Acts 20:25-31 – Feed the Flock
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 20:25-31
The title is drawn from Paul’s charge to the elders in verse 28.
1) THE CHARGE – FEED THE FLOCK
Paul leaves the elders of Ephesus with a charge in verse 28 – “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock…to care for the church of God.”
This is the “what” of Paul’s final words to the Ephesian Elders.
The idea behind “care for the church” is to shepherd the flock.
The flock, of course, is the Ephesian Christians under the elders care.
Peter, under direction of the Holy Spirit and in unity with Paul, gives the same charge:
1 Peter 5:1-3 – So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; * not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not • domineering over those in your charge, * but being examples to the flock.
This charge literally means “provide the pasture” for the sheep and “feed” the sheep.
What is the pasture they are to provide and what is the food it will contain?
Matthew 4:4 – But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Jesus tells us the word of God is the food His sheep need.
A pasture is a hedged in or set apart area where the sheep can feed in safety and without inside or outside threats.
The pasture and all it entails enables the sheep to “grow” and “reproduce” – be sanctified and evangelize.
Therefore I think the pasture may be both the church body itself, the relationship between the sheep and the relationship between the elders and the church body.
A church body that is biblically unified and has a sound relationship with itself and its elders is in fertile pasture.
And in a safe and fertile pasture the flock can be fed the “whole council of God”.
So this understanding of the pasture implies that the elders responsibility is to not just feed the sheep and provide the pasture but to also keep the pasture fertile.
Now that we understand the “what” we can examine the “why.”
Of the 4 reasons Paul gives, the first two deal more with the existential and the second two deal more with the metaphysical – the real world why and the theological why.
2) THE WHY – FIERCE WOLVES WILL DEVOUR THE FLOCK
In verse 29 we find this reason for Paul’s charge – “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…”
So part of keeping the sheep fed and the pasture fertile is to protect from outside threats and corruption to the pasture.
Who are the wolves?
Matthew 7:15 – “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
2 Corinthians 11:13-1 – For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Matthew 24:11 – And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
The wolves are convincing hypocrites.
They deceitfully posses an authority from God or Scripture.
They are very good at teaching their deceit and because of this “lead many astray.”
All wolves bring tension, stress and distraction (or worse) to the pasture interrupting the feeding cycle.
How will they devour?
It takes more than the aforementioned for them to be successful in their deceit, however.
It also requires a sheep that resists its responsibility to feed (learn and study) on the word provided by the shepherds!
A malnourished sheep is the first target of the wolf or lion; it is any easy meal.
In 2 Thessalonians we have a perfect example of this at work.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 – Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed…
Here we see that the flock at Thessalonica was deceived into thinking they had missed Christ’s return.
They were deceived by a man (or group) that claimed to be speaking on authority of Paul and even presented a counterfeit letter to them from Paul.
But then Paul reminds them of something:
2 Thessalonians 2:5 – Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
In other words, they bear some responsibility because of their inattentiveness to the truth of God’s word that Paul personally taught them.
The wolves deception can always be found out by the truth of Scripture.
Scripture is the straight line and their line will always seem crooked in comparison.
3) THE WHY – YOUR OWN PEOPLE WILL DRAW AWAY THE FLOCK
In verse 30 we find this reason for Paul’s charge – “and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
So part of keeping the sheep fed and the pasture fertile is to protect from inside threats and corruption to the pasture.
Your own people:
2 Peter 2:1 – But false prophets also arose among the people, just as • there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
Galatians 2:4 – Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in — who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery…
James 3:14-16 – But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
The insiders are apostates who teach heresy and even deny Christ.
The insiders are infiltrators presumably of Satan who seek to fool us into thinking we are still slaves to sin.
And sometimes the insiders can be fellow brothers corrupt with selfish ambition.
All spoil the fertile pasture even if, in the case of believers, they don’t intend to.
How they “draw away”:
Clearly, they will “draw away” the same way that the wolves will devour except that it might be more subtle.
Paul also gives tells Timothy other ways the insiders may corrupt the pasture.
1 Timothy 1:3-7 – As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
And as referenced in James above, the impetus for much of this can be selfish ambition.
This is certainly why Paul also told the overseers from Ephesus to watch out for themselves also.
4) THE WHY – HOLY SPIRIT MADE YOU OVERSEERS
In verse 28 we find the first reason for his charge – “… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
Holy Spirit made you:
What does this mean that the “Holy Spirit has made you”?
Did the Holy Spirit appear at a business meeting and nominate these men?
How did the the Holy Spirit make his will known?
The Greek word for made is tithemi.
This word is related to the English word tithe in that it can mean to “deposit in a bank” but it is not the word for tenth.
It also can mean “to set apart” money, ideas or even food to serve.
But in our text it denotes a set of circumstances which were “caused to be” or in which they were “caused to experience.”
In other verses this word is translated as “arranged”, “appointed”, “fixed” and “destined”.
So from this we can say that Paul intends for us to understand that these men were elders because the Holy Spirit set in motion the events in their lives to bring this experience about.
We can also literally say that God “tithed” these me to the church to be overseers.
However, this does not necessarily exclude the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit via His spoken word or other means.
This understanding can be useful with understanding other verses too.
Acts13:2 – While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart • for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Acts 16:6 – And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
We see in these examples, the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Paul as missionaries and forbid Paul to go to Asia.
Now when we encounter verses like these, we have a general idea of how the Holy Spirit “made” these things so.
It would seem that if something were so, Paul understood that “so” to “be” because the Holy Spirit made it that way.
Paul’s God is a very big God!
So because it was God’s will that they were elders and he “tithed” them to the church for this purpose, they had a responsibility to God to carry out Paul’s charge.
5) THE WHY – CHRIST OBTAINED THE CHURCH WITH HIS OWN BLOOD
In verse 28 we find this reason for Paul’s charge – “… which he obtained with his own blood.”
Peter also makes this point:
1 Peter 1:18-19 – knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Paul repeats the concept to the Church at Corinth:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
“Obtained” in verse 28 carries with it the idea of gaining and preserving.
So what Paul is emphasizing is that the Church – the flock, the pasture, the overseers – the whole thing – was gained for us by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, you (the overseers) and you (the flock) have a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.
In my opinion, I think it can be said (using “remember” as discussed a couple of weeks ago) that we are to “Remember the Church purchased by the blood of Christ.”
Remember, as we discussed then, means “to recall it, with a focus on responding in an appropriate manner”.
So in this case Paul’s charge to the overseers is what that response is to consist of.
What is our response, the flock, to be in the flock/shepherd metaphor?
Paul charged the overseers to watch out and care for themselves, the flock and the church.
He advised this because there are those outside and inside the church that seek to corrupt the church and devour or draw away its members.
He also taught the overseers they are to carry out this charge because they were “made” by the Holy Spirit and because Christ gave his blood for the church.
This responsibility of the overseers is one that we (the flock) should understand and be sympathetic to.
Our leaders answer to God for how they perform this charge.
In light of this, I think we can better understand the following:
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
A further implication of Paul’s charge involves the family.
We as the spiritual leaders, in my opinion, are accountable before God for the “pasture” that is our family.
Do we keep the relationships biblically responsive?
Do we teach our families God’s word?
We were “made” by the Holy Spirit the husband and father to our children, and God calls us to respond to this responsibility in much the same way the elders are to respond to Paul’s charge.