"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts 20:28
Paul had called all the elders of the church at Ephesus together to give them his last instructions before he took his departure to Jerusalem. He was aware that he would not see all of them again face-to-face so he was burdened of the Spirit to exhort them with spiritual instructions. He was prompted of the Spirit to warn them of the trials and persecutions that lay in store for them. He must also tell them that even some of them would rise up speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. In Acts 20:17-35 is recorded the full text of Paul's words to the elders of Ephesus in that meeting at that time. As these were appropriate words spoken to the elders of the church by Paul at that time of strife and confusion that was beginning to be made manifest in the church at that time, I believe they are just as appropriate to the elders of the church in this country at this time. This same exhortation and instruction is necessary to the elders for the welfare of Zion today. When elders are blessed to obey these instructions Zion is not troubled. When elders take heed unto other elders to watch them and take a great interest in other flocks to dictate to them to the extent of not being mindful of their own condition nor the flock of their pastorate, Zion is troubled.
Paul said to the elders at Ephesus, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves." He said to Timothy, "Take heed unto thyself" (1 Tim. 4:16). Just before he said this to Timothy, he had enumerated some of the things Timothy was to watch concerning himself. He told Timothy, "Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." I am persuaded that elders will have plenty to occupy their minds and time to take cognizance of their walk and conversation without meddling into the affairs and critically watching the walks of others. Paul further added, "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all."
I am quoting to you some of the things that daily confront me. Do I manifest an humble or proud spirit? Do I believe in God's promises or do I just say I do? Do I realize the exceeding sinfulness and vileness of my sins or do I just take them for granted justifying myself because of my weakness? Do I seek those things that are pure and from above or do I mind earthly things? Do I desire to live more godly and think more upon spiritual things or am I satisfied with my activities and thoughts as they are? Do I read the Bible and writings of the saints of God as much as I ought or am I satisfied with the puny knowledge that I now have? Do I exhort when I feel impressed to do so or am I afraid I will be dubbed as a Conditionalist if I speak anything pertaining to duty and righteous living in this life? Do I speak the words that are well-pleasing to God or am I seeking to please men? Do I press toward the mark of the prize of the high-calling in Christ Jesus or am I content to drift along the path of least resistance? All these questions and many more come into my mind daily to condemn me which causes me to cry unto my God for His amazing grace to sustain me and keep me from falling!
Paul told Timothy to "neglect not the gift that is in thee." May I say to the elders of the church of this time that God hath wondrously blessed you with a precious gift that has been so recognized by the church that you were brought under the hands of a presbytery and ordained to the officeship of an elder as a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. Paul says if a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with them that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. How carefully we ought to conduct ourselves as we sojourn here in this unfriendly world. This gift is sacred; our ordination is no light thing; and the confidence our brethren have in us as being vessels of honor is precious. The doctrine we are blessed to preach is God-honoring. Are our acts and conversation God-honoring? I am persuaded that if our acts and conversation in everyday living are lustful and ungodly, our preaching is hypocritical and vain. Your words from the pulpit may be in accord with the words spoken by the inspired writers and speakers, but if your life does not manifest the fruit of the Spirit, what evidence do brethren have that you have experienced the grace of God in your heart?
When brethren have so much confidence in the operation of God's Holy Spirit in your heart that they receive you into their fellowship embracing you in that precious faith; and, that confidence mounts higher to the extent of calling for your ordination as a minister of Jesus Christ; and, then you betray that confidence by ungodly conversation and lustful living, how great is their grief and hurt! It were better that a millstone be hanged about your neck and you drowned in the sea than to offend these little ones! May God give us grace to neglect not the gift that is in us and to enable us by His Spirit to take heed unto ourselves. May He enable us to watch our deportment and to profit by our mistakes.
Paul further adds: "And to all the flock." One who is called to the officeship of an elder is instructed to take heed unto all the trophy of his grace. A true elder has the interest of the lambs as well as the sheep in mind. He is tender and patient in his dealings with them for fear of wounding one of the little lambs. He is just as anxious for the welfare of the insignificant and timid ones as he is of the bolder and more prominent ones. He does not devote his time and attention to just a few to the exclusion of others, but watches over the entire flock to shield each and every one of them. He is not to take heed to another outside of his jurisdiction. He is not to consider the goats to please them nor to score them, but his interest is to be confined to the flock. I do not believe that a God- called elder has any time to waste outside of the flock skinning goats or petting them. May God enable us to stay within our calling being attentive to all the flock.
