Acts 20:32-35  “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

     Paul was saying goodbye to his friends in Ephesus; he was compelled to go to Jerusalem and he was sure he wouldn’t see them again.   Paul had something very important to say to his close friends.  He wanted to make sure that they understood what was important and what wasn’t.  Paul’s message was that God and ‘the word of his grace’ was what counted not the personality relaying it.  The Gospel blesses and the Gospel places requirements on the people, not Paul – not the preacher.  Paul paid his own way and didn’t place any demands on the people.    He followed Jesus’ example and gave rather than received.

     Paul was warning the elders of Ephesus.  Earlier he says; “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30)  The elders where ‘overseers’ of the church.  They were made so by the Holy Spirit not by human traditions.  They were shepherds of a people that didn’t belong to them – they belonged to Jesus – purchased by ‘His Blood’.  Paul was warning against wolves in sheep’s clothing.

     Jesus said; “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” (Matthew 7:15,16,17).    No one would deny that people have suffered because of these wolves in sheeps’ clothing.  The church has suffered as well.  We can’t discard the church because of these wolves.    Jesus built his church to withstand the onslaught of hell (Matthew 16:18) and Jesus meant us to live within the church community (Matthew 18:17).   Scripture tells us that the church was purchased with Jesus’ own Blood!  Paul admonishes the leaders; “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)

     Do we in the church overemphasize our leaders’ status and underemphasize our own responsibilities?  This question is important because it causes us to look at our role in His church and removes the easy out of blaming ‘bad pastors’.  I can’t help but think of the Israelites wanting Moses to be their ‘go between’ so they wouldn’t have to get too close to God (Exodus 20:18-21).  Sadly it is an all too human tendency to want others to tell us what to do and want others to worry about what is right or wrong in order for us escape from personal responsiblility.  There is no earthly ‘go between’ any more (Hebrews 1:1,2).  We stand or fall on our personal relationship with God – with His Word, with Jesus!   Any organizational system that fosters ‘go betweens’ predisposes those it serves to avoid their personal responsibility and inadvertently sets up an environment that enables ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’.

     So often I have heard in the church that it’s the pastor’s job to visit the sick.  It’s the pastor’s job to sort out all the conflicts.  It’s the pastor’s job to do funerals, preach and do the finances.   It’s the pastor’s job to pray.  It’s the pastor’s job to figure out the Bible and then he or she is to tell us what it says.   After twenty years as a churchman its been my experience that most laypeople like to leave all the ‘spiritual stuff’ to the professionals.  Lazy laymen and predatorial clergy can flourish in this kind of environment.  The church suffers because of both. 

     Some would argue that the clergy-layman divide does much to create this situation.  Jon Zens writes:  “Like it or not, this “clergy” role ends up requiring a virtual omni-competence from those behind the pulpit. ‘Clergy’ are paid to perform whatever is necessary to keep the religious machinery going, and the expectations are very high for those who wear the many hats this profession demands. The deadly problem with this unscriptural system is that it eats up those within its pale. Burnout, moral lapse, divorce, and suicide are very high among the ‘clergy’. Is it any wonder such repeated tragedies occur in light of what is expected of one person? Christ never intended anyone to fill such an ecclesiastical role. In light of Paul’s remark in 1 Cor. 12:14 that ‘the body is not one part but many’, we should be able to discern that the ‘clergy’ position is neither healthy for those in it, nor is it beneficial for the body of Christ.”

     Predation and abuse cannot occur in the light of the Gospel.  Where predation and abuse exists the Gospel doesn’t.  Jesus said; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18,19)  Are we prepared to admit that the church doesn’t spread the Gospel rather the Gospel spreads the church?

     Sadly we often loose sight of the fact that the Gospel paddles its own canoe.

    Praise the Lord!

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