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Leadership #8 - Acts 20

Giving Elders Perspective
Acts 20:25-35

Teaching Moments

1. Acts 20:17-35 is Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesians elders. Paul met the "elders of the church" at Miletus and said his "goodbye". He did not expect to see them again due to the hostility he would experience in Jerusalem.

2. In the first section of our text (verses 25-27) Paul summarizes his ministry as an evangelist among the Ephesians. It is characterized as a "preaching [hearlding] of the kingdom" [the reign of God]; it is an proclaiming [annoucing] of the whole counsel of God to the Ephesian church. Paul has been faithful to his responsibilities as a proclaimer and thus is free from the blood-guilt of his associates ("all men"). Paul summarized this ministry in Acts 20:20 as "proclaiming and teaching publicly and house to house."

3. However, in verses 28-31, Paul addresses the responsibilities of the elders in relation to the church at Ephesus. The first imperative is to "take heed, keep watch" over two groups: (a) themselves (elders to watch after each other) and (b) the flock (church). Elders are not immune to apostasy and acting like wolves among their own flock. They are to watch over the flock to protect them from wolves--those who would destroy the flock.

4. As we see, elders are to watch out for wolves as good shepherds. The wolves here are particularly people who will arise out of the elders themselves and they will "distort the truth" for the sake of their own following. We do not know the content of "distort the truth" but we see the motive clearly. It is motivated by a desire for "disciples"--people who will follow them rather than the Lord. They are more concerned about themselves than they are the flock. Paul warned them about this prospect even while he was with them the whole three years (20:31).

5. Again, in this text, like in 1 Peter 5:1-4, we have three key descriptions of these leaders: elders (20:17), bishops or overseers (20:28) and shepherds (20:28). These leaders are presbyters (elders), bishops (overseers) and pastors (shepherds).

6. There is an interesting phrase here in Acts 20:28. The Holy Spirit makes overseers. This is a debated expression as to its exact meaning. There are several options. (1) The Holy Spirit directly appointed these leaders by some prophetic vision or voice. (2) The Holy Spirit led the church to select these leaders. (3) The Holy Spirit through the apostle appointed these leaders. I am inclined to #2 and it assumes that God is at work in a community to raise up leaders through his Holy Spirit, much like he did in the Old Testament. But just because these leaders are selected by the Holy Spirit through the community does not mean they are permanently sanctioned. Rather, even some shepherds selected by the Holy Spirit can become wolves. Even one of those whom Jesus selected was of Satan (that is, Judas). Yet, this points to the confidence that a community can have in a collective decision, under the Word of God and out of love, to trust its decision and trust that God will use it to his glory. Thus, when a church selects its leaders in harmony with the Word of God and out of sincere desire to glorify the Father, we may say that the Holy Spirit led the community to select these leaders.

7. The third section of our text (20:32-35) may speak broadly to the church, but I think is still mainly focused on the leadership. What does Paul want the leadership to learn from his example? Leaders should not covet money, but rather should support the weak. It speaks to the kind of orientation leaders should have. They are to be givers rather than receivers; and they are to take joy in their giving, as the saying of Jesus reminds us.

8. Paul "commends" or "commits" them to God and his grace (20:32). Paul warns them, but also seeks protection from the danger through God's grace. Thus, he prays for them (20:36) as well as teaching them.

Group Discussion

1. After reading 20:18-21and 25-27, how does Paul describe his evangelistic ministry within the Ephesian church? What are some of the key words and phrases?

2. How would you paraphrase Paul's summary of the gospel (20:21) to explain the faith to someone?

3. Why does Paul emphasize how he lived among them? How does he emphasize this as well to the elders in 20:33-35?

4. What does "keep watch" mean? What are the two things they are to watch out for in verses 29-30?

5. How does the divine appointment as elders highlight the seriousness of their responsibility?

6. How does Paul fight against the danger of some viewing the eldership as a way of gaining power and wealth?

7. Why does Paul end his discussion on "money" and "giving"? What is it about elders that makes this an appropriate concern or issue? How does Paul address the problem with these words?

8. What would you say are the primary responsibilities of shepherds in this text?

9. Suppose you had the Cordova elders in front of you today--what charge would you give them based on this text and appropriate for our context? How would you complete this sentence…."Watch out for ________________" and "Pay attention to __________________" [Paul filled in the blanks as "wolves" and "the weak".]

10. To what aspect of the function of elders do the following words apply? (1) elders [older men]. (2) pastors (shepherds). (3) bishops (overseers). How are each of these terms used to illustrate the function of these leaders?


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