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THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH - Message Two - God owns the Church

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THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH

Message Two: “God owns the Church”

Acts 20:28

"“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. " (Acts 20:28NASB95)

We have spent several weeks studying the church, and the farther we go in our study the more I realize there is so much more to learn about the church.  To help us to learn more about the most important organization on earth, we are going to spend several weeks examining what the Scriptures teach about the Church.

We began to examine Acts 20:28 last week I said that there are three great truths, three very important truths in this verse that deserve our attention.

We looked at two of them last week, but we didn’t touch the third truth.  Today let me go back and flesh out the first two a little more and then we will unfold the third truth which is the underlying foundation for much of what we learned last week.

Let’s start this morning by starting with the second truth from last week.  That was recognition of the owner.  Acts 20:28 identifies the church as the “church of God”.  That terminology is used 11 times in the New Testament to describe the church.  God is the owner if you will of the church.  The implication of that truth is that as the owner of the church He has placed the Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the church.  Jesus Christ is the head of the church that means that He is the authority over the church.  And because He is the authority, the head of the church, He and He alone determines who is to lead His church.  Let’s look at our text verse again.

"“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. " (Acts 20:28NASB95)

Again Paul is talking to the elders of the church at Ephesus and he says to be on guard not only for yourself but for all of the flock, then Paul adds this important statement.  He says “among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers….”  That answers the question of how a man is put into the ministry.  A man who has not been called and selected by God has no right to assume that position.  We have far too many of what I like to call “Momma called” preachers and not enough God called preachers.  We have plenty of men who want to hold the office of a pastor who will not carry out the responsibilities of the pastor. We have plenty of men who are looking for a life of ease, who think the ministry will allow them to play more golf, and have plenty of leisure time such men are not fit for the ministry.  Unfortunately we have more men assuming the office of a pastor who are in reality what the Bible calls a hireling. 

One of the key words in verse 28 is the word “made”.  Paul says the Holy Spirit has “made” you overseers.  The word that is translated “made” is a word that means “to put or place in a particular location”.  The implication is that yes, God works through human means in selecting the leadership of a church, but ultimately it is the decision of the Holy Spirit in who is placed into leadership of the church.  The way that the Holy Spirit insures that the right man is placed in this most important position is through the prospective leader meeting the qualifications as they are laid out in the Scriptures.  A man may have the desire to be a leader in the church, but if they do not meet the qualifications, that is the means that the Holy Spirit uses to communicate with the church that regardless of how gifted he may appear, how charismatic his personality may be, and even how successful he may have been in the secular world he is disqualified from holding the position of pastor or elder in the church.   The tense of the verb “made” expresses the thought that the Holy Spirit did this for His own purposes.  It is because of this divine appointment that the man of God has the responsibility of the oversight of the church.

What are the responsibilities of the pastor/shepherd of the church?

This verse like any verse must be kept in its proper context.  As I began to study this passage again this week the context of this verse really was intriguing to me.   This verse is set up for us in verses 17 and 18 of this same chapter.  Notice what they say

"From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them… "(Acts 20:17-18aNASB95)

Who was it that sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church?  It was the Apostle Paul.  Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to attend the feast of Pentecost.  Why did Paul want to have a conversation with these church elders?  The closing verses of Acts 20 tell us that Paul knew and they knew that they would never see each other again.  So he has one final discipleship lesson to impart to them.

"When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship." (Acts 20:36-38NASB95)

This was going to be the last time that Paul was going to have the opportunity to see these elders, these men of God.  Men that he had probably shared the gospel with and has been privileged to see them come to faith in Christ; men that he had personally trained and discipled and had brought them to a place of spiritual maturity.  They had grown spiritually that were now the elders, the pastors, the shepherds, the leaders of the church at Ephesus.  This was going to be his last face to face discipleship lesson with these men.  His words to them are very important for anyone who aspires to leadership in the church.  These are not the only words from Paul on the subject of leadership in the church.  For instance he doesn’t deal with the qualifications for leadership in the church, he has already written extensively about that particularly in I Timothy chapter three and in Titus chapter one.  These men have already met the qualifications of being an elder, so here in this final conversation with them he goes into detail about the responsibilities of their position, and the one who is responsible for them having their position.

If you aspire to be in leadership in the church someday these words from Paul are for you.  If you are a member of a church these words are for you.  This is the Apostle Paul’s Pastors School.  Paul details some very important duties of the pastor, the shepherd of the church.

First of all the Pastor is to pay attention to his own spiritual health and well being.  The pastor cannot give what he does not possess.  The pastor is to be a spiritual well out of which the members of the church can come and drop their dry and empty buckets into time and time and time again and they not come up empty or with stale, stagnant water.  The pastor needs to be an effervescent source of living water.  The pastor’s spiritual condition should be source of refreshment for those he ministers too.  Therefore the pastor must pay special attention to his own devotional life.  The pastor must discipline himself to spend quality time in prayer.  The pastor must discipline himself to spend quality time in the Scriptures.  The pastor needs to spend time in meditation and reflection. 

