Acts 20:29-38

Sunday Morning Bible Study

September 20, 1998

Introduction

On his way back to Jerusalem, Paul meets with the elders from the church of Ephesus. This group of elders is from the church that is probably dearest to Paul's heart. He's spent more time with the Ephesians than anybody else. Aware that this might be the last time he ever sees them, you know this is going to be an important message.

Paul starts his address by reminding these men of his style of ministry, the content of his message, the strength of his commitment, and then the charged to the elders to watch over the flock God has entrusted to them.

:29 shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

grievous Ė barus Ė heavy in weight; violent, cruel, unsparing; "savage wolves" (NAS); Paul is talking about false teachers.

The reason Paul is telling them to shepherd the flock is to give them protection from the wolves that are coming. A flock without a shepherd is vulnerable to its enemies.

Paulís letter to the Ephesians seven years later would hint at the wolves:

(Eph 5:5-6 KJV) For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. {6} Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.

Lesson:

There are still plenty of wolves out there.

Today we have no lack of wolves that would love to take a believer and snatch them away from a church that teaches the Bible. These are people outside the church wanting to cause damage to the church.

:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things

The problems arenít going to come just from outside the church, but from inside as well. Paul is hinting that some problems could come from within this group of elders themselves.

shall arise Ė future tense. These guys might seem okay at the moment, but things can change, people can change.

perverse Ė diastrepho Ė to distort, turn aside; to turn aside from the right path, to corrupt

Itís some thirty years later (around AD 90) that John writes his letter 1John. Guess where John is at the moment and who is reading his letter? The Ephesians.

(1 John 2:18-19 KJV) Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. {19} They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

I think that perhaps that is why Paul warns the elders to first look after their own hearts (vs.28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock"), because there would be false teachers coming from their own group.

Lesson:

Donít trust in people.

Including me.

I remember a time when Deb and I were trying out different churches, looking for a place to call home. For the first couple of visits to a church, Iíd keep my guard up, examining everything that the pastor would say. But there comes a time when, if youíve stayed at a place long enough, where you begin to get comfortable with the pastorís teaching, and you begin to just accept what he says.

I think that to some extent, this is a good thing. I think it helps you spend more time receiving what God may be wanting to tell you than just continually checking every single thing out.

But thereís a place where you can get too comfortable and neglect being a discerning, careful listener.

Be a Berean. Stay a Berean. Keep checking in the Bible.

(Acts 17:11 KJV) These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

If you donít stay on your toes and stay sharp in the Scriptures, then should someone in a teaching position begin to get a little off base, whoís going to pay attention?

Illustration

On November 18, 1978, in a cleared-out patch of Guyanese jungle, the Reverend Jim Jones ordered the 911 members of his flock to kill themselves by drinking Kool-aid laced with cyanide, and they did.

He supposedly started off as a strong Bible preacher. He eventually stopped preaching the Bible and began to preach Jim Jones.

:30 to draw away disciples after them.

draw away Ė apospao Ė to draw off, tear away

after them Ė itís a great temptation to get people to follow you instead of Jesus.

When you find yourself in a place where God is using you to help other people, itís easy for them to mistake YOU for the LORD. They can fall into the trap of thinking that youíre the one who helped, and the temptation is great to keep them thinking that way.

Lesson:

Keep pointing to Jesus.

John the Baptist had acquired quite a following. But there came a point in his ministry where the crowds started leaving him and following after Jesus. Johnís disciples became concerned.

John 3:26-30 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. {27} John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. {28} Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. {29} He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. {30} He must increase, but I must decrease.

John had the right perspective. His job was to simply be pointing people to Jesus. Jesus is the one that the people need, not me or you.

As someone in a position of helping others, we can get overwhelmed at times with the size of the problems that people are in. But we only get overwhelmed when we think that we are the ones who have to solve the problem. When we realize that they belong to Jesus, not us, then we can breathe a sigh of relief. Jesus is MUCH better at handling their problems than we are.

:32 Commendation

:31 Therefore watch

watch Ė gregoreuo Ė to watch; from egeiro, cause to rise; to arouse from sleep, to awake. Donít go to sleep. Stay awake.

Paul is warning these men to stay awake. And these men would take Paulís warning seriously. When Jesus wrote His letter to the church of Ephesus through the apostle John in the book of Revelation, some 30 + years later, He said,

Rev 2:2-3 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: {3} And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

:31 I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears

Paul was warning these men just as he was encouraging them to warn others.

The problem with having a ministry of "warning" others, it that it can often slip into a cold, cruel, heartless occupation. Instead of warning with tears, we warn by shaking a finger at someone. This is exactly what happened in Ephesus:

Rev 2:4-5 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. {5} Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Lesson:

Warning with tears.

Itís not an uncommon thing for a person to have such a passion for truth, that they walk away from their love for Jesus. They are absolutely correct about everything, but thereís no compassion, not kindness, no sympathy for the weak. They have a passion for truth, but not a passion for Jesus.

Paul too had a ministry of warning people, but his ministry was surrounded with tears (Acts 20:19).

Illustration

Ice Cream Prayer

A mom writes: Last week I took my children to a restaurant. My six-year-old son asked if he could say grace. As we bowed our heads he said, "God is good. God is great. Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And Liberty and justice for all! Amen!" Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby I heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice-cream! Why, I never!". Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?"

As I held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at my son and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer." "Really?" my son asked. "Cross my heart." Then in a theatrical whisper he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."

Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and without a word walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes, and my soul is good already."

I think we ought to be a whole lot less like the woman who felt it necessary to correct the little boy. I think we probably ought to be a whole lot more like the little boy. Have compassion on people.

