Most of us who have read Psalm 23 understand a little about a shepherd watching his flock of sheep, but there is far more to shepherding sheep than meets the eye. A shepherd did far more than water, feed and protect the sheep from predators. He would guide the sheep to the market for sale or shearing. Then there would milking the sheep and making cheese from the milk. Should sheep be sick or wounded, the shepherd would administer whatever medical care he knew or was available to restore the sheep. Should sheep get lost, he would need to search for them and at times rescue them from pits, ravines and dangerous areas.
Shepherding was a fulltime career with little or no off time. I recall walking in in the mountains bordering Lesotho and seeing young shepherds watching their flocks, protecting them from stock thieves and wild animals. They could not take the sheep home because the mountains had lush grazing areas with small streams of water every here and there for drinking purposes. Unless in the rural areas, shepherding sheep is a lost profession now-a-days. You will recall that Paul is addressing the elders of the Church at Ephesus. He stopped over at Miletus from where he sent for these elders. He started teaching them in verse 18 to verse 35 of Acts 20. The passage continues to verse 38. We resume our reading at:
Ac 20:28 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. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
1) Defensive strategy. Remember these elders need to expect spiritual warfare. They need to be on the defensive … so, Paul says two things to them …
Ac 20:28 Be shepherds.
This word actual means “overseer” … a superintendent or the head of a Christian Church. The thought behind this is a guardian of souls … one who watches for the welfare of the souls in the Church. Being a guardian of souls must be seen in the context that these souls belong to God not the overseer, therefore in a spiritual way, everything the shepherd did caring for his sheep would apply to the overseer. So often we think of the teaching elder as one who studies the Word to preach it and to pray. Sadly that would be an error. He needs to do visitation to know and understand where his flock are at every level or he shall not be able to minister to them effectively. He needs to be there for them, not distant. His work is a calling not an employment. It is not a 9 to 5 day. Wherever he is his people need to be in his heart. He needs to love them jealously, protectively and faithfully. They must not only be on his heart, they need to be in his mind. Knowing the flock means knowing the spiritual diet they need as well as knowing how to pray for them. This is how Paul did his overseeing the flock and this is what he is impressing upon these elders. As an aside, if this is not the way an elder today sees his ministry he needs to leave the ministry. There is other work for him but not pastoral ministry because pastoral ministry means being a servant to the flock and this requires total dedication and commitment. One other matter here … ministry is not a hundred meter dash. It is a long distance race. Should the elder not be there for the long haul he should not be there. The concept of elder in the Bible is a lifetime work. No stepping down and no retiring.
Ac 20:31 So be on your guard!
Remember the spiritual warfare that faces all elders. One of the most difficult tasks for soldiers is to be called up for active duty at short notice. I recall how a battalion who were well trained were called up one night to go into combat. I was the chaplain and saw the fear and unpreparedness of that moment. The Church elder needs to be ready … and on guard all the time. He may not wait until the crucial moment arrives. He must not only be on guard … he needs to be ready for action. If the Christian must dress with the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), how much more the elder … the guardian of souls? He may not come with excuses because, like in Paul’s case when speaking to these elders:
Ac 20:31 Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears
The preparation for a teaching elder takes a minimum of three years. He knows what is required of him. There are no excuses and no dry eyes!
(3) The elder needs to know whom he is serving. When we understand what “shepherd and guard” mean, we need to remember that before the elder serves the flock, he serve the owner of the flock, the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember the flock are blood bought. The elder serves Jesus by caring for His flock and he shall give an account for the way he cared for, protected and grew the flock.
2) So, how does the elder prepare soldiers for Jesus? Remember, we are at war. The opposition appears in many disguises. How does the elder, overseer prepare the Body of Christ for battle?
(1) He must watch himself.
Ac 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves.
If an elder is to model Christ he needs to ensure he is living faithfully and obediently according to the standards of his supreme commander. He cannot be a hypocrite … “do as I say” without doing it himself. When Paul teaches young Timothy and Titus that an elder must be above reproach he means an elder must live a life in public and private that has God’s stamp of approval upon it. Can he teach “read the Bible” if he does not read the Bible? Can he teach prayer if he is not a man of prayer? Can he call his flock to follow the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount if he does not? Can he teach the flock not to be greedy for money, not to live in sexual immorality, not tell lies or not to disrespect people … if he does not hold to these virtues?
(2) He must watch the folk.
Ac 20:28 Keep watch over all the flock.
Once the elder “watches” himself he can watch his flock. Note … not some but all the flock! Once he demonstrates godly living he is able to be critical in his caring for the flock and challenge those areas that don’t seem to line up to Jesus’ requirements.
(3) The armory required.
Ac 20:27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Have you read Ephesians 6:10-18? The full armor of God is based upon verse 17 and 18.
Eph 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
It is the Bible and Prayer accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s empowering.
Father, the elder’s work is not easy as he serves under the Commander of souls, the Lord Jesus. Grant true elders whom You have called must courage, wisdom and discernment to fulfil their calling. Remove those who are false and not fulfilling their duties. Amen.