Monday, September 15, 2014

ACTS 20:17-38 "ON THE OCCASION OF THE ORDINATION OF A NEW ELDER "

 Induction of our  new elder , Frans Brits ( l) 
[17] Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. [18] And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, [19] serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; [20] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, [21] testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. [22] And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. [24] But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. [25] And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. [26] Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, [27] for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. [28] 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. 

The Brits family is committed to the Lord in prayer 
Now that we have ordained Frans Brits as an elder, I want  to ask this question : What exactly is the work of the Pastor/ elder?

This question is more important than we think. In our day, there is much confusion about the nature and the purpose of the pastoral ministry. Failure to understand the nature of pastoral work in the church can bring much unhappiness and misunderstanding to members of a congregation and of course to those in pastoral leadership themselves! If pastors – elders are confused about their calling, then what about their congregations? So what is the work of the pastor- elder ?

Is he a kind of social worker or a counsellor? There are marriage problems, work problems, child problems, financial problems, emotional problems …. Is he there to interpret and diffuse our problems ? 

Is he a referee or an umpire to make sure that there are no misunderstandings between us? You know of course that "wherever two or three are gathered together, problems develop!" Egos are bruised, procedures become messed up, arrangements become confused, plans go wrong and temperaments clash! Is he to make sure that our game runs smoothly ?

Or is he perhaps a motivational speaker, keeping people informed and happy and motivated in this club that is called "church"? Or is he a teacher, to help us understand the Bible, so that we do not have to do the hard work of thinking for ourselves ? 

Is he perhaps the CEO of the church - the manager , facilitator , administrator and organiser of the church- the boss ? What is he? 

How Paul saw the elders of the church in Ephesus 
The apostle Paul, now on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23- 21:17), is on his way to Jerusalem  where he will be eventually imprisoned to be tried before the emperor in Rome . (21:17ff). Even now he has a premonition concerning this (20:23 ; 21:10-14), but he senses that he must go ! On his way to Jerusalem his ship stops at Miletus, a port about 60 kilometres south of Ephesus. He takes this opportunity to call for the leaders of the church of Ephesus. He wants to have a final word (20:38) with them . 

Firstly note how he describes their work : elders (20:17 “presbuteroi”) , overseers (20:28 episkopoi)) and shepherds (20:28 –“poimēn” , i.e. those who shepherd (care for) the church). Paul uses these three terms interchangeably, and each of those terms help us to understand the nature of pastoral leadership in the church. They are ‘elders’ (mainly because they are older and wiser men); they are “overseers” because they rule and manage the church, the household of God (1 Tim 3:15) under the authority of Christ. They are also shepherds (or pastors) of the flock of Christ. They make sure that the flock of God is fed by His word, and that they are protected from the wild animals. 

Secondly , note how Paul encourages them to see him as a role model of pastoral labour : “…serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (v.19) … “ not shrinking from declaring anything that was profitable … teaching in public and from house to house “ (v.20); “… testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21) …” innocent of the blood of all.. for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God…” (vv.26,27)... coveting no one’s silver or gold or apparel… you yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me..” (vv 33,34) … by working hard we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said : ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive (v.35). 
With  these words Paul reveals the typical character of an elder. The character of an elder is also well described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Elders must be equipped with Christ like qualities - humility ; not shrinking back… ; always ready to teach/ instruct (privately & publicly) ; bearing public testimony to the converted and  unconverted ; committed to the whole counsel (the sufficiency , inspiration , authority) of Scripture; not greedy for personal gain and not making themselves a burden to the church ; working hard and often at great cost to themselves . Christian character more than anything else defines an elder - (see 1 Tim 3:1-7) . Paul imitated Christ in his leadership ; Christian elders must do the same .

Thirdly , take specific note of Acts 20:28 – the central exhortation to the Ephesian elders : “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock , in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for(shepherd) the church of God , which he obtained with His own blood . I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock ; and from among your own selves ill arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert …” . 

(i) Calling - Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock , in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers - Overseers are called by God the Holy Spirit to this work. This fact has two implications: 
a. they are called to this work by the Holy Spirit. Therefore they must work in His power and authority alone and under and His inspired Word. Untaught congregations think that any Dick , Tom and Harry can preach and lead the church, as long as he can open his mouth. Paul makes it very clear that the call to elder ministry is a matter of being Spirit - enabled! 

b. The calling is to be overseers - to oversee , rule , and manage the church , which is the “oikonomia” , the household of God (1 Tim 3:15) well. This is not a matter of lording it over God's people, for in this task they are called to serve Christ’s sheep. But they do carry Christ’s authority also in this respect that they must make sure that God's flock behaves in accordance with His word. Congregations must realise that it is the pastor's duty to enquire into their spiritual health , and to ask personal questions. Remember they are accountable to God for your souls (Hebrews 13:17). Do not discourage them in their work . 

c. They must remember that these are God’s sheep which he obtained with His own blood.

(ii) Careful Vigilance : They need to be vigilant in two regards : 

a. With regard to themselves: Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” – Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16) . The first duty of the pastor is to make sure that his own spiritual life is in order. How can he preach/teach/lead , if his life does not lead by example?

b. With regard to the flock . Overseers or pastors have a duty to protect the flock from the “wolves“ - messengers from Satan . They must resist and silence such people such people (1 Tim 1:3; Tit.1:11) 

This protection comes in the first place by making sure that the congregation is well fed. Pastor-elders are to have regular times with their people, to equip them , train them , counsel , encourage, rebuke them with the help of God's Word. Listen to what William Still says to pastors :[1] "It is to feed sheep on such truth, that men are called to churches. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going , with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and to go to be a street sweeper ; a far healthier and more godly job , keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goat-land. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit changes , as well as maddens men? If we do, to be feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God… 

But it also means that the congregation must be physically protected. Paul says that spiritual wolves (predators) sent from hell will converge upon the flock. Sometimes they come from the outside. Every church (if it is worth its salt) experiences attacks . Unfortunately they do not always come from the outside, but even from the inside. (29 - 31). But the pastor/elder/ shepherd must protect his sheep by dealing with the wolves (see 1 Timothy 1:3 ; Titus 1:5). He must teach the truth , he must warn them and then if they have been hurt , he must tend them and to nurse them back to spiritual health.
The elder remembers at all times that these are the blood bought sheep of Jesus . They are precious in God's eyes. They have been bought at a great price. 

They will remember that their work depends on the value of God's sheep. In the Old Testament, Israel's sheep were reared , tended and fed, retrieved , healed and restored for one purpose : for sacrifice on the altar of God. This is really the goal of all pastoral work , and it must never be resented or forgotten. The ultimate aim of our pastoral work at Eastside is to lead God's people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of service and worship.

Amen.






[1] William Still : The Work of the Pastor 

No comments: