The spiritual conflict is the greatest war
raging in the world today.
Apostles and elders are right in the center of it.
Their work is certainly strategic.
Let it once and for all be made clear.
Men that are aspiring to do the work of a leader
ought to start working now —
day and night.
GREAT COMMISSION BOOKS
ELDERS AND APOSTLES
The simplest truths, after hundreds of years, are bound to get cluttered, distorted and/or layered with theological "mishmash." For example, did you know that there is only one level of human authority in all of God's program i.e. the church? A rather simple government — not much bureaucracy is intended there. If the United States was like a church there would be a simple one-level congress. No president, no Supreme Court, no House of Representatives or Senate, no army and police force. Just a simple congress that does it all, along with the people at large.
No doubt that couldn't work for a humanistic government. However some Christian organizations it seems have as much bureaucracy as the United States government. This simple biblical plan can only work if both the spiritual leaders and the congregation are filled and actively controlled and spoken to by the Holy Spirit daily and are committed to following His Word in all areas. It requires everyone looking to the manual, i.e. the Bible as the supreme authority. It requires a total love to God and others and a total death to self.
Israel could be spiritually lazy with a king. Without a king they all had to look up, even in recognizing the prophets or judges (leaders) for their time. With a kingship there is automatic lineage. Automatically the elders son is next in line to rule, control, and direct. Without the kingship plan each individual could be chosen for leadership. Anyone could be a Gideon found grinding out his grain when the Lord called him for action. Each man had to voluntarily follow into the battles. Under a king you were conscripted. Under the kingship program man was king when God was to be looked on as King alone. God wanted the fuller part. Not only is that more glorifying to Him, but it is more advantageous for all the people. But the people wanted to be more like the heathen around them. How sad, but of course God in His love still did great things in that situation.
We do not need to belabor the point. God still worked with kings in the Old Testament (O.T.), but it was not His best plan.
Israel had many years before they evolved into certain patterns that were not God's best. Like Israel, God's people in the Church Age have moved in similar ways. Instead of the church being the sole organism, or organization if you please, for all of God's work, we have set up addendums (para-churches). Instead of the simple form of governing with just elders, we have set up organizational hierarchies. We have set up one man at the head of the church - even as there was only one man that was a king. Let's try for the moment to forget our ingrained traditions and look at the Word freshly.
What is the definition of an elder? Is a pastor an elder? Is a bishop an elder? If you said "No," you would be wrong on both accounts, that is if you take the Bible as the authority. Look at Acts 20:17, here Paul called for the "elders." In verse 28 he said they were "overseers" (with literally is "bishop") and they were to "feed" or "shepherd" which is to "pastor" (the actual Greek word for "shepherd"). So in this portion we see the same man called elders, overseers (bishops), and shepherds (i.e. bishop) being referred to as one and the same person. Then again in Hebrews 13:17 it refers to these men as "leaders." They would be the same as elders, pastors, etc. because the verse refers to the same authority which was given to elders in I Peter 5:3 etc.
So, the words elder, bishop (overseer), pastor (shepherd) and leader all refer to the same person but give different shades of meaning. The word "elder" would refer to his spiritual maturity. The word "bishop" (or literally overseer) would refer to his responsibility, authority and work. The word "shepherd" or "pastor" would refer to his service and work. The word "leader" would refer to his position.
In a physical sense a man could be referred to as a husband, father, daddy, mate, provider, etc. - all referring to one and the same person just different aspects of that person. So it is with the elders. In the home there is a simple form of government. Even so with the church (I Tim. 3:15).
Christ should be the head of each home but delegates man to be head in the physical sense. Even so Christ is Head of the household of God, yet delegates men, i.e. elders to head it up or lead it in the physical sense. Christ is the Chief Shepherd; elders are the under shepherds (I Pet. 5:1-4).
The point to be made is that in the physical sense, the highest, and in fact, only authorities over a church are the elders. There is no hierarchy with graduated levels of authority. Even though apostles in the New Testament (N.T.) did indeed have authority over a church (II Cor. 13:10), it is nowhere indicated that their authority was any different or greater than the elders (Acts 1:20; I Pet. 5:1). It is interesting to note in Acts 15:23 and Acts 16:4 the elders are mentioned right along side of the apostles for the Jerusalem Church Edict. If you feel the apostles had more influence that may have only revealed why they were apostles. Their greater influence was not necessarily because they were apostles. The apostles would have been more mature. Also some apostles seem to have had more influence than other apostles (Gal. 2:9). Even so, some elders may have had more influence than other elders. While every elder has the same and equal responsibility, authority and work, this does not necessarily mean they are all the same or equal in service, effect, ability or influence (I Tim. 5:17).
So we see an elder is referred to in nine different ways: elder (Titus 1:5), bishop (I Tim. 3:1), presbyter (I Tim. 4:14), pastor (Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2), teacher (Acts 13:1; Eph. 4:11; II Tim 2:2), shepherd (I Pet. 5:2), overseer (Acts 20:28[sic], leader (Heb. 13:7,17) and bondslave (II Tim. 2:24). In the scriptures they alone are given the authority for the people and work of God, the church. No more authority than is given to elders could really be given to any man or men. Any more authority than his already given to elders might begin to infringe on the Supreme Authority Himself, the Chief Shepherd.
What are the qualifications for becoming an elder? I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 give an overall list. Simply said, whoever matches up to these qualities are qualified and should be recognized as elders. The purpose of this writing is not to develop the obvious but to help in areas of need or what may be misunderstood or overlooked. Therefore, we will only touch on some qualifications and look at certain aspects of others.
First, it is interesting to note that out of the about 15 different points in both I Timothy and Titus all relate to character directly if not indirectly. Character is the key to a man being qualified for eldership. It’s also important to note what is intentionally missing. No gift, teaching gift or otherwise, is mentioned. What Paul wanted Timothy to look for was not some intangible gift but concrete evidence of a mature man. Even when teaching is mentioned in I Timothy, it states they need to be "able," not necessarily "gifted" to teach. In the qualifications in Titus it elaborates on how practically an elder will need to be able to teach and use the Word (Titus 1:11) as well as on the problems elders will need to remedy with the effective use of the Word (Titus 1:10-14). By laying the qualifications out this way there is no guess work about a man being qualified with the Word rather than judging if he has some particular gift. Plus this way, it definitely opens the opportunity up to all. If gift was mentioned, someone that had worked hard in the Word and became skilled with it might still be considered unqualified. Where gift is not mentioned for qualification, and for obvious reasons, this does not preclude that God does not give the teaching gift to elders. Certainly if anyone needed it they would.
While the Bible does not mention the gift to teach or any gift in particular, neither does it mention any particular special training program. Bible schools, seminaries, or the like are never mentioned. "The proof is in the pudding." You care less where the recipe came from. At a pie contest the judges aren’t influenced by what baking school a contestant went to, or if he even went for that matter. The only thing that really matters is what has he produced ! He may be a fast cook but did he bum the chocolate? If someone thinks training credentials should influence a decision they might recognize Saul but miss David. "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." When David was picked he wasn’t even in the line-up; but God found him! Or the issue could be viewed like Paul viewed circumcision: circumcision or no circumcision it does not matter for God looks at the heart. It’s interesting to note what the apostles prayed for before choosing the right apostle to take the place of Judas, "Then they prayed, ‘Lord you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen,’ " (Acts 1:24). That’s why character is the primary qualification. Character reflects heart. Fruit, not diplomas, reflect character.
One, gift or no gift — it does not matter. Two, schooling or no schooling — it does not matter. Three, young or old — it does not matter. You must not be young spiritually, but you don’t necessarily have to be old physically. Look at the 12 Apostles themselves. If Jesus was 30 when he picked them, they probably would have been in their twenties. John may have been in his teens. They weren't old as most of the pagan artists have pictured them. Look at Timothy, a decade after he was functioning as a fellow apostle with Paul (I Thess. 2:7) he was still considered a youth (I Tim. 4:12). The book of Timothy was written about ten years after Paul picked up Timothy. Timothy must have been a youth’s youth when I Thessalonians was written. He may have been in his teens. At any rate there can be no question he was indeed very young.
