Acts 20:25-31 – Paul and the Ephesian Shepherds

Paul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus. What was the purpose of this plan? Paul’s desire is to get to Jerusalem as rapidly as possible, so he may have simply wanted to avoid Ephesus. Had he stopped there, he would have had so many obligations that he would have never been able to meet his schedule. He would lose more time in Ephesus than if he  meets the elders in Miletus. Another possibility is that Paul’s ship was scheduled to stop in Miletus, not Ephesus. One did not book travel on a passenger ship in the ancient world, all travel was on cargo ships and one was often at the mercy of the cargo-schedule

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

When the elders arrive, Paul warns them of trials they will have to face in the near future (Acts 20:25-31). Paul employs a common metaphor to warn the elders from Ephesus that they are about to face trials.  Since elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to the task of shepherding the flock, the natural metaphor for an attack against the flock is a “savage wolf.”  The elders are to keep watch over the church in order to guard it against enemies.  But this also involves watching themselves – they are to be worthy shepherds! These “wolves” seek to tear the congregation apart, and at this point may refer to elements in Ephesus, whether Greek or Jewish, that see Christianity as a threat.

Paul also warns of threats which will arise from within the congregation itself.  Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that these wolves may very well arise from within their congregation – some men will arise, distort the truth, and draw disciples away after them.

This is exactly the situation we find in 1 Timothy, a letter written by Paul several years later to Timothy while he worked in Ephesus.  The false teachers are “insiders,” people from within the church that are distorting the truth.  Based on 1 Timothy and  Acts 20:30, it appears that the false teachers were elders from within the Ephesian church. The are teachers (1 Tim 1:3, 7, 6:3) and the task of teaching in the church is given to the elders (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17).

It is important that we not read this with a 21st century view of church in mind.  The elders are likely presiding over small house churches.  A city the size of Ephesus would likely have had many house churches by the time 1 Timothy is written.  There may have been a few elders who hosted a church in their home that have departed from the body of teaching Paul taught for the three years he was in Ephesus.  It is these elders that Paul wants to discipline.

At this point in Acts, the “savage wolves” are in the future – or are they?  Paul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus.  While it is possible Paul simply wanted to avoid obligations to meet with many people in Ephesus in order to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible, it seems to me that the problems which 1 Timothy addresses are already surfacing.  This meeting at Miletus, then, is a gathering of loyal elders who still can be trusted by Paul.

Is it possible that Paul’s speech reflects the situation of the post-apostolic church?  What happens when Paul dies? Who “takes over”?  It seems to me that Paul is telling these shepherds that they are now in charge of the flock, and they have to be on guard against internal and external threats to the health of the church.

This “guarding” function is an important application for modern churches since most threats against the church are not coming from the outside (the government is not our greatest enemy, believe it or not!), but from other Christians, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

42 thoughts on “Acts 20:25-31 – Paul and the Ephesian Shepherds

  1. “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” (20:28).

    Regardless of whether Paul met up with the Miletus elders in an attempt to avoid Ephesus, it is evident that he seems to be firmly rooting them in their position as elders, making sure that they watch themselves, steering clear from misguided teaching that will erode their churches. Paul’s encouragement to these men in Acts 20 signifies his desire that they look out for the dangers that some of their brothers and sisters in Ephesus were encountering. These elders, as P. Long clarifies, are not just influencing one church, but they are influencing the whole city. I am sure that Paul wants to make sure that even when he is not around, false theology is not being taught in some of the house churches. These elders will the bearers of the gospel and his desire is that they do not fall prey to “fierce wolves” after he leaves (29). Therefore, as leaders of the new age of grace, he wants to be sure they will stand firm in the gospel to which he exhorts them.
    John Polhill also lends a insightful note on these false teachers from within the church by saying, “they were ravaging the church for their own gain” (2130). If this was the case it makes a lot more sense for Paul to say what he said about humbly serving for the needs of others and not for your own gain in 32-35. This kind of service would help to ward off the attitude and misguidance as seen in those who would ravage the church.

    Polhill, John B. English Standard Version Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Study Notes. Print.

    • I would agree with Leah when she says; “Regardless of whether Paul met up with the Miletus elders in an attempt to avoid Ephesus, it is evident that he seems to be firmly rooting them in their position as elders, making sure that they watch themselves, steering clear from misguided teaching that will erode their churches.” I do not know what exactly Paul is trying to warn the people in Ephesus to be weary of, nor do I know what the church there was facing during this time in history. It is possible for me to believe that Paul knew something that the people in Ephesus knew about and he was just adding another warning. I do not think that it really matters what the “wolves” are, so much as we make note of how earnestly it seems Paul is warning the elders about them. I bet that Ephesus was somewhat of an important city to Paul being that he was there for three years, so he probably wants to make sure that the people and elders would be able to ‘keep on keepin on’ after he passes away. I also do not think that anyone necessarily needs to ‘take over’ after Paul dies, because he is not in charge of the church, he just helps it to grow.

