It was the spring of 58 A.D. and the Apostle Paul was preparing to leave the city of Corinth. After teaching in the city of Ephesus, for three years, Paul had come to Corinth by way of Macedonia and there he wintered.
While in Corinth Paul had determined to travel to Jerusalem for the annual Jewish feast of Pentecost. After stopping in Jerusalem Paul's intent was to travel on to Spain with a stopover in Rome. Paul was completing his third missionary trip as he traveled through the areas of Galatia, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia. Some Bible scholars have estimated Paul's three missionary travels to have covered upwards of ten thousand miles. It’s a lot of miles when most of your traveling is on foot.
On his way to Jerusalem Paul stopped in the city of Miletus to meet with the leadership from the city of Ephesus. Paul didn't expect to return to Asia Minor in the future so he desired one last meeting with the leadership God had set in place.
But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
But now I no longer have any work to do in these provinces, and I have strongly desired for many years to come to you whenever I travel to Spain. For I hope to see you when I pass through, and to be assisted by you for my journey there, once I have first enjoyed your company for a while.
Holman Christian Standard Bible
Paul's work in the area of Asia Minor, Achaia, Macedonia, Illyricum, and Galatia was completed. As he wrote this epistle to the Romans, from Corinth, he expected to be leaving these regions for the last time.
Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
The words "have fully preached" is the Greek word pleroo and means filled to capacity. Further, this Greek word is in the perfect tense which means it is a completed action. Paul believed it was time for him to move on to Rome and then to Spain to preach the Word of God. He believed he had fulfilled his ministry in the regions of his three missionary journeys. But Paul wanted to see the leadership of Ephesus one more time for God, by revelation, had shown him what was coming in the days that lay ahead once he departed.
For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
His heart had to be heavy when he met with these leaders because he did not except to see them again. They lived, worked, and stood with and for one another for three years. Yet it was more than simply not seeing them again, Paul also knew they would come under vicious attack by the adversary once he was gone.
And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the LORD with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the three years Paul had spent with the believers in Ephesus they had seen him in a multitude of situations and circumstances, and they were witnesses to his behavior and conduct. He reminds the leaders of this so that they have an example of how to conduct themselves as they were to minister to the believers in his absence.
Consider the times. Once Paul is gone from the area they will be unable to turn to him for guidance, for counsel, or for advice. The only Epistles that have been written at this point in time are 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians. Sending a letter to Paul with questions could take months to reach him, and months more for the response. No phone service, no text messages, no email!
1 Thessalonians 2:4-11
But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
This was Paul's manner every where he taught the Word of God. He was not separate from the other believers. He was not above the other believers. He was among them, and with them, for he also was a believer, another member in the Body of Christ. Leadership is simply one way of functioning in the Body of Christ and all functions are required, and important, and necessary.
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
Phebe was a member of the Body of Christ. She carried Paul's epistle of Romans to Rome. It was how she functioned in the Body at that moment in time. Her function was necessary and important, as every function in the Body is necessary and important. Her function wasn't openly seen by others as she travelled to Rome. When she reached Rome she wasn't the center of attention. Rather the epistle she carried was the center of attention. Yet her actions brought to the believers in Rome the foundational doctrine for the Administration of Grace. A leaders function will put him more in front of others, and garner more recognition, but it does not elevate a leaders importance in the Body of Christ. All members of the Body of Christ are spiritual equals.
The natural habit of man is to elevate one man, or one position over another. This is the way of the world, not the way of God. Paul never sought disciples, nor did he train men to be his disciples. He never exalted himself, rather he humbled himself as he served in love. Paul wanted all of those who believed to develop a relationship and fellowship with God and His son Christ Jesus. In the Administration of Grace it is never about "Mini-Me's." First, and foremost, it is about fellowship with our Heavenly Father.
1 Corinthians 11:1
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
The word "followers" means imitators. Paul wanted the believers to imitate him as he imitated Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:16-17
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
A disciple stops at imitating Paul. But a believer will only imitate Paul in those ways which he imitates Christ. The word "ways" means a road or a path. Believers were to follow Paul down the road or path that leads to Christ and there is only one place Christ will lead anyone.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
Again the word "followers" is imitators.
If you are following a godly leader he will lead you to Christ and Christ will lead you to God. We are God's children and it is our Heavenly Father whom we should emulated and imitate. So when Paul uses himself as an example of how he cared for the believers in Ephesus he isn't concerned with how he taught but what he taught. He isn't concerned about his bearing as he walked around Corinth, or Philippi, or Ephesus but how he walked in the spirit.
