Rev. Erik Veerman
Shepherd the Flock
Take a moment to think about all the ways in which God’s people are to support one another.
• Encouragement in Christ when we’re down.
• Godly wisdom in the midst of conflict.
• We’re to comfort each other when grieving
• Praying for each other.
• Help to discern truth (God’s truth) from error.
• Challenging one another when tempted to sin or stuck in a pattern of sin.
• Helping when needs arise.
• Identifying cultural idols and how to avoid them.
• Knowing and applying God’s Word in relationships and in ministry.
• The list could go on.
One of the beautiful things about the body of Christ is how God uses each of us to minister to each of us. As you know, it’s never perfect. We should strive to mature in our love and care for one another. Strive to grow in our understanding of God’s call in these areas. Why? Because it’s the local church that is God’s ordained means for the care of his people in these areas and more.
And all of this needs to be overseen by and modeled by the elders of the local church. “Overseen by” meaning the elders of the church are spiritually responsible for the care of God’s people and ministries. And “modeled by” meaning the elder’s lives need to point to Christ as they participate in and lead in these areas.
To say it in a different way – It’s a joint effort. Each of you is given different gifts in order to minister to one another. The elder’s role is to spiritually support, spiritually protect, and spiritually guide the church. It begins with the Gospel in his own life.
That’s the message of these verses. The apostle Paul had ministered alongside the church in Ephesus for three years. This is the last time that he will be with them. He wanted to remind the elders of their spiritual responsibility.
This is kind of like a commencement speech. Have you every been to a high school or college graduation? The speaker’s message is usually a “go forth and do this” or “be this” or “know this.” This is similar. Especially the second half of Paul’s message. Paul was commissioning the elders – exhorting them in God’s call in their role.
Now, you may be thinking “this doesn’t really apply to me… I’m not an elder… or I don’t want to be an elder… can’t be one. I’m just going to tune out.” I get it, but let me tell you why this is important to all of us.
• First, this is how God has ordered his church. Back in chapter 15, we saw how the elders came together to address a broader church-wide theological matter. And here in chapter 20, the role of elder is specifically applied to the local church. Knowing God’s vision for the local church will help each of us understand and support that ordained vision.
• Second, when you are struggling with something, when you need spiritual help and prayer, knowing the role and responsibly of your elders will help when either you come to them or why they are reaching out to you.
• And third – these verses help you know how to pray for your elders in their role… and as part of that help identify men who may be qualified as elders.
So, this sermon is for all of us. And if you look in your bulletin, you’ll see where we are headed. The outline serves both as a summary and a structure. It’s sort of in sentence form, so let me read it and if you would, follow along.
“To the elders appointed by God who oversee his church: (1) shepherd the flock of God for Christ has died for her, (1a) carefully attending to your own faith and practice in Christ, (1b) protecting her from spiritual attacks opposed to Christ, (1c) caring for, praying for, and ministering to her needs in Christ, (2) all through His Word and Spirit unto eternity.”
One thing is clear in these verses: God is the one who chooses elders. It says it right there in verse 28, “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” The word for elder and overseer in the Greek are used interchangeably in the New Testament… including this chapter. Yes, God uses his people to identify qualified elders and his church to appoint elders, but it is God who is at work in that process.
The role of elder is God-ordained. This is God’s design for his church. And notice the word “overseer” is plural –“overseers.” Pastor Chuck reminded us last week of the Biblical idea of a plurality of elders. Multiple elders, like here in Ephesus, spiritually overseeing the church.
That’s all helpful background – how God’s plan for the local church includes elders.
And the big idea here… the main question of these verses is this “what are God’s intended responsibilities for his elders?” It’s an important question because if we apply the world’s vision of leadership to the church, it often leads to a misunderstanding or misapplication of the Biblical role of elders in the church.
Shepherd the flock of God for Christ has died for her
Let me step back for a moment. I want to do something different this morning than I usually do. Usually as we work through a text of Scripture; we first look at how it applies to the original situation; then how it applies to us… and finally how various aspects of the Gospel are worked out. The Gospel being the work of Christ in our salvation.
Well, I want to flip that around today and begin with the Gospel. Look at the end of verse 28. “… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained by his own blood!” It’s right there. The foundation of all of this, the foundation of the church, the foundation of the elder’s responsibly… its all Christ.
If you are a believer in Jesus as your Savior. If you’ve turned your life to him and he is your Lord:
• Then you are his and you are part of his church.
• He bought you with an infinite price. That price was his blood which he shed for you on the cross.
• The debt that you couldn’t pay was paid.
• You have been ransomed and redeemed
You are a child of the King. All the blessings and benefits of being a child of God, being united to him are yours in Christ. And one of the great benefits is being part of his flock – his fold. The imagery here is of sheep and a shepherd.