  2. While we joke about it (accordingly) in class about Bubba being on security or Dr. Shaw’s police officer friends across the hallway, so the elders should do the same for the church: be alert for anything inside or outside of the church. They are the “secret service” of the church to keep it functioning in the right way as Paul started it. With Paul starting other churches, around Asia Minor, he can’t be at all of the churches, and needs a group of people to keep the church at its current state: to preach the Gospel. But this is a great correlation to John 10, where Jesus, as a shepherd, protects his sheep from thieves and robbers. “I am the good shepherd… I lay my down my life for the sheep” from the attack of the wolf (John 10:11-14). Just as the elders of Ephesus, Paul warns them that the “wolves” will come and attack the flock, and that they should keep a watchful eye, both from outside invasion and inside corruption, to be on guard, but to also teach and disciple the church to be the same way.

  3. I think that we should serve in the same way like Jesus did. Humbling ourselves not only in the way of washing feet, but also in every other area of our lives from our work to our home life. It’s not easy, but it definitely gives a person a new perspective on life when they do humble themselves before others. For example doing something nice for a person who does not like you at work; saying hi to them to ignoring them when/if they say something rude or trying to make your day more difficult.

    In the blog R. Joshua b. Levi, said “all active labor the slave for forms for his master, I disciple of a sage the forms for his master, except for removing his shoes”. (fill in later) I really like this quote because it shows that Christ went beyond what the world would do for others. On Sunday morning in our service my pastor had said that as Christians we are a strange type of people because we don’t act like the world does. Humility and meekness is a sign of weakness to the world and rejoicing in our suffering when we are persecution is strange as well. In the same way humbling ourselves before others and whatever aspect that looks like gets the attention of the world weather it is laughing, making our lives harder, or taking a closer look and wondering why we do what we do. I think this quotes draws the whole aspect of what Christ did and the fact that he became the lowliest servant just to show us what we need to do in the same way in our lives.

  4. I think that chapter 20 in Acts proves that Paul cared about the elders in Miletus and he knew that they had an influence on many people so he wanted to warn them of the many dangers they might encounter. When Paul is not able to teach the people the gospel, his hope is that the elders in the community would be able to stand firm and not fall prey to the “wolves” in his absence (29). He also warns them that some false teachers may arise within the church and distort the truth and lead people away from them (30). Paul not only told them to keep an eye out for others but also be aware of themselves and the influence that they have on others in the church. It can be easy for pride and selfish gain to creep in the hearts and minds of the people who are in leadership positions because of the roles they are given, but there is much responsibility with authority. In the notes, P Long says that Paul reversed the social pattern of what the elders knew and told them that they ought to do good because they were called by the Holy Spirit and have received the ultimate Grace from God in salvation (Long 144). They were called to be different and not go along with the cultural norm during that time.

  5. It is true that sometimes the largest hindrances to Christianity are people within the church and the faith in general. Paul’s advice and warnings were helpful at that time and also incredibly applicable today. “And not only so, but from your own number some will rise up and pervert the truth by their words, so as to entice the disciples to follow them (Acts 20:30). Within the church or Christian community, people often feel they are safe and will let their guard down and in turn be influenced by different unbiblical teachings. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul gives a concrete example of this through two men named Hymenaeus and Philetus who have “departed from the truth” and are leading other people astray. As we see through examples like 2 Timothy 2, these kinds of influences were rampant then and also have become so today.

  6. Hearing this story makes me think back to my childhood. Growing up in the house with my pastor who was also my father, I got a firsthand look of what goes on in the church. I think that in any place or organization including the church, because there are different types of people within the church, there will be confusion or evil. Something that I read in this blog that I found very interesting was “The elders are to keep watch over the church in order to guard it against enemies. But this also involves watching themselves – they are to be worthy shepherds!” I found that to be very interesting because there are a lot of times that people hold pastors and elders in the church to a higher standard than others. I think that even though some people are called to higher positions, we should still always remember that pastors and elders in the church are still humans. They are still just as human as the church member that comes once a month and sits on the back row. Acts 10:34 says “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.” Something that I agree with is what Mary said. She said “It is important for the church to recognize that wolves may arise from within the church” (Pryer 2015). That is 100% true. I think that there are people that do things not for the glory of God but for the glory of themselves. Doing that in the church could hurt the church. Something like that is what the church has to be aware of because if not, the church could be overtaken by things like that.

  7. It is a very common theme in the Bible that believers are the sheep and they need a shepherd or they will go astray and get lost or they will be overtaken by unbelief or the “wolves” that are mentioned in this passage. Many people in the church could be seen as wolves in sheeps clothing and I agree with Jess when she said that she sees wolves not only being false teachers, but also the people who use the teaching of the word of God for their own personal benefit and worship. I do think that Paul was talking to these elders because they would be the ones that would be “taking over” when Paul leaves/ dies. These Elders are to be the shepherds of the flock of believers in Jerusalem. I think that the reason that he wanted to meet with them outside of Jerusalem is for the same reason that churches do not gather the whole congregation for a pastoral meeting. This is a focused meeting for the future leaders of the church.

  8. I agree that one of the greatest enemies we have as Christians would be in the churches. I think Abraham Lincoln said it best “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (brainy quotes). I believe that is one of Satan’s greatest tools is being able to divide a home, church, or country and it can have lasting effects.
    I like that Paul warns the Ephesus shepherds that trails will come and they need to be ready to defend, and guide the believers in their walk. Especially, since Paul will not be around to do this himself for the elders. Like it was said in the blog “Paul is telling these shepherds that they are now in charge of the flock, and they have to be on guard against internal and external threats to the health of the church”. Paul has given them the tools they will need to do their job and guard against “savage wolves”.
    There is a saying that wolves can be dressed in sheep’s clothing which I think is another word for false teachers in today’s time. I think that false teachers are the people who are greedy and wanting to fill their own agenda. Sadly, not all churches are guarded as closely as some giving Satan more room to destroy churches and lives.

