Concerning Overseers

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has placed you as overseers to shepherd the church of God

Acts 20:28

The Holy Spirit Placing Overseers Among The Flock

Paul’s word in 20:28 is very important… As in 1 Peter 5:2, the Greek word for “flock” literally means “little flock.” This flock is little in number (Luke 12:32) compared with the world. It is a little herb for the supply of life, not a big tree for birds to lodge in (Matt. 13:31-32 and notes), not a huge religion like Christendom.

In 20:28 Paul tells the elders of the church in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit had placed them among the flock as overseers. It was the apostles who appointed the elders in every church (14:23). But here Paul, the leading one, who did the appointing says that the Holy Spirit did it.

This indicates that the Holy Spirit was one with the apostles in their appointing the elders and that the apostles had done it according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

From Paul’s word concerning the Holy Spirit placing overseers among the flock we see that the existence of the churches is altogether due to the Holy Spirit, not due to the apostles. Although the apostles had appointed the elders, here Paul says that this was the work of the Holy Spirit.

This reveals that a church comes into existence only through the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the work of the apostles concerning the churches should be absolutely the work of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit establishes the elders, it is the Holy Spirit who establishes the churches.

Overseers And Elders Are Synonymous Terms

The overseers in verse 28 are the elders in verse 17. This proves that overseers and elders are synonymous terms denoting the same persons. To make an overseer a bishop of a district to rule over the elders of various localities in that district is grossly erroneous. This is what Ignatius taught. His erroneous teaching gave the ground to rank and brought in hierarchy.

The Greek word for “overseer” is episkopos, from epi, meaning over, and skopos, meaning seer; hence, overseer (bishop, from Latin episcopus). An overseer (1 Tim. 3:2) in a local church is an elder.

The two titles refer to the same person: elder, denoting a person of maturity; overseer, denoting the function of an elder. It was Ignatius in the second century who taught that an overseer, a bishop, is higher than an elder.

From this erroneous teaching came the hierarchy of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. This teaching is also the source of the Episcopal system of ecclesiastical government. Both the hierarchy and the system are abominable in the sight of God.

Shepherding The Flock

In Acts 20:28 Paul speaks of the elders shepherding the flock. The main responsibility of the elders as overseers is not to rule over the flock but to shepherd the flock, to take all-inclusive tender care of the flock, the church of God.

The elders are not placed in the church by the Holy Spirit as rulers but as shepherds. Shepherding the flock of God requires suffering for the Body of Christ as Christ did (Col. 1:24). This kind of shepherding with suffering will be rewarded with the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

According to 1 Peter 5:1-3, the elders are not to lord it over the flock; that is, they are not to exercise lordship over the ruled (Matt. 20:25). Among the believers, besides Christ there should be no other lord; all should be servants, even slaves (Matt. 20:26-27; 23:10-11).

The elders in the church can take only the leadership (not the lordship), which all the believers should honor and follow (1 Thes. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).

All quotations in this post, unless otherwise noted, are from Life-Study of Acts, message 53 by Witness Lee. Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA, U.S.A. 1985. Source:

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