Jun 30 2013 - Acts 20:1-38 – Caring for the flock of God
Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and knows that he is likely to be taken captive and will not have the freedom to return to many of the churches among whom he has ministered. At Troas the Christians met together with Paul on the first day of the week – celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as they broke bread together. Paul, knowing that his time with these believers would be limited, preached well into the night. At about midnight, a young man fell asleep and slipped from a window on the third floor, falling to the street. Many thought him dead, but Paul placed his hands on him and picked him up, alive and well. He then returned to the upper room and continued to speak to those gathered there until dawn. Both apostle and congregation had a deep longing to spend time with one another and encourage each other.
Paul had no time to return to Ephesus so he sent a message to the elders of the church to meet with him at the port of Miletus.
One of the finest books on the work of the Christian minister is The Reformed Pastor, written by Richard Baxter in the seventeenth century. His work is an extended practical exposition of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-35.
Paul encouraged the elders of the church to take care of the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood (a remarkable phrase which finds an echo in some of our great hymns). Paul also reminds them of the example of care that he set for them when he laboured at Ephesus for more than three years. He was not greedy for anyone’s money – he did not minister to line his own pockets. He was careful to teach them everything needful, instructing them both publicly and teaching each family in their own homes (an example followed by Richard Baxter). His message focussed on repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus, and included clear warnings concerning the opposition the new converts might expect to experience.
The Ephesian elders are to continue the work begun by Paul, caring for those over whom the Holy Spirit has given them oversight. Paul warns them to be vigilant, for there will be those who, like fierce wolves, will seek to prey on the flock: there would even be those from within the flock who would seek to lead others astray. But the elders will not be left to do this work on their own. The Holy Spirit who appointed them to this task will equip and empower them for it: Paul entrusts them to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all God’s holy people.
The work of the pastor remains vital to the welfare of the church of God. It is a difficult, demanding and serious task, particularly in this highly individualistic age. It should be characterised by bonds of deep affection between pastor (shepherd) and flock. We see such affection in the tears with which Paul ministered among the Ephesians (20:19, 31), and the tears of the Ephesians as they said farewell to Paul (20:37-38).
Lord Jesus, we pray that those who have been entrusted with the task of caring for your flock, may be good and faithful shepherds. May they follow the pattern laid down by the Apostle Paul, both by example and in the instructions he gave to the Ephesian elders. Above all, we pray that they may faithfully reflect the character of the Good Shepherd. May we always encourage and support them in the work to which you have called them.