The problem today is older leaders are often not opening up the door for the young men — much less spiritually mature "youth." But not so with the apostle Paul. He had an eye for youth, spiritually mature young men. He multiplied the work of God through them. However, the qualifications in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 must not be slackened for men that are physically younger, or older for that matter. Whether it takes a person a year or 10 years or longer to develop these qualities, he must never be appointed if he does not qualify according to the Word.
Fourth, there is no "calling" mentioned. This is such an erroneous, nebulous idea that is so often mistakenly assumed to be the basis for doing the work of God. How often is manpower shortage due to the mistaken "calling" theology? Without touching on the subject in reference to other areas, it is easy to see that "calling" is certainly not a qualification for elders. A person doesn’t need some "calling," but rather a heart and a desire. "If a man desire..." (I Tim. 3:1). While some may say they don’t have the "calling," God may be saying they don’t have the desire. You get the desire and you'll feel "called!"
Now isn’t that interesting, the things the world would generally consider to be qualifications for a spiritual leader: calling, age, being gifted, seminary, are not mentioned in the Word. Let us therefore not consider such things either positively or negatively in reference to the qualification of elders.
The scripture makes it clear that only men could be elders in a church. Where women (probably unmarried) may be deaconesses with delegated authority like that of a wife, no women may ever be elders. If women feel frustrated and in bondage they have forgotten or have yet to hold to all the promises of God with consistent faith (I Pet. 2:18-31; 3:1,9-12). If they are single they should help their spiritual leaders (Rom. 16:1,2; Phil 4:3). If they are married they should help their personal spiritual leader (Gen. 2:18).
I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 both begin their list of qualifications f or elders with "above reproach." This seems to be the "umbrella" phrase for all the other points. Specific areas to be above reproach are then mentioned. The King James translation says "blameless." This word does not mean perfect. "We all stumble in many ways," (James 3:2). But rather it means that people don’t have any legitimate accusation against you; your life is a good testimony, a good example. The points that follow in I Timothy and Titus give tangible areas to consider.
Now the scripture teaches that one of the first things to look at is a man’s family. A family is like a miniature church. If his "minnie church" is good, no doubt he has learned what it takes to build the Lord’s family. If someone isn’t married we could look at whatever households they have lived in.
This brings up the whole question of whether a single brother should even be recognized as an elder. Some say "No" because the text says "the husband of one wife" (I Tim. 3:2). But the Greek text does not suggest this conclusion. According to Kenneth S. Wuest in his book Golden Nuggets:
"Some have interpreted I Timothy 3:2,12 as requiring the bishop and the deacon to be married before they can serve in these capacities in the church. There is a rule in Greek grammar which says, ‘the presence of the definite article identifies its absence qualities.' The article is absent before the words ‘husband’ and ‘one wife’ in both verses, showing that Paul was interested in the character or quality of the men rather than in any relationships or possessions they might have. The literal translation is ‘let them be the one-wife sort of husbands,' that is, they must be of such character that they would only desire and have one wife, not two or three. Polygamy is forbidden. That this is the interpretation is shown by the fact that Paul in the context is speaking of the qualities of the bishop and deacon rather than any possession they may have."
Without knowing the Greek, the context itself is sufficient to show that a man does not need to be married to be an elder. Here are 12 reasons we would assume single men may be appointed as elders.
One, as has been stated the force of the Greek does not seem to be promoting marriage but monogamy.
Two, if single men could not be elders, would it not simply state, "they must be married," instead of being so illusive, evasive or indirect on such an all-important, fundamental point. With what would be considered lesser points the writer was very clear, "the overseer must be...self` controlled...have a good reputation" etc. With all the qualifications that are in the text the "must be married" one is clearly missing. Or, on the other hand, wouldn’t it be consistent for the text to be clear on what an elder is not, "the overseer must not be a single?" Again far less important points are clarified. "The overseer must...not be quarrelsome...not a new convert"...etc. Again the "must not be unmarried" qualification is obviously missing.
Three, if qualification for an overseer was marriage, think of what that might cause. Many zealous young men would run out and get themselves a wife so they might qualify to be an elder. Actually, if the text made marriage a qualification, I’m not sure we could ever say such young men’s motives would be all that bad. Doesn’t verse one say it is a fine work he desires? How could it be wrong not to go after all the qualifications with all his heart? Then what about the poor lad that can’t get a girl? Now, we end up with single girls actually being the primary factor in elders’ qualification. It’s hard to believe I Timothy 3 is promoting marriage and it would have to be if marriage was required to be an elder.
Four, to be consistent with the "must be married theology" would in effect be saying, "to be married is more spiritual than being single." That would certainly have all sorts of problems.
Five, to say an elder has to be married, thereby promoting marriage, is somewhat contradictory with the purpose and work of an overseer. II Timothy 2:4 tells us (and especially leaders in the context), "not to be entangled in the affairs of this life that he may please Him who has called him to be a soldier." Paul again in I Corinthians 7:32,33,35 says, "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about his wife and his interests are divided...I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but to promote what is seemly, an undivided (undistracted) devotion to the Lord." If Paul is promoting marriage (especially for the leaders) in I Timothy 3, there would be contradiction in his writings in I Timothy 2 and I Corinthians 7. (I might add here however, I Corinthians 7 also indicates if someone does not have the gift to stay single they will be less "distracted" if they marry than if they continually "burn.")
Six, to be consistent, a man has not only got to be married but also be able to have children. Verse four talks about "keeping his children under control with all dignity..." Again it seems obvious Paul was giving instruction in this area, if they had children. Certainly he was not trying to disqualify the husband from being an elder if the couple did not have children. Rather the obvious assumption would be that if he had children they would need to be kept under control with all dignity.
Actually, all the above five points on marriage would basically apply here also. In some ways this one, however, might be even stronger. For where a young man might be able to go out and get himself a wife, it is not too seldom biologically impossible for the couple to have children. It is hard to assume Paul was trying to disqualify such a brother from being an elder because he and his wife could not have children. In our modem age such theology might justify artificial insemination to some, as ludicrous as that may sound.
Seven, to follow this line of interpretation, the man would not only have to be married, have a child, but also have a number of children. One child would not work. The text says, "children," plural. Now with this type of interpreting we’re saying the qualifications dictate the number of babies a perspective elder must have — at least two or more. Again it not only seems to be poor biblical interpretation but also highly unlikely that Paul is trying to determine how many babies an elder must have to qualify. Rather the intent must be if they have two, three or more children they should be under control — not that they must have more than one child to be qualified.
Eight, if we interpret marriage to be a qualification for oversight, to be consistent would demand that at least two or more of the perspective elder’s children be old enough to be out of control, since the text says they must be "under control" (l Tim. 3:4). Again, isn’t this instruction only assuming such if the elder has two or more children that are no longer babies?
Nine, our scenario goes from bad to worse if we remain consistent. For example, what happens to the elder when his two or more children are grown up, married, and no longer under his control? Does the elder then become disqualified? He no longer has any children under his control, mind you, good or bad! With this so called "married elder theology," the more experienced elders would eventually become disqualified.
Ten, what about if the children died or were in an accident? Again, disqualification would have to take place.
Eleven, go back to verse two. What happens to the elder whose wife dies? He certainly would not be married. Do we then "defrock" such elders? If his wife died from old age again we would generally be losing the most experienced elders in our midst. This would be the consistent result of the "married elder theology."
Twelve, if I Timothy 3:2 (husband of one wife) is not simply referring to polygamy, then if an elder was married and his wife died he could not remarry (despite Rom. 7:3 giving liberty).
Without saying any more, even if none of the above 12 points "hold water" but one, an unmarried brother could most definitely be an elder. May God raise up thousands more elders, married or unmarried!
There are important points to make on every area of qualification but for this publication only a little more will be said. Each point of qualification could be thought of like a link in a chain. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link which may be sad but true (Eccl. 10:1). We need to remember this and not just look at the strong points of a person but be sure the weak points are strong enough.
Remember elders must be able to teach — skilled in teaching. Why? Not so an elder will be good at making business decisions in a board meeting but because teaching is one thing he is supposed to do (II Tim. 2:2). There would be no reason for it in the list of qualifications otherwise. If a job ad read, "...you must be able to drive,..." one would assume that driving is part of the job. Can he effectively teach so as to build and protect the flock (Titus 1:9)? Titus 1:9ff gives more insight into the practical teaching qualification and need for it.
