A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on March April 26, 2015 by Pastor Dale Raether
Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net
Be Shepherds of Your Flock!
Acts 20:23-31

I’d like to share with you a little Wisconsin Synod history. A hundred years ago, it wasn’t unusual for families to have ten or twelve children. Parents, can you see yourself with that many? How could you afford to feed them? Where would they even sleep? Also, can you imagine what our church parking lot would look like if families were still having that many children? It would be full of fifteen passenger vans! Another thing wasn’t unusual in the Wisconsin Synod was having fifty students in a classroom with only one teacher. Would our teachers today be willing to take that on? They might say it’s impossible, but it wouldn’t be any more impossible than having a thousand members in a church with only one pastor, which too was pretty common.

So, with a flock that large, how could a pastor have any time for evangelism work? He didn’t. Church growth came through weddings and baptisms! Okay, then, what about counseling or regaining the straying, how could a pastor of a 1000 keep up with that? There’s an old saying, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop!” With parents working hard to take care of their big family, there wasn’t time for idleness, and children had to help too. Also, when there were marriage problems, grandma would set that couple straight. Or, if the children stepped out of line, pa would take care of things behind the wood shed. And this is why too they could have 50 children in a classroom with one teacher. The children knew that if they got in trouble in school, they would be in even more trouble when they got home.

So, would you like to go back to the good old days? Make no mistake about it. Our German Lutheran ancestors had to work extremely hard. But there was something they did that God still wants for us today. Paul writes in Ephesians: Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13 Notice, pastors and teachers are NOT to do all the work of a congregation. The pastor’s job is to train the members to do the spiritual work of the congregation. In other words, just as Christ shepherds the pastor, the pastor is to shepherd the members, and the members are to shepherd their children and people in their circle. God has a purpose in all this. God accepts us as we are, but He loves us too much not to help us grow. A good way to help us grow is God tells each of us to Be Shepherds of Your Flock. 1. We are called to be shepherds by grace. 2. Our sheep need shepherding.

1. We are called to be shepherds by grace

We read in our text:  Only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. – Acts 20:23-24 No one ever worked harder than Paul did. He went from city to city, starting congregations and training pastors and teachers to take over after he left. Also, what made Paul’s work hard wasn’t just the amount. Everywhere he turned, the devil tried to stop him. Five times he was whipped like Jesus was. Three times he was beaten with clubs. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times Paul’s ship sank. Often he went without food or sleep, because of all the pressure he was under. Except his pressure wasn’t over things he wanted to get done. His pressure was from seeing people in trouble or danger, and wanting to shepherd them through it.

What made Paul willing to work harder than a parent with 12 children, or a teacher with 50 students, or a pastor with a 1000 members? In a word, grace! Like everyone else Paul was born sinful. But his sins weren’t anything he could have gone to jail for. His sins were coveting and pride. He was also an idolater and a liar, because he told himself that he was good enough, and if he tried hard enough, could earn his own way into heaven. Paul was also a murderer. When the Jewish leaders stoned Stephen to death, Paul was there, cheering them on. Granted, Paul didn’t go to jail for that one. No one did, but God saw.

Did you ever almost crash your car? You made some stupid mistake. Someone honks their horn, and you correct, but you were this close to crashing. If that ever happens, do you say a quick prayer of thanksgiving? Do you suddenly become more alert to safe driving habits? Paul was this close to crashing his soul into hell. But Christ became his Good Shepherd. Christ was holy before God in Paul’s place and shed His blood for Paul’s many, many sins. Paul knew nothing of this. Then one day he was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians, so the Jewish leaders could kill them. But Christ honked at Paul. He appeared to Paul in blinding glory and called him to faith. After this, life for Paul wasn’t about relaxing or having things his way. All that mattered to him was testifying God’s grace to people, who were heading in the same wrong direction he had been.

