Watch Out for the Wolves: Acts Series #35
We have now come to part of Apostle Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church of Ephesus. It is apparent when you read these words that the Apostle Paul dearly loved the church of the Lord. In fact, he refers to it in his message as the Church of God. Also, Paul refers to it with the term of endearment—the flock.
He hadn’t always loved the church. Before his conversion, he hated the church. He did everything he knew to stifle the church and to stamp it out. He even went on a trip to Damascus to find some people who were part of the Church to persecute them and put them to death. Can you even imagine a person hating Christians so much, he would gladly have them killed?
Then, Paul had that magnificent experience on the Damascus Road when he came face to face with the living Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the Church. God put in the heart of this man who used to hate the Church, a great love for the Church. Do you love the whole Church or just the part you grew up in or came to know Christ in? I can truly say I love the whole Church. I decided many years ago that I would not push down what the Lord obviously raised up. If Jesus Christ loved the church enough to die for it, I love my church enough to live for it and to be everything God wants me to be in his Church.
In the course of Paul’s message, he gives a word of warning and caution. The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that in the days of the future in the Church there would be days of difficulty. He warned Paul that the Church was going to face some difficult days and some trying times. He becomes one of God’s watchmen on the wall. He becomes one of God’s alarm clocks. He becomes one of God’s people to warn of the impending storm—the hurricane that was ahead.
Paul is giving a hurricane warning. There are gale winds out there. There are storms ahead. There are chopping waves ahead for the Church in the future. Thus, Paul is writing and he says in Acts 20:28, “Take heed.” He says again in verse 31, “Watch” and “I cease not to warn you.” I want us to study the words of the Apostle Paul because I believe in a special way these words address themselves to where the Church is in the 21st century.
I. We Have A Word Regarding Spiritual Direction
Paul says in verse 28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves.” He is writing specifically now to the elders. In Acts 20:17, you will notice they are called the elders of the church. In verse 28, he calls them overseers. Also, in verse 28 he says, “feed the church.” It is interesting that there are three words used to refer to the same group of people.
They are called elders, overseers (which is our word bishop), and they are called to be those who feed the sheep: we call these pastors. The Apostle Paul is saying to them, you have a personal responsibility. These are the individuals God had set aside in the Ephesians church to direct the people, to give spiritual direction to the people.
As one of God’s ministers today and as one of God’s bishops, and one of God’s elders, I take these words personally. He says in these verses that those who provide spiritual direction have a personal responsibility. “Take heed therefore to yourselves.” He is saying to the preachers “check on yourselves first.” Before I minister to others, I have to make sure I am right in the eyes of the Lord.
It says in I Tim. 4:16, “Take heed unto yourselves and to the doctrine.” Not only must I be careful in terms of the doctrine and teaching, that it is consistent with the word of God, but I have to be careful about my own lifestyle.
The Bible says here, “Take heed to yourself.” It means “be on your toes. We must make sure that we are right spiritually, that there is no unconfessed sin in our lives. We must make sure that we do not lead any of God’s people. The Bible says in II Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith.” In Jude 21, it says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”
There are some people who work around you and live around you; all they know about the Christian life is what they are seeing in your behavior and in your attitude. I’m saying “take heed to yourself.” Where do you stand with Jesus?
Secondly, he talks about a congregational responsibility. In Acts 20:8, we read, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock.” That’s one of the most beautiful, meaningful pictures of the Church in all of the Bible. The Church is called A Little Flock. In those days this was a common scene. It is not as common today as it was then. But in those days, there were sheep everywhere. There were shepherds who took care and provided direction for those sheep. So, the Holy Spirit has taken this beautiful word, “flock,” and has applied it to the people of God. Jesus did it in Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Jesus said one time in John 10, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” You and I are a part of the flock of God because our good shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, died on the cross, shed His precious blood in order to redeem us unto Himself, and put us into His flock.
The word, “feed,” means to shepherd the flock. I have that responsibility. My job is to see that the flock gets fed. When God’s sheep come to the local church, I have a responsibility to see to it that the food is put on the table.
II. We Have A Warning About Spiritual Deception
In Acts 20:29, Paul states, “I know this that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” Jesus predicted the same thing. He said in Matthew 7:15, “beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening (hungry) wolves.”
