The Church: A Body of Priests

Leviticus 9 describes God (through Moses) setting apart Aaron as high priest, and his sons as priests as well. Priests were different, set apart from the rest of the people. Hebrews 4:14–16 tells you that you have an even greater high priest, but in him you have a higher position than any of the Old Testament priests.

You have a great high priest. Your priest has ascended. The author of Hebrews has spoken of Christ as the Apostle (Hebrews 3:1)—the one sent by God with the message you are to heed. He is greater than the angels and greater than Moses. But he is also your high priest. When Jesus is compared with Aaron, Hebrews always calls him a high priest. His work includes obtaining redemption, by his death, but the emphasis here is on his intercession. He is greater than Aaron or any other priest. You need no other human priest. Aaron and the other priests were set apart by sacrifices, anointing, and an elaborate ceremony. Your priest has passed through the heavens. He is not limited to (or by) the earth, as the Old Testament priests were, but continues in the heavens today. His name is Jesus, the Son of God. He is the Savior, he is the divine Son of God. Therefore he is the most effective priest possible.

Hold firmly to your faith. Christ is the greatest high priest. He is God himself, your representative in the highest heavens. So, hold firmly to your faith. Don’t fall away, Hebrews 3:12. Hold on to your confession, Hebrews 3:1. Don’t let anything dissuade or shake you. Don’t let anything distract you from him.

Your priest is just like you. He is not unsympathetic. You might think so because of his majesty. He is God, he is the great high priest. “The contemplation of Christ’s greatness in verse 14 might lead people to have lofty ideas of Him as One who could not have any feeling for them; therefore the author goes on to assure them: ‘For. . . we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. . . .’” (Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p.102). He knows your weaknesses. We are mortal, subject to sin and to its curse. Yet Christ shared in our weaknesses, Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:7,8. There is no problem, no abuse, no suffering you face that is unfamiliar to him.

The Sinless One was tempted. Christ was tempted in every way. The temptation in the wilderness paralleled Adam’s. There were constant temptations throughout his ministry. The struggle in Gethsemane was temptation to abandon his Father’s will. He knows all your weaknesses, discouragements, temptations, and trials—and thus he is the perfect mediator. Yet he was without sin. One difference between us and Christ is in the outcome of the temptation. He was perfectly sinless, Hebrews 7:26. “The sinner who capitulates to the first solicitation to evil cannot claim to have felt the full power of temptation. It was otherwise with Jesus who experienced the anguish of temptation to an unimaginable degree, for his immaculate person was was subjected to the continuous assaults of the Tempter.” (Geoffrey B. Wilson, Hebrews A Digest of Reformed Comment, p. 58).

Come boldly to God. As priests approach the throne. This is a throne of grace. Thrones can be dreadful: Esther, Isaiah 6, Matthew 25:31ff. The Most Holy Place was the symbolic throne of God. Only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year with sacrifices. God’s people needed an order of priests to intercede for them, to act as go-betweens. But it your high priest, you have become a kingdom of priests, 1 Peter 2:9. As you come to God in Christ you find that this is a throne of grace, of undeserved favor. It is the kind of throne you can appreciate—the kind you need. Come boldly. Approach with confidence. The invitation is free to those who come through this high priest.

Obtain mercy and find grace to serve God. You need mercy, which is favor to those who deserve wrath. The all-knowing Word of God, Hebrews 4:12, 13, shows your need of it. Hebrews urges you to ask for mercy. Find grace in time of need. You need help–you are totally unable to help yourself. The fall has resulted in total inability. God provides the help you need in Jesus Christ. At exactly the time you need it, that is when God gives help. A priest in the Old Testament spent his life in serving God, offering sacrifices in the tabernacle or temple and teaching the people. When the Word tells you that you, as a New Testament believer, are a priest, there is wonderful privilege involved. You have direct access to the throne room of heaven. But you also have the responsibility of living a life that is set apart to serving God. That doesn’t mean that every believer has to seek the foreign mission field or the ministry. But it does mean that the details of your life need to be directed to the glory and honor of your God. You are set apart to serve him.

Christ knows you. He is just like you, but is sinless. Come, and keep coming, to him. You always need his grace and mercy. Come boldly, with confidence, for God is faithful to you. He has set you apart as a kingdom of priests to serve him. Live that way!