If we do not feel a man is qualified to effectively teach, what should be the first thing we think of to help him in this area? Not Bible school. Not Greek. Not homiletics. Rather the area to help would be one or more of the other character qualifications in I Timothy 3. If we’re not effective teachers it is because of some character deficiency. Hebrews 5:12-14 makes this unavoidable [sic] clear. Therefore look over the list in I Timothy 3 or Titus 1 again. One or more of these character areas needs developing. We all start out immature and grow into maturity through obedience. Learn obedience. The answer is obey, obey, obey.
Remember in the front of both lists in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is a man’s household. Is he a dynamic husband and father? If so, he must not be far from being a highly qualified elder. If Bible schools dropped their homiletics class for "home-o-letics," we would be amazed at what effective, experienced and spirit filled teachers might be raised up. That’s just a thought. Selah. We don’t need training in how to talk but how to live!
Also, let it once and for all be made clear. Men that are aspiring to do the work of an overseer ought to start working now — day and night! They shouldn’t wait until they are recognized as an elder, or they will never or should never be recognized. If we truly love God we work because of Him anyhow, recognized or not. Being appointed never increases our ability, only our responsibility. Woe to the elders who appoint "promising" men instead of already fruitful, caring, working men. Therefore, elders don’t put the "lid down" on the flock rather fan the flame. Don’t stop brush fires by taking away matches least [sic] your whole light go out. Rather, fan the flames in the right direction. Simply put, don’t be negative, be positive. Give men opportunity. Don’t be afraid of problems. Be afraid of rigor mortis. As elders get older they tend to become more experienced in caution and less experienced in the courageous.
Let us give just a brief word on the importance of recognition of elders. I have known some churches where it is not clear who the elders are. It should be enough to say that was not the biblical practice. There was no vagueness in the N.T. They "stretched out their hands" on them. Everyone knew clearly who they were (Acts 14:23; I Thess. 5:12,13). They were appointed initially by their apostles since apostles started the churches. After that, the residing oversight could and should appoint new elders as they raise up. Since elders are going to give an account to God about those that are in their charge it is obviously important they (any new elders) know they have the charge. Also, the well being of each believer partly depends on his or her attitude and response to their elders (Heb. 13:17). Therefore it would be necessary to know clearly who their elders are. Any assumption of the part of the flock or would-be elders would not be spiritually healthy or expedient for either party.
What is the work of an elder? First it should be noted that it is a work. It is work. It is hard work! It unquestionably (if done the way God wants) is the hardest work in the world. The spiritual conflict in the world is the greatest war raging in the world today. Elders are right in the center of it. Or, God forbid if they are not! Their work is certainly more strategic than any other work in the world. God appoints all authority in the world (Romans 13:1), and without question His most important authority (elders) is that over His own church. Everything in the world is going on because of the church (Romans 11:25; Ephesians 3:10-11). In Ephesians we are told to give honor to our parents. In I Peter we are told to give honor to the king — the highest civil authority in the land. But in I Timothy 5:17 we are told to give "double honor" to elders! They, more than any others, affect this world and the "eternal purpose" of God. They affect, more than any others, the present and future of the church, God’s most important program.
Mary, Queen of England, said she dreaded the prayers of that man of God, John Knox, more than an army of ten thousand. Martin Luther has far more influenced the shaping of countries with his Bible than any general with his guns. George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and men like these had more effect in the foundation of our nation and society than secular history ever dares let on.
In other words, God’s leaders, the elders, are the generals in the most important war raging since the beginning of mankind — the spiritual war.
Just what is their "quiet, insignificant" work? They are to feed, care and rule. They must all be teachers and pastors. They must all be teaching and pastoring. I Timothy and Titus make that ability a requirement. The scripture calls them teachers and/or pastors (Acts 13:1; Acts 20:28; II Timothy 2:2; I Peter 5:2). It is for that reason, no doubt, that Paul motivates the elder to "work hard at preaching and teaching," (I Timothy 5:17). Where all elders should be given honor, ones that work harder at preaching and teaching should be given "double honor."
In addition to the above four verses (Acts 13:1; Acts 20:28; II Timothy 2:2; I Peter 5:2), I Thessalonians 5:12,13 also clearly ties together the men who are "over" (the same Greek word as “rule” in I Timothy 5:17) the church in Thessalonica and the ones that are admonishing or instructing as being the same men. "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work..." (I Thessalonians 5:12,13). "Appreciate those who diligently labor among you," refers to those who have the "charge...and give you instruction." Then it goes on to say, "Esteem them very highly in love because of their work (i.e. they "give you instruction"). The work and instruction are synonymous.
To require doctors to be qualified in administering medicine and then give them licenses presuming only a small percent would actually administer medicine is illogical. It is just as illogical to make being able to teach a qualification for an elder and then assume he will not be teaching.
Some have tried to twist the interpretation in I Timothy 5:17 to suggest that not all elders should do the work of teaching because of how it also mentions ruling in the verse. However, in verse 17 the word "rule" is the same word as "manage" in I Timothy 3:4, referring to one managing his own household and family. Do you think it is humanly possible for a father to manage his household and family well if he does not instruct and teach them?
Now, no one rules or manages well without instructing, teaching and, for that matter, working hard at it. Where the words, "managing" and "teaching" are different, one cannot be done without the other. I Timothy 5:17 magnifies that. In this verse, Paul may actually be amplifying the word "ruling" ("managing"). He says those elders who rule well by especially working hard at preaching and teaching should be worthy of double honor. Teaching and preaching are that part of ruling which are given special emphasis by the word "especially."
Even if someone persists to assume this verse implies some elders were "ruling" and others "teaching," they must admit that the verse certainly does not say elders cannot or should not teach. If Paul was wanting to create such a division, he surely should not have said it the way he did. As a result of reading this verse, any elder with a heart would be ultra motivated to "especially work hard at preaching and teaching." He is honoring that the most with eldering. If I had only been an elder ruling, but not so "well," do you think, in light of this verse, I would have felt comfortable to remain ruling not so "well"? No way! I would have wanted to "rule well." Even so, if I had been an elder who was only "ruling well" and not preaching and teaching, do you think after I saw this verse that I could feel comfortable to NOT "especially work hard at preaching and teaching"? I would pursue it with all my heart.
Now let’s not wiggle out of this by talking about gifts. To be a skilled teacher was one of the necessary qualifications to become an elder. So lack of ability would be no excuse. Cut it any way you want, if you love God (John 21:15-17), you will "preach the Word." Love is really the key.
Now, I hope every elder is scrambling to work hard at preaching and teaching. However, it is important also to realize that does not necessarily mean Sunday mornings behind a pulpit. While every elder should be able to effectively build the church in that way, this does not necessarily mean that they should take regular teaching turns at such meetings. There are plenty of opportunities and responsibilities. There are small home group opportunities. There are individuals in every flock that could use, and many that would be glad to receive, more love, spiritual attention and building. There is plenty of opportunity to reach out to new ones: neighborhoods, campus, military bases, factories, large population centers, etc. There is a world of opportunity! Reach out, win and build. When you see someone saved, that leads to a whole new pool of people. This, then, could eventually tum into another small group needing regular teaching and spiritual feeding, etc. Like anyone else, elders mature and become more influential. The point is that elders should work together to accomplish the most.
To conclude, all should preach and teach. Some may (or may not) be more dominant (in some, or certain occasions). Whatever the practical outworking or balance with any particular group of leaders, let it never be thought scriptural for any elder not to give himself full time to preaching and teaching.
One acid test as to who is really ruling in a church where they have theoretical elders (i.e. "ruling elders" plus "teaching elders"), is if the church has a problem. If it splits between the "ruling elders" and the "teaching elders," the "ruling elders" probably won’t end up with many to rule. All things being equal, the "teaching elders" will always have the influential rule over any so-called non-teaching "ruling elders." You don’t really do much ruling or managing if you don’t teach, much less, "rule well," as I Timothy 5: 17 exhorts.
Usually I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are the only places referred to for the qualifications of an elder. However, II Timothy has qualifications and gives clear instruction on the work of an elder. In particular notice II Timothy 2:2-6, "And the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. "
Usually these verses are taught to be applied to all Christians. While that is fine, it can and should especially be more literally applied to elders. In the third verse, notice three words in particular. First, "entrust," i.e. commit, the keeping of, deposit. That does not indicate just passing on some Bible verses for someone to know. Rather, it implies responsibility as an elder might have. It’s like a commission.
