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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men." (Acts 20:25-26)
In his address to the Ephesians elders, Paul referred to a passage of scripture that assigns moral guilt to the unwillingness of a spiritual watchman to warn the wicked. The term "pure from the blood of all men" obviously is taken from the metaphor of blood-guiltiness in Ezekiel 3 and 33. In those chapters, the prophet is told,
"Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." (Ezekiel 3:17-19; See also Ezekiel 33:7-9)
Paul told the pastors of the church at Ephesus that he was "pure from the blood" of the wicked in their area, where he himself had ministered several years before. Acts 19 gives us an account of Paul's work in Ephesus and in the province of Asia, where the city is located. Paul, the missionary evangelist, had stayed three years to lead the church as pastor. During this time, "all they which dwelt in Asia" (the province of the Roman empire by that name in what we now call Asia Minor, within the borders of modern-day Turkey) "heard the word of the Lord Jesus" through the evangelistic work of the church members. Many were saved, and everybody heard! As the apostle made his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20 and 21), he stopped at Miletus, and called for the elders of the Ephesian church. These were men he had trained for leadership during the span of his pastorate there. In his address (Acts 20:16-36), he reminded them of his ministry among them, and urged them to follow his example. The whole province had heard the Gospel through public evangelistic meetings and house-to-house visitation (vs. 20-21). At the end of his time with them, Paul could say in all honesty that he was not to blame for the damnation of a single soul in the province of Asia! What an amazing accomplishment! Surely this should be the aim of every Christian pastor.

Probably the greatest disaster in our world is the tragedy of the unwarned wicked. Over six billion human beings, loved by Christ and purchased by His blood, inhabit the earth today, and most of them are still condemned before God but have never been warned. Passages like these in Ezekiel and the address of Paul to the Ephesians elders indicate that there is blame to be born by someone for this tragedy. When the twin towers of the World Trade Center went down, many began a diligent effort to assign blame. Was binLaden behind it? Was a foreign government involved? Did airport security do its job? Was one president or another at least partly to blame? Paul's words make us ponder where the fault lies for the loss of billions of souls without a clear warning.

Certainly the damnation of the unwarned is not God's fault. He sent His Son to be "the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2). By His Spirit, God has enabled every generation of Christians to spread the Gospel to every last person in the world, and he has commanded them to do so (See Acts 1:8). Scripture indicates that the first-century Christians did indeed take the Gospel to "every creature" (Read Mark 16:15-20 and Colossians 1:3-6, 21-23). We know that the saints of the Tribulation period just before the coming of the Kingdom will preach the Gospel "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (See Revelation 14:4-6). But our generation of believers is failing to fulfill the Great Commission. The fault is not God's. Whose is it then?

Paul's example at Ephesus shows us that a pastor can lead a congregation to evangelize its area completely. The accounts of the evangelization of Samaria in Acts 8, of Antioch in Acts 11, and of Greece in I Thessalonians 1 also encourage us to think that it can be done. Paul's address to the pastors who followed him at Ephesus emphasizes for us those aspects of his ministry that God used to make that church an effective evangelistic team. We do well to study that address, and also to consider that the tragedy of the unwarned wicked could be the fault of pastors. If we would be the spiritual shepherds we ought to be, might not our own communities be saturated with the message of salvation? If Paul was "pure" from the guilt of the damnation of sinners in Asia, would not a pastor be guilty if the wicked in his area die unwarned? Isn't this at least one of the points if not the main point of Paul's speech? Are not preachers the ones primarily responsible for the tragedy of the unwarned wicked?

The Apostle Paul said at least five things about his ministry in Ephesus that relate to his effectiveness as the leader of a truly evangelistic church. When pastors fail in these areas, they must assume some blame for the ignorance of the Gospel in their towns and counties. Preachers should heed these admonitions, and so should church members concerned about the multitude that live around them without Christ.

I. "Serving the Lord with All Humility of Mind" (vs. 18-19).
Paul first reminded them of his "manner" among them "at all seasons." He had been a true servant of Jesus Christ. They had seen him "serving the Lord with all humility of mind." He was "real," as people say today, and the Ephesians could always see it. He wasn't only an evangelist and their pastor; he was a servant of God. Remember how often he used this term for himself in his epistles (as in Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, and Titus 1:1)?

Many congregations are led by men who give little evidence of being true servants of God. Perhaps the pastor seems inordinately "career-minded," or proud, or perhaps especially impressed with his own talents and education. Perhaps he is unwilling to sacrifice much for his people or his ministry. One way or another, many pastors fail to give their assembly an example of humble service to the Lord. We must constantly remind ourselves that example is one of the key ways a preacher influences others. Titus was told to show himself a "pattern of good works" as a support for his teaching ministry (See Titus 2:1-8). Of course, Timothy was told be "an example of the believers" in order to overcome the disadvantage of being a young preacher (I Timothy 4:6-12).

The Ephesian Christians saw that Paul was a real servant of Christ. They observed him in times of "tears and temptations," and found him true. He shed tears of disappointment, tears of compassion, tears in conflict, and tears in weakness, but he continued serving the Lord faithfully and humbly. He endured the temptation to quit, temptations to compromise, and temptations to sin, but they saw that, although Paul was human, he was genuinely committed to be faithful to his Lord. What do your people see when you are tempted, pastor? What do they observe in the times when you are hurt and troubled? Do they see a true servant of Christ, tried and proven real? The wicked go unwarned because thousands of professing Christians have never met a man they considered to be a true servant of God. In many cases, their failure to serve Christ is our fault because we have given them such a poor example.

