November 3, 2008

A Final Warning

Ephesus TheaterEphesus was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia and a place where the Apostle Paul spent much of his time as a missionary. He briefly visited this city at the end of his second missionary journey, but stayed for about three years during his third. By God’s grace, and through Paul’s faithfulness as well as that of other believers like Aquila and Priscilla, many people were saved. In fact, Paul’s ministry was so successful that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).

Paul dearly loved the church at Ephesus and eventually wrote a letter to them which is now included in our New Testament (Ephesians). Nevertheless, after staying with them for so long he had to return to Jerusalem. What would he say to the Ephesian church leaders in his final farewell? We find his words in Acts 20:18–35.

In this parting address, Paul includes a sober warning:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears (20:28–31).
Pay careful attention! Be alert! Why? Because “fierce wolves” and false teachers will attempt to divide and destroy the church of God, drawing Christians away by corrupting the gospel and God’s revealed truth.

Of the many instructions that Paul could have delivered in his last words to the Ephesian elders, he was compelled to prepare them for this singular challenge. They couldn’t be taken by surprise, or sit by in bewilderment, as destruction unfolded. They had to be constantly aware of the danger posed by cunning and merciless deceivers—and fully prepared to refute them with the truth of Christ and His gospel.

Little has changed since the days of the apostles. The calculated twisting of God’s Word is an ever-present challenge to His church—especially in Africa, where many pastors and church leaders have little if any biblical training. Too often, shepherds in East Africa cannot hear and apply Paul’s warning because they’re unable to practice biblical discernment, properly differentiating between scriptural truth and clever falsehoods.

Will you pray with me that Paul’s impassioned warning will ring loudly in the ears of church leaders across Africa? May we give them the tools and training they need to protect their flocks from the fierce wolves entering their midst!