As we go through the process of selecting elders, Paul gives us some direction on whom we should choose to be our shepherds. As you exercise your rights and privileges as members in selecting shepherds, consider what Paul teaches us. These truths ought not only shape how you choose and vote, but also how you pray for your current shepherds who’ve been given the wonderful, sacrificial, humbling, weighty, and rewarding task of keeping watch over your soul.
I. Godly Shepherds Must Pursue Holiness (28). Having made the declaration that he had not failed to preach and teach God’s grand plan, the apostle Paul exhorts the elders to “Pay careful attention to yourselves…” They need to keep guard of their own souls first. Elders are called to pursue personal holiness. Their life must be an example of the pursuit of holiness for the sheep to follow. Derek Thomas writes that, “a congregation rarely rises above the level of godliness and piety and consecration evidenced amongst its own eldership.” We need Shepherds who, by God’s grace, persevere in prayer, lead their families in family worship, guard their eyes and mouths and hearts, and are leading us in dying to sin.
Shepherds are to take care of their soul first, but then they are to also Shepherd the flock! Notice that Paul did not say to pay careful attention to some of the flock, but all the flock. Elders need to know the names and needs of the sheep. Elders need to make sure that the sheep are growing spiritually mature in Christ Jesus. This is the kind of Shepherd Jesus is to us and it is the kind of shepherds you need to govern you at this church. Pray for your current elders who love you all, and pray for more elders who will join them.
Do you hear the covenantal language ringing loud and clear in this passage? God’s people have always been precious in His sight (Ex. 19:5; Eph. 1:3-6). So elders are to love God’s people because God loves His people. Elders are given the task to pursue the holiness of the church because she is the treasured possession of God almighty. But why is she so special? Paul says that it is because she is the Church “which he obtained with his own blood.” Jesus gave His own blood for the Church. Elders are to pursue the holiness of the sheep because God loves the Church and gave His Son to die for her. Pray for and select elders who work for God’s glory and your eternal good in Christ Jesus.
II. Godly Shepherds Must Stay Alert (29-31). The second exhortation Paul gives to elders is sort of a warning mingled with duty. Paul is essentially telling them to be on the alert because he is about to leave. In the absence of the apostle, the elders especially would need to be on their toes. It is a wake-up call to their surroundings. Notice the language Paul uses with these elders. He says that there will be “fierce wolves… not sparing the flock.” Wolves hunt in packs and when they zero in on their prey they are ferocious and unrelenting. Their scheme is to divide and conquer. They scatter the sheep and go after the weak and defenseless. Shepherds are always to be on the lookout for danger within the Church, both the local church and the universal Church.
And by his example, the apostle Paul teaches elders that shepherding is a ceaseless task. They are to be alert, “remembering” Paul’s example. Paul is calling on them to mimic his work ethic for the souls of the sheep. Paul worked night and day with tears. He was earnest in his pursuit of holiness for the sheep. He was working for their joy and it would eventually cost his life! But working for their joy meant, in part, keeping away the wolves (cf. 2 Tim. 3). The enemy never sleeps, so elders must always be on their guard working constantly to guard the sheep. That is the kind of elders you already have. And they need your prayers. Pray for and select elders who are alert, having a desire to protect you from false doctrine and worldliness.
III. Godly Shepherds Must Give Themselves (32-38). At the end of Paul’s admonitions to the elders he adds one more reminder to those who are overseers of the flock. In essence, Paul reminds elders that they are to not only pursue holiness and stay alert, but they are also to give themselves, according to his example. Paul commends them to “God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Godly Shepherds are to give themselves to the Word of God. If they don’t, then surely the people won’t! It is the Word of God’s grace alone that will be used by the Holy Spirit to sanctify the Church. It is the Word of God’s grace alone that will edify and strengthen and encourage the saints. Under-shepherds of Christ Jesus must never depart from God’s gracious word. Pray for elders who love the Word of God and who never tire of studying it. Pray for and select elders with a passion to know God’s Word and to live it and to teach it.
And it is while the elders are intent to know God through His Word that they look to the greater reward in heaven. Paul tells them that he wasn’t in the “business” of building up the kingdom of God for the money! Paul is telling elders that making a buck is not the reason for giving yourself for the sheep. We never give in order to get in this life. Our reward is in heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Pray for and select elders who know that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Notice this tender moment in the life of the apostle and these men with whom he has labored. There are tears and emotions and hugs and prayers — fervent prayers. Paul isn’t some sentimental sap, nor are these elders. They are crying over something very real and powerful. They share a common goal and a common Lord and Savior. They are brothers in Christ working for the same thing! This is the outcome of giving one’s life to the ministry of Shepherding. Bonds are formed which no man can break. They had become a band of brothers. Pray for such unity for your Shepherds, and select such elders who are willing to work with others humbly for the glory of God and for the good of the Church.
To elders who will serve, let this be a challenge to you. Is God calling you to serve? Will you serve according to His ways? It is costly to be a shepherd after God’s heart, but the reward in heaven is greater.
To members who will select, it will be to God’s glory and for your good to elect elders after God’s heart. Let us then with fervent prayer and Biblical wisdom choose those men whom God has raised up in our midst to lovingly watch over our souls according to God’s unfailing love in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!