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: A Body of Priests

The Church: A Community in Fellowship with God

The church in the Old Testament was, with some notable exceptions, closely identified with the nation of Israel. In the New Testament it reaches out to the nations. But in common, as Exodus 4:34–38 and John 17 show you, what they have in common is that they were and you are a people in fellowship with God.

Give thanks for the presence of the Lord of Glory. The Lord blessed the completed Tabernacle with his presence. Do you remember that as Israel left Egypt, the Lord showed his presence in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night? With the Tabernacle finally complete, the glory cloud descends on the Tabernacle and fills it. God was truly with his people. As God created, he paused at the end of several of the creation days and called his work good. In Genesis 1:31, at the end of the creation week, he surveyed the entire creation and pronounced it very good. And then God entered his rest, not because he was weary, but he entered it with the purpose of humankind also entering it. Of course Adam sinned, and instead of sharing God’s rest, instead of moving beyond the time of testing in the Garden to whatever exalted fellowship with his Creator would have resulted, he and Eve were expelled from the Garden. Some of the construction of the Tabernacle reflects the motif of Eden. Now, with it complete, God comes down in the cloud, fills the Tabernacle, and dwells in the midst of his people. It is not only a sign of God’s presence—he is truly with his covenant people.

The glory of the Lord is with you in Christ Jesus. As magnificent as that event was, you have something more wonderful as you trust in Christ. The Word has become flesh and has tented among us. In him you have seen the glory of the Father. This is not a temporary appearance. Even now, exalted to the right hand of the Father, he continues to be the God-man. Here on earth and now in heaven, he is the Lord of glory, 1 Corinthians 2:8. In John 14 Jesus is pouring out his heart in prayer to his Father in heaven. He prays first about himself (John 14:1-5), then about his disciples (John 17:6-19), and finally about those who would believe in time to come—in short, about you (John 17:20-26).

“The [experiential] know­ledge of the Father, the only true God, as our God and Father, and of the Son, the sent and sealed messenger of the Father to save and bless men as our Savior, is not only the means, but it is the sum and substance of eternal life.” (John Brown, An Exposition of Our Lord’s Intercessory Prayer, p. 65).

Follow the leading of the cloud of glory. The cloud led Israel victoriously into the promised land. When the cloud would move on, Israel would follow. When it stopped, there they camped and settled for a time. See Numbers 9:15-23 for an expansion of what Moses describes briefly in Exodus. Further, as the pillar moved, it led the people to victory over their enemies, Numbers 10:35-36. That cloud would continue to lead them until they finally entered the promised land. Redemption from Egypt and entering the promised land were all gifts of God’s grace—free, undeserved, unearned. But, to enter the land, the people had to follow the cloud. To move in a different direction would have led them away from the rest that God held out for them in the land he had pledged to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Your Lord calls you to follow him. The Lord laid down his life for you, his people. Your salvation is free, unearned. The death of Christ is not just an example for you to follow, it is the substitutionary atonement. You can never be good enough to enter heaven on your own—but Christ’s righteousness is sufficient! Yet, even as he was facing the cross where he would die as the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus summoned his disciples and you to obedience. In his high priestly prayer Jesus, who needed no sanctification in the sense that we do, progressively dying to sin and growing in grace throughout our lives, nevertheless said that he sanctified himself. He set himself apart to God to do the work given him. Now he sets you apart, both to carry out the joyful task of serving him and to die to sin daily. No less than Israel following the cloud, you need to follow the path in which your Savior calls you to walk. You are led, not by a pillar of cloud and fire, but by his Word, the Scriptures.

Look forward to greater glory. The glory cloud filling the Tabernacle looked forward to the more permanent glory of the Temple. Once Israel had followed the cloud to the promised land and had settled in it, the Lord designated the place where his name would dwell, where he would no longer be present in a movable tent, but in a magnificent temple made of stone. The Temple was patterned after the Tabernacle, but on a grander scale. When it was finished, again God showed that he was dwelling in the midst of his people, as his glory filled that building, 1 Kings 8:10-11. As promising as things appear at the end of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers describe the people sinning. As you read Kings and Chronicles, you have the tragic story of the land in which God dwells in the midst of his people being contaminated by idolatry. Something better, more permanent, is needed. The glory cloud that covered the Tabernacle looked forward, not just to the Temple, but even more to the coming of the Lord of glory. As the God-man Christ redeemed us. The successful completion of his messianic work meant his glorification. That involves you! The church is where God, by his Spirit, lives in the midst of his people, 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor. 3:16.

