Paul admonished the elders of the church in Ephesus personally: “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves." (Acts 20:28-30).
This solemn warning, made by the Apostle to the elders (also called bishops) of that church when he was already aware of the fact that he would never come back to see them again, is still valid today and deserves more attention, especially of those who are part of the eldership of a church.
Firstly, it is essential to take care of their own spiritual condition. They cannot lead the flock of Christ in their role as spiritual guides if they themselves are not in communion with Him, submissive, obedient and attentive to His commandments.
Having been made overseers (or elders) by the Holy Spirit, and not by a mandate coming from a higher human authority, or arising out of an election by members of the church, their authority comes from God and they are only accountable to Him for their actions. Church members should recognize this fact and honour them, "especially those who labour in the Word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17).
The preaching of the Gospel (the Word) is vital to reach the lost. This is the Gospel of the Grace of God, destined to be preached to "every creature", that is, every human being (Mark 16:15), and it is the name that best expresses the free salvation to all the world through faith in Christ as divine Lord and Saviour. It is the vibrant message announcing the favour extended by God to sinful men with no fear of God, deserving nothing and on their way to eternal perdition.
The teaching of biblical doctrine is vital for the maturation of the spiritual life of believers and the church, and Paul was God's instrument to transmit it masterfully to the churches of God that were formed from his time until today. All believers should strive to know it, and the elders should be able to teach it (1 Timothy 3:2).
Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, who were declining towards unfaithfulness, claiming to be amazed by the speed with which the Galatians were being persuaded to follow a doctrine that was a perversion of the Gospel of Christ - God's curse ("anathema") is the destiny of any angel, apostle or preacher that modifies it (Galatians 1:8-9). This solemn warning is in force until now, when unfortunately we see a growing multiplicity of various sects and denominations that depart, go beyond or are short of the Gospel that Christ and the apostles preached.
Their publications, their radio, television and Internet programmes are well done and even very convincing to the unwary. But how far should the preaching of the Gospel go to "please" its listeners? (Galatians 1:10). The eloquence, rhetoric, and the personality of the preacher - these things can attract listeners; but what ought to please even more should be the truth, the biblical certainty of what is preached. Otherwise, the preaching is not pleasing to God or to those who know the truth.
The success of the propagators of other gospels is a temptation to many who seek a numerical growth of their church, at the expense "of the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). "Simplicity" here is a translation of a Greek word "haplotes" which also means "singleness", "sincerity" and "generosity." It is disturbing when we see clear signs of associations and doctrinal deviations, in some churches that claim to be faithful to biblical teachings, towards "other gospels" going as far as to not only receive their propagators in fellowship, but even to allow them to lead or participate in the "worship and praise" and to take the pulpit. Are not these unfaithful churches committing errors as serious as the ancient churches of Galatia and Corinth?
The elders have an important responsibility “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood". This was the price paid for each one of His sheep, and the extent of the preciousness of every believer saved by grace through his faith in Christ. "His own blood" refers to the blood of Jesus Christ, and when saying that God purchased the church with His own blood Paul confirms once again that Jesus Christ is God the Son. It is remarkable because nowhere else does the Bible speak of God bleeding or dying. God is spirit, but the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh amongst us. Thus it was God Who bought the church, but He did so with the blood of His own Son, the blessed Lord Jesus.
Paul then prophesied that after his departure, the church of Ephesus would suffer attacks from outside and inside, even from some among the elders themselves. In the church of Corinth there were "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
The masters of deceit, savage wolves masquerading as ministers of justice, will not spare the flock. Within the church these men seek places of prominence, speak perversions of the truth, and attempt to take away disciples for themselves. Paul's concern was so great that for three years he did not cease night and day with tears to admonish every one of the elders of the Ephesian church. Let us also be watchful to this great danger coming from outside and within the church.
Here are some characteristics of these enemies of the true faith:
Beloved elders, be watchful against "men speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them." It is necessary to keep out the little leaven that can leaven the whole lump (Galatians 5:9), and not give them an opportunity to act in church work, nor to speak at its meetings. For more details of other doctrines, to guard against them, I recommend you read the articles indicated in the pages concerning the origin of some of the main sects, some of the principal religions which call themselves Christian but have moved away from the Gospel of Christ, and some answers to questions about predestination.