There is no doubt that the wolves were already on the way. When you read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:6, he says this, “Let no man deceive you with vain words.” The wolves were already on the way. They were coming to the Church.
When the Lord Jesus Christ wrote His letter to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:2, He said, “You have tried those who say they are Apostles and are not, and have found them to be liars. The wolves were already there.
I have a responsibility also concerning this matter of spiritual deception. It is my responsibility to know the trends of the times. I need to know what’s out there. I need to be able to warn the flock. Notice that this verse inspired by the Holy Spirit, written by the Apostle Paul, talks to us about the enemies from the outside, and then he talks about the enemies on the inside. The wolves are from the outside. The wolves are coming. They were coming in his day. What would he have written if he had been writing today? The wolves are all around us in American culture today.
I think about that wolf of Atheism. If you think the wolf of Atheism is not attacking the church today, then you haven’t been reading your newspaper, watching your television, or reading articles on the Internet. Our nation has become lawless because we have thrown God out of the public square of life.
We are also facing, in this country, the wolves of humanism. We are taught that man is the solution to his own problems. That the answer to every problem is bigger and bigger government. That’s falling like a house of cards around us. We have found that there are problems of the spirit that cannot be addressed by the government. There are some things that must happen in the heart that only God can bring about.
Furthermore, the wolves of materialism are at work. The wolves of materialism would have our boys and girls and our young people believe that they came into existence by mere chance instead of intentional creation. Then we wonder why the behavior level is like it is in America; you teach young people long enough that they came from animals, why should we be surprised if they start living like animals. We want sex taught in the schools. We have removed moral absolutes. However, there are some moral absolutes. There are some moral spiritual laws of God that are unchanging, and you can fight against those laws all you want to. It is like trying to shoot a pistol at Mount Everest when you try to attack the moral laws of God.
In Acts 20:30, Paul becomes more serious. He says, “But of your own selves, men shall arise speaking perverse things (twisted, distorted things) to draw away disciples after them.” Now, he’s getting to the more serious danger. The danger of spiritual deception is not only from the outside, but it’s also from the inside. The temple of truth is not only attacked from the outside, it is attacked from the inside. The temple of truth will not be destroyed by the woodpeckers from the outside. Yet, it could be destroyed by the termites on the inside.
Paul says, inside the Church people will begin to distort the message of the Bible. I want to tell you that today there are those who claim to be Christians who deny every essential element and every fundamental basis of the truths of God’s Word and yet still want to call themselves Christians. They preach one way on Sunday but vote a different way on Monday. The wolves are inside. They preach the Bible on Sunday, but say during the week, “Tear down the foundation of America,” during the week. The wolves are inside the Church.
Some years ago there was the Jesus Seminar. It included a group of so-called scholars. I have a feeling if you were drilling for ignorance you could get about 1/8 of an inch under their skin on their skull and you’d hit a gusher. However, they took it upon themselves to look at the words of Jesus in the Gospels and they decided which words Jesus said and which words Jesus didn’t say.
They undermined most of the New Testament and concluded that the only authentic words that Jesus ever spoke was in the model prayer where he said, “Our Father.” They think that’s the only reliable word and they are not sure about that one. They have taken your Bible in the name of Christian scholarship and turned your Bible into a scrapbook. There are termites on the inside. The wolves are on the inside.
We have so-called Bible scholars today cast doubt in young students regarding the Inspiration of Scripture. I know of a Christian University that now allows dances to take place in the school chapel. Nothing is sacred anymore. The termites and the wolves have gotten together to tear the Church down.
A story is told about a man who was dying. He called for his pastor to come visit with him. The pastor came to see him and after a while he said, “Would you like me to read some Scriptures and pray?” He said, “Yes, I would. Honey, would you please go get my Bible?” His wife brought back the Bible and put it in the hands of the pastor.
The pastor looked at it and it was unbelievably mutilated. There were places in the Bible, where the pages were cut out. There were some whole pages that had been torn out. The pastor said, “Why have you given me such a mutilated Bible?” He said, “Well, pastor, I used to come hear you preach, and you used to tell us that some verses in the Bible didn’t apply to us anymore. When you shared that, I would come home and cut those out of the page. Then you’d say there were some chapters of the Bible that were no longer applicable and reliable. So, I’d come home and tear that page out of the Bible. All I have left as I go into eternity is this mutilated Bible that you provide for me.”
