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Paul’s Pattern & Plea for Selfless Shepherding (Part 2)

February 25, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 20:28–38

Paul’s Pattern & Plea for Selfless Shepherding (Part 2) – Acts 20:28–38


Christ is the head of his own body. Jesus is the Shepherd of his own flock, the church, those who belong to God by faith in Him. As he presently sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for his people, he has not left us on earth without leadership. He has given to his people the presence of the indwelling Spirit, and through him gives to the church in local flocks servant leaders who will shepherd God’s flock in that field to worship God through Jesus Christ according to his own will, as directed in his word. This is how God has ordained that we will not just be a bunch of people sheep wandering around chaotically wondering what to do with ourselves, not knowing how best to follow Christ’s mission for his people.

So at the close of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, he stops at Miletus and gathers together the elders from the church in Ephesus…

Summary from last week: Paul’s impassioned plea is for the Ephesian elders to model their own selfless shepherding after the pattern he set for them.

If we would follow Paul’s example of selfless shepherding as he follows Christ, we must… (Acts 20:17-27)
Live transparently in service to the Lord—serving others in humility, sincerity, and perseverance. (vv. 18b-19)
Prioritize direct and persistent gospel proclamation through biblical teaching. (vv. 20-21, 27)
Be sensitive and obedient to the Lord’s leading, and keep an eternal perspective on safety and ministry. (vv. 22-24a)
Finish the race with a clear conscience that we withheld nothing of truth or selfless effort. (vv. 24b-26)

[transition to this week]

Acts 20:28–38 ESV

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” 36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

Here’s a summary statement of what we want to be sure we see from God’s word today. Sorry it’s kind of long because it has three overlapping parts.

Faithful under-shepherding requires a commitment to constant vigilance over ourselves and those we serve, a commitment to guarding the biblical integrity of our teaching, and a commitment to selfless care for those we serve.

The reason I’m highlighting and using the term shepherding here is because it is the metaphor used in this text. Where it says “to care for” the church of God, it’s one word, a verb, to shepherd. Here and elsewhere in the NT shepherding is used to describe the role and responsibility of elders, of overseers in the local church. We get our term pastors from this very concept of shepherding.

And the reason we use the term under-shepherd is because it is a healthy reminder that there is a chief shepherd who is the head of the church, even Jesus Christ. We are simply his servants for the sake of the local church; we are under-shepherds.

Now of course, this is not everything that the Bible says about Eldership qualifications and responsibilities, but it is what this text says. So these three overarching things we’ll emphasize today, and in fact I’m going to list and show you as many important aspects of this commitment and responsibility as I can see arising directly from the text.

As we go through these, although the direct application is to the chief servants in the church, you can and should be willing to apply each to yourself and to your situation. It’s not unfair here to change the word “under-shepherds” to “God’s servants” and apply it in some way to our own attitudes, priorities, actions, and words. 

  1. 28 acts as a transition in Paul’s speech to the elders. To this point he had given his example among them as a pattern to follow, and now he provides some direct instruction to them, which will again include his own example.

So I want you to see and apply at least these three things in v. 28.

Under-shepherds must be on guard for their own spiritual health and moral purity. (v. 28)

The verse says pay careful attention to yourselves.

- Selfless shepherds must be vigilant for their integrity—their spiritual health and moral purity. Be on guard against your own sinful inclinations.

- In the same breath Paul also says, Keep watch over the flock. - The word overseer means a guardian, a leader who watches over. That’s why you’ll hear me keep repeating that the text says “under-shepherds must be on guard.” But for a little variety, I’ll word this next one another way.

Shepherding care for others never sleeps. (vv. 28, 31)

Be on guard for the protection of the flock. (31, be alert, keep awake) 

Can one person do it all? Or does it require a rotation of night watches, a necessary sharing of responsibilities?

Shepherding never sleeps. As soon as you dose off… - When David was a shepherd, and before God allowed him to kill Goliath, he had evidently already killed a lion and a bear, perhaps more than once from the sounds of it. (1 Sam 17:34-36) - As we see even in our own text, which we’ll come to shortly, there are very real dangers that threaten the safety and health of God’s people. So shepherds must remain awake and vigilant at all times for the protection of the flock.