“[T]he final goal of various significant redemptive-historical episodes throughout scriptural history was God’s glory. All these events with glorious goals point to the glorious goal of the final events of history, in which God will definitively execute judgment, accomplish redemption, and establish the eternal new creation. At this time, God’s glorious presence will permeate every part of the new heavens and earth and all will exalt and glorify him for his glorious atttributes, which have been manifested through his culminating acts at the eschaton.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 63).

Christ prayed for his glory—and yours. The night of his betrayal Jesus prayed in the presence of his disciples. In John 17 you stand on holy ground as you hear the Son pour out his heart to his Father. What does he pray for? He prays that the Father would glorify him with the glory he had with him from eternity, John 17:1 & 5. The infinitely glorious Son receives additional glory as the successful Redeemer, as the One who did his Father’s will. He then prays for the disciples present in the room. Finally, he prays for others who would come to trust in him through the apostolic message—he is praying for you. Included in his prayer is his desire to give his people his glory, John 17:20-24. Do you grasp the wonder of that? The Son shares his glory with you, his people, not just by appearing in a cloud, but by drawing you, by his death and resurrection, into the glory of the new heavens and earth. You, the people for whom he died and rose, you are part of the glory with which he is crowned. He is not empty handed, but he brings you into eternal fellowship with him and with his Father. In a real sense, you are part of the answer to Christ’s prayer that the Father would glorify him.

The Lord, descending in the glory cloud, filling the Tabernacle, is proclaiming that he is pleased with what he has had his people build. The Son, bringing you up into the new heavens and earth to share his glory for eternity, is showing that the Father is well pleased, not only with his Son, but also with the living temple, the church that he redeemed.

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: A Community in Fellowship with God

The Church: God’s Numbered People

How important are numbers? (Ask a sports fan!) They are important in Numbers 1 and on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:37–41). An emphasis on numbers can be superficial, but when you realize that God numbers his people, you begin to see their importance.

Respond to God’s summons. Repent and believe. Christ has poured out his Spirit on you. The Spirit comes upon the church making it his temple. In his gift of the Holy Spirit Christ is with his church. Christ and his Spirit work so closely together, that there is “functional identity” of the two. In the coming of the Comforter, Christ does not leave his church alone. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the whole church of all time. Pentecost parallels Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation. This does not distance the Holy Spirit, or make him inaccessible, but rather makes him part of every Christian’s experience. The signs that accompanied the gift of the Spirit drew a puzzled crowd, so Peter preaches. Pentecost is the reward for Christ’s completed work. Pentecost is preceded by Christ’s humiliation, his life of obedience, his suffering and death. The glorious conclusion of Christ’s work is his resurrection and exaltation. The climax of that exaltation (short of his return on the clouds of heaven) is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter focuses on the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. The crowd begins to realize the sinful depths of what they had done a few weeks earlier when they had shouted, “Crucify him!” But God has exalted him! Now they cry out in fear. Peter’s command to the crowd echoes through history wherever the apostolic message is proclaimed: “Repent!” “The post-Pentecost activity of the Spirit, therefore, spreads through history like concentric ripples in a pool. As in the Old Testament era, so in the New, his activity is soteriological, communal, cosmic and eschatalogical, and involves the transformation of the individual, the governing of the church and the world, and the bringing in of the new age.” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, pp. 93–94).

Be baptized. God, in his wisdom, knew that we also need an outward sign. The Spirit was present and active in the Old Testament, see Psalm 51. But there is a fullness, a richness of blessing, that arrives with the completed work of Christ. Peter quotes from Joel to describe these last days, vv.16-21. The specific blessings that had been limited to the prophetic office in the Old Testament are now the appropriate possession of all of those who trust in Christ. All that was involved in God being with you is drawn together in Pentecost. Baptism is not first of all an expression of your faith, though it is that. At its heart it is God saying, this person belongs to me. It marks you as among the number of God’s people.

Who’s counting? The church is counting. We may have an idea of a primitive church, with little or not organization or structure. But even here the church is counting! See Acts 2:41. See also Acts 4:4; and 6:7; Romans 16:5, 10, 11. Having a defined membership, a defined number, is an important part of the shepherding work of the church—despite the spirit of individualism common in our culture. The church’s counting is based on something more important.

