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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Entrusted to God and the Word of His grace
Text:Acts 20:26-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work
 
Added:2016-11-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 107: 1, 12

Ps. 119: 1 – 5  

Ps. 28: 4, 5

Ps. 23: 1 – 3

Ps. 68: 8, 12

 

Scripture reading:       Ezekiel 33: 1 – 11; Acts 20: 17 – 38

Text:                            Acts 20: 26 – 32

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Entrusted to God and His Word          Farewell sermon in Kelmscott – 22/3/2015

Ps. 107: 1, 12

Ps. 119: 1 – 5  

Ps. 28: 4, 5

Ps. 23: 1 – 3

Ps. 68: 8, 12

 

Scripture reading:       Ezekiel 33: 1 – 11; Acts 20: 17 – 38

Text:                            Acts 20: 26 – 32

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

The apostle Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, but while the ship tarries a few days at Miletus, he calls the elders of Ephesus.   It is his last opportunity to see them; to speak to them face to face.   And so one may call this his farewell speech to the church of Ephesus.  

 

The words of our text are very sober and serious.    The apostle exhorts them to remain faithful and to watch out for deviation, and He encourages them to trust in God and to cling to His Word.      

 

From this text I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

Entrusted to God and the Word of His grace

 

We will note…

1.      That we need to hear the whole counsel of God

2.      That there is a struggle to preserve the Word undistorted

3.      That God preserves His church by means of His Word

 

In the first place we note that…

We need to hear the whole counsel of God

 

 Here in our text the apostle says to the elders of Ephesus:

 

“…I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.   For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”

 

The implication is that he would have been guilty of their blood if he had shun to proclaim the whole counsel of God to them.

 

The apostle is referring to that passage in Ezekiel chapter 3, and also Ezekiel chapter 33 which we read this morning.   The Lord said to Ezekiel that He has appointed him as a watchman over the house of Israel.   Ezekiel had to warn God’s people.   If they listen to the warnings of the Lord, they will live; if they do not listen, they will die.   But Ezekiel has a responsibility.   If he shuns to proclaim to them the warnings of the Lord, the Lord will hold Ezekiel responsible for their death.   Then he will be guilty of their blood.

 

And now the apostle is saying to the elders of Ephesus: I am innocent of your blood.

God will not hold me responsible if one of you depart from Him, for I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  

I did not pick and choose what I would like to preach to you; nor did I seek to tickle your ears with a message acceptable to man.   I proclaimed God’s Word to you: both the promises and the warnings of the gospel.

Therefore, if anyone heard the warnings and still goes astray, I am innocent of his blood.

 

Dear congregation, we learn from this passage how important it is that the watchmen or overseers of the church do not pick and choose their own message, leaving out what does not suite them, but that they bring God’s Word faithfully and unshortened – the whole counsel of God.  

 

Now, the task of a watchman, keeping guard on a city wall, is primarily to watch and to warn.   And the Lord used this image, of a watchman, to describe a very important aspect of the task of the overseers.   They must exercise oversight over the congregation and watch out for deviation.   And as the apostle says in this passage, they must watch out for dangers from without and from within.  The most important is that they hold on to the whole counsel of God, and see to it that the flock is fed with the wholesome doctrine of God’s Word – not shunning those parts that may be unpleasant to man.  

 

In this regard the apostle also said to Timothy:

 

“Preach the word!   Be ready in season and out of season.   Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.   For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.   But you be watchful in all things…” (2 Tim. 4: 2 – 5)

 

Timothy had to be a faithful watchman warning and exhorting with the sound doctrine of the Word.   But, the church members do not always want to hear the truth.   They will gather for themselves teachers who say what they want to hear.  

It is exactly then, in such a situation, that the watchmen must not shun to proclaim what the people do not want to hear.  

 

Every elder will know that it is not an easy task to correct a wayward member.   You will not be popular if you come with correction and admonition.   It is then so easy to shun certain parts of God’s revealed counsel, to omit the warnings of His Word, and to keep silent on certain matters, in order to avoid confrontation. 

