Job, chapter 15; Acts, chapters 19-20
Acts 20:28-32 (NLT):
“So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you – my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.”
Observations: The Message of God’s Grace
Paul’s Farewell to Ephesus
In Acts 20, Paul is traveling back to Jerusalem. “He was hurrying to get to Jerusalem, if possible, in time for the Festival of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). He didn’t want to stop in the city of Ephesus, because that would delay his journey. But he sent word for the elders of the church in Ephesus to come to Miletus to tell them goodbye. In verse 25, just before the passage quoted above, he tells them: “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again.”
That’s the context for his remarks in verses 28-32. He reminds them that he preached and taught in Ephesus for three years. He was faithful to the gospel and to them. “I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike – the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus” (20:21). He does not know everything that lies ahead of him, but he’s convinced he won’t be back in Ephesus.
Paul begins his charge to the elders in Ephesus with a stark statement: Guard yourselves and God’s people. Anyone in a ministry role needs to hear both parts of that charge! It is not enough to guard God’s people, although that is certainly important. We also have to guard ourselves. We cannot minister from positions of personal spiritual weakness. If we do not attend to our spiritual health, we will not be able to guard God’s people.
That thought continues in Paul’s charge as he warns them about false teachers. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Paul battled false teachers of different types throughout his ministry. He recognized that the enemy is always seeking ways to attack and destroy God’s flock. Ministry leaders – pastors, teachers, preachers – need to be alert and strong to help guard God’s people.
The Message of God’s Grace
And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace… Paul had done his work in Ephesus. He’s convinced he won’t see those folks again (and as things worked out, he was right). After establishing his credentials by reminding them of his work among them, he points them to the One who can sustain us. I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance…
We need to recognize the depth of what Paul is saying here. We all know that God is able. All things are possible with God! He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Creator and Sustainer of the universe!
But Paul doesn’t want us to just think about “God” in some fuzzy, feel-good way. He directs us to God and the message of his grace. God’s grace is the source of strength for us, because it reminds us that we do not rest in our own strength. So long as we trust in ourselves, we will struggle, and ultimately fall. But God and the message of his grace…is able to build you up and give you an inheritance…
Application: The Message of God’s Grace
“It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” (Ephesians 2:5). “God saved you by his grace when you believed” (Ephesians 2:8). Presumably, Paul wrote this to Ephesus after his farewell to the leaders, so his remarks to them in Acts 20 laid the groundwork for his later correspondence. But the letter to Ephesus emphasizes the importance of Paul’s charge to those leaders. Guard yourselves and God’s people…I entrust you to God and the message of his grace.
I think God is reminding us, just as Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, that our hope and strength is in God. We are called to serve one another, and we have to attend to our own spiritual health to do that. Paul’s warning in verse 30 that even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth confirms how important it is for us to guard ourselves. Only God and the message of his grace is able to build us up and give us the inheritance he has planned for us!
Father, thank you for the message of your grace, which is able to guard us, build us up, and give us the inheritance you have prepared for us. Help us to guard ourselves by continually entrusting ourselves to you. And lead us as we seek to protect one another. You call us to guard ourselves and your people, and all of us have a part to play in that work. Guide us today as we seek to walk in your way. Amen.