"Over the which the Holy Ghost made thee overseers." Elders do not fill this place upon their own volition. They have not fitted themselves for this place by their own activities. Others have not called them into this noble position. Schools of men have not prepared them as overseers. The Holy Ghost is the agency that God has used in making them overseers of the flock. True elders are ordained by the Holy Ghost and this ordination is assented to by the laying on of the hands of a presbytery. This officeship was given you by the Holy Ghost. No man or group of men is able to ordain one to such a high position. No school or university is able to qualify one and place him in such high position. If this position is given us by virtue of the Holy Ghost what a high and exalted calling it is! I am persuaded that the position of elder in the church is much more to be coveted than that of the officeship of President of the United States. People may elect presidents but it requires the election of God for a person to serve as a true elder. How thankful we ought to be that God has chosen us to this high and exalted position to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake!
"To feed the church of God." We are not left to guess or speculate upon the purposes of elders or to the extent of their work. Paul is very specific in this. We are not to dabble with anything or anyone outside the church of God under the cloak of an elder. I think it is unbecoming for elders to use the cloak of a minister of the Lord to gain worldly gain or to pursue some political venture. They are not to preach to the world for the world will not hear them. They are not to bring sheep into the fold for that is the work of Christ. They are not to add them to the church for that is the work of the Lord. They are to feed the church of God. They are not to prepare the food for that is the work of Wisdom. Yes, they are to read and study but not to think what they shall say, for it is given them by the Holy Spirit in the selfsame hour that it becomes them to speak. As all the writing of the saints, as recorded in the Bible, were addressed to God's children or the church, so all the preaching and writing of the elders should be addressed to the children of God or to the church of God. I do not believe this church of God under consideration is any organization in its entirety, that it is visible here in this world to the exclusion of all outside the visible organization; but I do believe this church to be the invisible, complete kingdom of Jesus Christ including all the children of God. I believe many members of this church are not members of any organization here upon this earth as the organized church are members of this church that Paul had under consideration as he defines it in the remaining words of our text.
"Which he hat purchased with his own blood." All of whom Christ died are members of this church under consideration. Your efforts nor the efforts of any other ordained elder has added any one or excluded any one from this church that Christ purchased with His blood. Christ did not try to purchase the whole Adamic world but He did purchase the church. God's called elders preach the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ in atoning for all the sins of all the members of this church. The doctrine of Christ includes limited atonement and special redemption with efficacious grace being applied continuously to the objects of His grace until the complete and ultimate salvation shall have been experienced by each and every member of this church. What great price was paid for your redemption. My sins and your sins, if we be members of that church, caused the Holy One to suffer, bleed and die on calvary's tree that we might be freed from sin! If Christ suffered, was forsaken and died for us, is it a great thing that we should suffer persecution here in this world? If Christ devoted His entire life to the service of others and was not even provided with a place to lay His head – as were the foxes and birds – is it a great thing that we should devote some time to the service of others, and not be blessed with some of the luxuries of this world?
May I conclude this script by stating that I have no apologies to give for the things that I have written in this epistle as I have been somewhat burdened along this line of thought. I have no person or persons in mind to profit from this other than myself. I stand condemned and guilty of treating the officeship of elder very lightly. I have been so concerned over my unconcernedness of late that I am made daily to cry to God for mercy. I have written this in the fear of God and not to please men. May God awake us from our cold state and bless us by His grace to earnestly contend for that precious faith. May He stir up our pure minds and enable us to walk and talk as we ought while we are in this earthly tabernacle of clay awaiting to be clothed upon with immortality when this life is over that we may be received into that heavenly clime where all will perfect forever, Amen.
Elder E. J. Lambert
"Tried In The Furnace"
Signs of the Times Vol. 162, No. 7 – July 1994