Jesus has taught over and over that he is the great shepherd. He cares for and protects and saves his sheep. He pursues his lost sheep. He fends off wolves. And as the great shepherd, as he says in John 10:11, he laid down his life for his sheep.
This is foundational to understanding the role and responsibility of an elder. Paul was saying to them, “you are called to shepherd the flock. It’s not ultimately your flock, it’s God’s flock. He is the great shepherd. As he has gone before you as the great shepherd, so you are called to shepherd, and lead and serve.”
Shepherd the flock of God for Christ has died for her (he’s died for you if you are his by faith).
If you look back at the outline – you’ll see three main responsibilities of elders from these verses. And each responsibility is connected to this – to Christ – to His Gospel. That’s what it all goes back to. In other words, Jesus is the foundation, the example, and the motivation for the role of elder.
Let’s take those three responsibilities one at a time.
Carefully attending to your own faith and practice in Christ
First, carefully attend to your own faith and practice in Christ. I mean, that’s right where Paul begins in these verses. The first 5 words. “Pay careful attention to yourselves.” He’s referring to their own lives and practice. The most important responsibility that an elder has …is his own life. It is the most important - his devotion to Christ, his character, his beliefs about God and the Gospel.
There are two texts of Scripture that specifically talk about the role of elder. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And do you know what’s interesting? Both of those passages are about the qualification of elders. They are about his life and heart. Here are some of those qualifications. First from Paul’s first letter to Timothy “[He must be] above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” Paul wrote a similar list in Titus but adds this: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
The picture we’re given of the elder in God’s church is a man who faithfully seeks to live his life according to God’s Word; who is humble and teachable, caring and thoughtful; one who knows the Word of God and is able to teach it and defend it.
This faith and practice emanate out of a love for Christ and His flock - someone who sees Jesus’ model of humility and servant leadership as the role model for the elders in Jesus’ church. And also, the apostle Paul modeled this for them. Jump down to verse 33. He says, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.”
If Paul lived today… maybe he would have had an old flip-phone… A laptop that was 10 years old. A car with 300,000 miles on it… and getting his clothes at Goodwill… Honestly, we don’t know exactly how this worked out in his life, but he was certainly not a lover of money or things. His life was committed to the Gospel. Paul modeled, as Jesus did, humility for the elders.
An elder carefully attends to his own life and practice in and through Christ. That’s first and primary.
Protecting her from spiritual attacks opposed to Christ
These next two responsibilities come out of that next little phrase in verse 28 “Pay careful attention… to all the flock” Watch over yourself, first and foremost, but then watch over the flock of God. I know we’ve been mostly parked in verse 28. But it’s like the springboard for the rest of these verses.
Pay careful attention to the flock in two ways.
1. Protecting the church from spiritual attacks opposed to Christ, and
2. Caring for, praying for, and minister to her needs in Christ
These are the next two elder responsibilities listed in the outline. They come from the next few verses. Look at 29 and 30. Fierce wolves “will come in among you not sparing the flock” and verse 30 – “even among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things.”
We’re talking spiritual attacks from inside and from outside the flock. Lies and false hopes. “Twisted things.” You know, its usually not the up-front false worldly philosophy that draws people away from the Gospel. No, rather, it’s when the truth is twisted. Slightly. Where it may sound good, but the truth has been compromised. This is what the devil wants to do – pervert the truth. It’s what he did back in the beginning – Genesis 3. You see, it’s those subtle things that twist the Gospel truth – or twist Biblical morality… like around matters of sexuality… that draw sheep away from the fold.
That’s why Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to “be alert” verse 31. In other words:
• Stand up for truth
• Be firm on the Gospel of grace
• Don’t let the wolves come in and steal away the sheep with deceit, with false teaching about salvation and righteousness, through the latest cultural idols
• Don’t let the wolves in sheep’s clothing draw away the sheep with twisted truth
• Be alert… know and live the righteousness that God calls us to in Christ.
To be a shepherd, you had to be one tough dude. Think of king David. As a shepherd boy, he killed lions and bears. 1 Samuel 17 verses 34-36.
Imagine being a shepherd. You have your staff – your shepherd’s crook. What do you do if it’s night and you hear the faint howl a wolves, and then see their shadowy figures approaching and surrounding your sheep?
A few years ago, we were on one of our RV camping trips. I remember it was late at night. We were in a very remote place. And we started hearing coyote calls. They got closer and closer. I took a flashlight and out of the front window I could see these beady eyes staring back at me 30 yards away. In a panic, I was like, lets lock the windows and doors and close the bathroom roof hatch… as if a coyote could open a door or window or climb onto the roof! Of course, we were safe. But I’m not quite sure what I would have done if we were outside in a tent!
A good shepherd is on alert, especially at night, ready to protect his flock.
