Watch Over Yourselves
This is a very important passage about ministry. It comes from Paul’s final words to the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus. He has been with them for over three years, but must now leave them, and he has called them together to speak his final words to them. Those words are full of love and encouragement and good counsel. He is advising them of their duties as presbyters to the flock and of the dangers that lie ahead, both for him and for them. Paul is the model priest, or pastor of the flock, or the Church community, and he is trying to pass on that model to the presbyters in Ephesus, as well as to us.
ʺKeep watch over yourselves and over the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own Blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them…I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ʺ (Acts 20: 28-38)
There is much to contemplate in these brief words. They are directed to those who are the shepherds of the flock, certainly, but they have meaning and import for all of us. The first piece of advice is proper to all of us, but to those who lead us especially. ʺWatch over yourselves.ʺ Those who have been called by God to the ministry are especially charged with leading good lives, for they are those who are calling us, in God’s name, to lead good lives ourselves. Those who teach, those who preach, must walk the talk. They must deepen their own prayer lives, their own knowledge of the message of salvation, so that it becomes the ground out of which they do everything. Yes, they are men and women like ourselves. They are no less tempted than the rest of us, but they are challenged by the very nature of their calling, their vocation, to develop the spiritual character of holiness that will lead us, the flock by example, not just by beautiful, or powerful words. How can they watch over us, if they are not diligent about watching over themselves? They have been called, after all, to lead and to tend the Church by the one who acquired it with his very Blood.
Paul warns the presbyters, and us, that there are ʺsavage wolvesʺ in the world who look for the weak, for the sheep that are not being tended correctly and they are ravenous and will not spare the innocent flock. Our pastors must lead us, in word and in action, through these dangers. They must teach the Gospel to us properly, faithful to God and his teachings, without deviation, so that we will recognize the wolves when they come and be prepared to defend ourselves from them. Paul also warns of the grave danger of those among us who will ʺcome forward perverting the truth to draw us away after them.ʺ These do not look like ʺwolves.ʺ They will make themselves ʺappearʺ beautiful and to ʺsoundʺ wise, for they are in competition with the truth. These are a very grave danger to us indeed. Our pastoral leaders are charged with protecting us from these. And this will always be a very difficult duty, for those who attempt to lead us astray, can be very charismatic. They know how to appeal to our emotions, and to our immediate gratification, and they can ʺtrickʺ us to even turn away from good pastors who have always been true to the Gospel.
Finally, Paul tells us how a good priest or pastor lives. ʺI have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord, ‘It is better to give than to receive.’ʺ No good shepherd treats the hard work that he or she is called to by God as a means for getting rich. That is not why God has called them to the ministry. Indeed, the same is true for us in our own calling to be Christians. The hard work and the rewarding life we are called to is that of helping the weak. As the Lord said, ʺIt is better to give than to receive,ʺ for the eternal reward for living that way is eternal and far richer than anything as finite as silver or gold.
Let us pray for our priests and pastors that they, like Paul, will lead us with faith, courage, and dedication to the Gospel and the Church of God. Let us help them by supporting and encouraging them in their own faith journey. We, too, are called to minister to one another. We may not have the calling to the vocation of formal ministry, but we are to be ministers to one another and to the weak and the needy we encounter at home and in public every day. Let us pray, then, for one another, that we all might answer and live out our calling to follow Christ faithfully and fully.