by Keith Giles

When Paul was preparing to return to Jerusalem he wrote a letter of farewell to many of the churches he had helped to plant and nourish. As he encouraged them he took the opportunity to remind them of something that had been burning in his heart for three years. It was something that, in his own words, he “never stopped warning each of (them), night and day with tears.” – (Acts 20:25-31)

What do you suppose it was that concerned Paul so much? What could bring him to tears like this? What could compel him to constantly remind and warn those first Christians “night and day”?

Was it false doctrine in the church? Was it the coming persecution? No, it was something far more devasting to the Body. The rise of teachers and leaders who would draw disciples after themselves rather than pointing them directly to Christ.

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” – Acts 20:25-31

What troubled Paul most of all was the knowledge that, after he was gone, men would rise up “to draw away disciples after themselves”. Paul was broken-hearted to think of the Body submitting to the authority of men rather than to the authority of Christ.

Think about this. Paul is mainly concerned that men will rise up from within the Body itself and, in his absence, set themselves up as leaders and draw disciples to themselves.

Why would this concern Paul so much? Why would it cause him such anxiety and emotional turmoil? Perhaps because Jesus made the issue of leadership within His Body very clear: It was designed to be a family, an organism and a community, not a hierarchy.

Jesus sternly warned his disciples not to “lord it over” one another (Mark 10:42-45) as the Gentile rulers did. He also commanded them not to follow the example of the Jewish leaders who loved the praise of men and built their own kingdoms to glorify themselves. (Matt 23:8-12).

Peter and the other Apostles obeyed Jesus and appealed to the Church as fellow laborers in Christ and fellow elders in service to the Body saying:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” – 1 Peter 5:1-4

Paul agreed saying:

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” – 2 Cor.1:24

This is also what Paul is warning the Church about when he rebukes them for identifying themselves as followers of Appollos, or Peter, or even of himself. Instead he warns all of them not to become disciples of any other man, or leader, but to fully submit to Christ alone as Lord and Savior and Teacher.

Paul warned the church “for three years” and “never stopped warning” them “night and day with tears” about this dangerous tendency in the Body to put anyone other than Christ at the head of the Body.

If I were to ask you, “Who is the leader in your church?” What would your answer be? Is your leader “Pastor Bob?” or is your leader Jesus Christ?

I’ve noticed a troubling tendency in today’s Christian Church to gather and identify ourselves based on whose church we attend. Just name any famous church and you can name the leader of that church. You know their names. People will even say, “I go to [insert celebrity Christian pastor’s] church!” rather than to say, “I go to Second Baptist”.

Forgetting for a moment that “going to Church” is, in itself, a misunderstanding of the New Testament idea of Church (ecclessia)- We cannot hope to fully embrace the priesthood of the believer without first letting go of the man-made, pastor-driven form of Christianity that holds us captive.

Who is your leader? Who is the head of your Church? Are we, as a Body and a Bride, fully submitted to Christ as our Lord and Husband? (See Ephesians 5:22).

Are we guilty of “lording it over” one another in a top-down hierarchy of Church? Jesus said that we are all brothers in His Body. He commands us not to call anyone “Father” or “Teacher” because there is just One Father and One Teacher and He is the One to whom the Church belongs.

Let us take seriously these words of Jesus. Let Paul’s tearful appeal to us soften our hearts. Let Peter’s humble example shame us all for elevating one man above the rest of the Body.

As Jesus said to His disciples: “It shall not be so among you!” (Matthew 20:25-26)

How I wish that it were not so among us all.