Saturday, November 12, 2016

Shepherds, Sheep, and Wolves (Part 2 of 2)

Shepherds, Sheep, and Wolves
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, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)
Why Pastors Do It (vs. 29-30)
Pastors do what they do because there are serious dangers to the church. Souls hang in the very balance. John Piper has written, “What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell.”
Dangers from outside (vs. 29)
     There are many dangers and the sheep do not always recognize them. False teachers and false doctrine must be watched for. These wolves are fierce. They seek to devour and destroy the sheep. How do they do this? They infiltrate churches and spread false teachings or deny key doctrines. They may deny the deity of Christ, God's judgment, or the power of the gospel. Or they may teach salvation by works or other perversions.
      Pastors must be aware and watchful. False teachers do not advertise that they are false. It is their doctrine and maybe their lives that betray them. Churches need caring and faithful elders to protect and ward off the enemy. Churches need pastors that will watch and pay attention, who will remain alert and vigilant. Pastors also need to be able to recognize danger and be bold enough to confront it.
      The sad reality is that sheep are often unaware. They may even be oblivious to danger or preoccupied. Sheep need shepherds. With that said, sheep need to trust their pastors and follow their leadership. Discernment ought to be exercised so the sheep do not fall for everything they hear. Also, the sheep need to realize that the dangers from outside the church are a reality, they are real threats and can do real damage.
Dangers from inside (vs. 30)
      That dangers exist outside the church and try to enter in, should be obvious enough. But Paul also warns of the danger of men rising up from within the church that spread false teaching. Every church member needs to consider asking themselves, “is it I?” A good shepherd points and leads the flock to Christ. The false shepherds, or hirelings, point to themselves. Paul said that they try to draw men away “after them.” These false teachers speak twisted things. They are unbiblical and only cause harm. They do not have the interest of the sheep in mind. They lead the sheep away from the truth and fail to nourish or benefit the sheep.
     This is another reality that shepherds need to be aware of. They must be on guard. However, false teachers and false doctrine can be used by God. God is so amazing that he can glorify himself and edify his church through those who seek only to mislead and do harm to the church. God will be glorified.
      How does God bring himself glory and sanctify the church? First, the truth shines brighter when under attack. Second, when false teaching is present, the truth is focused on, rediscovered, and solidified. Third, when that which is false is combated by the truth, people may be converted, thus demonstrating the power of God and the gospel. Fourth, when truth is attacked, true believers become united and gain strength from each other. Fifth, false doctrine has a purifying affect and tends to separate the sheep from the goats or the wheat from the tares. Finally, sixth, when false teaching is present, God's people are driven to God's word which edifies, builds up, sanctifies, cleanses, and convicts.
     All of this means that the word of God is and must be central. Everything that a church does ought to come from Scripture. God's word is to govern every aspect of our lives. The word of God has to be proclaimed, read, heard, and obeyed.
From this text it has been shown what a pastor is to do and why. What has been described is the pastor churches are to desire. Do not follow a hireling. Know that there are wolves; be alert and mindful. These wolves often masquerade in sheep's clothing, but sometimes there are wolves in shepherd's clothing. Be on guard.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Shepherds, Sheep, and Wolves (Part 1 of 2)