I would like to thank you as a church because you have afforded me the opportunity of being able to spend time in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and for meditation and reflection.  I strive to use that time wisely and to pay close attention to my own spiritual condition. 

I don’t know of another occupation that has a higher casualty rate than the ministry.  Donald Whitney who has written much quality material on the spiritual disciplines writes in a sermon titled THE ALMOST INEVITABLE RUIN OF EVERY MINISTER . . . AND HOW TO AVOID IT.

 

“Once when a Southern Baptist denominational executive was on the Midwestern Seminary campus in the late 1990s, he asserted that statistics show that for every twenty men who enter the ministry, by the time those men reach age sixty-five, only one will still be in the ministry.

 

Despite all the commitment with which they began the race, despite all the investment of time and money to prepare, despite the years spent in service, despite the cost of retooling and redirecting their lives, nearly all will leave the ministry. Some will opt out for health reasons. Some will wash out in their private lives. Some will bow out, realizing they had misread the call of God. Some will bail out because the stress is so great. Some will be forced out by their churches. Some will walk out from sheer frustration and a sense of failure. And if you haven't given serious thought to leaving the ministry, you haven't been in it very long.”

Hence the reason for Paul’s point of instruction for the pastor.  In his letter to another young pastor by the name of Timothy he wrote. 

"Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." (1 Timothy 4:13-16NASB95)

Notice carefully verse 16 “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things,(the things mentioned above) for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”  Paul says to Timothy, and to the pastors at Ephesus, and to every man who has been placed into the ministry by the Holy Spirit to pay attention first of all to your own spiritual condition.  Donald Whitney goes on to point out some things in the pastors life that can keep him from pay close attention to his spiritual condition.  He writes…

In order to make progress in the ministry as opposed to making shipwreck of his ministry, a minister should pay close attention to himself and to his teaching.

 

First, "Pay close attention to yourself." If you are going to "pay close attention to yourself," then . . .

 

DON'T LET THE MINISTRY KEEP YOU FROM JESUS!

 

“And that's just what will happen—the ministry will turn your attention from Jesus—unless you "Pay close attention to yourself."

 

But that sounds rather self-centered and narcissistic doesn't it? No, for when the Apostle Paul was inspired by God to write to the younger minister Timothy and say, "Pay close attention to yourself," he was saying "Pay close attention to yourself" as a man of God, pay close attention to your relationship with Christ Jesus. In other words, make sure you stay close to Him, keep your eyes on Him, grow closer to Him, and grow more like Him. Watch to make sure you do not let anything—including the ministry—keep you from Jesus”

It is only as the shepherd guards his own spiritual life that he can properly guard the spiritual lives of those whom God has placed under his care.  Matthew Henry wrote: “Those are not likely to be skillful or faithful keepers of the vineyards of others who do not keep their own.” 

Very infrequently I will ask someone if they are praying for me.  I want people to pray for me, I need people to pray for me.  I should be high on your list of people that you pray for.  Why do I say that?  Let me quote from the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter.  He wrote in the Reformed Pastor

 

“Take heed to yourselves because the tempter will make his first and sharpest attack on you…He knows what devastation he is likely to make among the rest if he can make the leaders fall before their eyes.  He has long practiced fighting, neither against great nor small, comparatively, but against the shepherds that he might scatter the flock.  Take heed, then, for the enemy has a special eye on you.  You are sure to have his most subtle insinuations, incessant solicitations and violent assaults.  Take heed to yourselves, lest he outwit you.  The devil is a greater scholar than you are, and a more nimble disputant…And whenever he prevails against you, he will make you the instrument of your own ruin…Do not allow him to use you as the Philistines used Samson – first to deprive you of your strength, then put out your eyes, and finally to make you the subject of his triumph and derision.” 

The Pastor must be on red alert for his own spiritual condition but he must also have the same vigilance for his flock.  What is it that Paul specifically points out that the pastor must be on constant lookout for?

Look at verses 29& 30

"“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. " (Acts 20:29-30NASB95)

Paul is pretty graphic in his choice of words.  Paul I’m sure said with a heavy heart that I know that no sooner than I leave savage wolves will come in.  Savage means those who are vicious, those who are cruel.  Paul says I know that packs of large, fierce, vicious and cruel wolves – false teachers will come in and they will do everything that they can to destroy the flock.  That would be the attack from without, but the attacks don’t stop there.  Notice the next verse.  “and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things…”  Paul knew they would be attacked from outside the church.  The church is always under attack of the false teachers.  The pastor must always be aware of that and he must take the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God and fight off these wolves, these false teachers.  But he must also be aware of the enemy within.  He must be on guard, he must be attentive too those who come up within the church and they too spread false teaching.  Paul uses the word “perverse” which means to cause someone to depart from the right behavior and begin to engage in wrong, sinful behavior.  Why would someone do that?  Paul is pretty clear; they are trying to gather a following for themselves.  Their goal is not to glorify Christ; their goal is to glorify themselves.  They want their own following.  So they begin to pervert what the Scriptures teach, and immature believers are led astray. 