Illustration

A little girl was late arriving home from school, so her mother began to scold her: "Why are you so late?" "I had to help another girl. She was in trouble." "What did you do to help her?" "Oh, I sat down and helped her cry." -- Anonymous from Forbes Magazine, July 17, 1995, p. 344.

:32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God

commend Ė paratithemi Ė to place beside or near; to entrust, commit to one's charge. Paul knows that there are no better hands to place people in than Godís hands.

:32 and to the word of his grace

Paul is talking about the Word of God here, but more than just the Word, itís the Word of His grace.

Grace is when God gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because He simply wants to give.

Itís all the same Word, but sometimes people tend to focus so much on the parts of the Bible that talk about what weíre supposed to do for God, that they forget that our lives should be focused on what God wants to do for us. Thatís grace.

:32 which is able to build you up

Godís Word helps you to grow.

:32 and to give you an inheritance

Whereas the Israelites in the Old Testament had an inheritance in the land, our inheritance is in heaven (1Pet.1:3-4)

:32 among all them which are sanctified.

sanctified Ė hagiazo Ė to separate from profane things and dedicate to God; to purify. This is also the root idea behind the word "saint", which is one who has been sanctified.

Lesson:

Stay in Godís Word.

Itís the thing that helps keep you growing and takes you through to the finish line of receiving your inheritance from God.

(2 Tim 3:16-17 NLT) All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. {17} It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

Illustration

Butterfly or Bee?

Charles Spurgeon: "To some the Bible is uninteresting and unprofitable because they read too fast. Among the insects which subsist on the sweet sap of flowers, there are two very different classes. One is remarkable for its imposing plumage; and as you watch its jaunty gyrations over the fields, and its dance from flower to flower, you cannot help admiring its graceful activity. But in the same field there is another worker, whose brown vest and businesslike straight-forward flight may not have arrested your eye. His fluttering neighbor darts down here and there, and sips elegantly wherever he can find a drop of ready nectar; but this dingy plodder makes a point of alighting everywhere, and wherever he alights he either finds honey or makes it. He explores all about till he discovers it, and then having ascertained the knack of it, joyful as one who has found great spoil, he sings his way down into its luscious recesses. His rival, of the painted velvet wing, has no patience for such dull and long-winded details. But the one died last October along with the flowers, while the other is warm in his hive tonight, amid the fragrant stores which he gathered beneath the bright beams of summer.

"To which do you belong--the butterflies or the bees? Do you search the Scriptures, or do you only skim them? Do you dwell on a passage till you bring out some meaning, or till you can carry away some memorable truth or immediate lesson? Or do you flit along on heedless wing, only on the lookout for novelty? Does the Word of God dwell in you richly, that in the vigils of a restless night, or in the bookless solitude of a sick room, or in the winter of old age or exclusion from ordinances, its treasured truths would perpetuate summer round you and give you meat to eat which the world knows not of?"

Another person has put it like this:

A Bible that's falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn't. -- Christian Johnson. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.

:33-35 Paulís example of working

:33 I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel

Apparently there had been some people who had claimed that Paul was out to make money (2Cor.12:17). After all, heís on his way to Jerusalem with a collection heís taken from all the churches. Heís going to give the money to the poor in Jerusalem.

:34 these hands have ministered unto my necessities

Paulís habit was to support himself by working as a tent maker.

:35 I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak

showed you Ė hupodeiknumi Ė to show by placing under (i.e. before) the eyes. They knew these things to be true by the example Paul had led in front of them.

Paulís rule in the churches was that a person needed to work hard to support themselves.

2 Th 3:6-10 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. {7} For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; {8} Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: {9} Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. {10} For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Illustration

God will provide

I know I just shared this illustration Wednesday night, but it makes the point.

A young man gets engaged to a young woman and goes to meet her parents over dinner. After dinner the father takes the young man into the drawing room to find out his plans for life with his daughter. "So, what are your plans?" The father asks the fiancé. "I am a Biblical Scholar" he replies "A Biblical Scholar. Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice home for my daughter to live in, as she deserves?" The father asks. "I will study" the young man replies "...God will provide for us." "And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?" The father asks. "I will concentrate on my studies, God will provide for us." the young man replies. "And children" the father asks "how will you support your children?" "Don't worry sir" the young man replies "God will provide." The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father asks a question the young man insists that God will provide. Later, the mother asks about the discussion, "So, how did it go?" The father replies "He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I'm God."

Itís not uncommon for our unbelieving family members to wonder the same things as the dad when we arenít working and are just claiming that "God will provide".

labouring Ė kopiao Ė to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief); to labour with wearisome effort, to toil

I was talking recently with a person who said that they werenít sure they should work forty hours a week because they got so tired. Thatís the whole point. Youíre supposed to be tired after work!

support Ė antilambanomai Ė hold fast to anything to take; to embrace; to help

Godís desire is not that we just work hard to support ourselves, but that we also work to support those who are in need, those who are "weak". (Eph.4:28)

Lesson:

Work hard!

When we start developing the attitude, "the world owes me!", then weíve got a problem. Weíre out of sync with Jesus. Jesus doesnít want us concerned with what others should be giving to us, but what we should be giving to others.

:36 Saying farewells

:36 he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.

I often wish that we would kneel more when we worship or pray.

Illustration

The great preacher H. A. Ironside told of visiting a godly Irishman, Andrew Frazer, who had come to southern California to recover from a serious illness. Though quite weak, he opened his worn Bible and began expounding the deep truths of God in a way that Ironside had never heard before. Ironside was so moved by Frazer's words that he asked him, "Where did you get these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would open them up to me? Did you learn them in some seminary or college?" The sickly man gave an answer that Ironside said he would never forget. "My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world."

:37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him,

I find it interesting that they all wept. Not just some of them, but all of them. This says to me that Paul was very close and very dear to these people.