  9. From what we know of Paul it seems odd to me to suggest that he would be avoiding Ephesus due to conflict within the church. Paul never backed down from taking a stand and making his opinion known. If some of the leaders had already gone astray, it seems more in Paul’s character for him to head directly to Ephesus to call them out for their actions. Joshua Jipp suggests that some of the elders may have even been in the group Paul was offering the warning to (105). This would further the view that his warning was a precursor to the events that transpired. However, regardless of whether the warning was given before or after the incident, it is still a profound warning. It is scary to think how right Paul was. Paul warned the people to watch out for wolves, but more specifically to watch for the attack that will come from within the “pack.” He warned that “even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30). Later in 1 Timothy, the reader can see that this exact thing happened (Long). This warning can still hold true today. The people from within, the most unexpected, are sometimes that people that can cause the most damage. Even the leaders of churches can turn people away from the truth with their false teachings. Paul warned about it then to the elders of Ephesus, but the truth still rings clear in the lives of the church today.

  10. It is interesting why Paul avoided Ephesus the way that he did, and there seems to be little explanation for the reasons why. I think it could definitely be as simple as one of the reasons you gave, that, when sailing, Ephesus was not on one of the stops. Another could be simply because it could take too much time, and he had to get to Jerusalem quickly. As you said, there were likely many different churches in Ephesus at the time. Perhaps Paul knew that, if he stopped in Ephesus, he would likely be obligated to meet up with most all of these churches, and that would eat up time that he could not afford to lose.

    Another potential reason, however, could be because of the animosity between him and some who are in Ephesus. We know that when he left Ephesus after his three year long stay there, he left largely because of the riot caused by those involved in the temple of Artemis. Maybe he knew that, because he may have been perceived as the face of the spread of Christianity to the people there, if he returned to Ephesus, there would be unrest and possibly another riot against him. Though there isn’t a definite reason described in the text, I think that the reason for this may be one of these reasons listed.

  11. It is sadly true that today, most of the push back and conflict about the church is primarily coming from inside the church itself. The people who are a part of the church have the most opinions on how it is run because they are within and they are going there every week. I have noticed this as an aspiring worship leader how everyone has an opinion about music. I could easily agree that people in the church are wolves coming to feed on the little sheep (the worship leaders). They want everything to be a very specific way because they have their own taste and their own opinions on how the music should go. I am sure that is very similar in all aspects of the church. Everyone is always going to have their opinions but you can’t always take those opinions to heart. They are just opinions, not facts. I think in this passage that Pauls warning to the elders to prepare to guard their flock is a great warning for today’s church leaders as well. Yes, it is very difficult due to the wolves being in the actual church, but church leaders need to be aware of this. And they need to be prepared to listen to complaints or opinions or backlash and rebuke whatever isn’t from the Lord. That is how they can protect their flock.

  12. It is hard not to read this Chapter in a way that has a sense of application for today’s churches. The temptations of this world are overwhelming in that people are easily mislead by the ways of the world unless they are committed to the word of God. Paul is sharing this with the elders because this is going to be a recurring theme throughout the years of the Church. We need to protect what we have learned by constantly strengthening ourselves with God’s word. People that sometimes say they want the best for us can easily be mislead because they are not applying Gods best interests and they are just putting on a cover to disrupt the growth of the Church.

    In regards to Paul bypassing Ephesus it was with a purpose because he had things to do that the Holy Spirit was calling to complete. IF he had went there he would have lost time to do the things that God was expecting him to accomplish. The elders are warned and he says good by because he knows that there is trials and tribulation that he is about to encounter. God wants Paul to empower the Elders to become the leaders of the flock and protect it. This was the plan all along and Paul was just planting seeds that God was going to help grow.

  13. The metaphor of a Shepard is one that is used throughout the Bible for different reasons, but it is a really powerful one. I recently got to study this metaphor in the context of the “I am” statements that are given in the book of John, and it helped me gain a better understanding of it; because in our current culture we do not have an every day common knowledge of sheep and all that goes on in their care. When Paul is telling the elders that there will be wolves that come to try and take the sheep, it is up to the Shepard to protect the sheep, but also to fight off the wolf that is attacking. But, the sheep can also cause problems within themselves. Sheep are very dumb animals and can easily go astray, however, there can also be wolves that hid among the sheep that the Shepard did not know of or see right away. This is a lot of responsibly that Paul is placing on these elders to make sure that they are being aware of what is going on in the believers around him. This role that the elders take one, and that the church takes on is one that must be taken seriously because the Shepard must have a good eye to catch when there is a wolf in sheep’s clothes in the mix.

  14. I think Paul’s warning is a both and type deal. It in my opinion does refer to something that will happen during the end times (2 Tim. 3, 4). Polhill would observe that “The early Christian writings appear to be influenced by Jesus’ warning against false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing (Polhill, p. 428). If that is the case Jesus makes two notably references to wolves being in sheep’s clothing one being in Matthew 7:15. Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves”.

