Twin Dangers—Seeker Sensitivity and Legalism

Of course, it is understandable that Paul would entrust the Ephesian elders to God. But Paul also entrusted them to “the word of his grace,” meaning the word of God’s grace. What is this word? It is the Word of God. We know from John 1 verse 1 that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God. John 1 verse 1 also says that Jesus is God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse 14, we read that “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” And, of course, that refers to Jesus Christ.

Now, because Paul had already entrusted the Ephesian elders to God, I don’t believe that Paul, by saying “the word of his grace,” means Jesus Christ, at least not directly. I believe he is referring to the expression of the mind of Jesus Christ, or God. In other words, he is referring to a message from God to man.

We can see that the word of His grace is a message in Acts 14, verse 3. Paul and Barnabas were preaching the Gospel in Iconium. As was often the case, some disbelieving Jews were trying to stir up the Gentiles against the preaching. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas patiently preached over a long period of time, and God showed He was on their side by having them perform various miracles. As Acts 14 verse 3 says, “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” Notice that the message of the Gospel that Paul and Barnabas were preaching is called “the word of His grace.”

Notice also something right here where we are in Acts chapter 20 and in verse 24. Paul says, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” The “gospel of the grace of God” is just another way of saying, “the word of His grace.”

So, going back to our original Scripture, Acts 20, verse 32, we see that “the word of His grace” is the Gospel. We might even say that it is the New Covenant, since the Gospel is the very focus of the New Covenant—it’s what it is all about. It is a message of grace: “the word of his grace.”

Now, I want you to see three very important points. They concern what Paul did not entrust the Ephesian elders to. That’s right, besides seeing what he did entrust them to, it is important to see what he did NOT entrust them to.

1) Paul did not entrust them to a man. Now, we might expect that he would do this. After all, there were other apostles. Peter was probably still around, and John certainly still was. But Paul did not say, I am going to my death. You will see me no more, and so I entrust you to Peter or to John. No. And there were also Barnabas and Silas and Timothy. But Paul did not entrust these church elders to any man who would be over them. Paul apparently knew that the time of the apostles was ending. So Paul did not put them under the charge of Peter or John or any apostle. Neither did he entrust them to a Pope, Cardinal, or Archbishop. He entrusted them to no man.

Now, of course, these elders were themselves men. They held responsible positions within the Ephesian church. As elders, they may have pastored (shepherded) and taught within the church, and they may have preached the Gospel to those on the outside. But Paul placed no one over these elders in the local church but God.

2) The second thing we might have expected Paul to entrust them to, but which he did not, is the church. This might surprise many. Paul did not even entrust these elders to the church. Why is this significant? This is an important point because there are churches that say that the final authority in all matters of doctrine, practice, church discipline, and so on, is the church. One very, very, very large church in particular says this. But Paul does not. He does not entrust them to the church, or even to the Jerusalem or the Roman church as being the “headquarters” church over them. Paul does not entrust these elders to a line of church succession, because lines of church succession can become corrupt through false teaching. What connects a church to the church of the apostles is not a line of succession, but what the church teaches. It does not matter whether a church can trace its lineage from one church to another and through the Roman Catholic Church to Jesus Christ, or whether it can trace its lineage from one church to another outside the Roman Catholic Church to Jesus or John the Baptist. What matters is whether the church is true to the Bible. If it is, then it is in the line of the apostolic church.

But, some will say, Many churches claim to teach from the Bible, but they teach different things. This is true. And my answer is that what causes these differences is not the Bible, but tradition and pride. If we are honest when we look into the Bible and are willing to let it correct us, if we are willing to change, the Bible will guide us to the truth. If the members of a church will leave behind tradition, if they will honestly work together with the prayerful guidance of the Holy Spirit, dropping all ego trips and personality cults, God will lead them to agree on the truth as they work through the Scriptures.

Paul entrusts these church elders to God and to God’s Word, which, in the written form we have today, we call the Bible.

So, instead of entrusting them to men and the church, Paul entrusted these church elders to God and the Bible. Now, remember, I said that the focus of the New Covenant is the Gospel, which is the Good News of God’s grace.

3) The third thing Paul did not entrust the Ephesian elders to is the law. Paul entrusted them to God and the word of His grace, not the word of His law.

Today, we are living in the time of the New Covenant, which is a time of grace. Grace trumps all. Grace reigns, not the law. The law says, do this perfectly or you will die. Grace says, you are pardoned. Under the law, there is guilt. Under grace, there is righteousness. “Therefore,” as Paul says beginning in Romans 3:20, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” Yes, the Old Testament (often called the law and the prophets) witnessed to, by types and shadows and prophecies, this time of grace.

So, Acts 20, verse 32 tells us that Paul did not entrust the Ephesian elders to any man, to the church, or to the law. Instead, he entrusted them to God and, God’s revelation to man, the Bible. What does this mean? It means that, when the age of the apostles ended, the Bible replaced the apostles. The Bible is where we find answers to questions about doctrine and practice. God’s authority is no longer exercised in the church through apostles, but through the Bible. And since, specifically, we are left in the charge of God and the word of His grace, then, as Christians, we are to understand the Bible from the viewpoint of the grace of the New Covenant. So that is why we use the name Word of His Grace. I want to stress that you are entrusted to God and to the word of His grace, and I want to encourage you to read and study your Bible as much as possible and begin to understand the entire Bible from the viewpoint of the New Covenant. And the heart of the New Covenant, and, therefore of the Bible, is the message of the Cross. It is not an irrelevant message, and it is not a message to be confused with law. It is the Good News of free, undeserved grace!

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