Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus—the Church—as it was written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke. More specifically today’s passage is found in verses thirteen through thirty-eight of the twentieth chapter. “And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene. And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus. For Paul ahd determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them” (Acts 20:13-18).
“Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with. Many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, a nd faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. 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. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 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. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:18-35).
“And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).
When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find one of the most powerful exchanges recorded in the New Testament book of Acts. The words which are presented here describe the apostle Paul departing from the city of Ephesus and journeying to other regions in the area as he was making his way unto the city of Jerusalem. In all reality this would not be the first time the apostle Paul was compelled to make his way unto the city of Jerusalem, however, this would be the final time the apostle would come unto Jerusalem. It would be in the city of Jerusalem—as we will discover in the upcoming chapters of this New Testament book—the apostle Paul would experience tremendous opposition and resistance toward him which would ultimately lead him to being brought unto Rome after making an appeal unto Caesar. As you begin reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you will find Luke writing how the apostle Paul purposed to sail past the city of Ephesus because he would not spend time in Asia since he hasted to be at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost. After departing from Miletus the apostle Paul sent unto Ephesus and called for the elders of the church that they might come unto him. The purpose for this visit with the elders of the church in Ephesus was not only to serve as a farewell speech knowing he would never see their faces again but also as parting instructions given unto them. Upon reading the words found in this passage of Scripture you will encounter and come face to face with the apostle Paul providing tremendous words of warning and caution unto the elders of the church in Ephesus knowing what would befall and come upon them in the days after his departure. There is not a doubt in my mind the apostle Paul recognized and understood the dark and perilous days which lay ahead for the church of Ephesus—and not only for the church in Ephesus but also for the churches which were established in Asia and Europe.
As I sit here today thinking about and considering the narrative that has played out so far in the New Testament book of Acts I can’t help but get the strong sense within my heart that the apostle Paul not only knew that afflictions and bonds awaited him in whatever cities he journeyed but he also knew the dangers which were going to face the churches in the coming days. Up to this point the greatest dangers which faced the church was the great persecution which broke out against the church in the city of Jerusalem. It would be that great persecution which would cause the believers and followers of the Lord Jesus to be scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria, and I would even dare say believers were even scattered throughout the region of Galilee as well. The more you read the words which are found in this New Testament book the more you will come face to face with the awesome and incredible truth surrounding the opposition that would rise up against the church—and not only against the church but against the gospel of the Lord Jesus. From the time the Holy Ghost called for Paul and Barnabas to be separated unto Him for the work whereunto they had been called up to this present time when the apostle Paul met with the elders of the church of Ephesus there was a tremendous opposition and resistance that rose up against the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus. What’s more is that much of this resistance came not from Gentiles per se but rather from unbelieving Jews who themselves were moved with great envy at the word which the apostle Paul preached. There are a number of instances found within this New Testament book where the unbelieving Jews not only resisted and opposed the word which the apostle Paul preached but also where they sought to stir up crowds of people and mobs against the apostle Paul and his companions.
Thus far within the New Testament book of Acts we have found the greatest dangers and threats which rose up against the churches which were established in Judaea was the persecution of the Jews who rose up against the way. The greatest opposition and trouble the churches which were established as a result of the apostolic journey of the apostle Paul and his companions came from unbelieving Jews who were moved with envy and sought to surround the preaching of the gospel with chaos, division, strife, confusion and the like. Time and time again within the book of Acts we find and encounter the unbelieving Jews in many of the cities in which the apostle Paul journeyed raising themselves up against him—and not only against him but also against the word, the name and the gospel of the Lord Jesus whom he preached. Throughout the narrative of the apostle Paul and his missionary journeys you will find the unbelieving Jews in the cities where he journeyed raising themselves up in opposition and resistance against him as they would blaspheme and vehemently oppose the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and understand this for it draws and calls our attention to the tremendous truth surrounding much of the trouble the churches faced during these early years of the apostles. From the fourth chapter in the New Testament book of Acts we have witnessed the apostles threatened, beaten and imprisoned as the religious rulers and leaders in Jerusalem sought to silence the word and gospel they sought to preach. Also in the city of Jerusalem we found the mob taking Stephen one of the church’s original seven deacons out of the city where they would stone him to death. In the fourth and fifth chapters of this New Testament we find the resistance and opposition against the apostles in particular as the religious rulers and leaders raised themselves up against them to make an attempt to silence the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus from spreading throughout the city.
