************ Sermon on Acts 20:28 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 6, 2004
Installation of Elders and Deacons
Paul was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem (Acts 20:16). He knew if he went to Ephesus he would end up spending too much time with the church there. He also knew he would not have the opportunity to see the leaders of the Ephesian church again (Acts 20:38). So, "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church" (Acts 10:17). This was not some stroll through the park that Paul asked of these elders. As the crow flies, Ephesus was only 30 miles north of Miletus, but the rather circuitous road was longer. It must have taken about 3 days for a messenger to travel to Ephesus and bring the elders back to Miletus. But Paul had some important things to say to these elders. That's why he summoned them and that is why they responded to his call.
The leaders Paul is speaking to in our passage are called by three different titles: elders (vs 17), overseers (vs 28), and shepherds (vs 28). These leaders are responsible for the church – to tend, feed, and protect her. When we look at 1 Timothy 3:8ff we see that deacons were expected to assist and support the elders in this task. So, though it sounds like Paul is talking just to the elders, he certainly has deacons in mind as well.
I want you to note that the church in Ephesus had a team of elders. In no way was Ephesus a one-man-show or a pyramid with one man in control at the top. The elders of Ephesus were a team. They worked as a team, they led as a team, and they oversaw the church as a team.
What does Paul say to the Ephesian elders and deacons? How can we sum up his words? Paul says, "Keep watch" (vs 28) and "be on your guard!" (vs 31). Paul's appeal is for vigilance, alertness, attentiveness, surveillance.
Recently, I was sent a catalogue in the mail for security equipment. The catalogue was filled with cameras so small they would make a spy jealous. Some were wireless. Some took panoramic pictures and others could focus on a freckle on the back of your hand. Some were always running and others only ran when there was motion. All of them could send images to a VCR or a DVD recorder. Elders and deacons are being told by Paul to keep this kind of watch on the churches they serve.
In my visits through the congregation I see that a number of our dairies use this kind of equipment to keep watch around the clock on milking parlors and employees and cows. Banks and convenience stores and gas stations have discovered that this equipment is part of the price of being in business today – they need to keep watch to prevent theft and robbery.
"Keep watch." "Be on your guard." This is meant in two ways. First, keep watch over yourself. Second, keep watch over the congregation, the church, the Lord Jesus has appointed you to. Paul says,
(Acts 20:28) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock ...
I Keep Watch Over Yourselves
A Elders and deacons, the first responsibility of your office is to "keep watch over yourselves." You need to keep watch over your doctrine and you need to keep watch over your life.
First, you need to keep watch over your doctrine. You need to keep watch that your beliefs are based upon the Bible and are faithful to the Creeds and Confessions of the church. You need to constantly examine and reexamine what you believe so that it is in harmony with the Word of God and the Creeds.
The only way to do this, the only way to keep watch over your doctrine, is to spend time with the Word of God. Like the psalmist, you are to say, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Ps 119:105). "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long" (Ps 119:97). The elder and deacon who keeps watch spends time with the Word.
The elder and deacon who keeps watch also knows the Creeds and Confessions of the church. They aren't dead documents at the back of a book somewhere. They are the standards by which you measure the content of your own faith.
B Second, you need to keep watch over your life. You need to keep watch that your life is in conformity to God's Law as we find it in the Ten Commandments. You need to keep watch that your life is lived according to the summary of the Law which calls us to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. You need to keep watch that you strive to fulfill what Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount.
C "Keep watch over yourselves." Keep watch over your doctrine and your life. I am sure you realize that doctrine and life always go hand-in-hand. What you believe must impact how you live. The first and biggest complaint many people bring against the church is that she is full of hypocrites – in other words, that she is full of people who believe one thing but do another. Let me give you an example of this:
Topic: HypocrisyTo a certain extent all of us are hypocrites – none of us are perfectly able to live up to what we believe – but those who are elders and deacons need to be held to a higher standard. There should be less hypocrisy in their lives than in the lives of the other members of the church.
Title: Road Rage
Two cars were waiting at a stoplight. The light turned green, but the man didn't notice it. A woman in the car behind him is watching traffic pass around them. The woman begins pounding on her steering wheel and yelling at the man to move. The man doesn't move. The woman is going ballistic inside her car, ranting and raving at the man, pounding on her steering wheel and dash. The light turns yellow and the woman begins to blow the car horn, flips him off, and screams profanity and curses at the man.
The man looks up, sees the yellow light and accelerates through the intersection just as the light turns red. The woman is beside herself, screaming in frustration as she misses her chance to get through the intersection. As she is still in mid-rant she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious looking policeman.
The policeman tells her to shut off her car while keeping both hands in sight. She complies, speechless at what is happening. After she shuts off the engine, the policeman orders her to exit her car with her hands up. She gets out of the car and he orders her to turn and place her hands on her car then handcuffs her and takes her to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.
After a couple of hours, a policeman approaches the cell and opens the door for her. She is escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects and says, "I'm really sorry for this mistake. But you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the "Choose Life" license plate holder, the "What Would Jesus Do" bumper sticker, the "Follow Me to Sunday School" bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian Fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car."
D "Keep watch over yourselves." Paul was telling the elders of Ephesus to keep watch not only over themselves as individuals but also over themselves as a group. Elders and deacons need to keep watch over the other elders and deacons – so that as a body their doctrine and life remains in harmony with God's Word.
"Keep watch over yourselves." This especially includes keeping watch over the teaching elders, what we know as the minister of the Word. One of the main jobs of the elders is to keep their eye on me, on my doctrine and my life, that I follow the example of the Apostle Paul.
