God’s good order for leadership in the church: PART 2
Summary of the learning points from part 1
These elders were apparently responsible for the welfare of the church (11:30); and with the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (15:28) they made decisions about doctrine and the moral/ethical lives of people in the church (15:6; 16:4).
In these churches they appointed several elders; we don’t know how many. Just note that the title is plural.
The elder’s installation was by appointment, not election, a feature we will find true to elders/overseers/pastors throughout the entire New Testament.
By appointing elders for the church and through prayer and fasting committing them to the Lord, Paul is committing the people to the Lord through the elders he has appointed. This is significant for the elder and the people. The Lord rules through his appointed elders and the people submit to the Lord through Spirit led leadership. This kind of stuff makes independent Americans who want democracy over actual leadership very nervous.
It is clear that for Paul the term “overseer” is synonymous with “shepherd,” since the congregation is pictured as a flock (thereby equating the word “pastor” with overseer and elder). Paul also does this in Ephesians 4:11 when he does not use the title “elder” but “pastor/teacher” for that oversight role.
The elders/overseers are ministers of the word and responsible for feeding the people with the preaching and ADMINISTERING of the Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit appoints the elders/pastors/overseers and this appointment becomes clear through prayer, fasting, worship and adherence to the Scriptures (see Acts 13:1-3). This appointment is made clear through desire on the part of the candidate accompanied by meeting the qualifications.
In this same text, Acts 20:25; there were a larger number of elders/pastors/overseers. It’s these kinds of numbers that allowed for the expansion of the church. As the Spirit appoints men, the purpose is not stock piling, rather continuing the advance of the church of Jesus Christ in sending out new churches.
4. How About Elders in Paul’s actual writings?
“In Paul’s writings the title “elder,” for a church leader, occurs only three times. These three occurrences are1 Timothy 5:17, 19 and Titus 1:5. Keep in mind the nature of the Pastoral letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus): they are the last letters Paul wrote and reflect a situation many years after the first missionary journey. Unlike all his other letters they are addressed to individual men and spell out some of their duties.”
Let’s look at these passages.
1. Titus 1:5-9
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
One of the first things we notice is that Paul here uses the terms elder and overseer to reference to the same people. We have seen this already. The function of the elders is summed up as oversight just as it was in Acts 20:17, 28.
Also, as in Acts, the emphasis falls on the ministry of the word: the elder/overseer should be well grounded in doctrine (verse 9) and able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (verse 9). Beyond this nothing is said about the task of the elders.
The pastor/elder/overseer must be well grounded in Christian doctrine and be able to give instruction in that doctrine and even be able to correct those who go contrary to that doctrine. This is a lifetime pursuit. We must be continually growing in our understanding of Scripture and the implications of what is there as well as the attacks against God’s good order and be able to recognize those attacks and repel them.
Verses 6-8 give the requirements one should meet in order to be an elder/overseer/pastor. In his public life he should be above reproach (blame); his marriage and family should be exemplary. His own personal character should be one of spiritual maturity.
Note again that the elders are appointed.
2. 1 Timothy 5:17 and 19 (we’ll take them together). In 5:3-16, Paul describes the procedures to follow in caring for widows in the church. “Real widows,” that is, godly, older women who have no relatives to care for them, are to be supported by the church (5:3, 9, 16). That is how the widows are honored. Then in verses 17 and 18 Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ (Deuteronomy 25:4) and, “The laborer deserves his wages.’ (Luke 10:7)”. This is a carry over from the Levitical ministry. Levites received no inheritance from the land and were to be supported by the tithes so they could live and function in serving the people as Father’s representatives.
A little side note here, Paul is quoting Luke 10:7 indicating that Luke was already in circulation here in the early 60’s AD meaning the Gospels were written earlier than the late part of the century placing the writings closer to the actual historical events therefore making them more accurate. This refutes the claim that the New Testament was a late first century or early second century document that was edited to validate the claims of the Apostles. Luke’s writing was in circulation before AD 70. History always destroys liberal theology. The text destroys liberal theology!
The appointment to elder/overseer/pastor was an installation to a sacred calling that was performed by the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22; cf. Acts 13:3).
The end of appointing of elders in 1 Timothy 5:17 and 19 is the obvious ceremony of installation in the laying on of hands to demonstrate one’s calling to and their reception of the task.
The pastor/elder/overseer should not labor without receiving some reward from their labor.
5. What About Elders in the Non-Pauline Churches?
There are a number of uses of the title “elder” outside of Paul’s writings. In the Book of Revelation the term occurs twelve times with reference to the twenty-four elders in heaven. There is not much written on the identity of who these dudes are except they are some sort of angelic host. Does that make pastors angel beasts? I don’t think so. That would be kind of cool though.
2 and 3 John begin with the designation, “The elder to…” It is believed the author is John and he is so well known that he is known simply by his title, “The elder.”
Let’s quickly take a look at these passages.
1. James 5:13-15:
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Elders have a practical ministry of prayer for those who are sick to see if the gift of faith may be given that one may be healed through the prayer and even that sins be uncovered and repented of.
2. 1 Peter 5:1-4:
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Peter calls himself an elder although he is also an apostle. This does not mean there is no distinction between elders and apostles. For this unique period of time the apostolic office overlapped with that of elder. Peter refers to this elder status to illustrate the very point he is making, namely, he does not want to “lord it over the elders” but by example and exhortation to help them fulfill their calling.
The main point of these verses is to instruct the elders how to exercise their authority. What does Peter say about how elders are to exercise their oversight?
1 Peter 5:2a “not under compulsion”: The pastors/elders/overseers are to make sure they are not being forced to act but rather are acting in desire.
1 Peter 5:2c “not for shameful gain”: The pastors/elders/overseers are not doing what they do because they are getting rich. Rather they are doing this work eagerly. The eager nature of the pastor/elder/overseer is because they are joining with Christ in doing his shepherding work of guiding through teaching/leading/and managing his people not because they are gaining socioeconomic advantage.
1 Peter 5:3a “not domineering over those in your charge”: The pastors/elders/overseers are to set an example in hopes that the Chief Shepherd would move his people to follow the example of the under shepherds.
The promise to these pastors/elders/overseers is that they will receive glory (crown of glory) from the Chief Shepherd when he returns. Not exactly sure what that glory is other than in the Kingdom they will be given charge of is “much” if they have been faithful with little and the weighty nature of being in charge of “much” will be the reward of faithfully discharging their duty while waiting for the Chief Shepherd to return.
Jesus is the pattern for the elders/overseers/pastors. This is seen clearly not only from the allusion to his earthly teaching in 5:3, but also from 1 Peter 2:25. In these passages Peter says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Christ is the “chief shepherd” as 5:4 says, but he is also the “chief overseer” (2:25) and he is the “the chief elder”.
This is the highest statement that can be made of the role of elder in the church. It is a summons from Christ (by his Spirit) to do his work under him in his likeness and for his sake.
1. How good of God to give us such good order
2. How good of God to give us his leading of us as the example of how we are to lead his people
3. How good of God to give us a record of his instructions so we would know what to do
4. How good of God to have rewarded the faithful administration of his word with an abundance of pastors/elders/overseers
 Piper, Elders