When Paul Wept
Robert Wurtz II
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28–31 KJV)
It’s hard to read these chilling words and not be reminded of the Lord Jesus, who during the Last supper informed the disciples stating, “verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (John 13:21). Just as Jesus had walked the earth for three years with a man who would ultimately betray him; so too, Paul had ministered to the Ephesian elders for three years with a few betrayers lurking in the midst. Sadly, they were so “wolfish” or self-deceived that they didn’t hear a word of it. Just as Jeremiah wept over the Israelites saying, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD… (Jeremiah 23:1), so to Paul wept saying, For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Why Paul Wept
So long as Paul was around the sheep were safe; it was after he left that he was concerned about. He warned of “grievous wolves” (lukoi bareis) entering in. Bareis is a Greek word that means heavy, rapacious, and harsh. The word rapacious means “greedy and power-hungry.” This is always a deadly combination of character traits. Jesus had already so described false teachers who would raven the fold (John 10:12 A. T. Robertson); that is to say, they would ravage, pillage, and scatter the saints. Wolves can be identified by their reckless behavior that wounds, scatters, and even kills the sheep. They have the opposite nature to a shepherd who instinctively protects the sheep with his own life.
What is most interesting in our text in Acts 20:28ff is that Paul apparently did not know who the “wolves” were. Had he known he would have surely dealt with them. He only knew that after his departure that certain men would “not spare the flock” as they attempted to exalt themselves. To “not spare” means he will not pity them, nor show mercy or kindness. The heart of a wolf does not lend it to show compassion. These deadly characters were so well camouflaged that Paul could not identify them after three years being around them. They wore their “sheep clothing” so well that even he could not discern the difference. Apparently, they could do the things that sheep do. Perhaps they could teach, preach, or even work miracles. They could fool most of the people — most of the time. However, time and opportunity would expose them for who they were and the damage they would cause.
You know a tree by its fruit. It would be easy to identify who the wolves were once they started doing their deeds. The Ephesians might look up one day and the church be scattered here and there with wounded saints all over the place. Whereas Paul cultivated a spirit of love and unity among the saints; the wolves move in their own ambitions and agendas and have no regard for the sheep. Their actions wound the sheep in ways that only God can heal. They are so self-deceived that they cannot put two and two together or they simply don’t care. This is why Paul wept for three years night and day.
I wonder if we really comprehend this? I wonder if we want to? Can you imagine a grown man weeping day and night for three years? What on earth could possibly cause him such distress? Clearly he had a profound love for the sheep and would guard them with his own life if he could; but he was being sent to Jerusalem and then Rome and would not be around to fight their battles. He was leaving it up to the elders to guard and protect the flock. In fact, in Acts 20 Paul commended the elders to God and to the word of His grace. Not to men. Not to some “leader.” He commended them to God. Circumcise your ears if necessary and let this truth sink down into them. Ephesus needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit — not some personality. It was personalities that threatened to destroy the church. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. You know you are dealing with a wolf when the “leader” demands that you follow them instead of God.
The sheep have to have a place to go after the wolves have scattered them. Unfortunately, wounded and scattered sheep can be found all over the world. Only God knows how many of them are out there.. roaming around, wounded, scattered by the wolves. What happened? They were in a church that walked the same path that lay before Ephesus and the consequences were disastrous. More times than not these sheep are ignorantly labeled as “rebellious” or “wounded” and need to repent. But this was not Paul’s attitude and nor is it God’s. It’s the attitude of the wolf in sheep clothing. Why? because a true shepherd would instinctively feel compassion for wounded sheep and work to nurse it back to health — not mock and heap more insult upon their injury. Selah.
Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:1–4 KJV)