    The term “ravenous” is a different yet similar word from what Paul uses in Acts 20:29. Jesus’ use of the word is “harpax”, which according to a Greek-English Lexicon, means to snatch away or take away; a robber or swindler.
    Paul’s use of the word is “barus” which means to be weighty or burdensome. I would be led to believe then that Paul was warning the new appointed leaders in Ephesus that there will be people inside and outside that will force the Law on them, or at the very least be contaminated with the yeast of the Pharisees Jesus spoke of in referring to their hypocrisy and legalism (Mat. 16:6).

    The second notably reference Jesus make is found in Matthew 24. After warning the disciples to not be misled by anyone, he states, “Many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold…” (Matt. 24:10-12). The greek word for “love” here is agape, which is only found in believers in Christ (Rom. 5:5). Believers love will grow cold as a result of widespread deception in the church.

    These statements go hand in hand in what has been discussed thus far. Whether sincere or intentional, there will be people who claim to be Christians but are evil inwardly and deceive others as a result, others perhaps Christians are bound by legalism. One misleads and the other is a weight that is burdensome. Paul goes in depth on this topic in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 3, 5:8-9 etc.).

    All in all, I think Paul was speaking to the leaders of Ephesus in this way because Paul had dealt with such cases a number of times and warns them in such a way that they should expect false prophets to be disguised within their meetings. Paul speaks strongly on this deception in his letter(s) to Timothy, ironically, Timothy was also placed in charge of the church in Ephesus (What’s the deal with Ephesus??). According to Jesus and Paul, this kind of subtle invasion is to be expected as years go by, whether intentionally or not, it will happen, and many will be deceived and mislead others as a result.

    Personally, I believe this gives us a lot of insight into the last days and is even evident to a huge extent to today’s world. Be every watchful and vigilante for fruit in your flocks lives. Some may turn out to be wolves at heart and are doing more damage if you remain silent with them or the issue.

  15. In today’s world, it can often seem difficult to differentiate the truth from an altered version of the truth that is ultimately a lie. Between the platforms of social media and the never-ceasing output of fake news, our culture seems to struggle more than ever when it comes to identifying the truth. A topic more important than politics or cultural news is the Word of God. Not only is the truth miscued among secular areas, but it is also contorted when considering the Truths of the Bible. Not surprisingly, the Bible identifies the dangers of this and warns against it. In Acts 20:25-31, Paul warns the spiritual leaders to “guard their own spiritual and moral purity” (Polhill, p. 2130). This is important for Paul to share with the Ephesian elders since Paul does not expect to see these people again (vs. 25). The metaphor that Paul uses to describe what will happen in the Church relates to shepherding. Within the metaphor, the people of the Church are referred to as the sheep, the elders that Paul had appointed are called the shepherds, and those who spread heresies and lies are conveyed as the wolves. What caught my attention is the fact that the “wolves” can come from outside of the flock intending to harm the sheep, but they can also emerge from within the sheep’s flock. I think Long’s statement, “most threats against the church are not coming from the outside” is evident within the church today. I have had many conversations with other “Christians” surrounding large topics surrounding the Christian faith such as salvation and baptism and there are often several inconsistent conclusions. This poses the question: what is the Truth? The Truth is found in the Word of God and can be identified through the work of the Holy Spirit. By praying God reveals the Truth and actively seeking it through His council, I believe the Truth can be known and guarded against the wolves.

  16. Paul’s warning of guarding the church as “flock” is needed in churches back then, and churches today. It is very easy for believers, whether they have been a Christian a long time or have recently converted to Christianity, to be swayed by various teachings. There are many people disguised as ones who are preaching the gospel, but yet it is watered down, taking bits and pieces, or adding to it. This is why it is so important to be discerning everything we hear, whether the pastor/leader is extremely trustworthy, or we just met them. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be in the Word of God ourselves, reading the truth, speaking the truth, and discerning the truth.
    This is a scary reality for the church, both back then and today. It is the presence of false teachers not just externally but actually internally, coming from within the church body. Even though we cannot know or judge the intentions of someone’s heart, we may be able to see if someone is leading others astray from their own selfish gain (Polhill, p. 2130). A servant of Jesus is someone who serves humbly, giving all the glory to God, rather than to self. They seek out to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus” to “give rather than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
    With access to a lot of different theology, viewpoints, opinions and even the feelings of others, it can be so easy to be led astray if we take it all as truth. I am so grateful that Paul warns not only Ephesus, but us as believers today, to open our eyes, and allow the discernment of the Holy Spirit to lead our way to the truth of His Word. In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Because we are followers of Christ, we must listen to voice of Jesus above any others, and know Him, love Him, follow Him, and discern who may be the wolves amongst the sheep.

  17. Another possibility of Paul wanting the elders of the churches in Ephesus to come to Miletus may be due to his recent past experience in Ephesus where there were riots and chanting late into the night. It could be that Paul wanted to avoid that commotion and therefore thought it would be easier for the elders of the churches to come to him instead of him going all of the way to them. The likelihood that Paul called for the elders he trusted to come meet him not only makes sense, but also seems like the most logical answer. Paul probably knew that if he went into Ephesus and called for a meeting the with elders, false teachers would come as well, and his message would not be well received. Sadly, this is something that remains to be a problem in the church today. Heretics are real, sometimes they are aware of their behavior and other times they are all too well aware of their false teachings, but it “sounds better” or more pleasant for the audience and themselves so that is what they preach and teach. Not only elders, but all Christians, need to be on the lookout for these wolves dressed in sheep clothing because they can quickly lead believers astray. Proverbs often times speaks about keep watch for those who lie and falsely claim the truth. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he speaks once again about the importance of speaking the truth, not only when preaching the gospel, but also in speaking with others (Ephesians 4:25-30).