The Lord counts his people. The command for a census in Numbers 1 is given by God himself. “[I]t must be observed, that the people were not numbered except at God’s command, in order that He might thus assert His supreme dominion over them.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Numbers 1:1). How does the Good Shepherd treat his sheep? (Luke 15:3–7; John 10:14–18). He knows them, he counts them, he lays down his life for them! Don’t resist being counted by the Shepherd! And his count is perfect. The numbering here on earth anticipates a greater, more complete numbering, Revelation 7:1–9.

Live in fellowship. Live in fellowship with God. The census of Numbers 1 is followed by an ordering of the encampment of the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 2. This is not just because God wants an orderly people. Rather, notice that at the center of the camp the Tabernacle was pitched. And in the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant, with the mercy seat as the symbolic throne of God. What was pictured in that geographic setting has been fulfilled in Pentecost. God is living in the midst of his people, not just in the center of their land, but in the people themselves. The church has become the temple of the Holy Spirit!

Live in fellowship with God’s people. When God counts you as among his people, you are connected, not only to him, but to all of his people. Notice the interconnectedness of the church. “The three thousand who received baptism at Pentecost at once entered a new family, defined not by genetics, but by allegiance to Jesus. In his first transition summary Luke lists four activities in which believers were continually absorbed—the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. (Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 21). The focus of the church is on her Lord. But the closer the Lord draws you to himself, the closer he draws you to the rest of his body as well.

Whether or not you think numbers and counting are important, the Lord values his church enough to count its members. He knows them here on earth, and he will count them in the new heavens and earth—because the Lord died and was raised for them. As the ascended, sovereign Lord, he has poured out his Spirit on the church, not only for her benefit, but also to increase the number of his people until they are a multitude that no man can count—but a multitude in which each one is known by God himself. Are you counted among God’s people?

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: God’s Numbered People

The Church: God’s Royal House

A godly king, a man after God’s own heart, wants to build a house for God? No wonder Nathan welcomed this (2 Samuel 7). But God had a better plan. He builds his own royal house, as Peter confesses in Matthew 16:13–20

The King builds his church. God graciously promised to build a house for David. David was settled in his new capital, Jerusalem. God had given his people rest from their enemies. (Some of the victories described in 2 Samuel 8 may have come before the events of this chapter.) David knew of the importance which had been attached to building the Tabernacle in the time of Moses. But the time of wandering was over. God had selected Zion as the place for his name to dwell, as the location where he would have the Ark of the covenant reside, the ark which included the mercy seat of God. David had his own palace, where, presumably, his throne stood. It seemed incongruous for the Ark, with its mercy seat, to be housed in a temporary tent. David has proposed to Nathan the prophet his plan to build a temple, and Nathan immediately pronounced his blessing on it, vv. 2, 3. But God had something better planned. God graciously promised to build a house for David. That night God appeared to Nathan with a message for David. David was not the one to build the house, verse 5, see 1 Chronicles 22:6-8. David had shed too much blood. His son, Solomon would perform the task. God was not in need of David to build a house for him (contrary to the pagan notions of a deity’s needs). Instead, God would build a house for David. Salvation is not based on your works. He would give David and his descendants peace, rest from their enemies. That rest anticipates the final Sabbath-rest of God’s people in the new heavens and earth. God had brought David from the sheepfold to the throne. In contrast to Saul’s lack of a dynasty, David’s line would have an established throne. Rather than David giving to God, God first of all gives to David. The grace that underlies our salvation is evident here. It is not what you do for God, but his grace to you that is crucial. Yes, God does require that you respond to his covenant grace. David’s prayer of gratitude, verses 18–29, and his life of obedience and worship are examples of that response. But the initiative belongs to God.