The wolves of liberalism are among us today. The wolves of liberalism are on the inside of the Church. They come in sheep’s clothing. I want to warn all of you who watch religious television in any way. This is not an attack on all television preachers. But I am sharing this with you just because someone is on television in a religious program and just because they tell you that something is in the Bible, don’t just take their word for it. Ask yourself the question—where is that in the Bible? If it’s not in The Book, then it is not from God.
We have another insidious wolf that has crawled into the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I call it “conservative compromise.” This is a wolf that has sneaked into the fellowship of the churches in America in a lightning speed manner. It is not the attack from without that causes the problem, it is that subtle attack from the inside. The Great Wall of China was breached three times in its history. All three of those times the Great Wall of China was not breached by attack from without, but it was breached because somebody bribed the gatekeeper and got on the inside.
Here’s how it works. You must give the people what they want. We are living in a modern day. People won’t tolerate strong preaching anymore. You can’t reach young people if you tell them the truth. You have to tone down your message just a little bit. You can’t speak on controversial subjects. Don’t talk about sin. Don’t mention the blood of Jesus Christ. Don’t say that there is only one way to the Father. This is considered hate speech. Give them what they want. That is conservative compromise.
When churches get to the point that in order to get masses and crowds of people, they will change the truth of God’s Word, then the insidious wolf has made its way on the inside of a church. The Church is not in the business of just getting numbers for numbers sake and at the sacrifice of the truth of the Word of God.
Use your logic here for a moment. What’s the difference between a liberal preacher who says he doesn’t believe the Bible and therefore doesn’t preach it, and a conservative preacher who says he does believe the Bible but won’t preach it. The practical result is the same. The Word is not preached. One of these days, I’m going to stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and I’m going to give an account for the souls of the people who have heard me preach the Word of God.
There are people who were in services where I preached in the past, who are no longer with us today. Lord, was I faithful? Lord, did I tell the truth? Lord, did I say everything I knew to say to get them prepared for eternity. I don’t want to be guilty of not telling people about sin. I don’t want to be guilty of not telling people about the death of Christ on the cross. I don’t want to be guilty of not telling people that if they repent of their sin and receive Christ as their Savior, they can go to heaven when they die.
III. We Have A Witness Regarding Spiritual Defense
In Acts 20:32, Paul says, “And now brethren, I commend you to God.” It really means, I lay you down on God. He is saying, “I’m praying for you. I commend you to God.” Prayer is our first defense; not our last resort. We ought to be praying for one another; praying for the life in the fellowship in the Church. Prayer. Then he says, “to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance. I commend you to the Word of God.” The Word of God matures us.
When you sit under strong Bible teaching, you will become a better Christian. Study the Bible for yourself. Begin to read it. An unread Bible is like a love letter unopened. An unread Bible is like food uneaten. An unread Bible is like a map unstudied. An unread Bible is like a gold mine unexplored. Get into your Bible. it will build you up. It will grow you and make you strong against the wolves around you.
Then Paul says, “it will assure you.” It will tell you about your inheritance in heaven. You are fabulously wealthy. In fact, if you’re saved you have a place in heaven. You may live in humble surroundings now, but Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He’s been building on it for 2000 years now. “If a mansion you are sporting while the devil you’re courting, just wait until you see me in my new home.”
We have an inheritance. Imagine if a man comes to the door of your home. He says, “I’m here to inform you that a relative of yours has died. He was an unbelievably wealthy person. In his will, he has left his entire fortune to you. You have inherited the fortune. Here’s a piece of paper with his name written upon it which guarantees that all of the inheritance is yours.” Would you take it? You’d take it and say, “Oh, thank you for my inheritance.”
I write to tell you that the Lord Jesus Christ has an inheritance for you. The Lord Jesus Christ has written it down as a guarantee. He says that we have an inheritance reserved in heaven for you, undefiled, uncorrupt, and reserved in heaven for you. All you have to do is claim it. The good news is that when you claim it and one day walk into it, the same one who gave you the inheritance, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive forevermore, will welcome you into your inheritance. If you have not done so, could I persuade you to claim your inheritance?