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Elders? Acts 20:13-38


Paul’s Charge to the Ephesian Elders

Text: Acts 20:13-38 1 Timothy 3:1ff , 1

Paul is leaving Ephesus, never to return, and the elders will be responsible for the local church, and will answer to God for their stewardship of the people. So, who and what were these ‘elders’ and what was Paul saying to them about their role in the church?

Elders? What are they and what do they do in the church?

1 A Description of Eldership. 1st Timothy 3:1  

There are several passages throughout the NT that speak of eldership.  The Brethren call them ‘overseers.’ And they refer to the local church leadership as ‘the oversight,’  They are correct.  According to Paul, the office of a bishop is to be desired. 1 Timothy 3:1 Such service must be a definite, all-consuming call in a man’s life before he can ever be considered for such a position. So how will the church assess the suitability of a bishop/shepherd?  

  • He must be faithful in his marriage. the husband of one wife. Fairly clear instruction. One that certainly rules out women, and  people with ‘partners.’  
  • He must have good self-control. vigilant, sober, of good behaviour He must keep a clear head, be sensible and self disciplined! How can a man govern the church if he cannot even control himself?
  • He must be hospitable. Given to hospitality Literally, he will have a love for strangers! Titus 1:7-8.  
  • He must be able to teach. apt to teach Essentially, the Christian pastor is, first and foremost a teacher! His office is not ceremonial or sacramental, he is to be an instructor in righteousness!  And, women do not teach in the gathered assembly, 1 Timothy 3:11 – 12  Furthermore…
  • His attitude to alcohol must be correct. Paul writes, Not given to wine Wine makes the mind befuddled, and a Christian teacher needs a clear mind! Christian leaders are to be examples to others!
  • His temperament must be suitable. no striker but patient, not a brawler, not covetousA gentle pastor will never be violent or a bully! His patience may be sorely tried, but he will not retaliate!
  • His attitude to money. not greedy of filthy lucre1 Timothy 6:10  Acts 20:32-34. 
  • His home and family life. One that rules well his own house,   A minister must always be the head of his own home.  
  • His spiritual maturity. Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. The danger here is that if a man is appointed to the ministry too soon after his conversion, he may well fall into the sin of pride.
  • His reputation. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; An outward reputation with unbelievers. Remember that the world is watching how Christians live their lives, and the bishop therefore must lead by example in his life.

Having then fulfilled all these criteria, the bishop must be formally set apart for his duties – we call that ORDINATION. Paul told Titus that he was to ordain elders IN EVERY CHURCH. Titus 1:5 

2 The Duties of Eldership. He desireth a good work.

Paul told Timothy that to be a Bishop is a GOOD WORK. James 2:20  For a bishop, everything is taken the extra mile! If every Christian is to be engaged in Good Works, then more so the Bishop!  Specifically, to the elders from Ephesus, Paul reminds them in his farewell address, that they have these God-given responsibilities within the church.  He reminds them:-

  • To be aware of the spiritual condition of the church.  Acts 20:28   This will involve:-
    • Personal examination.  1 Timothy 4:16  
    • Pastoral examination.  This is one of the real reasons for the pastor to be out and about among the flock. There is a great case here for pastoral visitation in a spiritual sense.  To catechise from home to home, to enquire into the spiritual wellbeing of every home.  That leads us to the elders’ next duty…
  • Be Alert!  31   Watch and remember.  Keep watch over the flock.  What kind of a shepherd would it be who would abandon the sheep to pursue his own pleasures, or to be careless about his guardianship?  
  • Be compassionate.  35  The shepherd watches the flock, guards the flock and continually moves among them because he loves the flock as Christ loved the church.  

3 The Dangers of Eldership.

Flocks are always in danger of attack.  I suppose even today this is the case, but more so in that days of Paul.  The shepherd would have to protect the flock from wild animals, – especially from wolves – fierce hungry beasts, with no mercy or pity descending upon helpless sheep, with only a shepherd, an elder to stand between the sheep and their terrifying foes who with rip them to shreds.  

  • The danger of wolves.  29 
    • Their ferocity.  They are savage beasts.  AMP: 29 I know that after I am gone, [false teachers like] ferocious wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock
    • Their intention.  30 Unlike Paul whose ministry was supported by his own labour, and who had no ambition to obtain wealth from the churches, these wolves would draw away people after themselves, and they would feed upon them – that’s what wolves do!  I’m always suspicious of so called pastors and apostles and religious leaders who gain great wealth from their work among God’s church.  
  • The danger of internal conflict. 30  

Paul was right to caution these Ephesian elders of the dangers that would confront any godly man who attempts to lead with the same measure of integrity that Paul had demonstrated in his own ministry among them. Revelation 2:2  The church at Ephesus had suffered just as Paul had warned.  Men claiming to be apostles had come among them, or perhaps had even come from among their own number, to lead them astray – but thankfully these elders had been well warned by Paul, and they had ‘tried’ these men, tested them, weighed up their message against the scriptures and found them wanting – they were liars!  

So the time of parting has finally come.  Paul must leave and the Ephesians will not see his face again, and there is great sorrow among them. V36  

From → Acts

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