You don't drink coffee because Paul drank coffee. You don't live on a farm because Paul lived on a farm. You don't pray at seven in the morning because Paul prayed at seven in the morning. Too often, as men, we copy the externals and miss the internals. We miss the forest in looking at the trees. Discipleship in the Administration of Grace is carnality.
Some have tried to justify the usage of this word disciple by saying they are disciples of Christ. This is no more than a rationalization and spiritual dishonesty. A disciple follows both the man and the teachings of the man. Disciples live with, and interact with the one they are discipled to on a daily basis. Consider the disciples of Jesus when he walked the earth? They ate with him, they ministered with him, they lived with him. When Jesus taught in parables and the masses didn't understand, his disciples would sit down with him and learn his meaning, his intent, his heart.
Jesus is not walking on this earth any longer. The last time I checked in God's Word, Christ was seated at the right hand of God. Although I am seated in the heavenlies spiritually, I am placed physically as an ambassador here on earth.
2 Corinthians 5:16
Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.
Have you ever noticed the apostle Paul never teaches about the ministry of Jesus? Paul doesn't remind us of the miracles, or the power in manifestation. Paul shows us our identification in Christ, our victory in Christ, our future in Christ.
What God accomplished for us in Christ was to bring us to the place of fellowship with God. God wants us to have a relationship with Him! Paul understood this and endeavored to communicate this in every place that he taught the Word of God. If you heard the teachings of the apostle Paul, you may have begun as his disciple but your end was a relationship with God.
Looking at the back of another man's head is never as good as looking into the heart of God for yourself. We are not disciples, we are the children of God! To those who had the responsibility to serve as leaders in Ephesus, Paul demonstrated this message. Paul lived this message.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
American standard Version
It is no small thing to be responsible to lead and instruct God's children. Paul reminds these leaders of the privilege and the responsibility they accepted as an episkopos, or overseer in God's family. Leadership isn't your job. Leadership isn't a title bestowed upon you. Leadership isn't about a position. Leadership isn't about the crowds sitting at your feet. Leadership is a way a life, a lifestyle of love and service.
The path is clear. An episkopos is to present people with the Word of God, in both word and deed, in both thought and attitude, with heart and conviction, and with humility and love. Then it is God's Word which makes known the accomplished work of Christ, who, Christ, then leads a believer into the living room of his Heavenly Father. E.W. Kenyon said, "Christianity is not a religion; it is a family, a Father and His children."
"Take heed", imperative mood, it is a command! First, to yourself. You can't feed the Word of God to others until you first have fed yourself with God's Word. You cannot honestly speak of a relationship with Christ until you first have a relationship with Christ. You cannot demonstrate fellowship with God until you first fellowship with God in your own life.
1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith (pistis - the right way of believing): so do. (so do is a figure of speech, ellipsis, referring back to verse three, remain at Ephesus)
In order for a leader to "teach no other doctrine" he must first be strong in the right doctrine himself. Should a leader then be teaching the Law that Moses taught? Or the baptism that John the Baptist taught? Or even the doctrine of the Kingdom that Jesus taught to the nation of Israel? The doctrine that the apostle Paul taught does not diminish the other doctrines taught in the Word of God. We can, and should, learn from the entire Word of God. But different administrations have different doctrines. The right way of believing in the Old Testament is different from the right way of believing during the Administration of Grace.
A leader in the Body of Christ must take heed to himself by being strong in the right way of believing, the doctrine, as set forth by the apostle Paul in the epistles addressed to the Body of Christ.
Next, it is God Himself that has given you this opportunity to serve His Family as a leader, for the text reads, "The Holy The Spirit" emphasizing God. An episkopos isn't assigned by a parish, or a synod, or a denomination. A believer doesn't go to a Seminary, get a sheepskin, and then walk out the door as a leader in the Body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:18
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
God has set the members in the Body of Christ as it has pleased Him! Approximately four years after Paul leaves this meeting in Miletus, he will declare in a letter to Timothy that it is good for a believer to desire to serve as an episkopos. In that same letter to Timothy, Paul will lay out the criteria for an episkopos, but it is still God who set's the members as it pleases Him. To be an episkopos is not simply a matter of having a desire. God places those who will function in the capacity of a leader and in turn, that leader needs to set his focus on God and on His son, who is the head of the Body. Leadership is more than a desire.