Upon coming to the sixth chapter you will find the opposition and resistance taking on an entirely different level as the Grecians and others raised themselves up against Stephen and secured false witnesses and false testimony against him. As a result of the false witness and testimony which was brought against Stephen we find him standing before the religious council and delivering a passionate message about the history of their fathers—a history which would ultimately bring them to the present day of those who were hard hearted and stiff-necked. As a direct result of the words which Stephen spoke we find men and women being cut to the heart and stopping their ears as they rushed toward Stephen. What we find next are those who raised themselves up against Stephen dragging him out of the city where they would stone him to death thus making him the early church’s first martyr. It would be as a direct result of Stephen’s martyrdom that a great persecution would break out against the early church forcing all but the apostles to be scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria. If you continue reading, however, you will find that the great persecution would continue at the hands of a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus who would wreak havoc upon and against the church entering into homes and dragging men and women out before casting them into prison. Even in the ninth chapter of this New Testament book we still find Saul breathing out threats and slaughter against the church before he would be radically and dramatically encountered by the Lord Jesus while journeying on the road to Damascus. It would be there upon the road to Damascus where the greatest champion of persecution against the church would be transformed into the greatest champion and pioneer for its growth and spread among the Gentiles.
The more you read the words which are found in this New Testament book the more you will be brought face to face with the tremendous truth surrounding the continued persecution that would take place during those days against the church. In fact it would be in the twelfth chapter where we not only find Herod putting to death James the brother of John with the sword but also imprisoning the apostle Peter. Scripture makes it very clear that Herod most certainly would have put to death the apostle Peter having secured him in the prison were it not for one of the most powerful prison breaks in all of Scripture. It is in the twelfth chapter where we find the apostle Peter secured in prison between two guards while the church in Jerusalem prayed fervently and passionately for him. It would be as a result of the prayers of the church the living God would send an angel from heaven to not only wake the apostle Peter up from his sleep in the prison but also encourage him to gird himself with his garments. After the apostle Peter had girded himself the angel of the Lord would deliver him from the chains and shackles which were upon his physical body and would bring him forth from the prison having opened the prison doors. Moreover this angel of the Lord would continue leading Peter through the gate of the city which would open of its own accord before finally departing from the apostle Peter. Eventually the apostle Peter would recognize that this wasn’t merely a vision but was actually taking place in real time and real life. The apostle Peter would come to the house of the mother of John whose surname was Mark where he would be welcomed by the brethren who were inside making prayers and supplications for one of the apostles of the early church.
Moving on to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find the Holy Ghost calling for the separation of Paul and Barnabas unto the work whereunto they had been called. It would be as a direct result of the Holy Ghost speaking unto the teachers and prophets which were present at the church in Antioch that Paul and Barnabas would depart from their presence taking John Mark with them. What we find in the upcoming chapters is the apostle Paul and Barnabas teaching and preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus in the cities, towns and villages they would journey as both Jews and Gentiles would hear, listen and believe the word they would speak. What we must needs understand, however, is that despite the apostle Paul and Barnabas teaching and preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus in those places they came unto there would be a tremendous resistance toward and against the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus. This resistance and opposition would not come from the Gentiles but rather from the unbelieving Jews who more often than not were moved with envy at the word which was being preached as well as the crowds and number of people who gathered together to hear and listen to the words which these men were spoken. These chapters within the New Testament book of Acts bring us face to face with the beginning of resistance and opposition toward and against the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus as more often than not it would be unbelieving Jews who would raise themselves up against the apostle Paul and his companions in an attempt to sow seeds of chaos, discord, strife and confusion among the people. Oh there would be a number of Jews and Gentiles who with joy received the word of the Lord Jesus and it was this knowledge that so enraged and angered the unbelieving Jews.
It is absolutely necessary we recognize and understand everything that transpired within the New Testament book of Acts up to this point for it is when you come to the twentieth chapter of this book you begin to encounter a new danger and threat that would be raised up against the church. We are fully aware that persecution was one of the greatest threats to the church and that the opposition and resistance of the unbelieving Jews was also a great threat to the church, however, it is when you come to this particular chapter where you begin to discover a new threat that would emerge against the church—namely, false teaching and doctrine that would seek to deceive those from the truth of the gospel and word of the Lord Jesus. Up to this point it has become incredibly clear that two of the greatest threats and dangers to the church was persecution and the opposition and resistance of unbelieving Jews. What we find at this particular juncture, however, is something entirely and altogether different as the church would now face a new threat and danger—one that would not only come from without but also from within. Oh there is a great need for us to recognize and understand the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for in Jesus’ famous Olivet Discourse prior to His suffering, death and crucifixion we find Him speaking unto His disciples concerning the Last Days. It would be during this famous discourse Jesus would reveal the tremendous dangers and snares which would be present in the earth during the Last Days. In all reality I am completely convinced we must needs recognize and understand the words which are found in the twenty-fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel written by the apostle Matthew for it helps to serve as the backdrop and foundation for what we find and begin reading in the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts. With this in mind I invite you to consider the following words which are found in this particular chapter in the gospel written by the apostle Matthew:
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matthew 24:4-28).
