“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.” (Acts 20:28, ESV)
When I was in the Army, stationed in Germany, the military had a variety of clubs or stores in which you could purchase specialty items. One of those was a Rod & Gun Club. There, I purchased a couple premium grade rifles. That was over 40-years ago. After returning to the United States, I put them in storage and kind of forgot about them. Then on our move from Savannah Georgia to New Hampshire, I pulled them out to prepare them for the move. To my dismay, the ones I stored in a foam lined case had the foam stuck to the barrels and stocks, virtually ruining them. The barrels had rust spots and the finishes were ruined. My neglect had a negative affect on these guns, which significantly diminished their usefulness.
While providing proper care for things is vital, providing proper spiritual care for people is critical. Here in this passage, Paul exhorted the Ephesians elders to provide proper shepherding care for their people. The elders of the church have a solemn responsibility, ordained by God. Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit made these men the overseers of the church. The word used here to describe the elders, is “overseers,” episkopous, one who has the responsibility of seeing those in his charge do things right.
To ensure that the elder does things right requires pastoral “care.” The word “care,” poimaino, literally means to feed or to tend a flock. This word comes from the Greek poimen, referring to one who tends a flock, a shepherd. It is from this word that we get the title pastor. The elder, is an overseer, which is to provide shepherding care to the body of believers. This work of a shepherd is not easy. The shepherd feeds the sheep, protects the sheep, heals their wounds, carries them back to the fold, guides them to greener pastures, waters them, and he sacrifices his own life for them.
When I served as a pastor, I discovered the seriousness and difficulty of this work. It was a solemn duty that required a sacrifice of time and priorities to care for the body of believers. I often carried the burdens of many parishioners. The work required much counseling and prayer. In addition, there was the continuous work of feeding the flock with God’s word and defending the flock from false teaching.
Moreover, to do all this, the elder must first spiritually care for themselves. The elders must first have a vibrant walk with the Lord, being examples to the flock. They must be experiencing the same type of transformational growth that the Lord has called them to superintend in the church. They must be men of personal devotion, prayer, and service.
Yes, the elders have a tremendous responsibility. I believe that is why Paul wrote, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17, AV). While the context here has to do with the congregation caring for the needs, in particular the financial needs, of the elders, there is a deeper application. Elders do not do the work to receive honor or money. They do it because of a divine calling. Perhaps the most significant way a congregation can honor the elders is by treating them with respect, understanding the struggle, and sacrifice of their work. The writer of Hebrews summarizes this sentiment.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)