  18. I agree that it appears that Paul is relinquishing his position of leadership over to the Ephesian elders/deacons. It’s amazing how often we are deceived into thinking that a wolf in sheep’s clothing is an ally. I liked the insight that this post provided about there being “many house churches” instead of there being one singular church building where everyone was going to (Phillip Long). That would’ve been a lot easier for the wolves to have snuck in since it would’ve been more secretive and only with a smaller group of believers. It makes me think of current times however when many Christian leaders that we have looked up too have suddenly been revealed as being secretly sinful. It’s very important for leaders to be accountable to someone and when they’re not, it’s very easy for them to not consider themselves accountable to even God. I think that this is why the requirements for being an elder or overseer of a church is so strict. In 1 Timothy, we are told that elders and overseers are to “be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” and this is just the first verse out of 12 describing the requirements (1 Timothy 3:2, ESV). So even though Paul has relinquished the official position, he is still a leader that the elders and overseers are accountable too and it sounds like, from his instructions to Timothy, that maybe Timothy was going to continue in Paul’s steps of watching over the early churches.

  19. This is an important passage of scripture for the entire church. Although Paul is speaking specifically to elders of the church in Ephesus, I believe this is a relevant warning to all believers. I have seen many times in the church, where “wolves in sheeps clothing” have tried to turn people away or cause disturbance in the body of believers. Many disturbances can be just preference oriented in regards to worship and/or what to wear, but other times it can be theologically driven. The elders in the church have a hard job to lead their flock that God has given them to oversee, but it is necessary to have solid leadership so they can watch for the “savage wolves”.

    I like your last phrase, P. Long, that said, “Most threats are not coming from the outside, ex the government, but rather come from the inside.” It truly breaks my heart, seeing splits in a church, due to people twisting the gospel and leading astray the sheep. I think it is so important to have strong theology and to know the word of God, so that we may not be deceived, by these people or by Satan. I think it is also important to understand the basis of your regular church’s beliefs, because if they do not line up with scripture then you could be led astray. Knowing the elders of your church is also crucial, because these men are leading your church. We may be a little ways away from “outside” attacks, but that does not mean we should not be ready to stand firm on the truth.

  20. In Acts 20:25-31 Paul is saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders as well as giving them advice. In verses 26 and 27 Paul explains to them that he is no longer responsible for any future doctrinal, theological, or moral error within the church at Ephesus. He also tells them that he never refrained from teaching any part of God’s Word for fear that someone would take offense. Instead he spoke God’s Word boldly and set an example for others to do the same (Polhill, 2130). Paul then tells the elders to be watchful of themselves and their “flock” as well as “fierce wolves” and those from among them who will twist the truth and draw people from the church away. In other words Paul is telling the elders to first watch themselves and make sure that they are being morally pure. He also tells them to be watchful of the members of the church and make sure they are not being led astray by false teaching from these “savage wolves” who will twist the truth and preach false teachings in order to lead members of the church astray (Long).

  21. Considering Paul’s experience sharing the Gospel with both Jews and Gentiles using different strategies as well as his time spent training leaders and teaching several church units, it is very plausible that Paul was able to get a taste of what the work of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” would look like. Paul often sought the synagogues first to preach, using getting the same rejection from most but it would vary how long it took for them to reject him and persecute him. After that, he would then preach to the Gentiles. But on both sides, he had some negative experiences and pushback. The Jews could not get over the traditions of the law and how the Gentile believers were not following that (Acts 14) and the Gentiles struggled with turning away idolatry and sexual immorality (Acts 15:29, 16:29). Some of the churches, like in Ephesus and in Corinth, Paul spent a greater amount of time with them, which would shed more light on the dangers of such kind of persecution. So it is very possible that there were manifestations of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” already. And it makes sense that, since Paul believed he would have a chance to see the Ephesians again, he would stress the importance of watching out for this specific danger. Paul knew his intensity would not be physically present to straighten things out anymore and now the elders needed to do so. Even though the way church is done in the West in the 21st century is different from the early church, we can still relate in many levels. It is interesting that our individualistic society perhaps limits the presence and influence of respectable elders in the lives of the congregation. Which also gives a sense of disconnection just like the several pod churches in the 21st century. It is also interesting that this charge Paul gives to the elders as shepherds of the church now seems to fall more heavily on the shoulders of the pastor. The elders’ functions are very individualized and hardly do we see every elder sharing this function of guardian and shepherd.

  22. To be completely honest, I love Acts 20 so much- this incredible analogy of the flock makes this chapter very memorable for me. The idea of being a sheep leaves us so vulnerable- sheep need their Shepard, they literally cannot function without him. Just as we live our lives daily for Christ, we are truly helpless without Christ, and we need the direction of our Shepard. And Paul’s warning of the wolves makes this chapter even more memorable and thought-provoking. Just as the elders and the people of the church back in Paul’s time had to fight against enemies of the church, we very much right against enemies of the church today. I look at this chapter as a warning for the church of the time, but also a profound reminder for us, the church today, that we must be on our guard, and as a flock, we must not stray from our Shepard. We must stay close to him so that we will not fall victim to any wolf attack. I truly believe this chapter is brilliant and one of Paul’s best messages. I also absolutely believe that this speech here is a reflection of the situation presented in the post-apostolic church, and Paul’s forewarning is both sobering yet comforting because having this knowledge only prepares this church for what is to come. I absolutely agree that these Shepards are in charge of the flock and that they must defend the church by the grace of God with all the knowledge that He has given them.