It is absolutely necessary we recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for with these words Jesus sought to prepare and make ready His disciples for the days ahead in which they would walk. As you read the words found in this passage you will not only find Jesus preparing the disciples for days of persecution but also days of deception as well. I have long believed that two of the greatest tactics and weapons in the arsenal of the adversary in the history of the church has been the persecution of the saints as well as deception. What’s more is I would dare say that there are certain areas of the world where persecution is the greatest tool and weapon in the hand of the adversary while there are other areas of the world where it is not necessarily persecution that is used by the enemy but rather deception. I am incredibly convinced that in the days and generation in which we are living there are parts of this world where persecution is the single greatest threat to the existence of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In most countries in the Middle East as well as most Islamic and Communist countries the single greatest threat to the church has been that of persecution as men and women can not only be beaten, not only tortured, not only imprisoned but even put to death for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are countries in the world today where it is considered a crime to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and men and women walk with and follow him at great risk to their own lives—and not only to their lives but their very freedom. We cannot overlook and miss out on this particular truth for there are countries today where it is considered illegal to worship the one true God and to be a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Worshipping God and following the Lord Jesus Christ can not only cost you your freedom in this life but can even cost you your very life as you could face beheading or even put to death by a firing squad.
With this being said we must needs recognize and understand that there are other areas within this world where persecution is not the greatest danger and threat to the church but rather deception. When speaking unto His disciples Jesus made it perfectly clear there would be false Christs, false prophets and false teachers that would rise up in the earth seeking to draw away many unto themselves. Jesus held no punches when speaking unto His disciples on this particular occasion as He brought them face to face with the tremendous truth that deception from and through false teachers, false prophets, false Christs, and I would even dare say false brethren would indeed seek to infiltrate the church of the Lord Jesus in the earth. Building upon this even further I feel compelled to declare that in this nation in which we are living persecution is not and has not been the greatest instrument used in the hand of the enemy and adversary. There would be those who believed that over the past year when church buildings were closed due to a global pandemic that religious freedoms and liberties were being removed. There were countless men and women who professed to be Christians who felt and believed that being unable to gather together in church buildings was somehow persecution toward and against them. I oftentimes found myself shaking my head and even being grieved when I heard such nonsense being spewed as men and women would even take to the streets in protest claiming their civil rights and liberties were somehow being violated.
The words which we find in the twenty-fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew brings us face to face with the awesome and powerful truth that in the last days we can and should expect persecution and deception to be two of the greatest dangers and threats to the church and body of the Lord Jesus Christ. What’s more is Jesus made it very clear that men and women can and will be delivered up to be afflicted and will be hated by nations for the sake of His name. Moreover Jesus would also go on to declare that as a direct result of the persecution that would rise up against the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus there would be many who would be offended. This is in all reality another one of the greatest threats and dangers to the church in the last days for there will be countless men and women who will allow their hearts to be filled with offense as a direct result of the affliction, the suffering, the opposition and persecution they experience. There will be men and women who will be entirely and altogether unable to stand and endure the great persecution, suffering, affliction, trials and troubles that can and will come in the last days and as a direct result of this they will find themselves being offended—not only offended with man but also offended with the living God Himself. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for it calls and draws our attention to the tremendous truth surrounding the dangers and threats to the church and body of Jesus in the last days. It is absolutely unmistakable when reading the words found in the twenty-fourth chapter of this New Testament gospel that Jesus sought to prepare and make ready His disciples for the deception and persecution that would run rampant in the earth in the coming days which they would face. The disciples would not be immune nor would they be exempt from having to contend with the deception that would seek to infiltrate the church nor would they be immune from the persecution and affliction that would be raised up against the church.
