Leadership involves loneliness. The leader walks alone. The task of a leader is to set the vision, plan and motivate. By the very nature of the task, the leader is doing that more or less by himself. Sometimes it’s done with a team, of course, but not with the support or understanding of the masses of the people. Once you set a vision, it has to be communicated, and initially it’s not always shared. The plan, too, is so often misunderstood. And motivations are resisted. Yet the leader has to carry on.
These two old men have a great deal to share. Moses begins to rehearse to him all of the things that God had done on behalf of the people. Moses told of traveling to Egypt, meeting with the elders, and encountering Pharaoh, who rejected God’s demands. Moses told of the plagues and their significance. And then there was the night of the Passover, as the angel of death came through the land and killed all the firstborn of Egypt. After that, Moses recounted how Israel left in a hurry, and God saw them across the Red Sea and protected them in the desert, including delivering them from the Amalekites in that first great battle. In response, Jethro begins to praise God (vv. 10-11).
As I said, the heart of this chapter concerns the need for help in judging. The day after Jethro’s arrival, Moses went out to judge the people. They began to come to him early in the morning, and Moses made these judgments from morning until late at night. That’s not at all surprising, given that there are two million people. You can easily imagine that they got in one another’s way from time to time. Somebody’s sheep wandered over into the other man’s pen, and the first man wanted it back and the other one thought that it was his sheep all along. And there were probably things far worse than that. Moses was absolutely worn out from this task.
Moses was an extraordinary man. He had magnificent gifts and unbelievable training, the best possible training you could have in that day. But you see, even Moses couldn’t do everything. This is why you get the division of leadership. If he couldn’t do it, we can’t do it either. And we should be looking for people who can.
The second principle is very much like the first. Not only do you need a division of authority, but you also need a plurality of leadership. You find this in the New Testament. When Christ appointed apostles, He appointed twelve. And then when the early church appointed deacons, there were seven of them. When Paul traveled around the Roman world and established churches, he always left elders in charge, never just one. In my denomination we can’t have a self-governing church until we have at least two elders. There is wisdom in having more than one elder.
To anybody who has an interest in Paul as a person, the twentieth chapter of Acts is a delight. This is because we see him in two different but very important lights. We see him in public at Troas, leading the worship of the church. Then we see him in a private setting, meeting with the Ephesian elders at Miletus, a little town about twenty or thirty miles south of the Asian capital. The section is known as “Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders,” and it has three parts. The first concerns Paul himself. It contains Paul’s personal testimony before the elders. The second part is his specific charge to them. Finally, at the very end of the chapter and in much briefer language, we have a reference to his prayer on their behalf.
The second thing Paul says about himself in his testimony before the Ephesian elders is that, as he served among them with humility, he also did so with tears. Paul mentions this twice in the chapter. It is in verse 19, but you also find it in verse 31: “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Obviously this was something of considerable importance to him, though, as far as I know, this too is not referred to elsewhere.
Not only did Paul minister humbly and with tears, and not only was he diligent in his preaching, but he also had a proper set of priorities (v. 24). He told the elders, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
The second part of Acts 20:13-38 is Paul’s charge to the elders. It is in verses 25-31. He puts it in different ways, but when we analyze what he is saying it boils down to one thing: “Keep watch over the flock within your charge.” He says, “Be diligent,” “Watch out for enemies,” “Take heed of wolves.” But basically he is telling them: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (v. 28).
How do you conclude a study like this, a farewell in which the Apostle Paul gave his personal testimony, charged those he was leaving behind, and prayed for them? I think there is a suggestion of a way to conclude in verse 32, where Paul speaks of “an inheritance” that God has prepared for His people.
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