Confess Jesus as your King. Matthew’s Gospel proclaims the coming of the true King of Israel. The Old Testament describes the establishment of God’s kingdom, and anticipates the fullness of it. It looks forward to the trees rejoicing, the nations sounding God’s praise, the islands and deserts proclaiming God’s grace (Isaiah 42; Psalm 98). The parables focus on the kingdom. The miracles are not just “wow!” events, but they put in visible form the reality of the blessing proclaimed verbally in the teaching and preaching of the kingdom. The kingdom is present because the King himself is there. Jesus takes his disciples aside and asks them who they believe he is. Peter properly confesses that Jesus is the glorious Messianic Son of Man, the Christ, but also sees that he is the Son of the living God. “Peter, a despised Galilean fisherman, stands before the Messiah with the chosen elders of the New Covenant. The great Shepherd gathers the remnant of his people and establishes Israel anew to confess his name. Jesus undertakes God’s own work to rebuild his people.” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 40). That is a confession that was worked in Peter by the Father in heaven. Matthew records Peter’s confession for a purpose. He is not just informing you of a bit of history (though indeed this happened). He records Peter’s confession so that you can join in that same confession. He wants you to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the great King in David’s line.

Christ builds his church by his death and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the architect and builder. The origin of the church is not human, but divine. He builds on Peter (and his confession). Don’t separate the confession from Peter, but also, don’t separate Peter from his confession–or from the other disciples. Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Those who share that confession are added to the church. The church may seem weak and irrelevant. At the time Jesus was speaking it consisted primarily of his twelve disciples and a few women from Galilee. Today it often appears weak and out-numbered. Yet the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Focus on the majesty of your Savior, and be assured that he will not abandon his church to the forces of Hades. This King conquers in a most unusual way. Although popular expectations of the Messiah were for him to establish a political kingdom and to remove the Romans from rule, Jesus immediately goes on to explain his suffering, death, and resurrection. And Peter, despite his confession, despite being named as the rock on which Christ will build his church, becomes a stumbling stone, Matthew 16:23, as he tries to turn Jesus from his course. Ironically, the life giving message that the church was entrusted to proclaim rests on the death of the Savior. The triumphant power of the King grows out of his being the humble servant. The church is not just a place like-minded people to gather, or for people to gather regardless of what they believe. Rather, it is a body that belongs to its King, and her loyalty belongs there. Look at the glory that belongs to the church as the bride of Christ!

The King rules! The church exercises the authority of Christ. The keys are given to Peter as the representative of the church, which Christ was about to build on him. It was not limited to him personally, as Matthew 18:18 indicates. The assembly is now seen as an estate, or even a building. The keys involve proclaiming Jesus. When the church is doing that, listen! Pay attention. The kingdom grows as the risen Lord calls people into his church, as he builds it on the confession that Peter made, the confession in which you share. “Our Lord says emphatically ‘I will build,’ and thereby appropri­ates for himself the the objective task of calling this church into existence by his Messianic acts. Though Pe­ter confessing be the foundation, the church is not of Peter’s or of any human making, the Lord him­self will build it. And not only this, he will supremely rule in it, for out of the fullness of his authority he immediately proceeds to invest Peter with the power of the keys: ‘I will give unto thee.’” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church, pp. 78-79).

Be loyal to your King. Disciples are learners. Peter, by God’s grace, had absorbed what Jesus had been teaching. Christ calls you, his church, to continue to learn from his Word, both in public preaching and teaching, and in your own reading and study. Disciples are servants. The Messiah is the Servant of Isaiah 42 and 53. Washing the disciples’ feet may have confused them, but it set the example for their conduct. Are you following your own agenda, or are you looking for opportunities to serve the body of which you are part? Disciples are witnesses, continuing to confess the name of Jesus to those around them. Notice in Matthew 28:16 the emphatic claim to authority with which Jesus concludes his earthly ministry. Disciples are obedient subjects of their King. They recognize that his kingship involves not only an hour in church on Sunday morning, but rather, he rules over every area of life. “The Church, in short, is a present manifestation of the Kingdom of God and in her the Kingdom’s transforming power operates and from her its life and blessedness flows to form an oasis in the desert of this world’s sin and mis­ery, darkness and death, to which the thirsty traveler may come and drink deeply at the well-springs of salvation.” (Raymond O. Zorn, Church and Kingdom, p. 81).

The church is the house of God, not because of a building, but because the church belongs to the King. Do you trust him? Have you experienced his powerful, triumphant deliverance? If so, serve your King!

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: God’s Royal House

The Church: A Body Served by Elders

Why does a church need elders? How important are they to the life of the church? Acts 20:28–32 helps us see how God expects them to function, and how you and I benefit from their work.

