His saints. He uses His Word to sanctify them. And therefore He uses His Word to bring them all the way into the inheritance of those who are sanctified. With respect to those who will be damned by straying, the minister sheds great tears. But with respect to the elect, the minister may rejoice to be commending them to God and to the Word of His grace!

Being a Gracious Help. Finally, the apostle hints again at how selfishness in the ministry poses such a threat. He didn’t want any earthly thing from them (Acts 20:33). And perhaps the rest of the congregation did not know how hard he worked, or how much he went without, or how generously he himself supported the ministry, but these elders did (Acts 20:34). “You yourselves know,” said the apostle with respect to all these things.

Why? In part, because there would be a day when he was gone, and he wanted them to remember his model for “laboring” (Acts 20:35). Indeed, the word means to wear oneself out with labor. After all, the weak need it. It simply will not do for the undershepherd to say, “it’s their responsibility; let them do more for themselves.” That’s not the example that Paul set for the Ephesian elders. Indeed, they were to count it a blessing to give their whole selves, rather than to receive anything, just as Jesus had said (end of verse 35, though not recorded in the four gospels). 

At this, their beloved apostle and pastor fell to his knees. He was commending them to God, and now they would hear him doing so, as he “prayed with them all” (Acts 20:36). It is one thing to say that you treasure God above all else. And it is another to labor in such a way that shows it. And it is a third, and important, thing to express it unto God Himself, before His face, in prayer. 

What a marvelous thing this final prayer must have been, after such a speech, concluding their final -conversation in this world! The tears and kisses then flowed freely (Acts 20:37), as they knew that this would be the last time that they would hear that voice charging them or overhear that voice addressing God in their behalf (Acts 20:48). For ministers and flocks in this life, there is always a last time coming for that, when we will see each other’s face no more and hear each other’s voice no more. Only let us seek to be such a gracious help to one another that the tears and kisses would flow freely, if we only knew that it would be the last time in this world.

What are some examples that you have known of each of the two dangers in this passage? When you use the means of grace in private, as a household, and as a congregation, what (Whom!) are you trusting to make the difference? If you don’t use them, then Whom are you not truly trusting? Who is there, for whom you have been trying to carry more, to help them in their weakness?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we are full of thanksgiving to You for giving Yourself to be our Chief Shepherd. Thank You for the Word of Your grace, by which You brought us to faith. Grant that by this same Word, You would build us up, sanctify us, and bring us into the inheritance of the holy ones. Give us the greater blessing of being those who give to others, and make us to be such a help to them as will make the tears and kisses flow, when we must say goodbye for the last time in this world. So now we commend ourselves unto You and to the Word of Your grace, in the Name of the Word Himself, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP23B “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH406 “Jesus, with Thy Church Abide” 

No comments:

Post a Comment