Thursday, August 31, 2006

Watch Out For The Wolves!

17From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.
18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,
19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;
20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,
21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,
23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.
24"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.
26"Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
(Acts 20:17-31, NASB)

Paul in what he perceived would be the last meeting that he would have with the Ephesian elders, addresses them with a solemn warning about those who would threaten the flock with their false teaching. He spent three years ministering to those people and warning them of impending danger of those who come into the church “speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them”. The fact that Paul had a close bond and love for those people and they also loved and respected him is clearly evident. (Acts 20:36-38) Paul took great care to thoroughly teach God’s Truth to these people. He was not interested in “seeker-sensitivity” or cultural relevancy, avoiding certain truth because it was deemed as being irrelevant to the current culture. Scripture teaches us that he “did not shrink from declaring” anything that was “profitable” (Acts 20:20), declaring the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). He preached the truth without shame or fear, regardless of what people desired and gave similar advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2-4.

Paul’s advice to the leadership of the church in Ephesus was to be on guard first for themselves and for all the flock, and to “shepherd” the flock. This is crucial if the pastor is going to be of any benefit to his congregation. If the pastor is being influenced by false teachers, then he will be in no position to warn and protect the flock.

What is the first step in guarding themselves? Clinging tightly to the Word of God is crucial. Paul admonished Timothy to be diligent in accurately handling the Word of God. I like the NKJV rendering here, “rightly dividing the word of truth”, since that more strongly conveys the meaning of the Greek text, emphasizing precision in interpreting the Biblical text.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15; NKJV)

This is why I get upset when I see pastors that are sloppy or take a casual attitude in teaching the Bible. This is the pinnacle of emphasis in the ministry of someone in pastoral ministry. If a man has no passion for the truth, he has absolutely no business being in pastoral ministry. And yet it amazes me how many pastors have little understanding of the text of Scripture. I was once told by a youth pastor that he felt I knew more about the Bible than he did. Things like that infuriate me. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:17 that those who labor in the word of God were worthy of “double honor”. The term labor comes from the Greek word, kopiao, which means to work to the point of exhaustion. Pastors are to labor with intensity over Scripture, not merely skim the surface. This why I so much appreciate the work of men like John MacArthur, John Piper and others who labor so intensely in the Word of God.

It is also crucial to follow other men who have proven themselves sound in the faith, following a pattern of fidelity to the text of Scripture. What grieves me is that I have noticed that many are more enamored with those who devise pragmatic fads and methods, and minimize the importance of solid biblical teaching. The more visible success these men garner, the more pastors feel compelled to follow them. It just seems to be the spirit of this age, where our culture esteems the visible results over anything else. People are given to reckless abandonment to the latest fads of the moment.

Even more disturbing is the fact that God has blessed us with incredibly easy access to obtain a copy of the Bible practically anywhere. We have ready access to an incredible myriad of study helps and resources to understand the Word of God and apply it to our lives. Like Israel in the book of Numbers 11, God has provided us with plenty of His manna, but instead we are dissatisfied with it and want what the world has to offer. What was God’s judgment for Israel? God obliged their request and let them have what they wanted. An overabundance of what they desired, to the point that it would become loathsome to them! Perhaps we are suffering a similar fate today in the church.

Paul was concerned since the wolves that he describes as “savage”, would be those who would enter the flock in their midst and even seduce those from among themselves to follow their error. The wolves are not always easy to initially spot and enter the congregation “dressed” as one of the sheep, hence the term used, “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. The message was heavy on Paul’s heart, knowing the severe error that would be introduced by these teachers. The best way to describe these false teachers is the term “terrorists” that Dan Phillips used in his post this week. They enter the flock as one of us and carry out their plan secretly as one of us, recruiting followers from among ourselves.

This warning that Paul provides should provide a clarion call to the church today. If there is ever a time where this needs to be emphasized, it is now. We cannot afford to take for granted the need for keeping diligent watch even in good Bible teaching churches. The drift from truth can even occur there. I don’t believe there is ever a church that deliberately one day decided that they were going to throw out the Bible and teach heresy. The drift is usually subtle as we become lax in our handling of the truth. Once we become indifferent toward the truth, the slide accelerates. John MacArthur shares the thoughts of Robert Schindler who anonymously wrote the series, “The Down Grade” in Spurgeon’s publication, “The Sword and the Trowel”.

‘Tracing the state of evangelicalism from the Puritan age to his own era, Shindler noted that every revival of true evangelical faith had been followed within a generation or two by a drift away from sound doctrine, ultimately leading to wholesale apostasy. He likened this drifting from truth to a downhill slope, and thus labeled it "the down-grade."’

-John MacArthur, “Spurgeon and the Down-Grade Controversy”

There are numerous individuals within the ranks of evangelicalism who pose as leaders, but are teaching contrary to Scripture. I plan on writing some follow up posts on the subject of handling false teachers soon.

1 comment:

T A Blankenship said...

Eric, Great article there. I look forward to reading the others following.
Bro. Tim A. Blankenship