I Entrust You to God and to the Word of His Grace

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. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

If the elders care for the flock, who cares for the elders? That's the question Paul answers in this text.

Last week we saw in verse 28 that the elders are charged with caring for the whole flock. "Take heed 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 the blood of his own Son." The elders are to feed the sheep and (according to verses 29 and 30) to protect the sheep from the twisted teachings of wolves in sheep's clothing.

So as Paul prepares to leave the whole flock until he sees them again in heaven, he commits them to the care of the elders (=overseers, shepherds, pastors) and reminds the elders very solemnly that the Holy Spirit has appointed them to be shepherds for the flock.

Who Cares for the Elders of the Flock? 

But now what about the elders themselves? If the elders care for the flock, who cares for the elders? If Paul commits the church into the care of the elders, into whose care does he commit the elders themselves? The answer is given in verse 32: "And now I commend you [or entrust 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."

So the answer is that God cares for his shepherds by the word of His grace. "I commit you to God and to the word of his grace." I don't commit you to a bishop. I don't commit you to a denomination. I don't commit you to a committee or a congregation. I commit you to God and to the Word of his grace. God is your shepherd. And his Word is your green pasture and your still waters.

Of course, ALL the flock have God as their shepherd and ALL the flock feed on the Word of his grace—not just the elders. But there is a difference between the flock and the elders. The difference is at least this: to the flock God gives the added resource of shepherds who teach the whole counsel of God, and to the shepherds God has given the added responsibility of searching out and teaching the whole counsel of God.

So when Paul commits the elders to the Word of God's grace, he doesn't commit them to a private, privileged access; he commits them to a special responsibility. The sheep must have the Word of grace in order to live by it. And so God gives shepherds to feed the flock of God. But the shepherds too must have the Word of grace in order to live by it. But God assigns to them the special responsibility of feeding themselves in a more direct manner both for their own soul and for the sake of the sheep. The flock has the added benefit of going to the shepherds for feeding. The shepherds have the added responsibility (and privilege) of preparing the food first hand from the Word of God's grace.

Three Effects of the Word of God's Grace

I think what we have here in verses 32–35 is an illustration of how to live and minister by the Word of God's grace. So I want to dig into that question with you: how does the Word of God's grace sustain and empower the elders (or: shepherds) for their life and ministry?

I see the Word of grace having three powerful effects in these verses.

1. It Brings Us to the Inheritance

The Word of God's grace brings us to the inheritance of everlasting joy.

Let's read verse 32 again and take special notice of what Paul says the Word of grace is able to give the elders: "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." The Word of God's grace is able to give you an inheritance.

What Is the Inheritance?

What is this inheritance? Well, the inheritance Paul sometimes talks about is the kingdom of God. Twice in 1 Corinthians (6:9, 10) and once in Galatians (5:21) he says that people who go on living in sin and unbelief will not inherit the kingdom of God. It's the inheritance Jesus talked about when the rich young ruler came and asked him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18, 25, 26; cf. Titus 3:7). It's what Jesus meant when he said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).

The inheritance is salvation, the kingdom of God, the new heavens and new earth, eternal life—"the riches of the glory of God" (Ephesians 1:18; Romans 8:17). This is what Paul says the Word of grace is able to give the elders at Ephesus (and at Bethlehem!). "I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up and GIVE YOU THE INHERITANCE."

How Does the Word of God's Grace Bring Us to It?

Now how is the Word of God's grace able to do this? Paul is talking about something future here. These elders are obviously already Christians. They have already believed the gospel. They trust Christ. And now Paul says that he is handing them over to God and to the Word of his grace. He says this Word has the power to give them eternal life, the kingdom of God, everlasting joy. It is not merely some past experience with the Word of grace that secures the inheritance of life, but also the ongoing power of that Word. The Word of grace is able to give this inheritance to the elders—How?

The answer is at the end of verse 32. "The word is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." "Those who are sanctified" are the ones who receive the inheritance. So to receive the inheritance of eternal life and the kingdom of God and everlasting joy you have to be sanctified. We'll see from the context in a moment what sanctified means in very practical terms. In short, it means that your heart is changed so that you love the holy God and his revealed will for your life, and that you hate sin, especially in your own life.

So Paul says this is the kind of people who will have the inheritance of eternal life—not perfect people (there aren't any on this earth) but sanctified people. People pursuing holiness with a true heart of desire (Hebrews 12:14; 10:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

So he is saying two things: one is that the Word of God's grace is able to give you this inheritance of everlasting joy; and the other is that the only people who obtain this inheritance are people who are sanctified. How then is the Word of grace able to give us the inheritance? Is not the answer: by sanctifying us?

Suppose you are an athlete and I say to you, "I commit you to coach Anderson who is able to secure you a victory in the playoffs among all those who are well trained and well conditioned." Wouldn't you conclude that the way coach Anderson will secure you a victory in the playoffs is by superior training and conditioning?

