Robert Wurtz II
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. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:28–32 ESV)
Paul issues the church at Ephesus one of the strongest and most sobering warnings in all of the New Testament. He begins by reminding the elders that the Holy Spirit (and not mortal men) had appointed them to be overseers of the church of God. They were responsible before God and would someday give an account. Paul adds another important reminder of the unfathomable cost of redemption by stating, “…which he obtained with his own blood.” These were people for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15). The import of such statements should have given the leaders tremendous pause.
What could possibly warrant such warnings? Paul continued weeping and teaching for three years. The man was constrained by his grave concern for this church. He lists two categories of people who would endanger the church after his departure: fierce wolves and those who draw away disciples after themselves. The wolves will come in from the outside. The others will rise from the eldership and seek to lead the disciples after themselves. It is hard to imagine a more wicked behavior. Rather than teaching the people to follow Christ, they seek to gain their own following from within the leadership. Paul revealed that there were one or more of the Judas types already functioning among the elders.
Dealing With False Leadership
But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are 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 Cor. 11:12-15).
The late Greek Scholar A.T. Robertson once said that “It is a tragedy to see men in the livery of heaven serve the devil.” These are people who are supposed to be in the service of God but are actually agents of Satan. Jesus and the apostles warned of such people. What is Satan’s primary error? He wants to be equal with God and longs to be worshipped. He is filled with pride and seeks to exalt himself. His behavior and attitude are diametrically opposed to that of Jesus. At times he has transformed himself for a season into an angel of light. This means he has fooled people into believing that he was “of God.” Moreover, Satan fills the hearts of people as he did Ananias and Sapphira and they become his minions. These people rise up and challenge the Holy Spirit within the church.
In 2 Cor. 11: 12, Paul uses the phrase… For such are false apostles. In Greek, you have the prefix pseudo before many functions within the churches indicating that they are not of God, but are liars, frauds, fake and false. A list of these functions include:
pseudodidaskalos (false teachers)
pseudomartur (false witness)
pseudapostoloi (false apostles)
pseudadelphos (false brethren)
pseudochristoi (false Christs)
pseudoprophētai (false prophets)
It is possible for a person to falsify humility and preach righteousness at the same time. The enemy enables them to do it. These types usually have most of the people thoroughly fooled. They start off well, but over time their true colors come out. By the time they take off the mask, they usually have drawn many disciples after themselves. The people are faced with a choice; forsake the pseudoprophētai, pseudapostoloi or pseudodidaskalos or make excuses for them. In modern idiom, we might call it “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
False leadership often breeds devout followership. Consider the many cult leaders throughout history. In 1978, 47-year-old Jim Jones was a cult leader who convinced his followers to drink a form of Grape Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. Some 918 people, including 304 children died in what was one of the worst peacetime attacks on human life in modern history. What was Jones doing? He was drawing disciples after himself. He gained their trust and then destroyed them. This is why we can never ever let our guard down. I don’t care who they are or what their title is. Leaders should be more in step with God’s word than anyone else. Why? They will be judged with greater judgment. Nobody should occupy a place in our mind and heart that they can do whatever they want and we will keep following them. We ought to obey God rather than men.
The Priesthood of All Believers
Any leader worth their salt will teach and encourage the saints to seek the Lord for themselves and will not try to insert themselves between the saint and God. People have to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. My soul is my responsibility (if you will). As individuals, we must walk in the Spirit. Obviously, God has given leaders oversight to encourage us to follow God’s word and His will for our lives. Anytime someone inserts themselves into your spiritual life you should be alarmed. Paul never created a scenario where the saints were dependent on him. Just the opposite. He wanted them to walk with God as individuals. We are not Lone Rangers, but we walk in the Spirit and are led by the Spirit as individuals. We don’t need any kind of a go-between.
In modern times we are plagued with so-called and self-styled leaders who demand that the saints obey them and follow their spiritual advice. When they refuse, the so-called leaders label the saint a rebel. Really? I’m a rebel because you want to be what Jesus is to me? You want to sit on the throne of my life? Think about it and then consider the eternal consequences. If that describes you or your leadership style, repent now while you still can. You are usurping Christ and the Holy Spirit.
What happens? False leaders rise up and want to be followed. They want to control the saints. This should be a red flag the first time it rears its ugly head. The reason these deceivers gain so much power and popularity is that the people overlook their unbiblical behavior and make excuses for them. The enemy that is controlling them gets bolder, comes out of his shell and the people still keep following. It is madness! And this is why Paul laid it on the elders at Ephesus to make sure these people are dealt with. The Ephesians followed through with testing those who called themselves apostles but were not and found them liars (Rev. 2:1ff). We must do likewise and God will commend us for it just as He did the Ephesians.
A false leader doesn’t have to be a Jim Jones to come under judgment. The final warning we have in these things is directed at the false leaders themselves. Paul writes that their end will be according to their works. This is a way of saying that they will be condemned to the lake of fire. Imagine it. Revelation tells us that the Beast and the False Prophet are there (Rev. 20:10). These deceivers were luring the saints away from Christ and to themselves. They baited the hook with the preaching of righteousness and then drew them out of the true faith as an angler draws a fish from the waters. My solemn recommendation would be to utterly cease such behavior immediately, repent and renounce it.
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.