  23. In Chapter 20 of Acts it shows us that Paul was very caring of the elders in the city of Miletus because he knew of the things that were to come. Paul also knew of the power and influence that the elders had over people. For Paul to warn them with the little time that he had was more powerful than we might imagine. Paul knew of the danger that was in Ephesus which would of slowed down his journey to Jerusalem. Within Paul’s meeting of the elders, he warns them of “wolves” coming with his absence. He also warns of the elders of false teachers that will try and divide them and lead them away from the disciples. With these two factors in play, Paul also warns them of false teachers within the elders because of the influence in the church they have. The reason that Paul points this out is because he knows that the heart is wicked, and they will use their pride and selfishness to get what they want. The elders are called to do good but are under the same temptations that we are therefore tells them the good they should do to continue the God’s work.

  24. I totally agree one hundred percent that the biggest threat to the church is from within. The reason that I agree with this statement is because the reason many people stray away from the church is because of the way the members treat them. A large part of it is the fact that people feel judges and belittled by church members. You can see it in almost every church people don’t even look to help others only to help themselves. Or they look to others they know already share their same beliefs so that they will not become uncomfortable. Although I do still believe that the government is a major issue too because they present issues against the church at a much larger level.

  25. I find it very interesting that we are told here by Paul that there will be many trials and we will encounter wolves in sheep’s clothing. We only need to be told once in the Bible something for it to be important, and it seems that Christians often do not find this to be highly important. How often do Christians get led astray by those they think are like them? It happens more than we realize. There have been a lot of people that have been led astray by cults Christianity that people fall for so easily because they make themselves appealing before attacking and misguiding completely. We need to keep our guard up to prevent ourselves and those around us from being pulled into schemes like cults that mislead and ruin lives.

  26. I believe that it is quite possible that the savage wolves were already there, not coming in the future. It is also a possibility that the false prophets weren’t causing a huge problem currently when Paul met with the elders, but each problem was building everyday. It is interesting that the urgency of Paul meeting with the elders, could it be that Paul needed to talk with them as soon as possible because their house churches were in trouble? or the other idea that Paul was on a strict schedule and needed to get to his ship before the cargo ship left. I think another interesting idea to think about is “who takes over” when Paul leaves or when he dies? As modern Christians know that Paul dies by the hands of the Romans, but not much is known what the churches did after he left. Christianity began to spread throughout the Roman empire, until it became the empires main religions and turned into Roman Chatholic. The last point that P. Long makes it very true, that the threats that will come to our churches in America Will be from internal forces, not external ones like our Government. Churches are being divided within the church and across the country. Based on diffracting political beliefs or religious arguments and differences. What will destroy the church will most likely come from within.

  27. I agree that most threats against the church are not coming from the outside (the Government is not our enemy). But from other christians, ‘’wolves in sheep’s clothing’’. Even now, many churches are divided. Instead of growing, they keep on breaking apart. Inside the community has a lot of hating, arguing, fighting, and blaming each other’s faults. This happens in every place. However, to understand, we have to go all the way back to the beginning of time about the relationship between God and Satan.
    God’s enemy is not human but Satan. Being and the work of Satan is, to steal, kill and destroy ( John 10:10). This explains basically everything. If we compare the community of other religions and christianity, our community is struggling the most with everything from every side but not seeing in the other religions. When the Pharisee said , Jesus is ‘’the prince of demons that fellow drive out demons’’, Jesus said; ‘’If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?’’ (Matthew 12:24-26).
    Satan will never make his kingdom to be divided but do to divide his enemy’s kingdom (Christian). When Satan started his step he never started from outside, but from inside since the beginning from time. To make Human (Adam) fall into sin, Satan came to overcome Eve the wife of Adam first inside. Those who sold Joseph as a slave are not others but his brothers. A woman who encourages Job to curse God is not from others but Job’s wife and a man who betrays and sells Jesus is not from another, Jesus’s disciple.
    so the threat is not from outside but from inside. This division comes when we are doubtful of God and His words or misunderstanding. To understand the word of God and be united, all we need is the Holy Spirit who can interpret the meaning of every single word from God’s who.

  28. Paul seemed very eager to talk to the elders of the church. It is possible that Paul was in a rush and decided to skip landing in Ephesus and to meet in Miletus. Paul could have just been really upset with the Elders in Ephesus and saw a trend going to happen. I think he felt he needed to rush, figure out which elders are loyal to his teachings and understanding of the church, and make them aware of the “wolves in sheep clothing”. If Paul had stopped at Ephesus, he most likely had a routine he would typically follow and didn’t want to spend the current time following up. I believe it is true that most threats against the church will not come from the outside but inside the church. Paul feels that if the elders lean away from his teachings, they will start to not spread the truth of the word to those who follow. When Paul leaves or dies, he needs to know who is going to take over. Mr. Long also shares Paul’s worries of threats arising from the congregation. Someone in the congregation may have heard something from another religion or find what the church is saying to be false. If we look at the Roman Empire, the Romans had fallen to their own hand and crashed from within. The fall of the Romans took place over a long period of time and eventually fell. Paul could have been talking about the fall of the church in the future, but I believe he was also talking their current time. Nothing could have destroyed the church more than the destruction from the beginning.