Second, the word "faithful." The word "faithful" could be an "umbrella" or "catch-all" for elders, like "blameless" or "above reproach" in I Timothy 3:2 or Titus 1:7. To summarize the qualifications of an elder, indeed he would have to be "above reproach" or, as this verse says, a "faithful" man. Three, "able to teach" hits the "nail on the head." This is exactly what is necessary for qualification as an elder. II Timothy hits at the heart of a leader and heart of his work, i.e. teaching. "Entrust to...faithful men...able to teach, put the message in the keeping of these faithful men, give them the responsibility of its multiplying and propagation — teaching others also."
Remember, in the beginning we discussed how an elder was referred to by different names in different places in the Scriptures. In II Timothy 2:2 he might be referred to as a teacher. This gives a fuller understanding to this verse. In this light, the verses that follow make more sense. Look at verse three: "Enduring hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ." As fellow-leaders, they were especially going through hardship. They needed to endure if the work of God was going to go on like it should. Calling one a soldier implies full-time service in active spiritual duty. Verse four makes that clear. "No soldier in active service entangles himself (gets involved) in the affairs of everyday life (civilian affairs), so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."
There is no way a soldier in active service can get too involved in anything else but soldiering. That’s the point of it. God wants His army to win. There is no other way soldiers, i.e. especially elders/teachers, can possibly lead and please their Commanding Officer. All of God’s people could be compared to a nation that is at war, like the U.S. was during WWII. They will all be sacrificing and sharing in the struggle, but the soldiers would be full time. Think how fatal it would be to the war effort if most of the soldiers got involved in civilian affairs. We could never win. In the spiritual war, we lost conquering over half the world this last generation. Today, over two billion people on the earth have still not heard the Good News! Tragic losses for the conquest of eternal life or death! The reason: most soldiers, i.e. elders/ teachers are not or may not even know they are to be full time — teaching, indoctrinating and propagating the faith.
Elders can and most certainly must apply verse four very literally. Since this has special application for elders, it further means elders should teach, teach, teach. Anybody who is experienced in something can teach it. Simply put, if a man really has a mature walk with the Lord, he probably should be an elder and could teach others how and why he has a mature walk, and how others could also.
Verse five admonishes leaders, like an athlete, to follow the "rules" and ways of God to accomplish the purposes of God. That verse gives reason for this very writing. We must follow the Word. Elders must lead God’s people, never believing the end justifies any means, but only according to the ways and means of God. Elders must lead the church according to the "rules," the Word.
Verse six, "the hard working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops." This explains how elders being full time at the spiritual work, would be supported. The same analogy is used for teachers in other places in the scriptures (Galatians 6:6). Here again, this verse in Galatians takes on its fullest meaning with elders. Therefore, in this context in II Timothy we clearly see the teachers would certainly be at least elders (II Timothy 2:2). Remember, I Timothy 5:17 makes it clear that it is the elders that are to be financially supported. It also makes it clear that they are the ones doing the teaching and not just part time, but they are to "work hard at (it). "
We showed earlier how elders and overseers are one and the same person. Here we see elders and teachers are one and the same person. Keep in mind in the list of qualifications for elders in I Timothy 3 the word elder is never mentioned, only overseer. Yet, even as an overseer is the same as an elder, it is just as clear scripturally that overseers and elders are to teach, therefore they are teachers. Our traditions and customs are the only thing that would lead us to think otherwise. However, it is harder than we may realize to make our minds think untraditionally. Only as we hear the Word of the Lord more than the word of tradition can we be affected.
The word "honor" is the linking word in context from widows to elders. One of its practical, primary meanings in this context was financial support. The church is to doubly honor elders who rule well, especially those laboring hard at preaching and teaching. They must be free to think about the gospel and not finances. Whatever system of financial support was set up for widows in the previous verses could, or maybe should, be direction for doing the same with elders. The context is no different, only it instructs to give twice (double honor) the financial support to good and especially hard-working elders.
Notice, too, these verses in 1 Timothy do not support the idea of giving to elders on the basis of their need, but rather on the basis of their work. There are other verses that talk about helping saints that are in need. That is not the basis for giving to elders.
Verses 1-18 make the financial point quite clear, yet the verses that follow tie the knot even stronger. Look at the verse that follows, verse 18, "For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’ " This verse as well as verse 17 makes the basis for financial support not on being an elder but on doing the work. Not, has done, will do, or even likes to do, but is "threshing," not busy work, but "the work."
Being a "full time" elder, having no secular job, does not particularly constitute financial support, but doing the work of an elder. On the other hand, even if an elder has another job, if he is also doing the work of an elder, he should receive financial support. What if the elder was even making good money at another job, more than he needed? As has been mentioned, we support them not on the basis of need, but work. Anything less than this is disobedience to verses 17-18. Even in the world, if people have two jobs they do not receive pay for only one. Maybe if an elder in this situation received more money and/or had a certainty of its regularity he would do no other job than pastor. At any rate, we should be consistent in financially supporting elders doing the work.
At least twice Jesus used the same Old Testament passage that Paul did: "The laborer is worthy of his wages." He told this to the Twelve and the Seventy just before He sent them out. Deuteronomy 24:15, where the verse may have first been taken from, says, "pay him his wages...otherwise you may be guilty of sin." Of course, not obeying any New Testament verse is also sin. We sometimes may not think of it that way, but nonetheless it is. It is not sin against the elder, but against the Lord. Even so, when we obey, it is not necessarily giving to an elder, but to the Lord. Hallelujah!
When God’s people in the Old Testament gave to the Lord (the only way we can give to the Lord is to give to people), He promised to open the windows of heaven and pour out more blessing than they could hold (Malachi 3:10). And the windows of heaven surely opened!
Sometimes we tend to take for granted the love, work or service of believers. Yet, I Timothy 6:2 admonishes us all the more to give what is due the believer compared to the unbeliever. Have you neglected paying doctors, dentists, mechanics, landlords or even taxes? What about elders? Their work is the most beneficial to you and most noble work the world over. If not providing for one’s own physical parents is worse than an infidel, as I Timothy 5 states, I wonder what is thought if we don’t provide for our own spiritual parents that are worthy of "double honor"?
There are five scriptural reasons why an elder might need to temporarily "make tents," i.e. work a secular job. (1) His own needs (Acts 20:34), (2) To have enough to give (Acts 20:34-35), (3) For example (II Thessalonians 3:7-9), (4) His own discipline (I Timothy 4:7), (hopefully elders would not generally need this), (5) Temporary inroads for the gospel opportunity (I Corinthians 9:23) — perhaps a job might be necessary to get into a country. (Usually secular work would not be the best plan, since it probably would restrict an elder’s time to preach and teach). There is no example of the church leaders, i.e. elders, indefinitely carrying on any other job than spiritual overseeing. Any other thinking would seem to directly conflict with II Timothy 2:4 and many other verses.
If God’s people are sensitive to His Word, elders may receive much money. They, as all Christians, should see themselves as stewards, not possessors. They should be a big channel, not a reservoir.
One last word for elders. May we never become a group of professionals. We’re only by grace a little older spiritually than the rest of our local brethren. In time, many will pass us up. Praise be to Him. May we never presume to be "clergy" and everyone else a "lay person." Rather, according to I Peter 2, might we realize all are truly clergy. God may have some elders "make tents" once in a while for this reason if for no other. This is important not just for the elders’ thinking, but for all the flock. The flock can’t imitate professionals; they can New Testament elders. The most important goal with a leader is setting a pace, an example that others can imitate.
Look at Acts 20:28 and II Peter 5:2, elders are commanded to pastor/teach. "Preach the Word" (II Timothy 4:2)! Elders, let us follow Timothy, and obey.
