We’ll start in Acts 20 and talk about discernment. It is very important that we have enough of the Spirit of God in us to discern what is really of the Lord. That’s what the gift of discerning of spirits is for, but we think we have to discern the bad. If you can learn to discern the presence of the Lord and His Spirit, you won’t have to worry about the bad demons and things. You will automatically recognize them and know them.
Most Christians do not really know the Lord. They usually know religion, and they know some things about Him but to know Him is different. Until you get to the place where you really know the Lord, then you won’t be able to know what is true and what is false. There is a whole lot of false. The day that we’re living in now, that which is true to many people will look false and the false will look true. So, it has become very important that we can understand and know the difference. In all the mess that we have, can we find God and get to know Him?
Now, let’s start in Acts 20. Paul is speaking to the elders in Ephesus. He is on a return trip and called for them to meet him at the shore. There were important things Paul needed to tell the elders of Ephesus concerning the church there. He is talking about the same thing.
Acts 20:20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.
Paul had been very faithful in his teaching. He spent quite a bit of time there in Ephesus and made the rounds from house to house. They didn’t do churches then. The people were the church and they met in the homes. Sometimes they met in caves. Sometimes the church was underground in hiding because the persecutions in that day were so great.
Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
There is a way in which the apostolic ministry of Paul was a safeguard. He not only cared for the sheep, but so much of the authority of the Lord was with him that his authority was like a wall of fire around them. For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her. Zechariah 2:5. Paul’s apostolic ministry had that effect to protect them.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Paul is not talking about the animal wolves, but he is talking about people, people who do not have the right motivation. They will come in to take over and destroy the flock of God. That’s the way the antichrist spirit works.
Where are you going to find the antichrist? Is it going to be some guy in politics that’s trying to take over the world? He may be anti-christic, but that is not the antichrist. The false beast, the antichrist, all things that you’ve heard mentioned, where do they appear? In the church, because the one thing Satan wants to do is destroy God’s heritage. This is where the battle is, where the grievous wolves will come in to destroy. So much of that has really happened. So much of Christianity today is under that wolf spirit, just destructive.
Now listen, Satan knows that he doesn’t have to come in and wipe you out completely and turn you away from God. All he has to do is stop your spiritual growth so that you don’t become what God wants you to be. That is a favorite tactic. Satan will let you worship God all you want to worship. You can talk about how much Christ means to you and everything, but he doesn’t want it to become a reality to you so that you are growing.
Among the Ten Commandments, number 8 says, “Thou shalt not steal.” How much smarts does it take for a person to know not to steal? Why in the world is that commandment in there? Anyone should know not to steal something. A lot of people do steal. It’s not that they don’t know it’s wrong, they just don’t care. But Israel was a covenant community. God had made a covenant with them, so Israel was not just like any other nation. God had given them the commandments. If you research this in the Hebrew, it wasn’t just stealing some object or something that belongs to someone else. The word “steal” means “man-stealing”. So, you may think that means we shouldn’t kidnap anyone - man-stealing. No, that’s not what it’s talking about either.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose there is a person in a particular church where he is getting all the correct teachings like Paul said, “I kept back nothing from that profitable. I’ve been giving you the Word of the Lord so that you can grow and become what God wants you to be.” Someone in Paul’s church, for example, grows and becomes more mature spiritually and has a real relationship with the Lord and doing fine.
But then there is another church with one of those false ministries over it or maybe he’s not really false but he’s just not spiritual enough to lead the people. Hosea says, “Like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9). In other words, a person won’t grow and become any more than what your leader is. Someone in that kind of church is not getting what they need. They are an okay Christian, but they never really come into what God has for them. Whatever plan God has for that person, they never make it. What has happened? Man-stealing. What that person was to become was stolen, because there wasn’t a person to teach them and to lead them into what they were to be in God.
This is a problem seen throughout Christianity. So many churches are just spinning their wheels and the people are not becoming what God wants them to be. They’re not learning. They talk about Jesus Christ their Savior, but they never really get to know Him in the kind of relationship that God wants us to have. This what Paul is talking about in these verses. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. There is a lot said in the Scriptures about this kind of thing. Ezekiel 34 talks about how the sheep of God are robbed and don’t get what they are supposed to have.
Let’s look at something else in this same chapter.
Acts 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
In Jesus’ ministry, He talked about the wise servants who were able to minister to the flock what they needed. That is important. You don’t minister things to the lambs what they cannot receive, but you give them what they can handle and bring them into more. If you give them too much at first, you can destroy them.
