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.30 Even 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. -Ephesians 20:28-31
The Apostle Paul was speaking to the elders, or pastors, of the Ephesian Church. He knew he would never see them again. He was nearing the end of his career. He would soon be arrested and sent on to Rome for trial. It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of the Apostle’s final words to the Ephesian pastors.
Paul began by emphasizing the need for the pastors to keep watch over themselves and over all the flock, “of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” That word, overseer, in the original Greek is where we get the word bishop. A bishop is an overseer over one or more congregations. A pastor, according to Paul, also has the responsibility of overseeing his congregation. He must be a watchful shepherd over himself- his own life and doctrine- and over the congregation. And it is God who made men overseers over his churches. Pastors don’t call themselves into the position. God establishes pastor-overseers through the call of the congregation. Self-appointed pastors are not called of God.
Notice that the shepherd’s first action is to watch over himself. That means watching his attitude, his behavior, and his doctrine. Satan loves to work on pastors, tempting them and seducing them, if he can, into sin and unbelief. Maintaining relationships with other pastors is important in this regard. Pastors call out one another like brothers. “You’ve veered off the path there brother!” And then they can both look into the Word and the Confessions to reaffirm and strengthen doctrine or practice where it has become weak. For this same reason, pastors need to be active in local and synodical pastoral conferences and committees. These provide opportunity to encourage and correct one another in a loving, shepherd-like way.
Then the bishop/pastor/elder/shepherd must do the same with the congregation. Remember the seriousness of this matter! “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” The troubling problem Paul could see coming up in Ephesus was the introduction of false teachers: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even 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!” Paul compares these false teachers to ravenous wolves whose desire is to devour the flock. They would ruin the flock, not by introducing anything particularly new, but by “distorting the truth.” They would draw members away from the Church by their false and twisted doctrines.
This very thing remains the problem separating the churches today. They all teach Baptism, but they teach a distorted doctrine of Baptism. They all teach Christ, but some teach a distorted doctrine of Christ. They all teach Salvation, but some teach a distorted doctrine of salvation. We must watch that the doctrines that we have, hold, confess, teach, and practice are not becoming distorted or twisted from the original.
Paul warned that some of these false teachers would arise “from your own number.” This has always been a particularly painful reality of false doctrine creeping into the church: It comes from inside the church, from people inside the congregation. Trouble making members must be forcefully confronted.
“ So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Sometimes people become irritated when they think their pastor is focusing too much on doctrine. Of course there are extremes. A pastor cannot concentrate so much on warning about false doctrine that he neglects the other necessary aspects of pastoral ministry. But these final words from St. Paul to the Ephesian Elders demonstrate that watching over doctrine was a top concern then, and it must remain so now. “I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” The true doctrine of Christ is like a beautiful golden chain. It is made of many equally beautiful links. Should one link be broken, the whole chain is ruined.
Lord God, Heavenly Father, grant your church faithful pastors who watch and pray and warn with tears! Jerusalem needed faithful watchmen on her walls. We need faithful watchmen in our churches. Amen.