Along with these things in v. 28, we also get a healthy and heavy dose of the seriousness and responsibility before God.

Under-shepherds are accountable to God. (v. 28)

“the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd His church” - Not only does this emphasize the Holy Spirit’s role in the selection process, but every flock of true believers, every local church, belongs to the Lord. They are His. … We are His.

Godly under-shepherds must recognize the seriousness of their responsibility before God. (Although these human flock members do not blindly follow, because they too are growing believers who have God’s word and the indwelling Spirit, that does not diminish the significant degree to which they entrust a great deal of responsibility to elders in guidance of the local church.)

To underscore the seriousness of your responsibility in relationship to God: The Holy Spirit is credited with appointing you as shepherds… God’s own church that he purchased with the His own blood.

This is God’s own flock. God is worthy to have healthy under-shepherds who prioritize healthy teaching and sacrificial service. - Is God worthy of anything less than our very best? Especially since everything that we are and have is from him in the first place? Particularly as his children through faith in Christ, shouldn’t we be acutely aware of the price that God himself paid through Christ’s sacrifice for sin… with his own life?

  1. 29-30 You will have to face false teachers in my absence who will attack the members of Christ’s flock in Ephesus. - The metaphor is an echo from Jesus himself, who said Matt 7:15-17

Matthew 7:15–17 ESV

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

Two things get me about Jesus’s two metaphors here. One, the wolves are sneaky, hiding in plain sight… meaning we don’t know that’s what they are at first. Second, knowing a tree by its fruit means it could take time. Trees don’t bear fruit until they reach maturity, and even then they bear fruit in season.

These two things combine to me to mean that we must be persistently vigilant. We can’t let our guard down. - Back in our text for today we’ll say it like this.

Under-shepherds must be on guard against false teachers masquerading as sincere Christ-followers and teammates. (vv. 29-30)

The problem with falsehood is that it is rarely blatant, but often subtly invasive. Wolves dressed like sheep. A virus looking like a harmless software update. A pragmatic solution to a problem that only slightly diverts you from your primary purpose as a church. A theological drift that is increasingly man-centered instead of God-centered. The external pressures of culture to be less “close-minded” about certain moral dilemmas that actually seem pretty clear in God’s word. We could probably go on. 

- To make matters worse, some of these distorted perversions of the truth (twisted things) will come from within your own ranks, with a desire to draw away disciples after themselves. - Such problems are not merely theoretical, because when Paul’s writes later to Timothy, whom he had left in Ephesus to help the church there, we find out that such false teaching had arisen from their own ranks. These are not empty warnings.

This is such a healthy and needed counterbalance to my peacemaking mentality. (By God’s grace, I am hopefully not a peacemaker in a desire to please men, but to please God. So I strive to be sure that teammates are making peace as much as possible in spite of differences and disagreements, even conflicts.) But it’s good and necessary to remember that we must be on guard against false doctrines that undermine God’s authority in his word and pull people away from the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

-One of the key markers, which may take time and attentiveness to recognize, is selfish motivation. “to draw away disciples after them.” - But we will know them by their fruit.


Under-shepherds must be on guard against selfish ambition and hold their fellow under-shepherds accountable to the same. (vv. 30-31)

-We must protect against external false teaching and be alert to the propensity in ourselves to be wrongly motivated for selfish gain. (selfish ambition for position, influence, authority; greedy for selfish gain) - Maybe not everyone starts out with a specific plan to be divisive, to push for their own position, etc. In other words, be on guard against your own sinful propensities.

- For any and all of us, but especially for leaders, there MUST BE mutual accountability. Without accountability the most sincere might go astray. -It should never be lonely at the top, because you shouldn’t be alone at the top. That’s a hard fall waiting to happen, which results in defamation of the name of Christ.

