A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 20:1-21:17. d). Ideals of pastoral ministry.
In developing the pastoral metaphor, it is noteworthy that Paul described his own teaching ministry (as their ‘shepherd’), warned them of false teachers (’wolves’) and affirmed the value of their church members (God’s ‘sheep’).
(i) The example of the apostle (the shepherd).
Several times he reminded the elders of his example. There had been a degree of thoroughness about it, which left his conscience clear. First, he had been thorough in his teaching. He had taught them about God’s grace and kingdom (24-25) and the necessity of repentance and faith (21). He had not shrunk from declaring to them either what was profitable to them (20) or God’s whole salvation plan (27). Secondly, he had been thorough in his coverage. He was as concerned to reach the whole population of Ephesus as he was to teach the whole purpose of God. He wanted to teach everything to everybody! So he had a ministry to both Jews and Gentiles, both residents and visitors. Thirdly, he was thorough in his methods. He taught both publicly (in the synagogue and lecture hall) and privately (in homes), and he continued both day and night (20, 31). He was absolutely indefatigable. In modern terms, Paul’s threefold thoroughness was a fine example of ‘evangelism in depth’. He shared all possible truth with all possible people in all possible ways. He taught the whole gospel to the whole city with his whole strength. His pastoral example must have been an unfailing inspiration to the Ephesian pastors.
(ii) The rise of false teachers (the wolves).
In the ancient Near East wolves were the chief enemy of sheep. Hunting now singly now in packs, they were a constant threat. Sheep were defenceless against them. Shepherds could not afford to relax their vigilance. Nor can Christian pastors. Jesus himself warned of false prophets; ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ he called them (Mt.7:15).
So the shepherds of Christ’s flock have a double duty: to feed the sheep (by teaching the truth) and to protect them from wolves (by warning of error). As Paul put it to Titus, elders must hold firm the sure word according to apostolic teaching, so that they would be able both ‘to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it’ (Tit.1:9, RSV). This emphasis is unpopular today. We are frequently told always to be positive in our teaching, and never negative. But those who say this have either not read the New Testament or, having read it, they disagree with it. For the Lord Jesus and his apostles refuted error themselves and urged us to do the same. One wonders if it is the neglect of this obligation which is the major cause of today’s theological confusion. If, when false teaching arises, Christian leaders sit idly by and do nothing, or turn tail and flee, they will earn the terrible epithet ‘hirelings’ who care nothing for Christ’s flock (Jn. 10:12ff.). Then too it will be said of believers, as it was of Israel, that ‘they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and …they became food for all the wild animals (Ezk. 34:5).
Tomorrow: (iii) The value of the people (the sheep).
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.