So when Paul says, "I commit you to . . . the word of his grace which is able to . . . give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified," I conclude that the way the Word gives the inheritance is by sanctifying. And this is exactly what Jesus said the Word of God does. In John 17:17 he prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth." The Word of God sanctifies. Therefore the Word of God gives the inheritance of eternal life; because the inheritance is given to all who are sanctified.

Building Up and Sanctifying

We've missed one phrase in verse 32 that helps make this same point—the phrase "build you up." "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

Let's go back to our coaching illustration. Suppose I said to a team of athletes, "I commend you to coach Anderson who is able to build you up and to give you a victory in the playoffs among all those who are well trained and well conditioned." Wouldn't you assume that coach Anderson's building up and his training and conditioning were really the same thing? It's like saying, "I commend you to coach Anderson who is able to build you up and give you a victory with all those who are built up well."

I think that's what we have in verse 32. The ability of the Word of grace to build up is virtually the same as its ability to sanctify. "I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up and (in this way) give you the inheritance among all the others who are built up, that is, sanctified."

So when Paul leaves Miletus and commits the elders into the care of God and his Word, he is not committing them to something passive. The Word of God is active and powerful. Paul says that the Word of grace is a builder. It builds a useful structure out of a life of ruins. It builds design out of a life of confusion. It builds security out of fear and anxiety. It builds strength out of weakness. It builds permanence and stability out of wavering uncertainty. It builds beauty out of ugliness. The Word of God's grace is a master builder. And it's called a Word of grace because it always builds with lousy raw materials in our lives.

So Paul leaves the elders of Ephesus in the care of God and his Word which is able to build them, and in building them, give them the inheritance among all those who are built or sanctified in this way.

So that is our first answer to the question, how does the Word of God's grace sustain and empower the elders for their life and ministry? It brings us to the inheritance of everlasting joy because it has a sanctifying effect upon our lives.

Now I see two more answers to the question how the Word of God's grace sustains and empowers the elders. But these two answers are really just specific illustrations of the first one. In other words, the last two answers are specific ways that the Word builds or sanctifies the elders for their work.

I think the best way to unfold to you this two-pronged sanctifying or building effect of the Word of grace is to do what Paul did here. I think he mentioned one specific promise of the Word of grace and showed how it built and sanctified his own ministry.

"It Is More Blessed to Give than to Receive"

The word I have in mind is at the end of verse 35. Paul says that the elders should remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

I take this to be part of the Word of grace referred to in verse 32. I can't imagine that Paul would say, "I commit you now to the Word of grace which can build you and sanctify you and give you the inheritance, but the word I want you to remember, as the very last thing I say to you is some other word—something other than the sanctifying and building Word of grace." No. The last thing Paul is doing as he ends this message is just what he said he was doing: he is committing them to the Word of grace. And one thing that the Word of grace says is this: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Or to put it another way, "The glory of God's inheritance will restore to you ten thousand fold whatever you give up in a life of love."

Because of God's unsearchable grace, supplying every need and lavishing reward after reward, it is more blessed to give than to receive. That is the final Word of God's grace for the Ephesian elders.

Now what does that Word build into our lives if we believe it—and belief is the key here? The Word sanctifies through faith (Acts 15:9; 26:18; Hebrews 4:2). It builds into the elders two things. And these are our last two answers to the question, how the Word of God's grace sustains and empowers the elders.

The first answer was that the Word of grace brings us to the inheritance of everlasting joy.

2. It Takes Away the Love of Money and Things

The second answer is that the Word of God's grace takes away the love of money and things.

Verse 33: "I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel."

If you believe that the wealth of God's grace and the glory of his inheritance are so immeasurable that giving is more blessed than getting, the root of covetousness is severed, and the branch of greed dries up and dies. Every shepherd in the church of God should have a noble indifference to money. Peter said to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2–3, "Tend the flock of God that is in your charge not for shameful gain, but eagerly."

So the Word of God's grace empowers the elders for their work by severing the nerve of covetousness and taking away the love of money and things. That's what happens if you believe the Word of grace that "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

3. It Produces a Passion to Meet Others' Needs

The third and final thing the Word of grace does to build and to sanctify the elders is produce a passion to meet the needs of others for the glory of God's grace.

Verses 34–35a. Instead of coveting what others could give him, Paul poured out his life to give others as much of himself as he could: "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak."

If you want to, you can get the true point from this verse that we ought to work to pay our own bills: "These hands ministered to my necessities." But that's not the main point. The main point is that Paul did not want to get rich off anyone at Ephesus. Instead he wanted to meet people's needs. He wanted to make people rich with Jesus Christ.

To that end he served the Lord with lowliness and tears and trials (v. 19). He cared nothing for his own life if only he finish his course, because faithfulness is better than life (v. 24). He didn't shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God or anything that was profitable (vv. 27, 20). And for three years, night and day, he admonished everyone with tears (v. 31).

In other words the Word of God's grace—the grace that makes up every sacrifice a hundredfold—had built something beautiful out of this legalistic murderer. It can do the same for every elder in this church and then for all the flock.

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