When we come to the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find the apostle Paul calling for the elders of the church of Ephesus to come unto him desiring to deliver unto them parting words. The apostle Paul would not only speak unto and remind them of his time and labor among them but would also warn and prepare them for the coming days ahead in his absence. The apostle knew and understood that after his departure savage wolves would enter in among the flock not sparing any in the midst of it. The apostle Paul knew and understood that the days and times were coming when false brethren, false teachers, false prophets, false apostles and the like would seek to infiltrate the church as they would seek to draw men and women away from the truth and simplicity that is found in the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a great need within our hearts and minds to recognize and understand this particular truth for it brings us face to face with the truth that the enemy and adversary can and will seek to destroy and overcome the church through deception. The enemy and adversary—that same one who can masquerade himself as an angel of light—can and will seek to infiltrate churches and bodies of believers with false brethren and false teachers who are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. What makes this all the more intriguing when you consider it is that even in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we find Him warning and speaking of these wolves in sheep’s clothing who cannot and will not spare the flock but will instead seek to destroy and overcome them. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the seventh chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by Matthew concerning these wolves in sheep’s clothing as well as the words which are found in the fifth chapter concerning persecution:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt three bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:13-23).
In the fifth chapter of this Sermon on the Mount Jesus warns and prepares His disciples and followers for persecution, for being reviled, for being evil spoken of by others and experiencing all this for righteousness’ sake. In the seventh chapter Jesus warns and prepares His disciples concerning false prophets who come to them as wolves in sheep’s clothing and yet inwardly are nothing more than ravening wolves. Jesus knew and understood that both persecution and deception would be present in the earth in the days ahead and sought to warn and prepare His disciples and followers for such a reality which they would most assuredly experience after His departure. Oh it is absolutely incredible to think about and consider the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount as well as the Olivet Discourse for through these words we are brought to terms with the tremendous truth of persecution and deception which can and will be rampant in the earth in the last days. There is not a doubt in my mind nor within my heart that we are indeed living in the last days and that we are witnessing and have been witnessing both deception and persecution among us throughout the world. There are portions of the world where persecution is the single greatest threat the church and body of Christ faces while there are other parts of the world where deception is the single greatest threat. Please note and understand that when I speak of deception I speak of false teaching and false doctrine that has infiltrated and continues to infiltrate the churches in these parts of the world.
This concept of deception being one of the weapons and tools in the arsenal and hands of the enemy and adversary is something we in this nation in particular must needs be aware of as I am absolutely convinced that the United States of America is perhaps one of the strongholds for deception and false teaching. There is not a doubt in my mind there are a number of false teachers, false apostles, false bishops, false prophets, false brethren and the like who are present among us within our churches and congregations of believers. I firmly believe with all my heart that one of—if not the single greatest threat to face the church and body of Christ in this nation is not persecution but rather that of deception. What’s more is I would dare say the enemy and adversary has absolutely every desire and intention of leading men and women astray from the sincere word and gospel of the Lord Jesus. It was this very reality which was at the very heart of some of the words the apostle Paul wrote in his second epistle written unto the Corinthian saints as well as in his epistle written unto the churches of Galatia. The apostle Paul was very much concerned for the churches in Macedonia and Asia for he knew and understood false brethren, false teachers, false prophets and the like would creep in unawares seeking to draw and entice men and women away from the sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for it brings us face to face with the awesome and powerful truth that the enemy and adversary can and will seek to draw and entice men and women away from the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ through false teaching, false doctrine and that which would deceive men and women from the truth. We must needs remember that it was the Lord Jesus Himself who declared that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free and the enemy and adversary can and will seek to do anything and everything he can to deceive us and draw us away from that truth. It is with this in mind I would like to invite you to consider the following words which are found in certain of the epistles and writings of the apostles and early church fathers as recorded in the New Testament:
“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him” (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I. now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-10).
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. IF thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:1-7).
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without. Natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-7).
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth. Not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and they shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: and heart they have exercised with covetous practices; curse children: which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:1-22).
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, in like manner giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity. When they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convinced all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a different: and other save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 3-23).
I fully realize I have presented a lot of Scripture when writing these words, however, I am absolutely convinced that we need to be aware of the words which our Lord as well as His servants the apostles and the early church brethren wrote concerning the dangers, perils and snares which faced the church during those days. We cannot escape the tremendous truth that is found within these passages—the truth that one of the greatest dangers which faced the church during those days was that of deception which would be perpetrated by false teachers and false prophets who would appear in sheep’s clothing yet would be nothing more than ravening wolves who will not spare the flock. The words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the elders of the church in Ephesus contrasted his ministry among them which he faithfully executed for the space of three years without ceasing as he labored among them. The apostle Paul sought to remind the elders of the church in Ephesus of his labor, his work, his testimony and his ministry among them for they were to take that which he had faithfully executed and exercised among them and continue after his departure. The apostle Paul knew that he would never see any of their faces again for his journey to Jerusalem would be one in which he would face tremendous affliction and persecution. The apostle Paul reminded the elders of the church in Ephesus of what manner of man he was with them at all seasons and how he served the Lord with all humility of mind and with many tears and temptations which befell him by the lying in wait of the Jews. Furthermore the apostle Paul would remind them how he kept back nothing that was profitable unto them but shewed them and taught them publicly and from house to house unto both the Jews and Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh it is important we recognize and understand these words for they call and draw our attention to the tremendous truth surrounding the labor and ministry of the apostle Paul among the Ephesians as he faithfully labored among them that they might have faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ and might bring forth repentance toward God.