Shepherds, Sheep, and Wolves
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, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)
Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and is finishing his final missionary journey. He desired to be there for Pentecost. He has been visiting churches along the way that he has ministered to and started in the past. Because of his time restraint, he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at a specified place. Paul knew that if he was to travel to Ephesus that he would not make it to Jerusalem on time. He had ministered there for over three years and shared a special bond with them.
      When they arrived, Paul rehearsed his past with them, encouraged them for the present, and instructed them for the future. Paul related how he preached to them the whole counsel of God and did not shrink away from proclaiming the truth. He shared how he called Jews and Greeks to repentance and faith in Christ. He then revealed that they would not see him again because the Spirit has testified that he would be bound and afflicted. Since he thought that this was the end and that he would not see the Ephesians again, Paul encouraged the elders to guard themselves, guard the flock, be aware of the dangers that will come, and to remain faithful to the word of God which sanctifies and edifies.
      It is interesting to note that Paul called only for the elders of the church. He did not call the entire church. The elders are the leaders and Paul wished to encourage them as they lead the church. It is not as though he did not care for the other brothers and sisters, he desired to meet with the shepherds, those who care for the sheep. Another interesting point is that we see a plurality of elders in this church. This is the New Testament pattern. God raised up multiple men to shepherd his congregations.
What Pastors Do (vs. 28)
It had eyes lifted to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back. It stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.”
       This quote is taken from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Christian had traveled to the House of the Interpreter in which he was shown many wonderful things that were to aid him on his journey. The first thing he was shown was a picture of a pastor. The quote describes what a pastor looks like and does. It is very descriptive and biblical.
Pay attention to self
      The first thing that the text teaches elders to do is pay attention to themselves. If Paul instructed these men to pay attention, this would imply that there are dangers, concerns, and things to watch for. This takes effort. Elders are to guard themselves, examine their hearts and lives. They must be mindful of apathy, depression, pride, temptations, weaknesses, people pleasing, carelessness, and discouragement. Upon discovering these and other sins, elders must repent and pray for forgiveness and mercy.
      Part of paying attention to self would include family. Pastors are to guard their families since they are his responsibility and part of the flock. The families of pastors face the same dangers and temptations as other believers. A good pastor ministers to his family and tries not to neglect them. He prays for them, studies God's word with them, prays with them, leads them, seeks to be an example of Christ for them, spends time with them, and grows with them.
      Pastors ought to be humble, growing in Christlikeness, men of prayer, repentant before God and the people, holy, dedicated, dependable, disciplined, and faithful. These marks should be striven for. These are the goals every elder should desire to achieve. A pastor that does not pay attention to himself is useless to a flock. Guard against sin, do not become disqualified.
      I pray that you sit under a pastor that pays attention. Pray for your pastors. Pastors are under attack. And if a pastor preaches and teaches the whole counsel of God and proclaims the gospel, theses attacks will be intensified. People do not like the gospel or doctrine. So, pray that the Lord bless and encourage your pastor. Pray that God will grant him the grace to remain faithful and to persevere until the end. Pray that your pastor would be aware of the dangers and conscious of temptations.
Pay attention to sheep
     Paul encouraged the elders to also pay attention to the flock and “care for the church of God.” This means that pastors are to care for their people's souls. They are to oversee, govern, watch over, protect, feed, lead, nourish, bandage, tend to needs, pray, listen, guide, mourn with, rejoice with, and provide security for the people of God. This too takes a conscious effort and must be done through the word of God.
      Pastors have not taken this responsibility upon themselves. The text reveals that the Holy Spirit has made men elders. It is the Spirit that equips, prepares, calls, and sends. Pastors are God appointed and anointed leaders of his church. He has provided so graciously for the church. This implies that the church cannot care for itself. The sheep simply are unable to lead and feed themselves. It implies further that churches need elders. Pastors are needed to care for the church.
      God has a special love for his church. God obtained, or purchased, the church with his blood. A life was given for payment. This life was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. This verse teaches both the humanity and the deity of Christ. He is God, yet he is man because he shed his blood for his bride. This is the glorious gospel. Christ, who is God, took on flesh. He lived in perfect obedience to the law and offered himself as a substitutionary atonement in the place of sinners. Now, all those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation, will be saved from the just wrath and judgment of God.
      The passage before us uses imagery of a shepherd and sheep. It is very helpful to explain the relationship between a pastor and his congregation. The shepherd leads and the sheep follow. The shepherd feeds and the sheep eat. The shepherd leads to water and the sheep drink. The shepherd protects, warns, disciplines, and watches and the sheep are better for it. This is a beautiful relationship. There is an intimacy and a closeness. Both the shepherd and the sheep benefit. The benefits for the sheep are obvious and have been spelled out. The shepherd benefits from milk and wool from the sheep and companionship. In other words, pastors fellowship with the saints and are encouraged and provided for. Both receive the blessing.