Also, when worldliness creeps into the church, it is so easy for watchmen to keep silent and to go with the flow, because: you don’t want to upset anyone with warnings and corrections!

 

The apostle says: I am innocent of the blood of all, because I did not shun to administer to you the whole counsel of God.   I did not pick and choose my own message, but faithfully proclaimed God’s Word, undistorted and unshortened.

Yes, when people do not want to hear the sound doctrine of God’s Word, when it upsets them, do not shun to proclaim it to them – lest you become guilty of their blood!

 

And now the apostle applies this to the elders of the church:

 

“…I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.   Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

 

Now that the apostle is leaving them, the responsibility rests all the more on the elders to care for the flock, and to see that the church holds on to the whole counsel of God without deviation.  

They have been appointed by the Holy Spirit for this task.

They are not appointed by men and accountable to men, but appointed by God and accountable to God in the execution of their task.

 

Elders of the church, you have been appointed by the Holy Spirit.   Christ Himself is Your Master who called you to this task, and so you are directly accountable to Him.   Christ is the only Head of the church; and in the church only His Word must be obeyed.  

As we perform our various offices, we should not ask: “What do the people want?”, but:   “What does Christ, our only Lord and Master, commands us to do?”

Only then does Christ Shepherd His flock, when the office bearers faithfully administer the pure and undistorted Word of Christ – the whole counsel of God.

 

The church is not a democracy where everything is done by majority vote.   We have one Master, Christ, and His Word only must be heard.

It is not our church; it is His church.

He bought it with His own blood.

 

Yes, the blood of Christ is here called the blood of God, for Christ is indeed also God.  

It is then not our church where we may act and do as we want.   It is God’s own possession bought by the blood of His Son!

The apostle could not have used weightier words to describe the great responsibility of the overseers – appointed to care for the church which God bought with His own blood!

 

Now, our translation says: “…take heed to yourselves and to all the flock…”

The Greek may also be translated: “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock”.

Watch out!

 

What exactly then is the reason?   Why must they, as overseers, be on guard and watch out for themselves and for all the flock?

The apostle immediately gives the reason, saying:

 

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” – verse 29

 

That is the reason why he exhorts them to be on guard and to watch out for themselves.   They need first of all to subject themselves to the word of Christ, to the whole counsel of God, and take heed lest they deviate from it.   And then they must also be on guard for the sake of the whole congregation which is under their care.

 

Now, in the absence of the apostle Paul, the responsibility lies all the more on the elders to be faithful watchmen, overseers and shepherds.   For they are shepherding a flock in the midst of a dangerous wilderness where savage wolves are prowling. 

 

Especially now, in the absence of the apostle, the wolves will take their chance.  

 

We note that in the second place…

That there is a struggle to preserve the Word undistorted

 

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.   Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.   Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

 

Dear congregation, this is not a peculiar warning to one specific church once upon a time.   It is a warning to the church in every age.

The apostle Peter gave exactly the same warning to the churches, saying:

 

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…” – 2 Peter 2: 1

 

Just as there were false prophets in the Old Testament, so there will also be false teachers in the New Testament who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.  

It is a warning to all the churches of the New Testament.  

 

Now, who are these savage wolves?

The apostle describes these wolves as men who speak “perverse things”.

The Greek word which is here translated “perverse things” is used to describe things that are distorted and misleading; things that deviate, things that lead astray. 

They speak distortion.

 

He refers to the teaching of false teachers that deviate from God’s Word.

This warning agrees with the words of our Lord Jesus where He said:

 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” – Mt. 7: 15

 

These wolves wear sheep’s clothing.   They are wolves dressed up like sheep.   Outwardly they look innocent and tame.   They look just like the rest, but inwardly they are wolves.  

Yes, outwardly they seem to be very friendly people, nice people.   They know how to flatter and to please men.   They quickly gain popularity and draw people behind them.

And as the apostle Peter says, they secretly bring in destructive heresies.

Or as Jude puts it: they creep in unnoticed.

