Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Take heed to yourselves"

Regurgitating some of Richard Baxtor:

“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.” (Acts 20:28 ESV)

Some think that when someone exhorts another, they become their ruler. Some think that because Paul said these things to the elders at the city of Ephesus, that he was ruling strongly over them. But I hope as I exhort you now, that you will not think me your ruler, for there is only One Lord Jesus Christ – rather know that I am the same as you, as you are the same as those you lead, or will be leading. We all deal with the same sin, we all need to grow closer to Christ by His grace. But we are to be leaders – you have been called out to lead others as I have been called. In a few months, if you are not already, you will be leading others. And as leaders we have greater work to do they those under us, we have greater difficulties to overcome, and therefore we have need to be warned and awakened, as well as instructed as much or more so than those we lead. I would desire that we could meet more than just the few times that we will be meeting, for there is a need – and we learn of this need from what Paul said to the Ephesian elders, a short sermon, but one that we have difficulty putting into practice.

“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.” (Acts 20:28 ESV)

I want to focus on one thing in this verse and that is this: what is it to pay careful attention to ourselves?

It means to make sure that the work of saving grace is really in your souls. Pay careful attention to yourselves, lest you find that you are lacking that saving grace of God which you offer to others; lest while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a Savior, in your own heart you ignore Him and neglect the Salvation that He brings. Pay careful attention to yourselves, lest you die in your sin, at the same time you are calling others to be saved from their sin; lest you starve, while you prepare food for others. Many have warned others of hell while they were on their way to that terrible place of suffering. Many preachers are in hell, who have called on their people to follow Jesus and escape it. Can anyone truly think that God will save someone just because they share the Gospel with other people, while they themselves refuse that Gospel? Or that God will save someone for telling truths that they themselves ignore and abuse?

Many people who make clothes wear rags while they are making really expensive clothes for other people. Many cooks do not take a taste of the delicious and expensive food that they have made for other people. Believe this: God never saved any man for being a church leader – God never saved any man even for being an talented leader – but God saves men who are justified, sanctified and therefore faithful to their Master’s work. Pay careful attention to yourselves first, that what you are what you are telling your people to be, and that you believe what you are telling your people to believe. That you believe with all your heart in the Savior that you offer to your people.

When Christ commanded you to love your neighbor as yourself He implied that you should love yourselves, and not hate and destroy yourself and them.

It is a fearful thing to be an unsaved person – but even more, an unsaved Christian leader. Does it make you tremble when you open your Bible, lest you should read a sentence of your own condemnation? When you speak against sin, you are aggravating your own! When you tell your people of the greatness of Christ and His riches and His grace, you are telling of your own sin in rejecting Him and your own unhappiness because you lack Him. What can you do in calling men to follow Christ, in taking them from the world and into a life of faith and holiness. If you speak of hell, you are speaking of your own inheritance – if you describe the joys of heaven you are speaking of your own sadness, for you will never see heaven. What can you really say that is not against your own soul? What a miserable life – that you should study and preach against yourself and spend your time in condemning yourself! A graceless church leader is one of the most unhappy people on earth! And yet it seems such a person does not know of his unhappiness. For he thinks he has the gold of saving grace, Christian jewels and thinks he is rich, when in fact he is poor. He thinks he needs nothing, when actually he is poor, miserable, blind and naked. He knows the Bible, he knows how to lead in the church, he doesn’t commit openly evil sins, he tells other people when they are wrong, he worships God and sings with a loud voice, and teaches others of God and how wonderful God is – oh how miserable thing this is – to die of starvation when the Bread of Life is in our hands, while we offer the bread to others and call them to eat! If such a person would listen to me, and look to his heart, if He think God will hear his prayer if he “is comfortable with evil in his heart” – or if there is any benefit on the last day to say, “Lord, Lord, we have prophesied in your name,” for that man will then here these terrible words, “Depart from me, I do not know you!” What benefit will it be to Judas on the judgment day, to remember that he preached with the other apostles, or that he sat with Christ, and was called “Friend” by Christ? Do not wait, if you are not yet saved – make a full and free confession of your sin and cry out to God that He would have mercy on your soul and believe in Him, the only one who can truly save.

It is the normal danger and disaster of the Church that so many become leaders before they are Christians – who are given a mark of approval by men before they are given the mark of approval by God. We must therefore pay careful attention to ourselves – are you truly saved? “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
(Philippians 2:12b-13 ESV)

“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.” (Acts 20:28 ESV)

Again, what does it mean to pay careful attention to yourselves? Do not be content with only being a Christian, only barely escaping the wrath of God, but make sure and keep your spiritual body healthy. When you teach others, first teach yourself. Even if you did this for your own sake, it would be valuable, but actually this is for the sake of those under you, for the sake of the Church, for when your minds are cleaned and focused on heavenly things, those who are listening to you will listen and desire the things that they hear you talk about. And I admit I must speak from my own experience, that when I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold. When my heart is confused, my preaching is confused. And I also observe in those listening when I am cold in my spirit, they start becoming cold also. We are the nurses of Christ’s little children. If we feed on spiritually unwholesome food, either with errors or useless controversies, our hearers will become spiritually weak and sickly. But, when our hearts are overflowing with love, with joy – when we are full of faith and enthusiasm – how much good it does those who are under our care! Therefore pay careful attention to yourselves, pay careful attention to your hearts and keep them warm with much secret prayer, and with meditation on the Word of God. Watch yourselves, for your sake, and also for the sake of others.

Pay very careful attention to yourselves, lest your example contradict your teaching, lest you destroy what you say by the way you live. What value is there if you build up your people for an hour one day a week with your words, but then the rest of the time, spend in tearing whatever you said down, because your life does not follow your words. This is how men come to believe that the Word of God is a useless thing, and that Christians are only full of Words that they themselves do not believe. When you call your people to be humble, do you think that they will humble themselves more than you? If you call your people to spend their time well, do you think they will spend it more wisely than you? When you tell them to flee from sin, do you think that they will flee it more than you? You must first learn what you are going to teach, if you value the success of your position. If you value the souls that God has placed in your charge, you will pay very careful attention to yourselves and live according to the things you teach.

“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.” (Acts 20:28 ESV)

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