  29. For modern readers, when we read of “elders” in the Bible context, we might immediately compare them to the elders that have been appointed at our churches. However, Long encourages us to not jump to these conclusions but instead shows us that these elders were leaders of their own churches. Although we rarely have house churches in the United States, house churches were common in the early church and around the globe today in persecuted areas. However, the reason that Paul called these elders to a meeting outside of Ephesus was to warn the elders that they have “wolves in sheep clothing”. Often, I have heard sermons on this metaphor being compared to Satan or false prophets. But here in Acts 20 Paul is warning to elders that these wolves are Christians that were a part of the house churches, which means they were friends, neighbors, or even family members. Because of this close association, perhaps this is why Paul so strongly warned the elders that they would attempt to lead others astray.

  30. In Acts 20:17-38, we learn about Paul’s plan to bypass Ephesus and meet the elders at Miletus. Firstly, Paul wants to get to Jerusalem as quickly as possible, and if he were to stop in Ephesus, he would have many obligations that would delay his schedule. Secondly, it is possible that there are already problems within the Ephesian church, and Paul wants to gather the loyal elders who can still be trusted. When the elders arrive, Paul warns them about the trials they will face in the future. He uses a metaphor of a “savage wolf” to represent the enemies of the church who seek to tear the congregation apart. The elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to shepherd the flock and guard it against these enemies. However, Paul also warns them that these “wolves” may arise from within the congregation itself. False teachers may distort the truth and draw disciples away after them. Based on 1 Timothy and Acts 20:30, it appears that these false teachers may have been elders from within the Ephesian church. It is important to note that the elders likely presided over small house churches in Ephesus. Therefore, there may have been a few elders who hosted a church in their home that have departed from the teachings of Paul. It is these elders that Paul wants to discipline.

  31. I think this sermon is an important and interesting part of early church history. Paul has spent so much of his life preaching the Gospel to the Jews as well as the Gentiles and planting and growing churches. In this mission, Paul faced many hardships. But now as Paul looks back on his ministry and what he has accomplished, he sees a new threat on the horizon. There are wolves among the flock, impostors among the sheep who the elders are charged with protecting. Pauls warns that there are members of the congregation that will begin to lead people astray. I wonder if Paul could be referring to the “super-apostles” he mentions in Corinthians when he warns the elders about “savage wolves”. Or perhaps he is thinking of the many sorcerers who accepted his message returning to their old ways; does Paul think that his name will become a word of power for their spells? The possibilities are numerous, but in essence, Paul’s point is that without guidance the flock will go astray. It is the mission of the shepherd—the elders of the church—to keep the flock in line. Paul uses his own life and mission as an example of how they ought to conduct themselves. He reminds them of the years he has spent warning them about this issue. This was a big deal for Paul. And why wouldn’t it be? These wolves were threatening his entire life’s work. But more than that, they were threatening Paul’s God-given mission.

  32. You mention the question of who takes over after Paul is gone. Paul taught those who are able to shepherd the church in his absence.

    This makes me think of the concept of power dynamics and how they apply to the church (or anything, really) today. Good leaders don’t just “boss,” they lead. Not only do they lead, but they teach others to lead. I think Paul exemplifies this well here and we should take heed to this. One leader of the church does not stay alive or in the same location forever. They must teach others to lead in order that they may be able to delegate and/or pass the mantle at the appropriate time. If this does not take place, then when a leader is gone there is confusion about who steps up and the direction to take, and there is lack of protection over the church. To fail to teach others to lead is failing to truly be a leader. Leaders that don’t teach are rather dictators and are also prone to taking on more than they can handle, since they haven’t taught anyone how to help!

  33. Acts 20 includes a speech from Paul testifying about what is going to happen when he gets back to Jerusalem, and it is also a warning to those of the Ephesian Elders. Paul says “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” to the Elders. (20:28). The elders were told by Paul these actions, to care for the flock, which is essentially the church body. Because the “elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to the task of shepherding the flock, the natural metaphor for an attack against the flock is a “savage wolf” (Long). So, the elders, like a shepherd dog, should watch over their sheep from wolves, and they should not be distracted to protect the flock just as the elders should not be distracted from protecting the flock which is the church. It seems it is not only those such as the government trying to pull apart the church but as Polhill states, there are “false teachers who ravage the church for their own gain and who had indeed come from within the church, in fact, from the elders themselves” (2008, p. 2130). This guarding aspect Paul warns the elders about is still a modern scene we have to watch out for in our churches today. This role of watching the flock should be not only of the elders but of the whole church membership. As Paul said, he was “not seeking silver or gold”, but he provides for himself (20:33). Nowadays, we need to see those who are trying to get rich by pretending to be for God and the church, but who really are the wolves trying to catch sheep. It is not easy, this is why Paul is stating this to the elders as an instruction to be alert before he leaves, and they are left clueless.

