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"From Miletus he sent to Ephesus for the leaders of the congregation. When they arrived, he said, 'You know that from day one of my arrival in Asia I was with you totally-- laying my life on the line, serving the Master no matter what, putting up with no end of scheming by Jews who wanted to do me in. I didn't skimp or trim in any way. Every truth and encouragement that could have made a difference to you, you got. I taught you out in public and I taught you in your homes, urging Jews and Greeks alike to a radical life-change before God and an equally radical trust in our Master Jesus.'" Acts 20:17-21 (The Message).
What a testimony! Saul, the Pharisee, who had poured his heart and soul into getting rid of Christians because he thought they were wrong, became Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, because he had experienced an encounter with the One he was vehemently persecuting.
Paul was not stuck on himself! He was passing the baton on to those entrusted with the church he had founded. What kind of leaders were needed to steer the believers in Ephesus through troubled waters during a time when they were the target of serious misunderstanding and opposition by Jewish radicals and Roman rulers who thought they were God? To declare that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord, was treasonable and punishable by death. One after the other, the caesars zealously protected their "divine" status by persecuting those who insisted on worshipping this Jesus, not them, as Lord.
The church needed leaders with the same measure of loyalty to Jesus as Paul had, who would shepherd the believers with the same integrity and passion that they saw in him. They needed men who were followers of Jesus, not leaders who were intent on binding people to themselves and building little kingdoms around them. They needed shepherds who would show them the way as well as teach them the Word of God.
Paul could write to congregations he had founded and taught: 'Follow me as I follow Christ.' That was a bold and dangerous statement unless it was absolutely true. How many pastors and teachers can say that today? Yet is this not the role of the true shepherd of God's flock? Jesus has entrusted His sheep to men and women with the confidence in them that they will fulfil their commission as those who are accountable to Him.
It is a shameful thing that many so-called "shepherds" use their position to lord it over their congregations and to milk them in the name of "faith", or "sowing seed", or even unashamedly declaring, 'God will save a soul for every dollar you give,' and then build bigger houses and drive better cars because God is "blessing" them. What has happened to the Paul-like generosity that spends itself for the sake of others?
For Paul there was a guiding principle that he followed, remembering that there was more to life than a few short years on this earth. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV). Like his Master Jesus, Paul always took the long look. To live only in the now, forgetting that this life is an apprenticeship for the life to come, is the height of folly.
He could look in his Master's face with confidence, knowing that he had not wasted or prostituted the gifts and calling he was given on his own pleasure and comfort. He gave himself fully to his task because he knew there was an eternal reward for a job well done.
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