Who are the elders? The office began in the Old Testament. Jethro sees his son-in-law, Moses, overwhelmed by his responsibility in leading and judging, and recommends selecting elders to judge the people. That practice was carried on in more or less formal ways throughout the Old Testament. The office became particularly important at the time of the exile as synagogue worship replaced temple worship—following the destruction of the temple. So when Paul on his missionary journeys planted churches, he soon arranged for the selection and establishment of elders in those churches, Acts 14:23.

Elders are kingdom officers. At the time of Moses, God was establishing his people as a theocracy—God was the ultimate King. Elders were a crucial element in the Lord’s rule over his people. As you read on in the Pentateuch you read the laws and procedures that the elders and other leaders were to apply as they led God’s people in his ways. When priests and kings became corrupt and degenerated into false shepherds, the Lord promised to raise up good shepherds (Jeremiah 23:4), culminating in the Good Shepherd, to care for his flock. Here, in the context of exhorting the Ephesian elders, Paul refers to his own preaching of the kingdom, proclaiming the whole counsel of God. Read Paul’s pastoral epistles. As the time came for the apostles to pass on, God did not leave his church without guidance. He gave her the Word, the Scriptures, and he gave her godly elders and deacons, officers to teach, apply, and administer the Word of God. “Jeremiah 23:4 predicts a plurality of faithful shepherds, replacing Israel’s unfaithful kings and priests. The fulfillment of this promise is the body of elders or overseers now given to the church, charged by Paul here and by Peter in 1 Peter 5:2 to shepherd the flock of God—to feed, protect, and discipline God’s people for their growth in grace. Through such shepherds, Jesus, the chief Shepherd, now cares for his sheep.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 255). And even in the heavenly scene in Revelation 4 we find elders around the throne. You have a voice in choosing your elders. You vote. But remember that they are not your representatives. Their authority come from King Jesus. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as having made the Ephesian elders overseers of the flock.

What should the elders do? Keep watch over yourselves. In Acts 20 Paul is eager to avoid delays on his way to Jerusalem—but he specifically asks the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet him on the beach. It is not only a moving farewell, but Paul is encouraging and strengthening them for their work. He begins by telling them to keep watch over each other. That’s not only personal self-examination, though that is included. It is a mutual shepherding of one another. It involves being accountable to one another. That’s one of the reasons for the plurality of elders. Elders, if you go astray, how can the flock be kept out of danger? Significantly, the elders have to beware of wolves coming from among themselves.

Keep watch over the flock. This flock is precious, because God purchased it with his own blood. (Paul touches on the mystery of the incarnation, the Good Shepherd who is both God and man, who is the Shepherd because he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are all sheep—and as pervasive as that imagery is in the Scriptures, remember that it is not a compliment to us. Sheep can be foolish, headstrong, wandering, tending to get lost. Elders, your work will be challenging at times—but your Shepherd, who is utterly faithful, calls you to be faithful. You are not exercising your own authority. You can only do what Paul did, proclaim the whole counsel of God as you teach and lead.

What should the flock do? Pay attention to your elders. Respond positively, willingly, to what the Apostle told the elders to do. Listen to them. Christ speaking in his Word is the final authority, but as the elders apply that Word to you and your situation, pay attention. Hebrews 13:17 reminds you to make the work of the elders a joyful one—not just for their sake, but for yours as well.

Keep moving towards your goal. As Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders, he points them towards the goal. They, and the flock they are leading, are journeying towards the inheritance among all who are sanctified. And they reach it by the Word of God’s grace. God, by his powerful Holy Spirit, uses the Word to build you up, to preserve you, and to bring you to glory. “And now he [Paul] was leaving them; they could no longer count upon his personal presence for such pastoral guidance and wise admonition. But, though Paul might go, God was ever with them, and so was God’s word which they had received—the word that proclaimed His grace in redeeming them and His grace in sanctifying them. To God, then, and to this word of His, Paul solemnly committed them.” (F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, NICNT, p. 417). We know that Paul did not expect to see the Ephesians again. How that worked out we don’t know. But whether or not they ever saw Paul again, they were entrusted to the faithful God of grace. And as you, the church of Jesus Christ, move forward into an unknown and increasingly challenging world, you have the same faithful Good Shepherd watching over you.

To you elders, watch over yourselves and over the flock which the Holy Spirit has entrusted to you. To you, the church of Jesus Christ, pay attention, respond joyfully, to the men the Lord is using to help you in your Christian walk. And together keep your eyes on the inheritance which the Lord has in store for all of those who love him.

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: A Body Served by Elders