The deviation is slowly and gradually – just a little bit here and a little bit there, so that for the unskilled it all happens unnoticed.

And therefore the exhortation that comes especially to the elders whom God has appointed as watchmen, to be on guard.

 

The elders have the task to defend the flock against such false teachers and their destructive teaching.   The elders do this when they exercise oversight over the preaching.   They also do this when they exercise oversight over each other, and over the whole congregation, keeping watch that no distorted teaching enters the church. 

 

Now, the apostle says he knows that the wolves will come.  

It has been clearly revealed.

Just as the apostle Peter also said: “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…”  Such false teachers will surely plague the church in the New Testament, just as false prophets plagued the church in the Old Testament (2 Peter 2: 1). 

We should expect this to happen, just as it has happened throughout all of church history.

 

Now, the church do sometimes enjoy a time of peace and rest.   On such sunny days the sheep graze peacefully, feeding on the sound doctrine of God’s Word.   On such sunny days the wolves seem to creep into their holes.   But when the sky becomes dark with clouds, or when night falls, wolves become active.

An experienced shepherd like the apostle Paul could tell when there is a change in the weather.   He could clearly see that the time for savage wolves to creep from their holes is at hand.

First of all, because he is going to leave them, and will not see them again.   The absence of the apostle Paul will give the wolves an opportunity to act, without fearing the apostle’s watchful eye and bold defence. 

 

But also, the weather was changing.   Some signs of deformation were already present in many churches.   The apostle Paul warns for example Timothy of many things for which he has to watch out, warning also that a time will come when church members will turn their ears away from sound doctrine, to listen to nice storytelling.  

 

Think also of the seven letters to the seven churches in minor Asia.   The Lord had to call most of these churches to repentance lest their lampstand would be removed!   Some of these churches in minor Asia were, when they received these letters, already at the brink of becoming false churches.

And thus we see that the apostle’s warning was not for nothing.   The wolves did come, and many were drawn away.

 

Dear congregation, the danger is real also in our time!   We live in a time of much deformation.

The false teachers of our day do not say: God’s Word is not true.  No, they rather say: We have to understand His Word differently.   They reinterpret Scripture to suit our own time and culture.

They do not say: Let’s get rid of the Reformed confessions.   No, they only say: Let us adjust the confessions to our own time.   Or they only plead for a less strict binding to the confessions.

They do not say: Let us get rid of God’s law.  No, they speak of a kingdom ethics in which we have to follow Christ’s example, but without clear commandments.  

They do not speak open and blatant lies; they only slightly adjust the Word of Christ.     

As the apostle says in our text: they speak distortions.

They do not come with a loud noise and blatant heresy; no, they do it secretly and almost unnoticed, slowly and gradually.

 

So then, the elders have the responsibility to be on guard.

 

Now, congregation, you may ask: Why does the apostle place so much emphasis on the danger of false teachers and their distorted doctrines?  

Why speak of “ravenous wolves” while all is at peace?  

Is that really necessary?

Why is the apostle so concerned about the “perverse things” that false teachers might speak?   Why so much emphasis on sound teaching and doctrine?

Because: this is exactly the point where Satan launches his attacks.   He attacks the church mainly by deception; by corrupting the Word.

Because: without the sound doctrine of God’s Word there is no pasture, no guidance, no growth.   The means by which the elders have to tend and feed the flock is the undistorted sound doctrine of Christ’s Word.

 

We note that in the last place, that…

God preserves His church by means of His Word

 

“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” – verse 32

 

Who will be able to stand in the midst of so many dangers and temptations?   Knowing the weakness of man, knowing how hopeless it would be if the church would have to stand by its own power, the apostle now directs us to God and His power.  

God is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 

 

He also mentions the means by which God will build them up.   God will build you up by His Word of grace.   As soon as the apostle commends the church to God and His power, he also mentions the instrument by which we are kept: “the word of His grace”.

 

Here all of Scripture is called the word of God’s grace.   By this Word God proclaims to us His favour, His grace in Christ.   This Word contains the gospel of salvation: the forgiveness of our sins, the adoption as children, and an eternal inheritance from the Father.

