In a sermon, you can never say everything that could be said about a passage of scripture. You can’t even say everything you would want to say.
This morning at church our lesson came from Acts 20:17-38. There was one detail whose inclusion I debated. I decided not to mention it, but I thought I might now note it here.
In Acts 20:17-38, Paul shares some final instructions for the church in Ephesus. This address is given specifically to the Elders (i.e., overseers) of the church. In the sermon, however, we considered these instructions as though they apply to everyone. But I never explained how I went from applying this to elders to applying it to church members in general. So here we are. 🙂
How did I go from instructions for elders to making application to the church in general?
- By considering that the model can be instructive for all. Elders are not different in kind from other believers. They are different in degree. That is, they are not a different species of believer. Instead, they are simply to have arrived at a certain level of maturity (a difference of degree), and they are to dedicate more of their time to certain activities (also a difference of degree). So, because the difference is one of degree, when we read instructions given to elders, we can still learn from those instructions in that we are on that same trajectory and can learn from peering further down the line.
- By scaling the application with other scriptures. In today’s sermon, we focused on these instructions at a level that is restated for all throughout the New Testament. We said that we Guard the Precious Church…by Being ever watchful, by Staying under God’s Word, and by Helping the Weak. Facets of these ministries will belong uniquely to the Elders (e.g., the Elders are especially charged with teaching the Word corporately), but other facets or levels of these ministries are applicable for all. All church members are told to be watchful (1 Peter 5:8). All disciples are told to stay under God’s Word (Colossians 3:16). All church members are told to help the weak (James 1:27).
- By remembering Paul sometimes addresses the church and elders simultaneously. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins the letter like this: “I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons” (Philippians 1:1, NLT). Paul’s admonitions are often widely applicable (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16).
So, we considered this passage as having insights for all (1) that could be applied at a level appropriate for all (2), as Paul often does (3).
So there ya go.
Thoughts? Questions? I welcome your feedback.