Paul didn't withstand the hardness of those who stood against him, and what he taught, because he was so strong and brave. He didn't move to place himself between Demetrius' Union of silversmiths and the fellowship of believers, when Demetrius raised a riot against the Word of God, because Paul trusted in his own strength and power. Paul didn't do these things because it was his job, or because of a title, or because he had a desire. Paul stood, and withstood, because God had placed him in the Body of Christ as an episkopos. As Paul declared in
First Thessalonians, "as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak…"
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
How could Paul know the future? How could he know for sure that "grievous wolves" would enter the fellowships and attack the believers? Paul knew what was coming because it is what the adversary does and he was not ignorant of the adversary's devices.
2 Corinthians 2:11
Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Jesus Christ declared the fullness of the Devil's ministry when he was ministering to the nation of Israel and declared, "the thief comes not but for to steal, kill, and destroy." Further, Jesus made it plain that there are two ways or two paths, and two gates, and two types of fruit, and two foundations to build upon, and one is the right way to God and the other is the wrong way and leads to death.
When these "wolves" come in they won't be wearing a sign that declares they are a wolf and they are going to lead you away from God. Rest assured, these wolves will also declare that they are of God and that they are leading you to all that God has enabled you to be in this day and time. But their doctrine will be "fables" from the Greek word mythos.
You need to be a follower of me, a disciple, this is a myth. You need to be water baptized, myth. You need to follow the Law of Moses, myth. The manifestation of holy spirit ended with the apostles, myth. God turns away from you if you sin, myth. The heart of God is a mystery that we cannot know, myth. God will make you sick to teach you a point, myth. Death is a friend that brings you to God, myth. There are many ways to reach God, the point is reaching Him, myth. Speaking in tongues is gibberish, myth. The church has replaced Israel, myth. The list goes on, and on, and on.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
They say they are of God. They declare they fellowship with Christ. They sound good, and give pleasant speeches, and use fair words. But their ways are the ways of death, and their works are the works of the adversary. They are grievous, violent and cruel, wolves. They are not of the Body of Christ but rather come in from the outside to do violence upon God's children.
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
The statement in Acts 20 about "grievous wolves" is a figure of speech known as a metaphor, a comparison by representation. The flock represents the Body of Christ, the believers. The wolves represent the unbelievers that enter into the fellowships of believers to harm them and hurt them, to turn them from the right way of believing. Paul dealt with men like these when he was teaching in Ephesus. These leaders that were meeting with Paul had seen him deal with this type of man.
1 Corinthians 15:32a
If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,…
Some like to teach that Paul literally fought with wild animals while in Ephesus because he had been found guilty of a crime. If Paul had been found guilty of a crime he would not have been thrown to wild animals because he was a Roman citizen, Roman citizens were executed by beheading, not being fed to animals.
Rather, this is also a figure of speech. It is the figure hypocatastasis which, like metaphor, is a figure of comparison. Here the comparison is by implication. Paul is saying that when he was in Ephesus men, like grievous wolves, came in to harm the believers and he stood up to them with the Word of God. This is the responsibility a believer accepts before God when he walks as an episkopos.
We learn and teach wrong doctrine when we make things literal that God has made figurative, or we make things figurative that God has made literal. A flood destroyed all life outside the Ark in the days of Noah, this is literal. God brought the flood to punish mankind, this is figurative. We need to accurately separate literal from figurative in order to have the true words of God.
A figure of speech brings emphasis to a statement. What emphasis do we see in this figure? Wolves seek out the most vulnerable in the fellowship. They seek the believer who is struggling, under pressure, and distracted from the right way of believing. What then can we learn from this example of men being compared to grievous wolves?
A wolf will only attack maybe one out of every ten animals in a herd when he is looking to feed. He will stalk, watch, and observe to locate the weakest, or the most immature. He will seek the one standing alone, or the one that is away from the herd, off by himself. However, while a wolf will only attack one out of ten, out of every ten he attacks, he will kill nine. If the episkopos isn't sharp and vigilant believers will get hurt.
The Body of Christ is stronger when it is united and unity can only be found in the words of God, the right way of believing.
Him that is weak in the faith (pistis - the right way of believing) receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
"Doubtful disputations" means critical reasoning's. An episkopos isn't there to be critical and judgmental. But, by the Word of God, to build up and encourage every believer. This does not negate reproof and correction for both are necessary in the life of every believer. But accurate knowledge, given in agapee love, will build up and help a struggling believer rise up to be all that God has enabled that person to be.
