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What is a church? (6)

The next few mentions of the word for church or assembly are found in Acts 16:6 and 18:22 and they are incidental to noting the growing strength and spread of the gospel through the churches.

But following these is a record worthy of more particular note. In Acts chapter 20 beginning with verse 17 is the text of Pauls remarks to the Ephesian elders as he prepared to leave for Jerusalem. Gathered at Miletus, they came to hear Pauls parting instructions and they knew this would likely be his last time with them.

“You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; and how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem , not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God , will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

“Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone 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 give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

“I have coveted no ones silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Paul’s address is interesting on a number of levels, the first of which is in his commitment to the furtherance of the gospel of Christ and in his care of the Christians. He stayed with them in spite of any difficulties (many of them at the hand of the disbelieving Jews as he quickly notes), and he states that he kept nothing back which would be helpful to them in their daily walk. He also notes that he obviously wasnt in it for the money or for any prestige there might have been as he neither took anything from anyone nor profited anything personally; and did nothing that would make him appear to be a burden to any.

He states that he is to go “bound in the spirit” to Jerusalem. There is a lot of disagreement as to what this phrase meant; and the commentators, and what I call “the wise guys,” have spent huge sums on pens and paper to define just what it is that the apostle meant here. I think that A.T. Robertson, the Greek linguist, had it right when he stated that the correct translation is “bound in my spirit.” You see the Holy Spirit doesn’t chain anyone down or force them to go here or there. He doesn’t take over the controls, or of the drive seizing the wheel, anymore than he takes people and throws them around in fits of imagination and emotion, or heaves them up either to heaven or down to hell. The purpose of the Spirit while here was to confirm the word of God through the God inspired words of the apostles and prophets – to put the finishing touches on things, not to take over anyones body and soul. He accomplished his mission just as Christ accomplished his part of things. The only overtaking then or now is the overtaking of the intellect by bad exegesis, through emotional nonsense and out of some very weak and very wishful thinking.

Also in his words to the overseers of the church in Miletus we find a clear warning that there will be departures out of the original teachings and that these departures will be led by some of the very leaders of the churches – the elders. His language is quite succinct: “from among you men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Notice too that this had not been his first warning. Now casual observation indicates that he was right, and that not only did men rise up out of the overseers and in the churches to seek after their own, but they also in time altered every detail in the gospel so that in this day and age you may not even be able to distinguish how far things have gone since that day. Notice he likened them to “savage wolves.” What do you suppose will be the outcome of those who wittingly or unwittingly follow the works of these types?

So both individuals and churches can depart from the truth, with the first leading the last.

In the next installment well move into the letters concerning the makeup and administration of the churches and admonitions to the various assemblies.