Jun 30 2010 - Caring for the flock of God (Acts 20:18-35)
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 exposition of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-35.
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 Ephesus. So he encourages the elders of the church to take care of the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood (a remarkable phrase). 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 of the opposition the new converts might expect to experience.
The Ephesian elders are to continue this work; 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 is to 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 (Acts 20:19, 31), and the tears of the Ephesians as they said farewell to Paul (20:37-38). Pray for those who have been entrusted with this task that they may indeed be shepherds of God’s flock, following the pattern laid down by Paul, both in example and in the instructions he gave to the Ephesian elders. Above all, pray that they may faithfully reflect the character of the Good Shepherd.