The need for accountability: I’ll just throw myself under the bus here to illustrate. If Jeff always does and gets what he wants as like some kind of supreme leader, what happens when Jeff doesn’t have all the pertinent information, or what happens when Jeff is biased in some way, or wrongly motivated by selfish ambition? Well, disaster. Notice the wisdom of God in a plurality of elders protecting against the sin and mistakes of a single individual.

Faithful under-shepherding requires a commitment to constant vigilance over ourselves and those we serve. … And a key part of that is guarding the theological integrity of our teaching (from the word of God).

  1. 31 Repeat: be alert and follow the example I set for you over the three years I was with you to warn you against such things. - Admonish: to warn or counsel in terms of someone’s behavior.

What is the chief protection against false teaching? To prioritize direct and persistent gospel proclamation through biblical teaching.

Acts 20:20 ESV

20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,

Acts 20:27 ESV

27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.


Under-shepherds must understand that individual and corporate health depends on clear and persistent gospel proclamation through biblical teaching. (vv. 31-32)

What did Paul warn and counsel with? His benediction prayer in v. 32 also gives this away: I commend you to God and the “word of his grace,” which is, as we said last week, the emphatic focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ from all corners of God’s revealed will in his word. (repeat?)

Because what does that word do, besides guarding against falsehood? (v. 32 speaks of the power of the word of grace to do its work when faithfully taught to be believed and obeyed…)

Again, v. 32 is a prayer of benediction, entrusting them to God and to the power of “the word of his grace” to do its work when faithfully believed and obeyed, that it will build you up and give you the final inheritance (sanctified - fully set apart).

Godly shepherds must entrust their efforts and the people to God, and must maintain a focus on teaching and obedience to “the word of grace,” because that is God’s chosen means by which he builds up and sanctifies all the saints for their inheritance with Christ.

  1. 33-35 Paul’s example for them to not be motivated by monetary gain. - Didn’t covet their stuff; and was willing to do other work with his hands (tentmaking, leather-working) to help meet his needs and those who were his companions.
Under-shepherds must be on guard against material greed, and should instead view their ministry as opportunity to sacrificially help those in need. (vv. 33-35)

Servant leaders do not use their position for personal gain, but instead view themselves as servants of Christ who follow his example of sacrificial giving of their lives.

- I have shown you a model to selflessly help the weak, rather than taking advantage of your authority and leadership for personal gain.

- Jesus’ own words: It is more blessed to give than to receive. - A giving saying from Jesus not recorded elsewhere (but see Jn 21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.) - We must help the weak.

  1. 36-38 Prayerful and Tearful goodbyes
Under-shepherds humbly depend on the same Lord to whom they are accountable. (v. 36)

-Even as Jesus himself modeled for his disciples during his earthly days, Paul models dependency on God once again in praying with them all. - We pray exactly as much as we think we need God’s help.

Finally, to round these all out, here’s a last one displayed in the text by more than just Paul.

God’s servants love one another sincerely in Christ Jesus. (vv. 37-38)

-The tearful and heartfelt (sincere) goodbyes are a true reflection of the deep connections we make in Christ and especially when serving him together in ministry. And when we must say goodbye to one another, let it not be with “good riddance” under our breath but with sincere tears and prayers for God’s continued work in one another’s lives and using us for his kingdom.


Conclusion: I want to reiterate here that everything we have said can also be applied to all of us as God’s servants, to all of us in whatever capacity we might be his servant leaders. [re-list them in reverse order, “God’s servants…”

Let’s restate our summary concerning Paul’s pattern and plea for selfless shepherding, but then let’s also conclude by broadening our application to be sure all of us can see how we can still apply this ourselves.

Faithful under-shepherding requires a commitment to constant vigilance over ourselves and those we serve, a commitment to guarding the biblical integrity of our teaching, and a commitment to selfless care for those we serve.

Before we leave this text, here are just a few more thoughts to broaden, to extend, the application a bit.

Healthy ministry in the body of Christ requires being vigilant of our own character and holding one another accountable to God.
Healthy ministry in the local church requires helping our servant leaders maintain constant guarding of themselves and of sound biblical teaching.
Healthy ministry in the local church requires that we set aside earthly gain and choose God being pleased with us, sacrificially serving one another like Jesus.





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