In our Bible reading the Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesian elders of his ministry. He was thorough in his teaching. He preached the Gospel of God's grace and kingdom (vs 24,25). He declared the necessity of repentance and faith (vs 21). He did not hesitate to preach anything that would be helpful (vs 20). He proclaimed the whole will or counsel of God (vs 27).
Too many pastors in too many churches preach the Gospel promises but rarely say anything about repentance, they preach about faith but avoid saying anything about guilt, they preach about grace but try not to be too specific about sin. They skip over sensitive subjects like sex and money – I am coming to the conclusion I need to cover these subjects more often and more intensely than I have.
Paul was also thorough in his coverage. He wanted to teach everything to everybody. He was concerned to reach the whole population of Ephesus – Jews and Gentiles, residents and visitors (vs 21). He was involved in the church and the community.
And, Paul was thorough in his methods. He taught both publicly and privately (vs 20). He taught in the synagogue and lecture hall and in homes. He taught night and day (vs 31).
Paul taught the whole truth of the Gospel to the whole city with his whole strength. And, he did so with humility (vs 19), with a servant attitude (vs 24), with compassion, and with hard work (vs 33-35).
Elders and deacons must keep watch that their pastor does the same thing.
E "Keep watch over yourselves." As part of the Christian Reformed Church denomination those who are elders and deacons also have a responsibility to keep watch over the wider church body. They need to keep watch over trends and issues in the broader assemblies. They need to keep watch over the doctrine and life of those who serve in headquarters and in colleges and seminaries.
II Keep Watch Over the Church
A Elders and deacons, the second responsibility of your office is to "keep watch over ... all the flock." You need to do this in two areas as well. You need to keep watch over the congregation's doctrine and you need to keep watch over the congregation's life.
We cannot and we must not turn a blind eye to heresy and false teaching and wrong beliefs. We cannot and we must not turn a blind eye to sin and evil and wickedness. We must keep watch and warn and be vigilant in doctrine and in life.
When elders and deacons keeps watch, some people might say we are being judgmental. Others might say we are being narrow-minded. And, still others might say we are being intolerant. But we need to be more concerned about what the Lord of the church says than what others might say.
B Those who are elders and deacons must keep watch over the doctrine, the beliefs, of the congregation. Members must be warned about heresy and false teaching and error. In our pluralistic, multi-cultural, tolerant society the temptation always exists to believe that all paths and all faiths and all religions lead to God and heaven. Members need to be reminded again and again that there is only one path to heaven – and that path is Jesus and His call to faith and repentance. There is a push today to call God "Mother" and to make Him fit today's ideal of full equality and uniformity between the sexes. But members need to be reminded that Jesus tells us to call upon God as "Father."
C Those who are elders and deacons must keep watch over the life of the congregation. We all know about the push today to legitimize homosexual and lesbian behavior and marriage. We need to warn our congregation that this is sin and therefore unacceptable. TV and Hollywood have made sex outside of marriage acceptable. But, we need to tell our young people that pre-marital sex is sin. And, we need to tell our marrieds that adultery is wrong. In a recent court ruling a judge declared that a woman's right to choose means the partial-birth abortion ban is unconstitutional. But we need to get the message out to our people that abortion is a form of murder. Divorce and remarriage are so commonplace that many couples break up at the first sign of trouble. But we need to remind our congregation that marriage is for life.
D I came across a quote in "The Pastor's Weekly Briefing" from "Focus on the Family."
There are seven deadly sins in the world – wealth without works, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, and politics without principle.As with elders and deacons, doctrine and life are to go hand-in-hand in the life of the congregation. As with elders and deacons, those who are members of the church must live out their faith and not be hypocrites.
E "Keep watch over ... all the flock." The flock, the church, needs the same thing required of the elders and deacons. They need to spend time with the Word. They need prayer and worship attendance and Bible study and Christian fellowship. They need a knowledge and understanding of the Creeds and Confessions.
Elders and deacons who keep watch, urge and admonish members to make use of these means of grace.
III The Devil and the Sheep
A "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock ..." Why? Why do elders and deacons need to keep watch? Paul explains:
(Acts 20:29-30) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. (30) Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
In the ancient Near East wolves were the chief enemy of sheep. Hunting singly or in packs they were a constant threat. Sheep were defenseless against them. Shepherds could not afford to relax their vigilance. Nor can elders and deacons and pastors.
There are wolves out there, congregation. False teachers. Both within and without the church. So we need to keep watch.
B "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock ..." Why? Why do elders and deacons need to keep watch? When we read our text for this morning we see that the sheep – the people in the church – have tremendous value in God's sight. To begin with, the church is "the church of God." Next, we are told she was "bought with his own blood" – that is, the blood of Christ. And over this church, which belongs to God and has been bought by Christ, the Holy Spirit appoints overseers.
I want you to consider sheep for a moment. They are dirty, subject to unpleasant pests, and regularly need to be dipped in strong chemicals to rid them of lice, ticks, and worms. They are also unintelligent, wayward, and obstinate. Yet, the shepherd continues to look after them. Likewise, in God's sight the church often is dirty and fallen and stubborn. Yet, the church – in spite of her sins and failings and faults – is looked after by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. If the three persons of the Trinity are thus committed to the welfare of the church, should not elders and deacons be also?
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock ..." That was Paul's charge to the elders and deacons of Ephesus.
But did they? Did they keep watch? The reason I ask is because of what we read about the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:
(Rev 2:4-5) Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (5) Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.Do you see what happens when elders and deacons do not keep watch?
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock ..." This is also Paul's charge to our elders and deacons. I hope and pray that all of you are worthy of this calling.
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