From Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:17-21)
The Preacher And The Shepherds
The saints and faithful in Christ Jesus who were in Ephesus had a special place in the heart of the apostle Paul. On his third missionary journey, the preacher had spent three years laboring in this capital city of proconsular Asia and had drawn very close to the elders and disciples of the church filled with the love of God. It was a successful and abundant work of bringing the Jews and Greeks from all over Asia to know the Christ, the risen Savior. Paul had never stayed in one place for such a length of time in his journeys but this was a rich and rewarding experience. Leaving Ephesus the apostle made his way to Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth before beginning his return trip to Jerusalem which held an uncertain future. As he sailed for the western coast of Palestine Paul stopped in Miletus, about 30 miles south of Ephesus. It was here he sent a message to the elders of Ephesus to visit with him as he made his journey to Jerusalem. Crossing the arduous journey, the shepherds of the Ephesian church joined Paul for what would become their final time to see him face to face. There was much on the mind of Paul as he reflected upon the work at Ephesus and the good work that had been done in that area. The church was strong and vibrant and guided by the hand of capable men serving as the local bishops of the church, the work of the Lord would grow and prosper. There were warnings to be heeded. Satan was trying to destroy the church at Ephesus and John the apostle would later record the challenge of their love being diminished as he penned the Revelation. For now, Paul wanted to talk with the elders and exhort them to steadfastness and resolved to remain faithful to the cause of Christ.
Paul had shared much with the shepherds of Ephesus in the three years of his labor. His relationship with them was not one of an overpowering dominance because of his apostleship. He was a diligent worker for the kingdom and understood the importance of the role of elders. The manner of Paul’s life among the disciples in Ephesus was one of humility serving with the shepherds to teach the gospel of Christ. There were many tears and trials shared because of the resistance of the Jews against the church but this did not dissuade the elders or discourage Paul. They continued to work together to teach publically and from house to house the power of the gospel and to establish the truth of God’s word. Paul worked diligently with the elders to help them establish a firm foundation of truth. He was unashamed to show the error of those who would oppose the gospel whether Jew or Greek. His message was simple but powerful: repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. In companionship with the leaders of the church, Paul helped to keep the word of truth as the purpose and design of the church. The elders of the church were entrusted to oversee the church and as a shepherd cares for a flock of sheep, these men would shepherd the church of God which Jesus purchased with His own blood.
A time would come when spiritual wolves would enter among the church at Ephesus and seek to destroy it. In the years to follow, the church would turn away from the truth and disappear from the pages of history. Paul’s warnings would ring through the centuries of what becomes of churches that do not take heed to the work of teaching the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Preachers must preach the word of God alone and the shepherds of the church must stand in defiance to the modern innovations of spiritual novelties that seek to mold the church to the standards of the world. Elders are the overseers of the church given authority by God to lead and guide the hearts of the disciples among them. Preachers have their place in the local congregation and the work is a daily service of public teaching and sharing the gospel from house to house. With humility, these proclaimers of the word help guide the hearts and minds of the disciples to the word of God under the leadership of men who watch out for their souls like shepherds caring for sheep. Preachers and elders working together to bring glory to the church and accomplish the awesome task of bringing lost souls to Christ is what the Holy Spirit inscribed on the pages of the new covenant. The pattern of the New Testament church is the pattern the church should follow in every generation. Preachers and elders working together in the spirit of humility keep back nothing that is helpful proclaiming the gospel of Christ is the church Jesus died for.