Protecting the fold of God means having wisdom and knowledge; having a firm life foundation to confront the spiritual attacks however they may come. Confront them with the Word and with the Gospel. That can be difficult at times. But our great confidence is in Christ and His word and the work of His spirit. We know that in the end – all the enemies of faith will be defeated and truth will prevail. That is great hope.
So shepherding the flock involves protecting the church. That’s part of the elder’s responsibility in shepherding.
Caring for, praying for, and ministering to her needs in Christ
Shepherding the flock also involves caring for the flock. Leading the church by spiritually caring for the church. Caring in all those areas I began with - discouragement, pain, conflict, temptation, sin. It involves faithfully teaching and encouraging the body of Christ. And to reiterate, the caring of the God’s flock is a community involvement, but the elders have a responsibility to oversee the care and love especially in spiritual matters. The first part of verse 35 “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” Weak here is not in a negative sense, rather those who have needs - spiritual and physical needs. The elders are called to see that the needs of the body are being met – that’s clear in several places in Acts. And part of that responsibility is equipping others as God has bestowed gifts of grace.
Paul ends verse 35 with a reminder of Jesus words, that, “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” There’s a great blessing that comes from serving and giving and loving… pouring out our lives for the building up of God’s church.
Ok, I want to get practical and particular.
What does that look like here at Tucker Pres? Well, there are some visible things. For one, the elders are involved in teaching the Bible in different ways, even preaching. We’ve all been blessed by David, Jeff, Chuck, and Tim. Helping to lead our worship – particularly in prayer because of the responsibility the elders have for prayer. (By the way, in our church government, I’m also an elder – my role is pastor but I’m one of our elders.) And if I could encourage you, when we meet, usually monthly, to discuss church matters, the first thing we do is pray for you, our members, our regular attenders, those whom we’ve met who have visited. We pray for each of you in the areas we are aware of – for the Lord’s blessing and protection, through discouragement and pain, for jobs and homes, for family members, and through struggles. You may have been called, or texted, or visited by myself or one of our elders to see how you are, to ask how to pray, to pray with you, to encourage you in Christ, to read Scripture - God’s Word.
If you are in the hospital, we want to come and be with you and pray. Now, COVID policies have restricted some of that.
There are things that we’re not aware of. Please reach out when you need someone to encourage you… or talk and pray through a complicated situation or when you need spiritual guidance.
There are difficult times as well. If you are struggling with an addiction – the elders are not here to beat you over the head but to come along side and pray and help in various ways.
If you are struggling in your marriage – same. I know it may feel intimidating for a pastor or elder to come over and meet with a couple in a difficult situation, but that is part of what it means to spiritually care for the flock.
To be sure, there will be times when we will fail and need your grace. Elders have their own burdens - sometimes work is overwhelming or other things come up. We ask for your grace and patience at times. This is one reason why multiple elders are there to support the local church.
In these three elder responsibilities: (1) a life, practice, and belief that exalts Christ, (2) spiritually protecting and teaching the church, and (3) caring for the flock – I think it’s probably clear by now that this is a very different model than the corporate board of directors. Yes, the elders of a church have the responsibility to make decision for the congregation. What often happens, though, is that business leadership skills get confused with spiritual leadership. Elders become appointed and act as decision makers detached from the spiritual needs of the congregation. In some churches and cultures, the elders are seen as above the people. That’s not the teaching here… nor is it Jesus’ model of servant leadership. A “corporate board” model or a “high and mighty” elder model leads a church down a difficult road. To be sure, I’m not devaluing business leadership – in fact, I very much value organization leadership and communication.
But the spiritual role of elder is wholly different. He is someone who can weep with those who weep; he knows his Bible and can teach the Word; he can stand firm on the Gospel over an against the internal and external spiritual threats; and he can pray for and spiritual care for the flock of God in Christ.
Through His Word and Spirit unto eternity
In closing, I want to briefly touch upon the last point: Through His Word and Spirit unto eternity
Look at verse 32. Paul said to them, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
He was committing them to God and His Word with an eternal view, with eyes that see Jesus in heaven, encouraging them to look forward to that day when they will be with him in Glory. This is the hope and promise of Christ that is eternal. And it’s the hope found in the Word.
The very word of God through the His Spirit is what builds them up – the Ephesian elders – and builds the flock up in Christ. Strengthening them, protecting, them, and assuring them of God’s eternal promises.
And what happens when a church embraces this model, God’s model of spiritual elder leadership? Well, we’re given a glimpse. The church in Ephesus was a family of God. They loved and cared for each other. We see that right there in the last 3 verses. Paul was leaving and they wept and embraced one another. Why, because what Paul had demonstrated, they had fulfilled.
The flock of God, cared for, protected, taught in the truth, and ministered to in Christ – all under the leadership of faithful elders committed to God’s call for his church.