The real question, perhaps, is not, "Should all elders be the pastors and teachers of their respective flocks?" but, rather, "Why do some try to suggest anything else?" Many churches, of course, have their one minister (even if there are more in theory, there is usually only one who is the head) and a few elders that take care of the business. Many churches today function more like God’s people in the Old Testament functioned with a clergy/laity-type system. Jesus began the break from this system. He was born into the tribe of Judah rather than into the Levite tribe which inherited the priesthood. Neither He nor His disciples were a part of the typical "clergy" of their day. They had not gone through the rabbinical schools (John 7:15; Acts 4:13). Jesus and His apostles were men without "letter." The whole church age broke from the Old Testament clergy/laity-type system. Peter himself clarified it in his writings as much as any other New Testament writer. Peter called himself an elder in I Peter 5:1. In I Peter 2:5 and 9 he declared all of God’s people as "priests." In the New Testament church there is only to be one Man who is head of the church — Jesus Christ Himself (Ephesians 1:22). He is to be the "Chief Shepherd" (I Peter 5:4). There are to be overseers, deacons, and saints in the church (Philippians 1:1). And that’s it!
When the clergy/laity system started to raise its head near the end of the New Testament period, the Apostle John addressed it on no uncertain terms in III John 9. Colossians 1:18 says Jesus Christ alone is to have "first place." III John 9 indicates Diotrophes wanted to be "first," and was doing everything he could to maintain it. Because he loved to be first he was acting evil. With New Testament elders there are no first’s. In the New Testament they were all given equal authority and responsibility. Jesus is to be first. This way, Jesus truly is first and more easily viewed that way by others.
The Apostle Peter said we are all priests. In that sense we are all clergy. Elders are not something more than this. No man can be more than this. That would be putting them in the position reserved for Christ alone! Elders are only spiritually more mature, and therefore given Christ-delegated authority to build the rest of the body of Christ up to that maturity "until we all attain...to a mature man" (Ephesians 4:13). Isn’t it interesting that when the church is raptured, all believers may be referred to as "elders" (Revelation 4:4,10).
Now, there are some churches that know scripturally there cannot be a clergy/laity system. They have adopted the "right" theological vocabulary, but for all practical purposes, are not all that much different. They are still not multiplying pastors/teachers, which is what really counts. They have only "one" body of elders in their church. That sounds scriptural enough, but with some churches, they are the "teaching elder," "evangelism elder," "music elder," "ruling elder," etc. Really, all you have is the same animal with a different coat, the same system with more scriptural vocabulary. What God wants is to multiply pastors/teachers. That is the only way the church can multiply to reach the world. Since a true elder must be qualified to teach, he ought to be teaching, somewhere, some way, sometime! If he is not qualified to teach, he is not an elder and should not be considered such. If we are qualified and not teaching and feeding the flock, what conviction should fill our souls when we hear Jesus ask, "Do you love me?" When we say yes, His simple reply is, "Feed my sheep." Again, "Do you love me?...Feed my sheep!" Again, "Do you love me?...Feed my sheep!"
When we hear the words of Jesus it should come as no surprise that God’s New Testament standard was for every elder to be a qualified teacher — teaching! Our prayer is for more teachers, i.e. elders! God forbid we theologically or in any other way exclude any elder from teaching — night and day for that matter (Acts 20:31)!
Elders are not only to work hard at feeding, caring and managing but to set the pace and be the examples. They should be the example in all things: in character, love, discipline and evangelism. There are two kinds of building, quality and quantity. Building the saints as well as reaching and winning new ones all makes up the building process.
We need both winning and building. Actually, one helps the other. In fact, if you’re not doing both, you’re not doing either, at least not effectively. You need "new blood" to stimulate the "old blood" and you must stimulate the "old blood" to get "new blood."
Elders should not just encourage the flock in evangelism, but should evangelize. Example is the most challenging. Elders will never have more effect stimulating their flock to do any more than they are doing. The very greatest power in moving people is to let them see someone moving!
Paul told Timothy to be an example (I Timothy 4:12). Paul set an example to follow (II Timothy 3:10). All the churches were taught to follow Paul’s example (I Corinthians 4:16,17). Teaching with no example produces spiritual zombies. Jesus said, "a disciple when he is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40). Jesus did not say, "...when he is fully trained he will be like he is taught." No, rather he will be just like his teacher. Peter commands the elders to set the pace, "be an example" (I Peter 5:3). Remember Jesus’ example, "all that Jesus began to do and to teach..." (Acts 1:1). He first did it, then He taught it.
Why were Paul and Timothy so powerful and effective? They were men of example, men of action. "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power...as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you" (I Thessalonians 1:5). So they turned Thessalonica "upside down" and city after city. "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power..." (I Corinthians 2:4), Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
We need less talk and more demonstration! What was Paul’s demonstration? Not special miracles as is usually thought, but a revolutionary life! This is clearly seen in I Corinthians 4:8-13. The entire church at Corinth was challenged to live no less a revolutionary life (I Corinthians 4:14-16)! And when Paul came back to Corinth he warned he would find out what was just talk and what was true demonstration and power (I Corinthians 4:19). "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (I Corinthians 4:20). What God needs is men of action, not fashion. "The diligent will rule" (Proverbs 12:24). What is the work of elders? The work is evangelizing; then teaching the believers all you know in order to equip them to know and do what you are doing, i.e. driving to multiply yourself.
How are elders to be financially supported? Galatians 6:6 is simple, "And let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with him who teaches." You should share with those who teach you. Notice it said "all." Everything that is good and needed a teacher should be provided with. If you have acquired something as a result of your work, should the one who teaches you be any less worthy of the same benefit for his work? The equation is simple: Teach = share (teach the saints; saints share). What it did not say is also important. It did not say share if the teacher has a certain degree, title, black collar or dress, etc. These and any other things matter nothing one way or the other! Teach. Share.
I Timothy 5:17 states, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." In context, the honor means more than respect or esteem. Note verse three in the same chapter and context, "Honor widows who are widows indeed." Verse nine makes it clear that they are to be put on the "list" or roll, suggesting they are to receive some kind of regular church support. They don’t just want kind words, they need money to eat. The Amplified says, "Let no one be put on the roll of widows, who are to receive church support, who is under sixty years of age..." In the same context the next group of people mentioned are elders. They are to receive "double honor." The context is talking about those who are to be supported by the church.
Did the New Testament teach that every local church was to have an autonomous plurality of leadership, i.e., elders?
From several verses, I Timothy 5:17 for one, and other verses we have already looked at, it is no doubt clear that elders are the only men with scriptural authority to rule or lead God’s people. Elders were not to be an advisory board to one man, a pastor or minister who primarily led the church. Rather, all authority began and ended with the elders. We have already seen Scripture pointing to this and there is none to the contrary.
In the "definition" section we saw that pastors were the same men that were referred to as elders, etc. So instead of elders advising a pastor, we see the elders were the pastors and the pastors the elders. In Acts 20:17, Paul calls for the "elders" (plural) of the "church" (singular) in Ephesus. Again, in Philippians 1:1, Paul writes to all the believers in Philippi, including the overseers, i.e. bishops (plural). We have already seen that overseers, bishops and elders refer to the same men. Then, in Acts 14:23, again we see elders (plural) in "every church" (singular). There are more examples, but these along with the fact that there are no examples showing the contrary, one man ruling a local church, make it clear that there is to be plurality of leadership in every local church.
I said there was no example of one man ruling a local church. However, some might think III John 9 is an example of that. If so, the "example" here aptly demonstrates why a plurality of leadership was the pattern Paul established. John warned the believers in reference to Diotrephes "...do not imitate evil..." (III John 11). I would fear that too few men who oppose a New Testament plurality of leadership may possibly be themselves potential "Diotrepheses" unwittingly, "...who loved to be first” (III John 9). Only if a leader is humble would he want his position to be so common and easily accessible. But, the New Testament was for the common people and the New Testament leadership was easily accessible and filled with common men.
Now, as far as the local leadership being autonomous. That concept was not so much taught as practiced. However, there was a conspicuous absence of any kind of hierarchical structure over elders. Also, a person could hardly be given more authority over God’s people than elders were already given (I Thessalonians 5:12- 13; I Timothy 5:17; I Corinthians 16:16; Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, there seems to be no evidence of even apostles assuming a higher authority than local elders. Even with Paul’s dealing with the church at Corinth, he rebuked them for not previously doing what he himself was now exhorting to be done. It could be assumed therefore, that any Christian in Corinth, that feared the Lord as Paul did, could or should have said and done what Paul was encouraging (I Corinthians 5:2; 6:1-5; 16:16). Paul thought they should have already been stirred to action. The question may not be, was Paul so strong and authoritative because he was an apostle, or was it because of such a love, obedience and fear of God? Was this why previously he was appointed an apostle? Look at elders. Do they become spiritually strong men because they are appointed? Is it not rather that they are appointed because of their demonstrated strength of character?
