Last week we talked about what God’s word says about our number as God’s people. (Slide 1) God numbered the people of Israel and speaks of them as being as numerous as the sands of the sea or the stars of the heavens. Everyone counts! (Slide 2) Sunday evening we looked at the 100 sheep, (Slide 3) the 10 coins (Slide 4) and the 2 sons from Luke 15. We saw how there is great rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. God counts you and you count to God.
We saw how the church is numbered in God’s word. (Slide 5) First is universally, where everyone who is saved becomes a member of the body of Christ. God adds each one to the number of the saved. He knows His own everywhere and from all time. (Slide 6) Second, is locally, where each gathering or congregation of the church is also numbered by God. At this level we can know one another. God calls us together in gatherings where we can share His life with one another in a fellowship that is personal. Jesus speaks of two or more gathered in His name, and His presence being with us.
(Slide 7) There is also in the Bible the individual numbering and responsibility of God’s people. You alone will ultimately stand before God and receive what is due. Now, this is also true of every single person, whether we are saved or lost. Those individuals who are saved will be rejoicing forever in glory in eternal life when that day comes. Those who are lost will forever be shut out from the presence of the Lord and enter eternal condemnation and death. It’s a binary system. Either you are in, or your are not; one of the saved or one of the lost. At this level, what matters most is between you and God. Jesus is the one and only way of salvation. He alone is your hope. The big question will be, “Did you repent and put your faith in Him?” No one else can do that for you. No one else can take that from you either.
This morning we turn from numbers to more personal language in scripture. Let’s focus on one aspect of how God’s word uses the language of relationships. There are many personal, relational images in scripture to help us here: (Slide 8) children, (Slide 9) family, (Slide 10) bride and groom, (Slide 11) army, (Slide 12) nation, priesthood, etc. Perhaps one of the most commonly used images in the Bible to help us understand our relationship with God is (Slide 13, 14,15,16) that of a shepherd and his sheep. This is used in both the Old and New Testaments with one of the clearest New Testament applications which we still used today is the term Pastor, or Shepherd for our church leadership. We could spend months studying this and not exhaust this biblical imagery of shepherds and their sheep as the picture of God and His people in the Bible.
Look at our text in Acts 20 again with me. Back in verse 17 is where this actually starts. Paul is heading toward Jerusalem with a gift for the Jewish Christians there. It is probably a large sum of money that is a gift from the Gentile Christians to help the poor Jewish brethren in Jerusalem. He was accompanied by several Gentile church leaders. Luke seems to have join them here in Miletus where he calls together the elders of the church in Ephesus. Perhaps Luke came with them. He wrote this book and may well have been present for this message of Paul.
Here in Acts 20, we have the only recorded public address from Paul to an eldership of the church that is in the Bible. (Slide 17) Let’s read it again beginning in verse 17. Listen to the deep personal nature of Paul’s words to these shepherds of the church as Paul speaks about their work with one another and God’s flock the church.
17-21 These men were well acquainted with Paul and his work and teaching. He reminds them of this here. Notice the “you know” sections. Paul is not bragging, but reminding them of his work and example to them.
(Slide) 22-24 Paul states his commitment to the mission and task of preaching the gospel of God’s grace. Here we see the heart of this amazing Apostle Paul. He is full bore giving himself to the mission of Christ. He is single, so he can freely go to prison and hardships without worrying about a wife and kids back home. But you’ve got to love this heart for God and the saving mission of the church.
(Slide) 25-27 Here Paul predicts his death and declares his integrity. Just thinking about his words gives away that Paul speaks very directly and clearly.
(Slide)28-31 Now Paul gives them his final charge and warning. Notice the seriousness of these words! This is God’s work with God’s people who God purchased with God’s own blood.
Then notice the danger that is coming. This is not something that MIGHT come, but it will come.
What is the charge that they must keep? Keep watch over yourselves, and over the flock the Holy Spirit has put under your charge. Shepherd the flock.
(Slide) 32-35 He turns them over to God and gives one final reminder of his example to them. This is like a graduation speech for these men. You are under God and His word, I commit you to Him.
(Slide) 36-38 We see their prayer together and tearful separation. This prayer is no formality. It is the life blood of Paul’s faith and walk with God. In his letter to the Ephesians he constantly mentions or commands prayer.
This whole personal piece is rich with Christian heartfelt love and devotion. It is the Apostle’s graduation address to this group of elders, shepherds, overseers. Multiple words to describe the work of these in this office. Notice he calls for the elders in verse 17, tells them to keep watch over each other and the flock of which the Lord has made them overseers in verse 28. In that same verse he tells them to shepherd or Pastor the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Older words for these three are Presbyter=elder, Pastor=shepherd, Bishop=overseer.
Every church needs to have men that serve as elders, shepherds, overseers. They are answerable to God for their ministry in this work. Hebrews 13:17 tells us.
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.
Who are our leaders? Who is God telling you to submit to here in this church family that will keep watch over your soul?
Here at the Signal Mountain Church of Christ, we have these five elders, shepherds and overseers. In order to be identified with this congregation of God’s people in this church family, we as members of the body of Christ must submit to the leadership of our shepherds. They must submit to God and His word and to one another’s leadership.
Did you know that each of our elders are under the leadership of the other elders? They answer to one another and to God. This puts every member here, even our elders themselves under the oversight of the eldership. If anyone of us will not follow the leadership of our eldership here, then you are not part of this flock. You can be a guest among us, but you are not a member of the flock under the care of this eldership. Does that make sense?
That is not to say that our elders are perfect. They are not. But they are faithful. They have the role of leadership in this church.
This is how God’s word tells us that Christians are to be led. Titus 1:5 makes it clear that a church without elders is lacking in leadership. Hebrews 13 makes it clear that a leadership who’s flock is disobedient and not submissive is going to be burdened and groaning.
As an application for this lesson I want to ask you some things. Do you pray for our elders? Do you ask them what they need you to pray about for them? One of the benefits of having five elders is that you can find at least one to relate to. As we grow in this congregation, our elders will find it more and more challenging to know all of this congregation and do their work of overseeing and shepherding. We can help them. Not only can we pray for them, we can bring them our prayer requests too. Our elders meet just about every Sunday at 4:00. I’m sure they pray for us, but they can’t read our minds or know our needs unless we share these with them.
We have cards in our pews that have a space for prayer needs on them. Would each of you take one of these right now and do one of two things, or both. 1. Write a prayer need that you would like our elders to know about and pray about for you. 2. Write a brief prayer you’d like to pray for our elders. It can be a thanksgiving or a request for God’s blessing upon them, or whatever you would like to say to God for the elders here.
Take a moment right now to do this.
If you are interested in serving under the leadership of this church as part of this family but have never met with our elders to officially, formally accept their oversight and shepherding, please, in BIG LETTERS, write that on your card to let them know you would like to identify your membership here or know more about what that means.
If you just want to attend here as a guest, but not as a member, you can do that, but we will worry about you. In fact, I will wonder what’s wrong with us or with you that you keep coming but don’t become part of our flock. I’m just trying to imitate Paul and be clear here. We would really like to have you as family. In our lesson next week, I hope to look with you at some of the responsibilities and benefits of being identified with the Signal Mountain Church of Christ.