An episkopos that leads by fear and condemnation, by being critical and judgmental is an episkopos that has opened the door for the wolves to have a hearty meal consisting of the heart and mind of God's child. If the episkopos does not first take heed to himself, then he will not be able to fight the beast at the door, nor will he be able to edify the Body of Christ with the words of God.
2 Timothy 2:24-26
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt (able) to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Yet, the attacks from the outside are not the worst thing about what the apostle Paul saw concerning the leadership in Ephesus. God showed the apostle Paul, by the revelation manifestations of word of knowledge and word of wisdom, that there would also be attacks coming from within the Body of Christ.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse (diastrepho - to distort, to pervert, to corrupt) things, to draw away disciples after them.
Some of the leaders, sitting there with Paul at that very moment, would distort, pervert, and corrupt the sound doctrine Paul had taught the believers. Why would a leader do such a thing? How could a leader forget that it was God who placed him as an episkopos in the Body of Christ? The answers to these questions are as varied as the leaders that follow such a wrong and deceptive path.
Human nature, contrary to the opinions of the intelligentsia of the day, is not a good nature. Human nature is vain and egotistical. It is selfish and self serving. It is arrogant, belligerent, and often violent. It is cruel, deceptive, and prideful. Human nature is afraid of just about everything, from personal rejection that leads to emotional hurt, to a physical attack that leads to bodily hurt.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:…
The only time something good can be seen in the flesh, or the natural man, is when natural man has copied or imitated some principle from the Word of God. When God's Word, or principles from God's Word, are absent from a person's heart and life, then that life will be completely evil and corrupt. In and of itself, there is no good thing in the flesh.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear (respect) of God before their eyes.
None are righteous in and of themselves. None are good simply out of a benevolent heart. None are truthful and honest because it is the right way to act. All seek their own. All put themselves first. All are unforgiving and without mercy. But God has shown us, and taught us, since Adam and Eve, how to be loving and merciful; how to be caring and compassionate; how to be forgiving and benevolent.
Man is capable of imitating things God has shown and declared in His Word. Many, who are not believers, follow the Golden Rule. Where do you think the Golden Rule is found?
2 Timothy 2:16-18
But shun profane (ungodly) and vain babblings (empty discussions): for they will increase (advance) unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker (gangrene): of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred (deviated), saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith (pistis - the right way of believing) of some.
When a leader in the Body of Christ deviates from the truth of God's Word the only other source of knowledge and information is the world. An episkopos who is not bound mentally by the words of God begins to walk forth in his humanity, like the grievous wolves, he will attack and harm the Body of Christ. Men who want disciples are looking for power and authority over other men, it's simply for ego's sake. An episkopos isn't looking for power over another, rather he is looking to serve.
You expect attacks from one who is an enemy, the grievous wolves. But when the attack comes from within the Body of Christ, especially from one who is a leader in the Body of Christ, it is devastating to the right way of believing in the lives of many believers.
The word "overthrow" is the Greek word anatrepo and means to destroy, to subvert, or to overturn. Hymenaeus and Philetus were leaders that deviated from the Truth and in so doing they hurt other believers. When a leader deviates from the Truth of God's Word the right way of believing is overthrown, subverted.
Whether ignorantly, or on purpose, for a leader to deviate from the Truth will harm the right way of believing and thus a believers ability to walk with God and receive from God. There is no substitute in a leaders life for the words of God. Jesus Christ, the ultimate leader, disciplined his life to walk and live by "It is Written." That was also Paul's heart, as it must be the heart of every leader in the Body of Christ. To discipline your heart to live any other way is to do harm to the Body of Christ.
1 Timothy 1:19
Holding faith (pistis - the right way of believing), and a good conscience; which some having put away (apotheo - to thrust away, to repel) concerning faith (pistis - the right way of believing) have made shipwreck:
When a ship wrecks, some pieces sink to the bottom while other pieces are left scattered, aimlessly floating with the wind and the current of the ocean. The ship is the right way of believing. Those pieces that have sunk are aspects of the Truth of God's Word that we have lost and not yet recovered. The scattered pieces floating around are aspects of the right way of believing but they are separated by errors in doctrine and practice. Errors that are deviations from the Truth and are counted as no more than fables, myths.
For the episkopos, his every breath, with every beat of his heart, with full awareness of his new nature, he must live "It is Written." To do less is a complete betrayal of the trust God has given to him.
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
After these words, Paul prayed with the leaders and continued on his journey to Jerusalem.