The apostle Paul would speak unto the elders of the Ephesian congregation how he would go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem not knowing the things which would befall him there save only that the Holy Ghost witnessed unto him that in every city bonds and afflictions abode within him. What makes the words the apostle Paul wrote all the more captivating is when you consider the fact that the apostle Paul was not moved by the afflictions and bonds which awaited him in each city for he counted not his life as dear unto himself so that he might finish his course with joy and the ministry which he received of the lord Jesus. The apostle Paul not only sought to remind the elders of the Ephesian church of his labor and ministry among them but also of his full and complete surrender before and unto the Lord Jesus Christ as he did not count his life as being dear unto him. The apostle Paul was concerned with one thing and one thing only and that was finishing the course that was set before him—words which he would echo in the epistle which he wrote unto the Philippian congregation. With all of this being said it’s important for us to recognize and understand the apostle Paul would go on to build upon the concept of his own afflictions and bonds and speak unto these elders how he preached the kingdom of God among them and how he was pure from the blood of all men for he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God. That which the apostle Paul sought to do was remind the Ephesian elders of his faithfulness among them as a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus—not only that they might themselves do likewise but also that they might have an example with which to discern the false teachers and false prophets which would come among them.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close it is necessary we pay close attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for the words we find here not only present us with the pattern and example of the apostle Paul which was exercised among the Ephesians but also as a means of discerning the false teachers and false prophets which would be present among them in the coming days. The apostle Paul knew and understood that after his departure savage and grievous wolves would enter in among them not sparing the flock. Moreover there would be of their own number men who would arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. That which the apostle Paul sought to warn and caution the elders of the Ephesian congregation of was the tremendous dangers and snares that would be present among them as there would be false prophets and false teachers who would come among them who would not spare the flock but would in essence seek to destroy and overtake them. The apostle Paul wanted to speak these words unto the Ephesian elders for he knew the dangers that would begin to come upon the church—and not only the church in Ephesus but also the other churches which were present in Macedonia and Asia. What makes the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the elders of the Ephesian church so incredibly unique is when you consider the fact that the two epistles which were written unto Timothy were written unto one who was laboring among the Ephesian congregation—and not only laboring among them but also contending with the false teachers and false prophets which crept in among them. What’s more is that even the first epistle which the apostle John wrote was written unto this same church and body of believers for even when the apostle John was present among them there would be those who would seek to draw away, entice and destroy the flock of God.
In order to bring this full circle and help you to understand just how incredibly powerful the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the Ephesian elders were it is necessary that you journey to the final book in the New Testament. It is in the second chapter of the prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ where we find not the apostle Paul nor the apostle John speaking unto the Ephesian church but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The first of the seven churches which were addressed by the Lord Jesus Christ in the prophetic book of the Revelation was the church of Ephesus and it was this church which was rebuked by the Lord for leaving their first love. It was this church and congregation which was encouraged to repent and do the works which they had done first and to remember the height from which they had fallen. If there is one thing the words which the Lord Jesus spoke unto the Ephesian church reveals it’s that the Ephesian church—despite what we read in the epistle the apostle Paul wrote unto them—had indeed allowed themselves to leave their first love. It was Jesus Himself who spoke unto this church and rebuked them for leaving their first love and then immediately calling and inviting them to repent in His presence. I am absolutely convinced we must needs recognize and understand the words which the Lord Jesus spoke unto this church for not only did He speak of their leaving the first love but he also spoke unto them of the false teachers which were present among them. Scripture is unclear how, when or why the Ephesian church left their first love, however, Scripture is clear that this church did in fact leave their first love. I am convinced we must needs recognize and understand these words which were spoken unto this congregation—the final words which would be spoken unto them—and understand how dangerous that which the apostle Paul spoke unto the Ephesian elders truly is for one of the greatest desires of the enemy and adversary is to bring us to the place where we leave and depart from our first love. With this in mind consider if you will the following words which are found in the second chapter of the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ:
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Neverhtless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:1-7).