We see autonomy with local elders as the general practice. Yet, as important as it is for the local elders to have the full autonomous freedom for the most effective governing of a local church, neither should it be misunderstood to assume that the local elders were taught to have an independent attitude. Autonomy was practiced because of geographical expedience not because of spiritual independence. Ideally, if every elder in the world could help rule every church in the world, that would be the best. "With a multitude of counselors there is victory." But, needless to say, this is part of the physical limitation we live with. Therefore, New Testament autonomy needs to be practiced. A "roving leader" who may be considered much more mature than some younger local elders still may never have as complete insight for a local problem as the "on-the-job" elder. Practically it is not possible.
Also, God gives the accountability to the local elders. It seems the Lord would feel responsible to give the most insight to those who will give the most account. Therefore, no matter how the situation may look, no outside leaders should ever be too presumptuous in holding to an understanding of a problem which is contrary to the understanding of the local leadership. Not only should we guard our thoughts, all the more we should guard our words (it might be impossible to guard our words, however, if our thoughts are wrong — Matthew 15:18). How arrogant of us if we assume we know more than the local elders the Lord Himself has given the accountability and responsibility to. Did the Lord make a mistake? Should He have given the responsibility to you or I who are "more mature" with ‘better understanding"? The local leadership are the "men who must give account" (Hebrews 13:17). If for no other reason than this, the local leadership must have the best insight!
If we think we "know better" we should join that church and be a part of that local company of leaders. Then we would have the right (and responsibility) with the local elders to say what we think we know. However, in time, we may discover we did not know as much as we thought. We must respect God-ordained local elders! That means respecting their decisions, even if from the outside they may not appear right to us. If we don’t have that attitude towards elders in other locations, we probably are not all that easy to work with men in our own locale when conflicting viewpoints arise. Our attitudes are never tested until there is a problem or difference.
This principle of respect is easy to understand in the physical sense. We don’t presume to know more about the needs and discipline of children in other families than their own parents would. Even if children told us things that did not seem quite right in their family, we would not be so presumptuous to draw conclusions. We know what it is like being parents. Just a little something not communicated can make all the difference in our understanding. The point is respect! We should respect children’s parents no matter how young or stumbling they may seem to us. If we don’t, our lack of respect is really not toward leaders, physical or spiritual, but toward God. For it is God who commanded us to honor parents. No less has He commanded us to honor elders. When the Israelites spoke against Samuel, God always said, "They are speaking against Me." When we show any disrespect towards God’s leaders, we may be showing disrespect towards God Himself!
No substitute for physical or spiritual parenthood, i.e., the church and local elders, can ever be as good. Nothing can even come close to it. To compare para-church organizations with New Testament churches might be like comparing an orphanage to a genuine family. Anyone that was encouraging children to leave their families to go into an orphanage should think again. Some of us need spiritual rethinking today if we think anything could be better for Christians than a local church and elders to carry out all the goals and purposes of God. That alone is what God instituted.
It’s hard to summarize the concept of autonomy. First, for genuine autonomy to exist there needs to be a broken spirit among leaders that truly respects the spiritual parents that God has put in charge of a respective flock. It is consistent to believe in autonomy only if we truly respect other leaders as much as ourselves.
Autonomy fostered by the devil will attempt to pit leaders against one another, to assert their "autonomy" at the expense of the value of a national/international unity. Actually New Testament autonomy, rightly understood, will enhance unity more than a one-man ministry or organizational system ever could. To exercise the doctrine of unity there must be more than one person equally in charge. That builds mutual respect for leaders. It demands a give and take. The organizational unity can structurally go on existing when there may be little or no spirit of unity at all. The New Testament plan requires a unity of spirit or it will not survive. Unity brings the great blessings (Psalm 133). There may be some parallel between God’s plan in the Old Testament, leading with prophets and judges, etc., versus the people’s plan in having one king to rule over them like all the other nations (I Samuel 8). Obviously there is more to success than just structure since there were in the Old Testament failures and successes with both systems. Yet all of God’s ways will always be the best for all His people and effect the world the most for His glory.
In a national or international corporation, management trys [sic] by various means, to have their people motivated, responsible, etc. The people at the top, of course, are usually motivated the most. In a national/international Christian organization similar problems of motivation and responsibility exist. That is lessened with genuine, autonomous churches. Often organizational men lower on the totem pole who are really mature break off so they can fully exercise their own leadership abilities, etc. With churches being autonomous they are set up to operate this way from the beginning. Experiencing the operation of a church with a plurality of leadership develops character in leaders so they then will be able to work together with other leaders from churches nationally. They have learned locally what they need in order to function effectively nationally.
Can a true plurality of leadership really work? Some have never seen it and doubt. Others have feigned support and do not really believe it can work. It can, and with great blessing! We have been privileged to experience it for years ourselves and have seen it with many others also. Love is demonstrated in such a New Testament plan more than in any other. It must be to work. It fosters walking in the Spirit and that continually demonstrates the power and glory of God. Why? Love is the only fuel that turns the wheel of plural leadership; and where there is love and unity there is always going to be the greatest blessings. In addition, the Head, the Lord Jesus can and has to be in more control for a plurality of leadership to function as one. It requires no supernatural help for one man to function unitedly with himself. New Testament plurality demands God be on the throne.
Can a host of churches function unitedly like this and not be in a denomination? Yes, if leadership is walking in the Spirit. Again, walking in the Spirit is more likely since for plurality to exist it demands it. Indeed, apostles provided a sense of national and international leadership in the New Testament. But they did not function like the typical hierarchy or organizational structures of today. Without going into apostles here, the ground work and basis for national and international unity was established through autonomous leadership in the local churches everywhere (see footnote, page 2). Though autonomy was practiced, unity was taught.
Unity is the cardinal doctrine. Autonomy was a natural function. Yes it would be better, no doubt far better, to have a hierarchy or typical organization, etc. run with love, than to be a disunited people of God divided each into his nice own little autonomous church. However, the most united you can possibly be without setting up something that is foreign to the New Testament has got to be the best and most New Testament plan of action. The Lord Jesus’ last prayer, all the goals of God, and the fullest purpose for your life will never be experienced without the greatest amount of unity. It is for that reason that New Testament plurality and autonomy should be practiced. Rightly understood it fosters unity.
May God give us a driving spirit of unity, a spirit that consistently burns brighter and hotter than all jealousy, envy and selfish ambition put together! There must be unity at all cost. When believers divide over so-called doctrine, they are always trampling under foot the cardinal doctrine — UNITY. The scripture itself gives a list of the only truths we should ever divide over in Ephesians 4:1-6 (the only addition would involve a person that is under church discipline). We should always have a fervent love, unity and respect for every Christian, though we may not labor with every Christian. We must always realize, all believers that are not with us, if they are not against us, are always on our side. Jesus said so (Luke 9:50)! So let us promote plural autonomous leadership in and for the spirit of unity. It is the New Testament way.
In the New Testament, did each city have only one local church with every believer being considered a part of it? The word "church" or "churches" is mentioned 115 times in the New Testament. Thirty-five times it is mentioned in the plural. Eighty times it is mentioned in the singular. Every time the word "church" (singular) is used, it is referring to a whole city of believers. There may be one exception, but even that is not certain. The thirty-five times the word "churches" (plural) is used in the New Testament, it always is referring to many cities in a region, nation or nations. Never in the New Testament do you read "churches" (plural) in a city. There is no exception. The preponderance of evidence of 115 consistent verses makes it hard to understand how Christianity ever moved so far from the New Testament standard.
Look at the "church" in Jerusalem. Every time it is referred to as "church" (singular). Yet there were multitudes in it (Acts 15:12; 21:20). The "church" singular in Jerusalem never becomes "churches" plural in Jerusalem. Neither do you ever see a divided leadership in the "church" in Jerusalem (Acts 15; 21:17,18). The same was true with the "church" in Antioch (Acts 13:1), the "church" in Ephesus (Acts 20:17), the "church" in Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2) and every other New Testament church.