II. "I Kept Back Nothing" (vs. 20-21).
When Paul told these pastors that he "kept back nothing that was profitable," the context proves that he meant the Gospel message. In other words, he did not hold back on giving out the Gospel in Ephesus. He preached "publickly, and from house to house" the message of "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul was himself a winner of souls. One reason so many churches do not evangelize their communities is that their pastors are not personally engaged in evangelism. At least some of Paul's public preaching was Gospel preaching that called for a decision. Much of the apostle's time in Ephesus was spent in "house to house" witnessing for Christ. Although he could not physically have taken the Gospel to every person in the province of Asia in two to three years all by himself, he also could not have led a congregation to do it unless he was actively engaged in the effort himself. Preachers need to work at winning souls to Christ. If the pastors, evangelists, and missionaries of the world were all soul-winners, many complacent church members would be ignited by the fire of evangelism, too!

III. "None of These Things Move Me" (vs. 22-24).
Paul had many things come into his life that could have moved him from concentrating on his ministry "to testify the gospel of the grace of God." There was constant opposition to his evangelistic work. He suffered bodily because of the troubles he had to endure. Yet he would not let "these things" move him from his ministry and its evangelistic emphasis. So preachers today must be stubborn to keep their emphasis on fulfilling the Great Commission.

Certainly, the Great Commission of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) includes more than preaching the Gospel. We were told to disciplize, baptize, and catechize! We must organize local churches, and build up believers. But the whole process begins with evangelism. We have the responsibility to take the Gospel to "all nations" (Matthew 28:19), "all the world" (Mark 16:15), and "the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Therefore the preachers must keep a strong emphasis on spreading the message of salvation.

However, men of God are pressured from many sides to "move" away from an evangelistic emphasis. Almost all preachers answered the call with winning souls to Christ as a primary goal in mind. But after a few years, for some even before they finish their formal ministerial training, many have moved away from such a concern. Famous preachers, college professors, popular books, and personal friends all play roles in getting a preacher to "move." Difficulties and disappointments in Christian work also contribute to the feeling in a preacher's heart that the Gospel doesn't work anymore, or that he is unfit to work it! So pastors place the emphasis in the church on scholarly exposition from the original languages, or on counseling to meet deep psychological needs, or on fancy business-like organization, or on anything other than getting the Gospel to lost souls. If your pastor has not moved from an evangelistic emphasis over the years, thank God for him and help him stay on track! Somebody said about church work that "the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing!" Every creature in the world will not hear the Gospel in this generation without an intense focus on evangelism, local and world-wide, in the churches. One reason for the decline in evangelism has been the changing of preachers from a soul-saving emphasis. If we have moved, the tragedy of unwarned billions is at least partly our fault.

IV. "All the Counsel of God" (vs. 25-27).
One aspect of Paul's ministry in the church at Ephesus was his thorough exposition of the full range of God's truth. He had not "shunned to declare . . . all the counsel of God." When pastors get on a hobby-horse and preach too often on one Bible subject while neglecting much of the rest, the congregation is not adequately prepared to carry out the Great Commission. When preachers avoid a Bible doctrine in the pulpit because it is controversial, or because it calls for great self-denial, or because false teachers have perverted it, they are not doing the right thing! We must give our flocks everything in the Bible.

In this particular address, Paul refers twice (in verses 23 and 28) to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. How many Baptist preachers have avoided this subject because of the Charismatic excesses! How many fundamentalist teachers have reacted to perversions of this doctrine by formulating new doctrines that are equally unscriptural in order to protect people from Pentecostals? Fundamental Baptist churches need clear teaching about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit right now! It is upon Him as a Person and as the Anointing of divine power that we must depend in order to get the Gospel to the world (Look again at Acts 1:8)! Our failure to teach correctly and often enough about this subject shows us how good men can fail to teach "all the counsel of God." Jesus said (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3),

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
When pastors do not each all the doctrines, all the books, all the promises, and all the standards of God's Word, they deprive their people of what they need to live! And they bear blame for the failure of the church to warn the wicked.

V. "I Ceased Not to Warn Every One" (vs. 28-31).
As he came near to the close of his address, Paul reminded the Ephesians elders of their responsibility as pastors to "take heed" to the needs and dangers of the church. Members are commanded in Hebrews 13:17 to
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."
The Lord expects the pastors to "rule over" the churches, and "watch" for the "souls" of all the members. Both pastors and church members will give an account to Christ about this relationship.

Pastors who fail to "warn" their people of spiritual dangers and to "take heed" to their needs and problems will not give them the shepherding they all need to be useful channels of the Gospel to the lost world. This kind of failure puts this kind of pastor in the position of bearing blame for the fact that his community is not being evangelized.

Let us consider the standards Paul set by his words and his example for the pastor of an effectively evangelistic church. He must give the congregation a good example of a humble and determined servant of Christ. He must be intensively be involved in evangelism himself. He must refuse to be moved from a biblically evangelistic emphasis. He must teach the people the whole counsel of God. He must take heed to the lives of the church members, and address their needs and problems. When we willfully fail in these areas, we cannot blame others (or God) for the horrible tragedy of multitudes going to Hell without a warning. Let us take the blame ourselves, and assume the responsibility under God of leading our church in a new crusade to spread the Gospel everywhere. Let us take seriously the matter of spiritual blood-guiltiness, as Paul did. Let us give ourselves anew to the Lord and to the Cause of the Gospel. And may He grant that many of His people will respond to our ministry and join us in fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation!

Monthly Article
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

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