In this revelation of God’s grace our soul finds rest.   On this word of grace our faith is built.

 

Now, God Himself will build you up.   Our translation says: build up.   One may also translate: build further.   Like a house, when its foundation is laid, still needs to be build up stage by stage, so our faith also needs to be build up.

God who laid the foundation, God who started the good work of faith in us, will also complete His work in us.  

He continues to build us up by the proclamation and instruction of His Word.

 

Yes, there is a great need for continual building through the continued preaching of God’s Word.     God Himself and His power is the guarantee that it will proceed.   He will not leave His work unfinished.  

He will also not forsake the work of His hands here in the church of Kelmscott.

He will continue to build you up by His power through the word of His grace.

 

 

And then the apostle also mentions our inheritance:

 

“… I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

 

God made us heirs of His kingdom, and in this hope we press forward.

It is a glory which no eye has yet seen, but the promise is sure.

It is an inheritance which we now possess only by faith, and not by sight, but on the day of Christ’s coming we will enter the promised glory.  On that day we will take possession of the eternal inheritance, incorruptable and undefiled, which God prepared for us.

 

Here we have the promise that God will continue His work of grace in the saints; He will continue to build us up in the faith until that day when we will receive the promised inheritance.

 

He is able to do so.  

Yes, our translation says He is “able” to build you up and to give you an inheritance, but we may also translate: He is mighty to do so.   He has the power to do it.

And thus our confidence is in Him, our almighty God.   He, by His power, will build us up and preserve us until the day of Christ’s coming. 

 

Dear congregation, as church of Christ we are still in a wilderness surrounded by howling wolves.   How will we remain standing against the whiles of the devil?

As the apostle Paul was able to commend the church at Ephesus to God and to the word of His grace, which was mighty to build them up, so I may also commend you this morning to God and to His word of grace, for these words were written also for our sake – to the church of all times, to all those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.

 

God’s Word of grace includes the whole counsel of God.   By means of this Word He will build you up, if only you cling to this word.   By means of this Word God will continue to build you up and to sanctify you.   By means of this Word God will preserve your faith and give you an inheritance in His kingdom.  

 

Dear congregation, this farewell speech of the apostle Paul remains relevant also for us.  

The Holy Spirit has appointed elders, overseers, to guard this church.  

Especially now that you are a vacant church the responsibility of the elders are even greater, to be on guard and to guide the flock with God’s Word – His whole counsel, unshortened and undistorted.

 

Also in our day there is much deformation in many churches, and we ourselves are not immune against the spirit of this age; we need to be on guard, watching out first of all for ourselves, lest we deviate from the revealed Word of God.

 

Yes, you are a vacant church now.   Hopefully you will soon be able to call a new minister.    You may have various expectations of what a new minister may be able to do.   Some will say: We need a minister who knows how to work with young people.   Someone else may say: We need a minister who faithfully visits the sick and elderly.   And all these things are important.   But there is one thing which is most important: that it will be a minister who preaches the pure Word of God, undistorted.

 

At this present time, the time in which we are living, you need to seek a minister who proclaims God’s Word boldly without compromise, who does not follow the new hermeneutics, who does not try to adjust God’s Word to suite the desires of man, who does not shun away from proclaiming and defending the whole counsel of God – also when it may not add to his popularity.

 

May the Lord give you what you need!

And here the apostle also makes known to us what we need.

Our greatest need is to hear God’s Word, His whole revealed counsel, undistorted.

 

Dear congregation, you are a church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and God will build you up by His Word of grace, by the complete counsel of His Word.   He has done so up till this day.

Yes, my own ministry among you was marked with much weakness and illness.  

The Lord knows how much this has been a trial to you, and also to me.

But the Lord is faithful and merciful.   He will not forsake His church; He will not leave you.  

By the power of His Word He will continue to build you up in the faith, and preserve you, according to His promise.

 

The promise is to all His saints, those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.

In Christ and through Christ He will provide in all your needs.

 

And so, with the words of our text, I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is powerful to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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