Showing posts with label sheep. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sheep. Show all posts

16 September 2012

Keeping watch

We consider the Koine Greek word 'episcopos' and see how Luke uses it in Acts as he records how Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. It seems that Paul was most concerned with preventing misleading teaching from confusing and scattering the believers.

A flock of sheep
Let's take a look at another Greek word used in the New Testament and usually understood as a leadership term. The word is ἐπίσκοπος (episcopos) and is variously translated bishop, overseer, ruler or supervisor.

It literally means someone who looks around, or across, or on. Does it have the sense of governing others in some way, or might it rather have the sense of keeping watch and staying alert as a way of serving others?

There is a widespread perception and presumption that New Testament authors intended it in the former sense.

We can rule out 'Bishop' in the formal sense used by Anglicans, Catholics and others. The early church had no hierarchical structures anything like those of these groups. Nor is the term 'episcopos' understood in this way by methodists, baptists, or most other more recent church groups. They usually retain some form of structure and government, but often limited to the management of local congregations. Terms like overseer, elder, deacon, pastor, moderator may be employed, but are not normally used to denote hierarchical position.

To understand 'episcopos' properly we need to examine how it is used by the original authors and how readers at the time might have understood it. There are five passages where it's used in the New Testament. We'll check them out one by one. (Note that the word ending varies in Greek, depending on context and the rules of grammar.)

Saying goodbye to the Ephesians - ἐπισκόπους is used in Acts 20:28. To properly understand this passage we need some context, I recommend reading Acts 20:13-21:1. Paul has called the elders from Ephesus to meet him on the coast before he sets off for Kos on his journey to Jerusalem. (We'll look at the term 'elder' in a later article.) It's an emotional meeting, a final farewell. For Paul it's a short pause on a long journey.

In verses 17-21 he reminds them how he lived when he was with them. He was humble and severely tested, but he spoke only what was helpful and taught in their homes about repentance and faith.

In verses 22-25 he explains why he's leaving and that he won't be back.

In verses 26-36 he reminds them again of his teaching and tells them to keep watch and act as shepherds. They have a duty to keep watch, and it's very clear that this means guarding against wrong teaching. They are to be on their guard against the things he warned them of over and over again.

They were appointed by the Spirit (not by men, not even by Paul). They are called not to govern but to be alert for error and to be shepherds. In other words their responsibility is to be aware of the right way and trustworthy in walking it so the sheep will be safe in following them.

Paul commits them to 'Elohim and the word of his grace'. They are to be built up by the Lord, set apart for him, helping the weak by working hard to supply their own needs, giving not receiving.

ἐπισκόπους evidently has a sense of being vigilant and guarding against wrong teaching. There's an emphasis on bearing in mind the dangers and pitfalls, and on humbly serving and leading by example so that the sheep remain safe.

Next time we'll look at  the use of this word in Philippians 1:1.


07 June 2012

Sheep, goats and judgement

What does it mean to be chosen? How will we be judged? What must I do to be saved? These questions and others like them are often answered with the advice, 'Believe in Jesus Christ, confess him as Lord and Saviour.' But is that the full answer?

A way up, and a way downThis article is based on a response I made on the Koinonia Life Discussion Forum.

There had been some discussion on the topic of  'unforgiveness' and this had brought us onto the related matter of judgement.

Here's what I contributed to the discussion, follwed by some further thoughts and Bible references.

What are your views on the topic? Perhaps things are not as clear cut as we sometimes think.

Leave a comment at the end of the article.

There's one place in particular where Jesus describes the judgement process - and it's not quite how most people imagine it.

Read Matthew 25:31-46, this is clearly about judgement.

Sheep and goats in Jesus' time looked pretty much alike. People who are 'in' and those who are 'out' look pretty much alike too. But, Good Shepherd that he is, Jesus separates and divides.

The interesting thing is that it has more to do with people's care for others than anything else. Had they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, invited in strangers? Of course, it's also about obedience - these are the very things we are commanded to do.

Verse 46 is pretty clear, our eternal destination depends on how much we cared for others.

Paul puts the emphasis on faith (eg Romans 3:22), and James on actions (James 2:14); though both agree that faith without actions is dead. Paul and Peter also agree that love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8). John (1 John 4:8) tells us that the Almighty is love, and of course it's love that causes us to care for others.

Note that we can follow Jesus even if we don't know him. How can that be? Well, I think many who would not call themselves 'Christian' follow him by feeding the hungry, or inviting in strangers, for example. And we can fail to follow him even if we know him quite well. Are these the people who say 'Lord, Lord...' yet he says he doesn't know them?

And also note that it's what we did or did not do for the very least of these that is important here. We are called to have loving pity in our hearts for all who need, but especially for the weak, the helpless and the insignificant. We are called to be merciful. Read Matthew 5:3-12 because this passage is so closely related to the separation of the sheep and goats. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.'

As I was writing I saw an opening like a trapdoor. And I realised that there's only one door through which we may go up or down. But there is no place 'in between'. If we are not in the Kingdom of Heaven we are in the place of punishment and vice versa. Heaven and hell are not places we go to from here. They are surely places we are already in right now. The prodigal son's older brother is a good example, all his life he had done everything a good son should do, yet his heart was full of jealous bitterness rather than welcoming love. And he refused to go in (Luke 15:28).

Jesus always knew what was in a person's heart (Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22). And that is why he was able to say, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven', or, 'Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise'.

Finally, remember the wealthy man who asked Jesus how to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus told him, 'Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me'.

You might also like to read an earlier article on sheep and goats.

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