A Commentary by John Stott
Acts. 20:28-35. His exhortation to the elders.
Having looked back to his ministry in Ephesus (which they know) and on to his coming sufferings and separation from them (which he knows), Paul now gives them his final charge. The past and the future will together shape their present ministry. In essence, his appeal is for vigilance: ‘Keep watch!’ (28)…’Be on your guard!’ (31).
We note that the Ephesian pastors must first keep watch over themselves, and only then over the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them responsible. For they cannot care adequately for others if they neglect the care and culture of their own souls. They are to ‘be shepherds’ of God’s church, *poimaino* meaning in general to ‘tend’ a flock and in particular ‘to lead a flock to pasture, and so to feed it’. This is the first duty of shepherds. ‘Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?’ (Ezk. 34:2). Moreover pastors will be more diligent in their ministry if they remember that their flock is *the church of God, which he bought with his own blood*. The startling concept of God having and shedding blood, although the church fathers Ignatius and Tertullian spoke of it, seems to have led some scribes to write ‘the church of the Lord’, meaning the Lord Jesus. But this expression occurs nowhere in the new Testament, whereas ‘the church of God’ is a regular Pauline expression. It should therefore be retained. Then the rest of the sentence should be translated ‘which he bought with the blood of his Own’ (RSV margin, NEB margin; cf. Rom.8:32). This sense of *idios* (‘own’), writes F.F.Bruce, ‘is well attested by the papyri, where it is “used thus as a term of endearment to near relations”’.
The second need for watchfulness is the wolves, that is, the false teachers who, Paul knows, will after his departure enter and devastate Christ’s flock (29). Some of them will arise even from within the church. By distorting the truth, they will induce people to forsake it and follow them instead (30). So the Ephesian pastors must be on their guard, as Paul had constantly warned them while he was with them (31). We have only to read both Letters to Timothy and the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2:1ff. to know that what Paul predicted came to pass. Perhaps it would not have done if the pastors had been more vigilant.
After exhorting the Ephesian elders to be watchful both over the sheep and against the wolves, the apostle proceeds to commend them to God and his word of grace (32). Then suddenly, as if to enforce his appeal and commendation, he reminds them again of the example he has set them. Like Samuel in his farewell charge (1 Sam. 12 :1ff.), Paul declares that he has coveted nobody’s money or clothing (33). Instead he has supported himself and his companions. One can imagine his gesture as he refers to ‘these hands of mine’ (34). And by his hard manual work he has exemplified the truth of an otherwise unknown saying of Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (35).
c). The farewell (20:36-38)
*When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship*.
Tomorrow: d). Ideals of pastoral ministry.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.