A Crucial Address to the Overseers – Part 2
By T. A. McMahon
In Part one, a number of issues were addressed to those in leadership regarding the spiritual feeding of the sheep that have been placed under their care. Like Peter, they are exhorted by Jesus to demonstrate their love for Him by feeding His sheep.
Central to the spiritual feeding of believers in Christ is their personal relationship with Him. The first three chapters of Revelation contain our Lord’s address to the churches. His first admonition was directed at the believers in Ephesus regarding their personal relationship with Him. That fellowship was doing many good works, but there was a serious issue that Jesus brought to their attention. The Ephesian church had “left thy first love”—Jesus himself (Rev:2:4). It seems that in their zeal to promote good works instead of feeding the sheep, as they had been instructed, Jesus had been left in the background.
The consequences, if that situation were to continue, would not bode well for the Ephesians. Jesus declared: “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” (Rev:2:5).
Biblical Christianity separates itself from all religions in many ways, but two things especially stand out to me as a former Roman Catholic. First, biblical Christianity rejects salvation through works, which is the basis of every “religion.” Secondly, biblical Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. It teaches that the believer in Christ is brought into a personal, intimate relationship with God through Jesus, who is God in the flesh.
My life as a Catholic was fabricated upon “works salvation” (being saved by one’s own efforts), which functionally separated me from Christ by the Church, or Rome itself, which claims to be the mediator between God and mankind. It operates through the priests, sacraments, rituals, and canonized saints, especially Mary, the “Mediatrix of All Graces.” The closest thing I had to a personal relationship with divinity was—with Mary! She held first place in my practice of Catholicism, even to the point of disregarding the biblical Mary’s Son.
In school I held the position of Prefect of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which aimed “at fostering in its members an ardent devotion, reverence, and filial love toward the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Today we are told by Catholic apologists that Catholics did not and do not worship Mary. This is not true, even though they say she’s merely reverenced as “hyper-dulia,” which places her above the reverence of the saints (dulia) and below the worship of God (latria). Never were there any restrictions or reservations in our honoring of Mary. Most of us considered her our co-redemptrix along with Jesus. We were taught that we needed to go through the mother of Jesus (also referred to blasphemously as “the mother of God”) because He would do whatever his mother wanted! That is a bogus belief, and mine was a bogus relationship.
I recently did an audio recording of an article written by Dave Hunt in 1988, in which he underscored the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus. He wrote, “Christianity is unique because of the uniqueness of Christ our Lord. He alone is both God and man. He alone could by His own death pay the penalty for the sins of the world and thus fully satisfy the demands of divine justice. And in contrast to Buddha or Muhammad or other religious leaders, whose graves contain their decayed remains, the grave of Jesus is uniquely empty. He alone conquered death and promised His disciples, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (Jn:14:19). Everything we have is in Him and Him alone—and thus depends entirely upon our relationship with Him…. And it is that personal relationship that each Christian has—and must have—with the Lord in order to be a Christian, that constitutes the most wonderful uniqueness of Christianity.”
So shepherds, when you “feed” your sheep Jesus, are you nurturing them in their personal relationship with Him? Are the good works at your fellowship, the programs, the services, the outreach, and the like, causing your sheep’s focus to slip away from the person of Jesus Christ? Hebrews gives us a warning: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (2:1). And what have we heard? Let’s hear Jesus’s words: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (Jn:15:9-10). Drifting away from that has serious consequences. Remember the words of Jesus that I quoted at the beginning of this article from Revelation:2:5. If we drift away from our personal relationship with Jesus, whether individually, or collectively as a church, for whatever supposedly good work, that person or church will eventually cease to reflect the light and true love of Christ. Their “candlestick” will be removed. Furthermore, the enabling power of Christ will also be lost to a work of the flesh no matter how good those works appear to be.
Let’s just consider the power of Christ. There have been tremendous abuses by men regarding God’s power within Christendom, from the Word/Faith and Healing and Prosperity heretics to the so-called signs-and-wonders “power evangelism” of C. Peter Wagner and John Wimber. But let’s face it: if the power of Christ is not involved in what we’re doing for Him, then it’s merely a work of the flesh—and Scripture tells us that “the flesh profits nothing” (Jn:6:63). The point is that our being empowered to do what pleases Him, to do what His Word instructs us to do, is related to our walk with Him, e.g., our personal relationship with Him.
Scripture affirms that God will make us complete “in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb:13:21). We can know and experience “the power of Christ” that strengthened the Apostle Paul (2 Cor:12:9-10)! The Bible also tells us that when Paul was abandoned by his co-workers at his first defense, “the Lord stood with [him], and strengthened [him]” (2 Tim:4:16-17).
If there’s any verse that reveals a personal relationship with Jesus more than that one, to me it would be this: Acts:23:11. Do you remember what took place when Paul was imprisoned after nearly being “pulled to pieces” by the religious leaders in Jerusalem? “And the night following, the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” I love the verses that tell us that Jesus will never leave nor forsake us, which are tremendously encouraging, but to know and have confidence that Jesus will stand by me in a terribly difficult situation and might even say to me, “Cheer up, Tom, I’ve got you covered,” or the like, is the epitome of personal relationship wrapped up in amazing grace.