And now here’s a picture of what God’s grace looks like. This is my new grandson. Joshua Dale Love was born Friday. All I had to do is look at his picture once, and now there is nothing I wouldn’t do or sacrifice for him. In addition to Joshua I have 6 granddaughters, so multiply that feeling times seven. The way I feel about grandchildren is how God felt about Paul, even though Paul was filthy with sin and living as God’s enemy. Yet when God looked at Paul in eternity, He loved him and decided there was nothing He wouldn’t do or sacrifice for him. And now multiply this times the number of people who have ever lived, and you get an idea of how big God’s grace is. Anyway God’s grace melted Paul’s heart, so that he began to feel about others the way God feels about them. May His grace also melt our hearts, because unless we’re a tiny child, all of us have someone in our life, who needs our shepherding.

2. Our sheep need shepherding

We read on in our text: Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. – Acts 20:25 The Holy Spirit had revealed to Paul that he was headed into hard times and after that he would be martyred. Paul didn’t know when and how. But those hard times didn’t concern Paul. False doctrine did. We read on: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. – Acts 20:28-29 There were two popular false doctrines in Paul’s day. One was the doctrine of the Judaizers. The Judaizers taught that Christ was the Savior, but in order to be saved one still had to keep certain Old Testament laws. On the surface this sounded good. They reasoned that if salvation was 100% by Christ’s doing, salvation is to easy and people won’t behave themselves, and then all of society would fall apart. Actually this false doctrine is still around. Here’s what a Judaizer sounds like today. “Christ will forgive you, if you truly repent.” Let’s think about this for a moment. Who gets to define what “truly repent” means? A person does, and usually “truly” for him doesn’t 100%, because no one can truly do that, since we’re all sinners. And so, when it’s said that our forgiveness is based on our repentance, this leads right into work righteousness and hypocrisy, which was where Paul driving his soul, before Jesus honked at him. And now here’s the truth of God’s grace. Forgiveness is based on everything Christ did for us in our place. And so, here’s how we might rephrase this sentence on the screen. Christ paid for your sins, so repent and believe it. The Bible word for repent means literally change your thinking. Stop thinking sin is going to make you happy, or stop thinking you can make yourself right with God after you sin. Instead take God at His Word that through Christ you are 100% forgiven and100% fit for heaven. There is strength in these words! We might have to work hard at times, and we might have all kinds of troubles and frustrations, and Satan might be striking at our heels every step of the way. But Christ was crucified for us, and Christ is risen, and Christ is reigning!

Another popular false doctrine in Paul’s day was called Gnosticism. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word for knowledge. Gnostics called themselves that, because they were proud of their high intelligence, and they would pick and choose which parts of the Bible they could agree with, and added parts of their own. It all sounded so scholarly to people then. Another appeal of the Gnostics was they taught that sin doesn’t affect the soul. In other words a believer can indulge in any immoral behavior he wants, and it wouldn’t keep him out of heaven. Actually it can. Christ didn’t pay for our sins, so we can continue living in them. Christ paid for our sins, so we may turn from our sins everyday, and we need to everyday, because we don’t know when our last day will be, and continued willful sinning can drive the Holy Spirit from a believer’s heart.

So, then, if we see someone God loves, talking like a Judaizer or acting like a Gnostic, how can we just let that happen? How can we not with our prayers, our example, and our words, not do everything we can to shepherd that person back to the Lord? But what if this turns into sleepless nights, and heartache, and rejection for us? Well, isn’t that what doing and sacrificing whatever it takes means? Isn’t that, what shepherds do? And isn’t that what our Good Shepherd did for us? I’m not suggesting that we can change a person’s heart, but God can work through us. Here, then, were Paul’s last words to all whom he had shepherded and now were shepherds themselves. I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. – Acts 20:32 Only by the power of God’s Word can we make it through this hard life. And only by the encouragement and guidance of the Word can we help others make it with us.

Finally, people don’t have big families anymore, and often their extended families aren’t around to give them good advice, or if they are around their advice isn’t always godly. But in another sense we do have a big family and who does have good advice. Look around you. Today we are family. In view of God’s grace, be a shepherd with your pastor. Help us together shepherd this flock, because in this sinful, discouraging world, every flock needs shepherding. Amen.


Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net