The Apostle Paul's Warning.

In Acts 20:17, the apostle Paul called over to Miletus the elders of the church of Ephesus to speak with them, knowing, that he would not meet them on earth again. There is something exceedingly touching about the last spoken words of this great servant of the Lord, to those who had heard his God-given ministry so long. He did not call all the saints over, only the elders, who had the care of the saints, as he had some very salutary words of warning to speak to them regarding the coming days. So that, while these words are for all the saints, it specially becomes those who have the interest of Christ's saints at heart, to heed them. Although there are no appointed elders in the church today, there are still those who, like the house of Stephanus, have addicted themselves to the ministry; who tend what is dear to the heart of Christ. Such should be spiritually minded, so as to be able to exercise spiritual judgment in the affairs of God's assembly.

Paul could speak to them with apostolic authority, but he founds his instructions on what he had been among them at all seasons, "Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations." In Acts 20:18 he speaks of his manner of life; in Acts 20:19 of his service to the Lord; in Acts 20:20 of his service to the saints and in Acts 20:21 of his testimony to all men. Is this order not of special importance in days of wholesale departure from the truth? Nothing can be right if the manner of life is inconsistent with the word ministered; all takes character from this. Then all true service must have the Lord Himself in view; it is from Him and to Him; He must be the source, the motive, and the object of all done in His Name. Next there are the saints to care for; they are to have what is profitable, and to be taught publicly and from house to house. The Gospel has its place too, and it had a very important place with the apostle, who could say, "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." So that God's order was, first the Lord, then the saints, then the world.

Going to Jerusalem, he did not have liberty of spirit, not knowing what was before him, saving that the Holy Spirit had forewarned him that bonds and afflictions were to be his. Still, these things did not move him; nor did he count his life dear to him; his great desire was to finish his course, and to fulfil his ministry received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. God granted him this desire; he finished his course, and he testified of God's grace until the end (2 Tim. 4:7, 17). If we are to learn the truth of God, we must first receive the Gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Grace having met our deep need, our souls are helped on with the preaching of the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25). We learn that God has marked out our course for us down here under the authority of His dear Son, where, in subjection to the Lord Jesus we are marked in all our ways by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. This leads us to the knowledge of "the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), which Paul had not shunned to declare. To the apostle, God had revealed the deep deep secret of His heart, that great masterpiece and crown of all His ways, the truth of the Mystery; and Paul had brought all the truth committed to him before the saints. He was therefore clear of the blood of all; none could charge him righteously with holding back anything that God had given him to declare.

Later on, the apostle unfolds to the saints at Ephesus, in that remarkable epistle, the purpose of God, according to which we are brought into the highest possible blessing; where the truth of the counsels of God, the truth of the mystery, and other great truths are opened out. There, he prays that Christ might dwell by faith in the hearts of the saints, for only thus could they keep by the Holy Spirit the precious legacy of truth committed to them. Alas! this very church is charged in the Revelation with leaving its first love; Christ had lost His place in the hearts of His loved ones. We can therefore understand the solemn words addressed here to the elders of Ephesus. Does not the history of the church at Ephesus show that Satan's special attack was directed at those who held the truths belonging to God's purpose and counsels, and who sought to answer to what had been revealed to them? Will it be any different today? Are not those who have learned the truth of Paul's Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, the special object of the adversary's assault?

First of all the elders are told to take heed to themselves. When we realise that many of them must have been included in "All who are in Asia … have turned away from me," we can readily understand the need for this solemn warning. They were also to take heed to all the flock, to feed the church of God, which He had purchased at such a cost, "the blood of His own." Two different evils are to be watched against; first, the grievous wolves who would enter in, not sparing the flock; second, the men who would arise from among them, speaking perverse things, to gain disciples. The former are ungodly men who creep into the professing church for personal advantage, caring nothing for the welfare of the sheep of Christ; the latter are believers, but who care more for themselves than for Christ, seeking a place and a name among the saints, even if they dishonour the Name of Christ in doing so. From such as the latter the apostle had his greatest sorrows. He was not prepared to lower the heavenly standard of truth to secure alleviation from persecution, even if it meant being forsaken by those he greatly loved, who had come under the influence of men; who, for an easy path, lowered the divine and heavenly standard. But if men forsook and turned from him, Paul was able to say, "Nevertheless the Lord stood by me." Paul had trouble from those without, but his deepest sorrows, his heart burnings, and his tears, were mostly from those within the professing church.

Continuing his warning, the apostle asks them to remember how he had not ceased to warn each one night and day, for the space of three years, and that with tears. Well did he know the evil days ahead of the church; so he bids the elders "Watch." Having given his solemn warnings and word of exhortation regarding the impending evil, the apostle commends them to God and to the word of His grace. What a resource we can find in God; what supplies of grace in His word This precious word can indeed build us up, and give us an inheritance among all those set apart in the goodness of God. In closing this remarkable address, Paul gives another personal testimony; he was an ensample for those who looked after the sheep of Christ; he sought nothing from the saints, and indeed ministered without cost, working with his own hands to meet his temporal needs and the needs of those with him. Truth is not only to be ministered, but to be manifested; and in labouring for the needs of others he was fulfilling the words of the Lord Jesus, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

These solemn warnings come to us in this day that we might "Hold fast" that which has been committed to our trust. There are still those who take the lead among the saints, and happy indeed for the saints if it can be said of their leaders as was said of those in Hebrews 13:7, "Who have spoken to you the word of God; and considering the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith." Well it is for us if the leaders direct us to "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever." In these closing days of the church's history on earth, let us keep our eye on Christ; He is God's resource for His saints. What a blessed opportunity is now ours, it will never come to us again, to be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. May this be the earnest desire of all our hearts, but as David showed in Psalm 23, "the green pastures … and still waters" are for our enjoyment, that we might walk "in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
J. Muckle.