When Paul and Barnabas went back to all the cities they had preached in they "appointed elders for them in every church" (Acts 14:21-23). Paul told Titus to "appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:5). There was only one church in every city and one united company of leaders, i.e. elders in every city. The visible unity of God’s people in the New Testament was unavoidable! Their leadership was united, therefore they were united. Paul blasted, with both spiritual barrels, the threat of any possibility of separate groups or churches in a city (I Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-4, 16-17; 4:6, 14-15, 18-2l)! Some leaders periodically try to get true believers united in various cities. We will never get true believers truly united in any city unless their leaders get united. In the New Testament, one city after another was turned "upside down" by the believers. How hard to turn cities "upside down" today with even thousands of believers in a city all in their separate little churches! How easy with all the believers in each city being a united church!! The implications are staggering. Not only are there staggering local benefits, but the world missionary force could more than quadruple overnight. think of it. That’s what we see in the New Testament. That’s why then the heathen themselves were saying "they are turning the world upside down."
The problem today is not the believers but the leaders. They are in divided shambles. We have the greatest power on earth today (I John 4:4). However, even a military power, no matter how superior its army, can never win a war un-united. Spiritual warfare is no different. The devil’s motto is "divide and conquer." The Lord’s is "unite and conquer."
The one church in the New Testament was united citywide but also met regularly in smaller home groups (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20). This is equally as important. It is imperative for spiritual growth for every believer to be involved in a smaller group. Really one without the other would be like having only one leg.
Many churches start out smaller, grow, and then through some faction divide (John 17:23). However, some grow and at a certain point think it would be better to divide. What misled thinking! It is most definitely good to break down into smaller groups within a city. However, to completely divide, leadership and all, etc., loses benefits for the believers, as well as for the city. One united church in a city can accomplish things in the believers’ lives as well as in the whole city that can never be fulfilled by a smaller group. Not only that, but being divided is unscriptural.
We should not be afraid of this New Testament teaching because some have abused this area. Let’s set a loving New Testament example. Also, let us not reject this truth by being legalistic. In enormous cities like Los Angeles, New York, London, etc. there are cities within the city. Where geography is greater than practical unity, there would of course be need for another church and elders. The dynamics and spirit in the New Testament however is to be as united as possible not as divided as possible. Let us not feel frustrated because of thinking other leaders will never unite in a city. Our purpose here was for our own instruction, for our own growth, not to campaign in a vain activity to unite all other leaders. If such a thing would ever happen with others, however, praise the Lord. Nonetheless, we will multiply and grow the maximum if we follow such principles ourselves. Let us respect and love all. Let us not blow out anyone’s candle but light our own until the world is ablaze with the spiritual forest fire.
What authority do elders have? God has given them the exclusive rule over God’s people (I Timothy 5:17). Scripture does not designate spiritual authority over God’s people by any men other than elders. It is for that reason, if for no other, that Christians should not minister independent or out from under the authority of the local church oversight. Every believer can and should get direction himself directly from God. He may receive added direction from anyone. But, the men scripture has primarily designated for giving spiritual direction for a believer’s life are his elders. Elders are to be obeyed and submitted to (Hebrews 3:17; I Timothy 5:17; I Corinthians 16:16). They are appointed with the responsibility and authority from God to lead His spiritual family even as parents are to lead physical families.
In Hebrews 13:17 the word "obey" is in the middle voice and means "to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey." The word "submit" is a compound word "to be under" and "yield." In I Timothy 5:17 the word used for elders to "rule" is "to stand before, to lead." The same word is used in I Timothy 3:4 for fathers "ruling" their families. In I Corinthians 16:16 the word "subjection" is primarily a military term, "to rank under, to be in subjection." Like an army with soldiers to their officers. Certainly God’s spiritual army would be worthy of no less allegiance.
However, nowhere in the New Testament does it suggest elders are to rule in the sense of dictatorial domineering over the flock in their charge, but rather just the opposite, with love being examples (I Peter 5:2,3). Only love builds (I Corinthians 8:1). The elders’ authority is given to them for the purpose of building (II Corinthians 10:8; 13:10). New Testament authority works to build believers’ joy (II Corinthians 1:24).
What if any elder does wrong or sins? We are not without scriptural recourse for any Christian. No verse, church discipline verses or otherwise, would an elder be exempt from. Any verse would apply to him like any other believer. In fact they usually come under stricter scrutiny. In I Timothy 5:21 in reference leaders to be holy! No exemption. No compromise. "Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning" (I Tim. 5:20).
Just as important as it is to be uncompromising with leaders in judgment even so it is important to be uncompromising with elders in giving them honor and respect (I Tim. 5:17; I Thes. 5:13). Remember how the Lord identities Satan in Revelation as "the accuser of the brethren." If children’s confidence in their parents can be eroded, the radiance of the family unit erodes. The same is true for the spiritual family. God promises to destroy such workers of iniquity (I Cor. 3:17; Prov. 6:12-19).
I Timothy 5:19 says, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses." The phrase "not receive" is a compound word "to not receive or accept and admit with approval or delight; far from." In other words, it seems to carry the thought of not just rejecting but with a dislike and disapproval, even a sense of keeping a distance far from it. The NIV says "not to entertain an accusation." The Phillips says, "Take no notice ..."
The devil’s primary interest through the ages has always been to attack God’s leaders. He usually attacks the most righteous the most in frequency and intensity. Remember Job. He is the one the devil got permission to make a special attack against, unlike anyone else on the earth. Why? "Job...was the greatest man" (Job 1:3). Satan doesn’t worry much about men who aren’t doing much.
It was said that lieutenants in combat during the Vietnam War had an average life span of three minutes. Why? If the enemy could get them he had a whole company in disarray and thus rendered ineffective. The devil’s no dummy. He uses his greater artillery on the more strategic spiritual officers. No Christian is exempt (I Pet. 5:8), but he especially targets leaders.
Leaders are attacked from without and within. From within may be the most trying and probably the most spiritually destructive. Satan knows that. Righteous leaders will suffer but they are not without certain protection if they trust. In time God took care of Korah and Dathan pretty well for Moses (Num. 16). At times, the elders motto should be "Be faithful while you wait and trust." It is because of elders’ authority, work, and position that they are especially targeted by Satan. Yet God delegated them authority to build and develop His Body in joy. Authority which demands to serve often through adversity is indeed spiritually enlivening.
That brings us to the attitude of elders, their attitude and our attitude toward them. Ever since the fall of man, man’s attitude has been warped in respect to authority. God is all authority and our minds have been distorted and deceived in regard to God. Rebellion, active or passive, to any authority of man is just a symptom of rebellion against God. Some Christians manifest a fear against God’s spiritual authorities, i.e. leaders more than they do against God’s secular authorities. This may reveal a greater fear and distorted view of God than some Christians might be willing to admit.
Look at God’s authority. In John 13:8 we see Jesus using His authority to make Peter let Jesus serve him. Again in Luke 12:37, referring to Jesus’ second coming, Jesus is going to use His authority to make His people recline that He might serve them. If we only knew God’s authority. It is always for our good and blessing. The closest thing we might picture to it is a loving daddy that uses his authority with his children to protect them, care for them and surprise them with gifts of love. In I Peter 5, on the heels of Peter talking to elders about "those allotted to their charge" (v. 3), he then includes the elders with "all... to clothe yourselves with humility toward one another" (v. 5). Of "all" the believers, elders hopefully would exemplify this as much as any to the rest of the flock. When the elders display humility and especially honor toward their fellow elders this provides the most powerful example! The flock will definitely imitate their elders’ example of humility in their attitude both toward one another and toward the elders. To the same degree as the elders honor and show humility toward each other the flock will show honor and humility themselves.
This is the spirit of God’s delegated authorities: "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake" (II Cor. 4:5). In fact one of the titles the Scripture gives for elders is "bond-servant" (II Tim. 2:24). I Timothy gives more the administration for leaders. II Timothy gives more the heart and spirit for leaders. I Timothy calls the elders "overseers" (I Tim. 3:1). II Timothy calls the elders "teachers" and "the Lord’s bond-servant" (II Tim. 2:2,24). You don’t hear elders referred to as bond-servants very often. Not that they don’t serve but the devil would rather God’s people not think of them that way. Paul not only encouraged serving but tried to have the leaders’ image be regarded as servants (I Cor. 4:1). Let’s obey I Corinthians 4:1 and think of leaders more as bond-servants in these days. They are. It might help if we called them by their II Timothy 2:24 title some of the time.
