Volume. XXI, No. 51
From the Pastorís Heart: Biblical Elders Part 2
The importance of biblical elders/pastors is shown throughout the New Testament. Acts 20:17, 28-31 says, “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. . . . 28Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” When Paul realized that he would not be able to minister to the Ephesian believers any longer, he called for the elders of the church. He told them that they should guard themselves and all the flock. Therefore, they should watch or be alert. It highlights the importance of spiritual supervision of the elders not only for themselves but also for their people. They are overseers. It indicates an importance of biblical leadership in the church of God. Can you imagine that your pastor or elder is not a right man of God who does not keep his heart right before God?
In order to oversee the flock of God, the biblical elders must know the Scriptures well. It means that they ought to study the Scriptures diligently. Titus 1:5, 9 says, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee . . . 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” They ought to have been taught and they are then able to teach the truth to others and to defend the truth from those who contradict sound doctrines. Elders are protectors and guardians of God’s people. If we choose a wrong pastor or elder, we will suffer the consequences thereafter. Consider the many churches which once championed for the biblical faith but are now practicing the denial of the truth. Young wolves are lurking here and there to devour God’s sheep. We need watchful and responsible shepherd in our midst. The importance of truth is well mentioned by Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he said, “We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right things.” Elders should be able to teach well. Jesus commissioned His disciples to teach all that He had taught (Matthew 28:20). The apostles diligently taught the truth (Acts 2:42). Paul advised Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” James Orr (1833-1913) said, “If there is a religion in the world which exalts the office of teaching, it is safe to say that it is the religion of Jesus Christ.” Elders are required to be able to teach according to 1 Timothy 3:2. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 emphasized on this point well: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” There was a bump sticker I read, saying, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too.” Hopefully, we will not find such pastors or elders in Hope church
The Christian character of Elders must be well balanced. He needs to be well equipped with the knowledge of God. However, his knowledge must be practiced in his daily life. Biblical Christianity knows nothing about compartmentalized living. The truth he knows must be demonstrated in his life. For example, an elder is to be a man who is above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). No one can legitimately accuse him of wrong conducts because of his blameless way of life. He is temperate and responds to the everyday situations of life according to biblical principles. It is possible because he is controlled by the Spirit. He is also sound-minded. He is not self-centred but self-controlled. He is not quick tempered (Titus 1:7). He loves what is good (Titus 1:8). He is not a striker, who is angry out of control. He is not a quarrelsome person, but gentle and just. He is free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). He is not addicted to any substance abuse. He is a man of one wife. He is hospitable. As we can see from above points, an elder is not only a man of biblical knowledge but also a man of biblical life.
We may want to pay attention to the spiritual gifts that pastor/elder may have. It is worth noting that there is no particular spiritual gift mentioned in the list of the qualifications to become an elder. The only implied gifts are (1) teaching (apt to teach) and (2) leadership (ruling). However, the gift of leadership is only implied in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 in relation to the elder’s family. The Greek word for “ruleth” in 1 Timothy 3:4 is used of the spiritual gift of ruling in Romans 12:8. From these observations, we may find one principle. If an elder is going to fulfil his responsibilities as an elder, he may need spiritual gifts. However, the election or choice of an elder does not completely depend on his gifts alone. If God appoints someone to be an elder/pastor, He will enable him to do his ministry well by dispensing His gifts to him. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold
grace of God.” God gives gifts to His people
to do what He has called them to do. Paul has not advised his people to appoint a man to be an elder because he is very much gifted. He even does not say that churches must look for dynamic preachers and charismatic leaders. Over all impression we get from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is that we need to find a man who is godly and has good Christian character. Today when most church goers think about their leaders, they tend to think of such things as dynamic personality, eloquent speeches, and even good looks. We focus on their appearances not their inner spiritual character. The elder’s abilities to do his work need to be considered, but they are not the primary consideration when we choose an elder/pastor. It is not his skills, personality, even gifts, but his mental and spiritual maturity that leads us to grow in the Lord and to do His work. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” “Conversation” in the verse means “conduct.” The elder’s giftedness is important, but it is not his giftedness or skill in preaching that we are told to imitate our church leaders. It is their conduct and faith that leads us to follow them.
It is a blessing to have biblical elders/pastors in God’s churches. When we have wrong leaders, we are misled and misguided. We often see man’s appearances (such as degrees, certain skills, preaching styles, eloquence of speeches, or backgrounds) too much, but God sees the heart of man. May the Lord give us His guidance when we choose our leaders!