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In Matthew 24 the temple in Jerusalem was said to come to an end, but there is every indication that God would build farther than the temple.

We have in this passage of Scripture the truth that God built his church farther than the life of the apostle Paul through his spiritual investment in the lives of others which included: (1) a sufficient example to get ; (2) a Spiritual call to guard; (3) a steadfast confidence to glory. These three elements are those things through which the church was and will be built farther than the temple in Jerusalem, and the apostolic times to the end, and even our own lives today.

A Sufficient Example to Get (vv.13–27)

God gave his church a sufficient example in the apostle Paul that he would build much farther. His sufficiency is of course founded in Christ’s all-sufficiency. His life and ministry imitated the life and ministry of Jesus, especially in his intent to go to Jerusalem to suffer, and not delay it any longer. We see this in the preliminary words of vv.13–16 where the mystery is that of why Paul did not go to Ephesus but rather called the elders to him at Miletus. It is stated that he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost (v.16). We can say that he was on God’s timetable and specially informed (like a prophet) of the need to be there at this time. When they are called to his side, he informs them of what they “know” about his life and ministry in vv.17–28. His service to God was one that did not shrink back from declaring anything that would be profitable to them (v.20). He did this both from what we may consider a pulpit ministry but also from house to house, so that in our language we may say the sofa was just as holy as the pulpit if it was occupied with Paul’s profitable teaching. His doing so did the same for Jews and for Greeks (v.21) telling them the same message that is encapsulated in the words “faith and repentance.” These two are called twin sisters by some, married by others. Biblically you cannot have one apart from the other. Where there is faith, there is repentance; and where there is repentance of this kind, there is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (v.21b). They knew his life was controlled by the Spirit of God as he went out not knowing (like Abraham) to face only what the Spirit revealed to him would involve suffering. This history contains the passion of Paul that imitates the passion of our Lord. It is a reverse prophecy if you will; a prophecy that demonstrates the ministry of our Lord in the past, by one’s life in the present. Like his Lord he does not account his life of any value, nor precious to himself, except that he finishes his course and ministry that he received from the Lord Jesus Christ (v.24). He is said to testify of the gospel of the grace of God (v.24) and to proclaim the kingdom (25); which if coupled with his statement of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (v.21) and the words which follow in v.27 “declaring the whole counsel of God” gives us a comprehensive message that he served these elders with. W. Robert Godfrey says the “whole counsel of God” is talking about God’s eternal counsels or counsels in eternity. We see this is right because the grace, the kingdom (related to eternal covenant), and the gifts of faith and repentance all tell us of the same message he was preaching accompanied by the prophetic life he was living. He was bringing light to the gentiles and hope to Israel by virtue of unveiling the sovereign plan of God to the whole world. He teaches us that God builds his church farther than our own lives by virtue of not shrinking back from the doctrines of grace, the very sovereign principles elucidated in Ephesians 1, showing the plan revealed from eternity to save sinners in time by the work of Christ and the application and giving of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a work entirely of the Lord, and because the apostle did shrink back on this, the church was built farther than his own life and ministry. Paul made sure these elders got this by saying in different phrases the same thing and recalling his example that lived according to God’s sovereign will on earth. He makes this a priority and a basis for the elders whom he is leaving. The elders are of course those who teach in the church and have declarative authority over the congregation. What would you leave such a group with? What would you point to in order to make sure they would build farther than your life? The apostle, led by the Spirit of God, underscores in both faith and practice the doctrines of God’s grace to the renown of God’s only Son.