Paul says, “I’ve not shunned to declare unto you the counsel of God.” He is talking to the elders of the church. These are men who are already moving in a lot. The elders were the more mature ones. So, Paul tells them, “You are the ones who are to protect the flock of God. You are responsible for these Christians in the church at Ephesus. You are to take care of them because I am leaving and when I leave, the battle is going to start. You’ll have to be on your toes and know what you’re doing to protect this flock.”
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves…
Paul tells the elders to take heed to themselves, because if you don’t have the relationship with God that you need, you certainly won’t be able to create it for someone else.
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers…
You are the overseers of God’s flock of the church. It is your responsibility to take care of them. It grieves me that there are so many men who have a desire to be a ministry, and they never go to the trouble of becoming what they are supposed to be so they can minister unto God’s people. Consequently, they just want a big church and a big name. I remember a pastor we had one time when I was first coming up. More than anything else he wanted to pastor a church that had at least 500 people in the congregation. That was his thing. He didn’t care anything about the flock. He just cared about himself. I have seen young ministers who want to get in a church and preach, but they’re neglecting the flock at home. They’re not ministering to the wife, to the children, and bringing them into what they are supposed to be in God. This is what Paul is telling the elders here in Ephesus.
Acts 20:28 …the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood.
Can you imagine the trouble you will be in if you’re not doing what you are supposed to do as an elder in the church? If you carry the title of a pastor, you better be one and a good one. It is your responsibility. Too often it becomes a position that a person glories in rather than a responsibility to really care for God’s people.
Acts 20:29-30 For I know this that after my departing shall grievous wolves
enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
There is a lot of that going on today, some of these big names on television. It just amazes me. Sometimes I’ll turn on the TV to check it out and see what’s going on. Some of these big megachurches with thousands of people sitting there listening to something that is nothing, not becoming what God wants them to be. It’s a show. There are so many ministers today who are preaching that prosperity message, “You come and be a part of this church and God will give you all kinds of money.”
Acts 20:31 Therefore, watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
Paul had spent three full years in Ephesus, teaching them, caring for them, loving them. He says, “I warned you night and day with tears.” He loved them so much.
Acts 20:32-33 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His
grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all
them which are sanctified.
33 I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.
You can feel Paul’s heart in this.
Acts 20:34 Yeah, you yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.
Paul was a tentmaker by trade. He would come to a city and make tents to make money, to support himself and the other ministries who were with him. Thankfully, there were some of the churches who were willing to help support him, but he was quite willing to work with his own hands and do what he had to do.
Acts 20:35 I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
It can be difficult. That is the life of a shepherd. It is a life of giving, not just what you have, but giving of yourself. That’s what it takes, that the flock of God become more important than your own life and you give yourself to that, because that is what Jesus did. He gave of Himself. His own blood poured out for all of us, for our salvation. Now it is up to us to give of ourselves for them.
Acts 20:36-38 And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with
37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him,
38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.
The elders of Ephesus had come and met the ship at the shore and had an elders’ meeting. Paul ministered to them. You can feel how much love Paul had for the church of believers there in Ephesus. He wanted to make sure these elders understood their responsibility and were able. He said, “I’ve not held back anything from you. You’re ready to minister to the flock of God and to care for them, to be what they need.”
There is a responsibility. Now bring that home. In your family, the parents are the elders so to speak. So, give yourselves to really knowing the Lord, to walk with Him, to hunger after that. I tell you it is not something that happens easily. I know Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, it’s your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” But in order to enter in, you must hunger after Him and want it with all your heart. It will mean more to you than anything else.
The Lord said, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” God does not respond to half-heartedness. He does not respond to someone who is sitting on the fence, who doesn’t know whether they want to go this way or that way, the passivity and the lethargy. That was the problem in the Laodicean church in Revelation 3. They thought they were rich and had no needs. They were inside the church there at Laodicea and having their religious services, but Jesus was on the outside knocking on the door saying, “If you will open up and let Me in, I will sup with you.”
People have a tendency to become quite religious and it is nothing more than a show. That’s what the devil wants. But you take a man like Paul who really cared. He told the Corinthian church, “I’m coming again, and I’ll be bold among you, not sparing the rod if you need it.” That was the way of Paul. If the church needed some tough love, he had some to give out, but he did it with tears. He loved them and they knew that he loved them.
I bless each one of you. There is nothing more important than your relationship with God. Make sure it is everything it ought to be. Amen.
Copyright © 2011 by Henry DuBose