Acts 20 Paul's Warning Against False Shepherds



We've seen extraordinary miracles take place with aprons from Paul's body. But now it is time to get on down the road. Paul is pressed in spirit to get to Jerusalem. However, as we continue with this third missions trip with the apostle, we yet have yet some very important lessons to learn.

Several things will stand out in this study. One has to do with Paul's warnings against false shepherds. Another involves 'whose blood was shed on the cross.' According to the apostle it was God's blood. Then there are other things of great interest.

Because this portion of Scriptures is so thought provoking, I will not provide questions. The study speaks for itself and hopefully will bring about questions and responses simply through the reading.

Ok, back on your camel. We are off again.

This is Acts037 - Acts 20 Paul's Warnings Against False Shepherds

Vss1-6: Synopsis - Paul travels from Ephesus to Macedonia to strengthens disciples in that area. From there he goes to Greece, where he spends three months. When he hears of a plot being formed against him by the Jews, the apostle decides to move on to Phillipi, and then to Troas.

At various parts of the journey, his companions include, Luke, Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, Gaius of Derbe, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus of Asia. (You will come across these names in some of Paul's writings.)

Vs7: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight."

... As pointed out earlier, while Paul allows liberty in regard to when believers gather, it did become traditional very early on for the primitive churches to meet on the first day of the week. That this was a formal gathering is seen in the phrase, "When we were gathered together to break bread."

Vss8-12: Synopsis - Paul addresses the believers with a message until midnight. The young man, Eutychus, goes to sleep and falls out the three-story window. He is picked up dead, but when the apostle places his arms around him, Eutychus's life is restored.

Vss13-16: Synopsis - The apostolic band travels on. Some by ship. Paul by land. The apostle meets the ship at Assos, and they go on to Bitylene, from there to Chios, then to Samos, and finally to Miletus. Here it says, "Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost."

It is here that we come to the heart of this study. Let's follow this scene closely as Paul sends for the elders of Ephesus. ('tous presbuterous tes ekklesias,' or, 'the elders of the Church.') We will find that the term elder, bishop, and shepherd all refer to the same calling of ministry.

Vs17: "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church."

... Miletus is about 30 miles from Ephesus. Later in his discourse, Paul will refer to these same men as 'bishops'. (episkopous.)

The pastoral offices of the Church are known by various interchangeable terms. Presbuteros (elder) is from a Jewish background, and speaks of rank. Although it was an official designation for leaders, it also spoke of those who were up in age. The term bishop (episkopous) refers to the dignity of the pastoral office and comes primarily from the Greek. (Refers to 'overseeing.')

Vss18-21: "And when they had come to him, he said to them, 'You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

... As Paul shares with these elders we catch a glimpse of a true shepherd's heart. No hireling would suffer for God's people as did this man of God. Paul poured out his life into these churches. Perhaps this is one reason that a person has to be approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. Part of this proving relates to serving under another man's stewardship. We learn faithfulness by being faithful.

Vs22,23: "And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me."

... Paul describes himself as being under the impulse of the Holy Spirit in going to Jerusalem. At the same time the Holy Spirit is preparing him for the things that lie ahead. The apostle knew in his spirit that Jerusalem was only a stepping stone to Rome.

It also possible that the warnings given to Paul were for the benefit of the churches themselves. Keep in mind that the Scriptures are still being written, and the church needs to know how God's providence is always behind all things that happen to His children.

Thus Paul can write, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom8:28)

Vss24-27: Synopsis - Paul reaffirms that he has a course to complete and a ministry to fulfill. He charges them to remember that he had not failed to declare to them the whole counsel of God, and that he was innocent of the blood of all men. The apostle feels strongly that these men would not see his face again. He considers these to be his last words to them.

... Here we need to mention something about a stewardship that comes from the Lord. A ministry given to a person from the Lord is actually a stewardship, which simply means the person with the ministry had a course to complete, has authority within the sphere of the ministry given, is empowered and blessed to accomplish the ministry, and is accountable to God for the ministry itself.

The term stewardship is the Greek 'oikonomia' which speaks of an administration, that is, the management and oversight of particular household affairs. In this case our stewardship has to do with kingdom business. This is one reason pastors are known as overseers. They are entrusted with sheep allotted to their care. (Every true minister of God has a stewardship.) But we cannot limit stewardships to simply being a pastor. Any ministry that is given a person that accounts for kingdom business is a stewardship.

Now follow carefully the warnings and the testimony of the blood:

Vss28-31: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."

... "To shepherd the church of God..."

Notice in this discourse that Paul uses the terms elders, bishops, and shepherds as the same ministry. (Shepherd and pastor is the same word.) This brings to attention a prophecy in Jeremiah, where the Lord says, "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding." (Jer3:15)

... "Which He purchased with His own blood."

To say that Jesus is a wonderful man, or a great teacher, or even a prophet places no restraints on the confessor. To say that Jesus is God puts everything on a different level. There can only be one true God. So the apostle very plainly states that the blood that flowed through the veins of Jesus was the very blood of God. Thus we are to know that God provided 'Himself' a sacrifice.

This is also why the sprinkled blood causes a new creation to spring forth. God became man to take our place, so that we could become His very own children through the redemption of His blood. This is also why when Abel's blood cried for vengeance, the blood of Jesus spoke differently. It speaks to mercy and love. God's life was in the the blood of Jesus. And it is God's blood that is sprinkled on our hearts in our birth from above. (Think about it.)

... "After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock."

The apostle is using a term that the Lord Himself used. Jesus said, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matt7:15) A wolf has one purpose alone, and that is to feed himself. Thus it is with the false prophet.

... "And from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."

The 'and' speaks to a different category. Are these people false prophets or simply men driven with ill motives? It could be both. But it does speak to people who corrupt the gospel, and distort the teachings of the Lord. The word 'perverse' is diastrepho in Greek. It essentially means to distort or misinterpret.

The warning is that God's people must always take care to whom they listen. The motive of the speaker can be very subtle. In this case it was the drawing away of disciples after themselves.

Vss31-35: Synopsis - In this portion the apostle brings things to a close. He tells the elders to be on the alert. He also says something of great importance to believers in all the ages; "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

This is very personal. Paul knows that the whole of the Scriptures speak to God's redemption in Christ Jesus. He also knows that as we behold the things concerning Christ, our own spiritual lives will be built up, and we will share even more in the inheritance that is given to us in Christ. (The inheritance relates both to this life and the life to come.)

Paul also says something interesting in this portion. He quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." What is interesting is that this statement is not recorded anywhere in the gospels. It shows that Jesus said a great many things that were not recorded. (But this one statement carries the very heart of Biblical Christianity. We are to be givers and not takers. Paul said that we are to "help the weak.")

As for the Lord saying and doing things there were never recorded, the apostle John affirms this. He said, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25)

Of course this does not mean that we have the right to say Jesus said something in that He didn't say it. We are expressly warned not to exceed the written Word of God.

Let's complete our study.

Vss36-38: "When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship."

... This is one of the most tender scenes recorded in the New Testament. Everyone present is weeping and they keep on kissing Paul. Their sorrow is almost more than they can bare. Paul had been a spiritual father to them.

This completes our 37th study in Acts.


This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.


Page added October 22, 2004

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