  34. After reading Acts 20, and how Paul warns the ephesian shepherds about the savage wolves that are coming it really just got me thinking about how twisted and evil the world really is. Literally Satan was at work the second that the good news started to spread around the world, he was already placing doubt, and twisting people’s ideas and thoughts about who Jesus actually was. It is crazy to think that even the first churches had all kinds of struggles and problems just like many churches even today still do. Although the churches may have looked way different back then, most likely being much smaller, there were still false teachers, still people who doubted, and also people who were literally just twisting ideas for their own gain. Many churches today have lots of these same issues, and actually can cause people to turn away from christianity altogether. It is important that we are aware of what people are teaching, and that we fully understand what is being taught to others before just accepting every word someone says.

  35. Thinking about wolves in sheeps clothing is not a thought that has crossed my mind when I go into Church on Sunday, or go to Bible study either. With all the different divisions of denominations as well as different theological disagreements in the universal church, such as Calvinism and Arminianism for example, I feel like many could point the finger over these differences and try to make the argument that the other side is the wolves. At least in the case of the Ephesians Church Paul’s letters to Timothy do confirm a form of division and false teaching within the ephesian community (Polhill, 2130). I am glad that today we have all this different history as well as the canon of scripture to look to in order to combat false teachings. Yet even with all of this today teachings are still prevalent like for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons having deviated from a Biblical view of Christ’s deity, among many other things. Maybe Paul was having more of a prophetic warning on these topics than he was the Calvinist-Arminian debates that are now more prevalent than ever thanks to the internet. Either way the completed Scripture we have now makes it much easier for us all to sniff out the real wolves.

  36. Like the blog says, it seems that Paul was trying to instruct the elders that they are now in charge, and that they must be watchful of internal issues arising (Long, 2019, para. 7). I think it is safe to assume that the future issues that Paul is trying to warn them of are likely already starting. When he warned them, “…from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things…” (20:30), he is likely emphasizing that they will arise from the elders themselves (Polhill, 2008, p. 2130). Paul himself did not know what the future exactly held for him, yet had much insight into the future of the church in Ephesus. I also completely agree with the importance of paying the most attention to what is going on within the church. Polhill says such, “Spiritual leaders need first of all to guard their own spiritual and moral purity” (p. 2130). Oftentimes, issues start within the church and can lead to the most issues. Division is the worst thing that can happen, and also not having discernment when “wolves in sheeps clothing” rise up and lead believers astray. Along with that, more issues come from within the church today. Like the false teachers that arose a decade or so later in the church of Ephesus from this time in Acts and ravaging the church, so do leaders in the church today abuse the power they are given. We can often get caught up in fighting social issues or being mindful of outside issues but we do not quite as often analyze ourselves and the issues that arise within.

  37. I think it is great that Paul had stopped to meet with the elders of Ephesus because he knew that bad things were going to happen to him when he arrived back in Jerusalem, I believe he truly wanted to say goodbye to these individuals especially if he was passing through anyways. When Paul was speaking to these men, it sounded like these men were truly Pauls’s friends and that is the reason Paul was pouring his heart out to them and they all shared a moment at the end of Acts 20 and cried with one another. It was a bold move for Paul to warn the shepherds about the attacks that they were going to have on the church because none of these men knew that this was coming and they really did need Paul to warn them about this. It was a great metaphor by Paul to compare the Elders to shepherds because they are to watch over the people of the church and make sure that nothing is going wrong within the church itself. Even though Paul specifically did not call the Elders shepherds in Acts 20, he definitely motions toward the idea that they are to be shepherds because they are the individuals who are the overseers of the church and they are the ones to make sure that nothing fishy is going on within the individuals of the church. Reading through Acts 20 and hearing the idea of savage wolves, it is a little confusing to identify the meaning at first but after hearing more of Paul’s speech to the Elders, it is easily implied the meaning of savage wolves is individuals who are non-believers who are looking to tear down the people who are sharing God’s word.

  38. Paul’s speech to the elders certainly reflects the situation of the post-apostolic church. In verse 25, Paul mentions that he will not see the rest of them again. Then a few verses later he warns them of the “fierce wolves” that will twist their words, as well as some of the elders themselves turning against each other. The warning that Paul gives the elders is not only about threats from the outside, but also from within. Polhill tells us that the letters of Paul to Timothy prove Paul’s warning true, as about a decade later there were false teachers ravaging the church including some of the elders themselves (p. 2130). Paul seemed to be warning them that they will have to step up once Paul goes. To accomplish so, they must be able to maintain their focus while safeguarding the church. While doing so, the elders would need to have a good understanding of Bible theology in order to avoid being tricked by poor teachings. Overall, Acts 20:25-31 is a call to action for the early church to persevere in the face of hardship and to collaborate in order to safeguard and advance the cause of Christ. It serves as a reminder that the church must be founded on strong leadership and good theology in order to handle the inevitable problems.

  39. I found this section of scripture particularly interesting because I think it is something that wholly applies to Christian churches today. When Paul addresses the elders of Ephesus, he makes clear that not only do they have to keep watch of their congregations due to outside conflicts, but also inside conflicts (Acts 20:29-31). I appreciate that before Paul calls the elders to shepherd the flock, he reminds them that they themselves must be innocent and pure in their own spiritual endeavors (Polhill, 2008, p. 2320), in order to have success in their positions as elders. I agree with Long’s assumption that Paul is preparing the elders so that they know what to do when Paul is gone (2019). Whether it is because Paul is not coming back (Acts 20:25), or because he is worried about persecution (Acts 20:23) and perhaps his eventual death (Polhill, p. 2319).

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