It is generally assumed that only a small fraction of men would ever raise up to be elders in any given church. Is this good or, even scripturally right and normal?
Indeed the scripture does not command every man to be an elder; yet, would it have been quite normal for most men in time? The following are ten reasons to suggest it would have been.
It should be realized that unlike secular truth, spiritual truth can only be truly understood if a person is willing and ready to respond (Jn. 7:17; Ps. 119:100). This would no less be true for this subject. Someone who is really willing to become an elder for the Lord (and for others also) will know whether this is of God or not. Someone who only says it but his heart is not really glad and willing, ten-hundred reasons from the scripture would never convince him. We should pray to God that our hearts would always cry out "...my delight is to do Thy will .... "
First then, look at the qualifications for an elder. Should any of them not be desired by every man? Temperate? Prudent? Respectable? Gentle? Uncontentious, etc.? To be mature there is not one of the qualifications of an elder that a brother would not need to have. No doubt this is one reason why such men are referred to as elders; they are spiritually elder, i.e. mature. This is the most obvious and fundamental reason why it should be the norm for men to raise up to be elders. They should mature. The qualifications of an elder are nothing more than the character a mature brother would have.
Second, no gift is required to be an elder, not even the gift of teaching. However, when one is appointed to shepherd there is ample reason to assume (as already covered) that God on His part would give sufficient gift to such a person for the work. That is God’s concern not ours. Nonetheless, no gift is mentioned for qualification. The only reference to teaching is that the elder be "able to teach." This further confirms simple maturity as the basis for being an elder. Why? Because in Hebrews 5:12-14 it assumes every one could, in fact should, have been teachers had they developed in "righteousness" through "use" or "practice." Therefore, men will become effective teachers as they mature in righteousness. Should not every brother mature in righteousness?
Also, why would we ever assume that God would not want every brother to develop to the point of effectively communicating the Word? God certainly wants this for everybody. In addition, would He not want all to become great in the kingdom of heaven? Is it possible to become great in the kingdom of heaven without teaching the Word (Matt. 5:19)? Is is even possible to obey the most foundational verse in the N.T., Matt 28:20, if we do not become teachers? So the qualification to be an "able teacher" would be desired and expected by all if they mature.
Third, Titus 1:5-6 says, "...appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely if any man be above reproach..." In essence this verse says if "any man" is qualified, appoint him.
It seems to assume every mature, i.e. qualified brother is to be an elder. Since the qualifications of an elder would be the norm for any mature man and the desired norm for a man is to be mature, the norm would be for men to mature and be appointed as elders. Obviously if a man did not want to be appointed an elder he should not be. However, if he did not have the heart to do such a sacrificial yet noble work for God then there would be serious question if he really was qualified or mature. This verse seems to assume all qualified men should be appointed for the work.
Fourth, doing the work of an overseer is certainly a "good work" (I Tim. 3:1). In fact, in the mind of God, there may be no better work in the world (I Tim. 5:17). Now you were saved for this very purpose (Titus 2:14; Eph. 2:10).
Fifth, again doing the work of an overseer is nothing more than a "good work" (I Tim. 3:1). II Corinthians 9:8 and II Timothy 3:16-17 make it clear there is no problem for any man to be fully equipped for every "good work." Therefore every man in time should normally qualify to be an elder.
Sixth, in the Greek there are different words for our English word "if." One "if" is conditional as in "if you want to buy it just call me." Another "if"’ is the presuming one as in "if you want to live keep breathing." It is this later "if" that is found in I Timothy 3:1. To desire this work is good. "It is a good work that (you) desire."
Seventh, if we are to desire the "greater gifts,"* that further assumes it to be the norm for men to become elders. (The correlation between these subjects was mentioned earlier.)
Eighth, the scripture seems to bear this out by way of example. The church in Antioch started out with only two leaders (Acts 11:25,26). After a year or so it had five (Acts 13:1). A few years later it had "many" (Acts 15:35).
The church in Jerusalem started with twelve leaders. It grew to have many leaders, possible a "multitude" of leaders (Acts 15:6,12). Remember, there were many thousands in the church at Jerusalem.
In N.T. times it was never the practice to send out spiritually younger men to spread the gospel but rather the seasoned leaders (Lk. 9:1,2; Acts 8:14; Acts 11:22; Acts 13:1-3; I Cor. 16:12; II Cor. 8:16-19). Enormous numbers of leaders must have been raised up in a relatively short time in most of the N.T. churches in order to see the individual churches geographically multiply as they did (I Thes. 1:8; Acts 19:10).
Nine, if the scripture teaches us that we should be like Christ how could any man be like Christ and not be qualified, responsible and given to shepherding? Wouldn’t Christ be qualified? Certainly He would. Therefore, as God’s goal for every man is fulfilled by their maturing to be like Christ, indeed they would be well qualified to oversee.
Ten, how could the job of the "great commission" be fulfilled any other way? The physical population has exploded because heathen families have obeyed the command "be fruitful, multiply and cover the earth." Parents of children hope and expect their children to grow up, get married and raise their own family. Isn’t that physically normal? The saddest commentary to the family of God is that their parents, i.e. leaders, really hope and expect their spiritual children to not fully grow up, to team up with others and leave and raise up their own churches. To think this way, much less do this, is certainly not the N.T. norm.
However, it doesn’t take much mathematical ability to see the heathen family is going to cover the earth, and God’s family...? Will they ever reach them? It is a mathematical impossibility unless we understand the N.T. principle of multiplication of leaders. History has proved we have not.
Only first century Christian history is different. The N.T. family of God knew nothing of modem 20th century Christian norms. They covered the whole world (Col. 1:6; Acts l7:6)!
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master...’ All this I have told you so that you will not go astray" (Jn. 15:18-20; 16:1). And from Paul, "up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world" (I Cor. 4:13).
Fellow elders, in this life you have nothing to look forward to but persecution. "Through many tribulation [sic] you must enter the kingdom of heaven" (Acts 14:22). In this life I have nothing to encourage you in, only to say, "rejoice in tribulation. . .rejoice that your name is written in heaven." The joy of this life is being with Him and knowing we will be with Him soon without any limitations.
Any pseudo-glamour attached to true spiritual leadership in this life is a set up for a future fall. That is why Jesus warned us of the trials to come ahead of time so we would not stumble.
There is persecution from non-believers that will come more and more as leaders become spiritually more and more potent in reaching the world. But, there will also be persecution from within the people of God. This can be the most disheartening. David confessed he did not know how to deal with that kind of persecution (Ps. 55:12). But it comes. No leader, if he is threatening the kingdom of darkness, will be exempt. You will have your Saul’s; but blessed be the Lord, you will also have your Jonathan’s. The greater the leader, the more sophisticated the unseen world of opposition will become. Do not be surprised. Remember Paul. He had whole churches, yes, whole nations of Christians that he had started, brethren that wept as they kissed him, that would do anything for him, later turn away from him (Acts 20:37; II Tim. 1:15; Gal. 4:14-16).
"But we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within" (II Corinthians 7:5). Leaders will experience affliction on every side, but the final and most important trials will be from within: the test of pride versus humility. The test of fear versus courage. The test of discouragement versus encouragement. The test of being slandered versus blessing. The test of misunderstanding versus His understanding. The test of having little versus much. The test of contentment versus discontentment. The test of doubts versus faith. The test of loneliness versus being alone with Him.
The ultimate test is faith. Is He for me? Does He really want to bless me? Will He be my unfailing defense? "Lo, I am with you always!" Do I believe Him? Will I "fight the fight of faith"? Will I believe? "ABOVE ALL TAKE THE SHIELD OF FAITH."
"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (I Peter 5:4). All the trials will be forgotten on that day. All the abuses, all the slander, all the misunderstanding, all the rejection will be gone. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the GLORY that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). All the arguments against giving up all for the Lord will vanish on that day. C.T. Studd said, "If Jesus be God and died for me, than there is no sacrifice too great that I can make for Him." The young martyr Jim Elliott said, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." These are training days for reigning days. The training days will stop. The glorious reigning days will never stop. Your crown of glory will go on unfaded forever! In that day IT WILL BE WORTH IT ALL!