Acts 20:28-31a 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 men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!

Paul’s final farewell speech to the Ephesian elders is very moving – and challenging.  He covers a lot of ground with an economy of words, but three things are uppermost in his mind.

Firstly, he is concerned for the ongoing personal spiritual health and vitality of these leaders.  “Keep watch over yourselves,” he says.  Their first responsibility is maintaining their own relationship with God.  It is so easy to let the influences of the God-ignoring, God-defying society in which we now live intrude on our thinking, our behaviour, and on the way we use our resources.  This is why we need to be reading and reflecting on God’s Word constantly – ‘day and night’ as Psalm 1 reminds us!  We should especially take the seriousness of all this to heart when we read the message the Risen Christ sent to the Church at Ephesus through the apostle John not many decades later: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.  If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place’” (Revelation 32:1-5).

Secondly, he is concerned that they take seriously their responsibility to look after the people the Holy Spirit has entrusted to their care.  They are to see themselves as ‘shepherds’, knowing their ‘sheep’ well, feeding them, protecting them from the many harmful and often subtle influences that surround them, guiding them, encouraging them, etc.  Remember Jesus’ own warning that the most dangerous ‘wolves’ would come disguised as sheep (Matthew 7:15)! and, as Paul warns here, not telling straight-out, easily recognised lies, but distorting the truth.

Thirdly, Paul wants their commitment to this responsibility to be inspired by what it cost God to ‘purchase’ his Church – his ‘own blood’, the death of his own, one-and-only Son.  As John will write later: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

This should challenge us as we seek to serve God in whatever task(s) he has given us to do.
– Bruce Christian