Not only is Jesus there to “cover us,” but He’s also there for our spiritual protection. I’d like to suggest a particular “food” for your sheep, which is crucial, given the difficult times in which we live. What is it? Prophecy!To me, prophecy is extremely important—and perhaps in a way you may not have considered. One of the things I love about prophecy, besides it being the best apologetic for proving that the Bible is God’s supernatural revelation of Himself to humanity, is the fact that it’s a “heads-up,” alerting believers to what will take place in the future. God lets us know what will happen in the world and in the church so that we can prepare for and avoid the dire consequences of the conditions that will occur prior to the Lord’s return.
Prophecy is a major part of God’s spiritual protection plan for His sheep who abide in His Word. I underscore “spiritual protection” because prophecy also has a history of spiritual distortions within Christendom. For example, in the 1800s the early version of Seventh-day Adventism declared that Jesus would return to earth in 1844 to purge the world of its sins. Ellen G. White was their false prophetess. Charles Taze Russell was a part of the Adventists until he left to start his own cult, known as the Watchtower Society, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are infamous for their false prophecies. One of their more bizarre prophecies involved the purchase of a 16-cylinder Cadillac roadster and a 10-bedroom mansion in San Diego in the 1930s to accommodate their claim that Israel’s patriarchs would soon arrive and begin ruling on the earth. Mormonism doesn’t major in prophecy, but it had a couple of prophets who rivaled those of the JWs. Joseph Smith decreed that the moon was inhabited by folks who dressed like Quakers, and Brigham Young said the sun was also inhabited by people (Journal of Discourses). Young was prophesied to become president of the United States.
We’ve watched recent prophecy date setters destroy the financial lives of those who sold their homes and other assets and headed for the hills to wait for Jesus or to escape Armageddon. The latest examples have come from the fear-mongering hucksters, such as WorldNetDaily, and the Jim Bakker Show, who push their survival foods and goods that are supposed to see the recipients through the Great Tribulation, which was to have been started off by the convergence of the Shemitah curse and the blood moons in 2015 (which came and went as a non-event).
Yes, there will be physical events that will take place according to prophecy. But there are no instructions given in Scripture telling believers how to physically survive should some of these last-days “perilous times” (2 Tim:3:1), e.g., “wars and rumors of wars,” “kingdom against kingdom,” “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes,” take place prior to the Rapture (Mt 24:6-7). The emphasis for believers is on what will take place spiritually and how we can be protected from the destructive consequences. And, as you’ll see, the Lord’s prophetic warnings give us an amazingly simple tool for developing discernment, especially when apostasy and confusion abound throughout Christendom.
Did I say “simple”? Yes. Jesus informs us of the problem that lies before us and gives us the biblical solution. Consider Matthew 24: Jesus was asked by His disciples about the End Times and the signs related to His coming. His response began with this heads up: “Take heed that no man deceive you” (v. 4). He warns us about spiritual deception in the Last Days, adding, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many” (v. 5).
Are we in the Last Days? I know of many highly respected Bible teachers, including my friend, the late Dave Hunt, who taught that we are, indeed. Is there any evidence that spiritual deception and seduction are running rampant? Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you must know that this is the case.
Jesus is warning us that there will be a plague of persuasive deception in the days just prior to His return. Other prophecies warn: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim:4:3); “…when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). We have the warning, and we have the condition that we’re being warned about: spiritual deception will abound. Sound doctrine and faith will decrease exponentially.
In Matthew:24:5, we’re given some specific details: We’re told that there will be a proliferation of false Christs. Do we see this today? Well, there’s the “Jesus Christ” of the Latter-day Saints, and there’s the Catholic “Jesus,” who hangs on a crucifix because he hasn’t fully paid the penalty for sin; there’s the “Jesus” of Seventh-day Adventism, who will decide who gets into heaven through his Investigative Judgment, and the “Jesus” of Calvinism who long ago predestined some to salvation and some to the Lake of Fire and must regenerate the elect before they can believe in Him. Islam has its own “Jesus,” known as Isa, who is not the son of God because Allah has no son, according to the Qur’an. Considering just the followers of the Catholic Jesus and the Muslim Jesus, that’s about four-and-a-half billion followers of false Christs.
Jesus gave us the warning of what’s to come. In briefest terms, apostasy will increase exponentially until the Rapture and beyond, culminating in the religion and kingdom of the Antichrist. Leaders, you must feed your sheep those things that will protect them and enable them to be fruitful as they wait for the Groom, our blessed Hope, to return for His bride. I often remember Paul’s extraordinary warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
He wrote in verses 28-31: “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.”
Verse 28 underscores our responsibility to respond to Christ’s instruction to Peter to feed the church of God. Paul revealed his heart as he exhorted the elders to feed their church at Ephesus. His great concern had to do with their responsibility to keep the Ephesian flock, his spiritual children, from being deceived. Shepherds should understand verse 29 very well. Just as in Paul’s day, when “grievous wolves” could come in among the flock, how much more so in our times, with the overwhelming amount of media to which the sheep have access?
I don’t come even close to having the heart of the Apostle Paul regarding his compassionate concern for the Ephesians and their spiritual protection. After 40 years in ministry, I admit that I have yet to declare what Paul declared: “I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” It’s likely that very few leaders are at that level, but it’s imperative that we strive to move in that direction. The task of feeding the sheep the importance of biblical discernment is beyond daunting in our day but not beyond God’s grace! Thank you, Jesus, that Your grace is sufficient to feed His flock through Your Word and to encourage His lambs in their personal relationship with Him, as well as helping them to be discerning Bereans in these days of strong delusion. Our prayer is that all those who have been called of the Lord to minister in the body of Christ will take to heart the exhortation of Paul in Colossians:4:17: “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it.”