A Spiritual Call to Guard (vv.28–31)

But the doctrines of grace are not sufficient to merely know from another, they must be imbibed and lived out in their own lives. So, Paul charges these elders in their Spiritual work, origin of this work, basis of this work, and dangers of it. But note it is a Spiritual Call to Guard. The work itself involves a two-fold matter of careful attention to themselves and to all the flock (v.28a). This again is how Paul speaks of faith and repentance, inseparable yet distinct things that where you have the one you have the other genuinely speaking (remember v.21). The elders must be watching their own lives and also must be watching the flock. The word overseer speaks of an inspector, someone who is a watchman over people. And the apostle says the first person you are to be a watchman over is yourself. As Chesterton says to the question, what is wrong with the world? I am. The implication of this is that when an elder stops caring for the flock it is first because he stopped caring for his own soul. An elder is one who is mature in the faith. But where does this maturity derive from? We see next the origin of this Spiritual Calling is the Holy Spirit (v.28b). God is the one who creates elders in the church. He gives them (cf. Ephesians 4) for the stability of the church and protection from false doctrine and fickle ways. No church can create elders, only God can create elders. Then we have the reason for their Spiritual Call in v.28c “to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood.” The word “care” is a word from which we get our word for “pastor” which means to feed or more broadly to shepherd. Sheep need a shepherd, and he has created in the churches elders to carry out this work because it is needed for those for whom Christ died. The apostle speaks of God bleeding to purchase this body in the world. God of course cannot bleed except by the incarnation of his unique distinct glorious only Son, our Lord. This is then a statement that Jesus Christ is God. And that is the reason ultimately for the Spiritual Call of elders. Let us not stop caring for the church of God knowing the price that our Lord paid to secure the church. Lastly under this heading there is the danger that required this Spiritual Calling. There needed to be Spiritual men to face the dangers that were approaching the church from the inside out (vv.29–30). These dangers came in the form of doctrinal heresy as we see the method of these false teachers was “speaking twisted things.” And the intent of these within the church who pretended to be shepherds sought to gain men after themselves. Calvin rightly says that “Christ hath no disciples where he is not counted the only Master.” There needs to be elders who point to Christ and defend the flock against false teaching by means of careful watch on themselves and their congregation. The imminent danger demands it. And our Lord deserves the service for his purchase of the church we are entrusted, so the building goes much farther than Paul and any others ministering in any time of history.

A Steadfast Confidence to Glory (vv.32–38)

There is still more to be assured that the church will be built much farther than the  temple, Paul, or even our own lives. It is demonstrated in the apostle’s steadfast confidence in God. In v.32 he commends them to God and the word of his grace, which is able to (Calvin’s translation) “build farther.” It is to God and his eternal counsels of grace that Paul is looking, not to the abilities of the elders for future hope of the church at Ephesus. And unfortunately there has been a false story spread about Ephesus, of some who stop merely at the church that at one time lost their first love (Rev 2) are not told about how the same church (According to Ignatius in the 2nd Century) recovered from the heresy that filled it. And this likely to the words of Paul’s instructions here  (Cf. Sproul’s commentary) by Sufficient example, Spiritual calling, and Steadfast confidence. But there are some specifics to Paul’s confidence that must be noted here. The first is that he reminds them of his voluntary work to give his life for the church. This same thing is called to mind with Christ’s words “It is more blessed to give than to receive”; I think because Paul (or at least the Spirit) anticipated that elders would grow careless of themselves and others, and need a reminder that in regards to salvation, as great as it is to receive it, it is even more glorious to give it! This is God’s doing alone, but he shares a sense of this by calling men into service of elders to give men this salvation by preaching the Word of His Grace. So, Paul’s confidence is in the gospel and God, so he reminds them of God the giver of all things that caused him to give up his rights for support in some places in order to make sure the churches would support men like him later. We see how the church was built farther than the apostle Paul by the fact that the pastors and elders appointed in the churches rightly made their living from the gospel. Timothy’s ministry and others that have followed him were built much farther because this apostle got on his knees and prayed for the church, just like his Lord prayed for all believers to come including his own disciples (John 17; Acts 20:36ff). It is clear that these elders loved the one who trained them for the ministry (v.37). They would go with him as far as they could, like Elisha accompanied Elijah until the chariot of fire came! (v.38). And of course that just proves the point again, God built his church farther than the temple, and Paul, and he will build his church farther than us, We have this in Paul’s Sufficient Example; the Spiritual Calling he gave to the elders; and this Steadfast Confidence he had in God. The Lord be praised! Amen.

See sermon preached on this at https://tinysa.com/sermon/91023153246178


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