WATCH YOUR CONNECTION
"'And so this is goodbye. You're not going to see me again, nor I you, you whom I have gone among for so long proclaiming the news of God's inaugurated kingdom. I've done my best for you, given you my all, held nothing back of God's will for you. "Now it's up to you. Be on your toes -- both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people -- God's people they are -- to guard and protect them. God Himself thought they were worth dying for.'" Acts 20:25-28 (The Message).
What went through Paul's mind as he spoke for the last time to his beloved leaders? A few decades before, they were all strangers to him, pagan people in a foreign city worshipping idols out of ignorance. What a price he had paid to share with them the Jesus who had met him, rescued him and sent him to tell them His story! Was it worth it? You bet it was! Nothing could match the joy he had in leaving behind a company of believers who were growing in their faith, led by men of maturity and integrity.
How painful it must have been for Paul to know that this was really goodbye! What was he to say to them, knowing that they were on their own, no Paul to call on for help when problems and troubles arose in the church? It was like cutting the umbilical cord between mother and child when the fledgling youngster leaves home to make a life in the big bad world.
He had the comfort of knowing that it was not his church and he was not ultimately responsible for it. He had played his part to the full but, like his Master, he could leave, knowing that it was in the hands of the Holy Spirit who had called and empowered these leaders to care for the flock. He would always be there to guide them long after Paul had left.
'"I know that as soon as I'm gone, vicious wolves are going to show up and rip into this flock, men from your very own ranks twisting words so as to seduce disciples into following them instead of Jesus. So stay awake and keep up your guard. Remember those three years I kept at it with you, never letting up, pouring my heart out with you, one after another.'" Acts 20:29-31 (The Message).
Paul was a realist. He knew that there would be those waiting to exploit people for their own ends when he was no longer there to deal with them. Was he aware of who they were even before he left or did he understand human nature so well that his warning came out of much experience?
It was up to these leaders to discern, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who were genuine sheep and who were wolves disguised as sheep. Jesus warned His disciples about the same thing. "'Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off in some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.'" Matthew 7:15-20 (The Message).
How can we discern who the true and who the false prophets are? Jesus said, "Look at their fruit." In the early church a prophet was judged, not by his message but by his attitude. How was his message delivered? If it was not delivered in the disposition of Messiah, in an attitude of gentleness and humility, it was rejected.
Paul said, "Look at their attachment." To whom are they attaching the sheep, to themselves or to Jesus? He warns us to beware of leaders who insist that they are right, and often the only ones who are right, and that we follow them. Credible leaders are those who strive to attach people to Jesus, to become followers of Him, not them. They are only the messengers, not the message; facilitators, not objects of worship.
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