The Pastor must be constantly attentive to his own spiritual condition and the condition of his flock, in particular to false teaching.  Folks please understand that sometimes I have to name names so that you are aware of who these false teachers are, so that you can stay away from them.  That is why I’m not afraid to tell you to not watch the Benny Hinn’s of the world, or to be careful about what you read.  Just because it has the word Christian slapped on it doesn’t mean that it really is sound doctrinally. 

The words that Paul uses in this passage are action words for the pastor, he is to be alert, he is to be on guard.  A passive pastor is a pastor that betrays his flock.  The pastor must at times act swiftly and decisively.  A pastor cannot be a coward.  If he is his flock is sure to be destroyed and scattered either from false teachers outside of the church or false teachers within the church. 

I pray that God would through His Holy Spirit raise up a generation of shepherds who would be biblical pastors and not cultural pastors.  If I know there is a problem, then I and we as a church need to be willing to be part of the solution. 

The pastor fulfills his role based upon the authority that God vest in him because of the position that he holds.

Admittedly you may be beginning to see the position of the pastor in a completely different light.  Please I want you to understand I don’t teach you these things to pump myself up.  I don’t know that I’ve ever spent as much time on the role and responsibilities of the pastor as I have the last two weeks.   Why am I doing it now?  The answer is found in our text.  Let’s read it again. Acts 20:28

"“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. " (Acts 20:28NASB95)

Why do I point out the responsibility of the pastor?  Why have I labored to hopefully give you an understanding of what I am called by God to do?  For this glorious reason; and that is the incredible price that was paid for the Church. 

These are the words from the lips of a Father whose Son has given his very life to purchase the Church.  God the Father says to all those who would exercise oversight of the church of God be careful how you watch over it, because it’s precious to me.  It cost my Son his life and you had better give it all the attention and care that I command you too. 

  

Let’s just linger over these words for just a few moments.  When God informs us that the church is His possession, that the church has been purchased He is communicating an important truth to us.

A purchase implies a price was paid.  One thing of value was exchanged for another item of value.  The value of an item is not solely determined by the intrinsic worth of an item.  The value of an item is determined by what one is willing to pay for that item.  Let me illustrate,  a baseball similar to the one used in the Major Leagues sells for 14.99 at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  But take that same 15.00 ball and let Barry Bonds hit it for his 73rd homerun in a season and suddenly that ball increases in value.  That 15.00 ball sold at an auction for $450,000!  Has the value of the ball itself really changed?  Not at all it’s still worth 15.00, but to the one who really wanted it he was willing to pay a much higher price.  What does that have to do with the church? 

Think about the price that God was willing to pay for the church!  Is there anything more valuable to us than our lives?  There are several parts of your body that you can function without, like the rugby player in Australia that recently had one of his fingers amputated because it was bothering him so bad when he played he had them lop it off.  You can exist without a finger or some other part.  But there is definitely one thing that you absolutely cannot live without.  That is your blood!  As the blood begins to drain out of a person they are losing more than just a bodily fluid, they are losing their lives!

Paul has painted for us a verbal word picture.  What is he trying to communicate to us?  THE VALUE OF THE CHURCH!

 

Once we recognize the value of the church it begins to clear up some other issues for us.

1.  Now we better understand why the qualifications for leadership in the church are so strict and lofty.

2.  Now we better understand why the Pastor has be charged by God to be on “red alert” at all times – to protect the church at all costs!

The church belongs to God.

The church was purchased by the Son of God.

The cost of the church was the blood – the very life of God’s only Son!

Think about it this way.  The value of the church is demonstrated by the scarcity of the resource that was available for it’s purchase!

How many lives did Jesus possess as a human being?  JUST ONE!

The rarer an item is the more valuable it is!

 So how should we respond?

1.  Meditate on the true value of the church.

2.  Think about what God the Father gave up for the church

3.  Think about what God the Son gave up for the church

Ask yourself this question: “Does your current relationship to the church, does it reflect, is it a reflection of the value of the church?” 

How can we better appreciate the value of the church?

1.  Learn all you can about it1

2.  Study what the Scriptures have to say about the church

3.  Read quality books about it (Stop Dating the Church)

4.  Make your church a priority in your life

5.  Get involved in serving your church

6.  Try and imagine your life without it!

 

John MacArthur writes “The term church sets us apart from all other human institutions.  We are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, purchased with His own blood.  No other institution in the world owes its existence to such a fact.” 

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