What is the Role of the Shepherds?
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28, ESVA. Watch yourself. “Pay careful attention to yourselves…” (V28). Elders must first guard their own life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:16) and put Christianity to practice in their own home (1 Tim 3:4-5) before they can guard others. This is a call to humility for elders.
Another aspect of the elder watching himself is in the area of money. Paul says that he had coveted no one’s money or belongings (v33 and following). He was not using ministry as a means to get rich, and neither should the Ephesian elders. Rather, he worked hard and was generous (33-35). Peter tells the elders not to serve for “shameful gain” (1 Pet 5:2). Paul is not saying that elders should never be paid, for he teaches that they are worthy of double honor (in the context of money, 1 Tim 5:17) and quotes Jesus as saying that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14, even calling this a ‘right,’ v15). Paul is saying that the elders must not be lazy, and they must not desire to be rich, but rather be content and hard-working and generous.
B. Watch Over the Church. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (v28). Elders have a responsibility not to merely watch out for their own soul, but for the souls of the church.
1. God makes elders. “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” The church just recognizes them.
2. Care for… (shepherd, pastor, tend). A tender heart watching over the sheep! When Jesus reinstated Peter for church leadership, he told him to “Feed my lambs…Tend (shepherd) my sheep…Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). The elders’ main role is feeding and tending the sheep. This involves the teaching of the word (v32) and overseeing (ruling, supervising, tending).
In verse 32 Paul commends these elders 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.” God will build up these elders through the ministry of the word, and they will build up the church through that word.
• Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Tim 4:2
• Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ… Romans 16:25 (this was written to believers, not unbelievers. He is talking about proclaiming the gospel through preaching to the church for strengthening)
3. The church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Elders must bear in mind that the sheep belong to God, not to them, and that he obtained them at the highest cost! How valuable are the sheep to God! What a solemn charge indeed!
This phrase is either speaking of Jesus Christ (calling him God) or is speaking of God the Father, where the translation could read “with the blood of his own,” or Jesus Christ. Either way, the sheep are God’s, and have been purchased with the blood of Christ.
We see all 3 members of the Godhead at work here, in what John Stott calls “Trinitarian pastoral oversight:” It is God’s church (the Father), bought with the blood of his own (the Son), while overseers have been made overseers by the Holy Spirit.
If God was willing to shed the blood of his Son for a sinful, messed up, unworthy church, then shepherds must be willing to pour out blood, sweat and tears in season and out of season for the flock of God” John Piper4. Be Alert (v31). Paul warns the elders of wolves coming to attack the sheep, both from without and from within. He charges them to be alert, reminding them that he warned the church for 3 years, night and day, with tears! Such is the vigilance that is required of the elders of God’s church. They must protect the sheep from wolves. This includes identifying false teachers that are a threat (sometimes by name, as Paul does in his letter to Timothy), false teachings that are being accepted, and even those in the church who are attempting to split the church.
Praise God for his gift of leaders in the church!
In our next post we will look at the responsibilities of the church to their elders, as implied in Acts 20.
· The Message of Acts – The Spirit, The Church & The World, The Bible Speaks Today Series, John R. W. Stott; © 1990 Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL