A rather demanding and serious topic and a lengthly discourse with many associations in scripture. Necessary reading and study for anybody having an interest in the presbytery. You may be pleased to know, that Paul the apostle was not qualified, while Peter was. The same scriptures spoke to each of their part, and they happily accepted the will of God. —-
‘There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered.’ -Othello
There is no subject perhaps that raises more eyebrows in church circles, than when a brother ministers the word of God on the subject of elders. Unto the pure all things are pure, and since all scripture is profitable, we should relish anything good from God’s word.
Perchance those who are in position of authority may feel threatened, and others may feel uncomfortable and raise an antennae as well, but the truly spiritual receives all ministry as from the hand of God himself. ‘Thy word is truth,’ said the Lord Jesus, and we need the same Spirit of God to teach us the creed of elders just as he teaches the doctrine of forgiveness of sins, for the Spirit guides into all truth.
’Let no man despise thy youth’ was said to Timothy, and it was this man who was given the help to recognize an elder according to the scriptures. Titus had this help, and thankfully, we do also.
In the Corinthian epistles, Paul by God’s dictation and approval, speaks of the church of God and its health. There is a unity in the body of Christ, and every member is proof of that unity. We read how christians are to conduct themselves, we read of discipline in the church, and we read of the many gifts God has provided to whosoever he will, all for the glory of God.
However, in these very books, the word of God is curiously silent as to elders, and for good reason. God is much wiser than we, and what he does not say is equally important as what he does say. God surely knows what is needed for the maintenance of his own house, and it would behoove us to agree with him. It is then imperative that the doctrine of elders be interpreted in light of the teaching of the entire church of God.
The Lord Jesus said, ’if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.’ He was clearly speaking to his own, they who were already clean by his very word. This is true of all who are believers, washed completely, by virtue of the sacrifice of Himself. Praise God, eternal life is the starting point and not the goal of the christian life, but our theme is our walk with the Lord, and no right minded person would disagree that the daily affairs of this world creep in and make us dirty before the Lord.
So the word of God cleanses, it washes our hands and feet, and it should make our paths straight. This word is spoken to the old saint and the new convert. It is spoken to the godly grandmother in a wheelchair, and it is spoken to the young woman in grade school. It speaks with equality to he who truly is an elder, and it speaks to Demetrius or Diotrophes.
It is this very word that should be held in the highest esteem by they who take the position of oversight, for to be a worker together with God, one must be a vessel unto honour.
So the elder is first only a redeemed sinner, co-equal with other believers, all level at the cross. There is no rank at the bottom, and the spiritual will admit the truth of chief of sinners. Because the Lord Jesus was the lowest of all, no right minded person would make himself above another, thus, the elder too is a menial one who is committed to work, and this work leads others in the work of the Lord, that we might walk worthy of the name whereby we have been called.
‘Remember that thou art dust,’ should be in the forefront of all God’s people, and humility will characterize any who would be called to the work. Following the Lord should be easy, as he leads according to his will.
His commands are not hard if we walk with him and take heed to his word, and our testimony will be in proportion to how well we hear his word. It is the business of all God’s people to stir one another unto good works, and in the church, there should be the strongest proof that God’s men are leading toward that end.
There are entire chapters devoted to this subject, as well as principles which are as old as the heart of man, that offer much help as to what is, and what does not have God’s stamp of blessing. If we were to speak on justification through faith, and show from the scriptures that this is necessary to understand the doctrine of justification through works, it would take a careful unfolding of the word of God, and the result will be the perfect harmony of scripture
If we spoke on the coming of the Lord FOR his saints, contrasted with the Lord’s coming WITH his saints, this would again take careful study of the holy scriptures. So the word, ‘it is written again, ‘ must be before us. In the church, they who take the lead will be heard to say it is written again also. So the elders of course are familiar with the word of God. We would hope that they hunger and thirst after righteousness, and that they must have ALL the counsel of God.
As raindrops do not discriminate what person they fall on, so does God expects us to be not partial. God will gladly bless any soul who sees the rain from heaven, and He has given us simple helps whereby we may recognize what and who he has marked out.
And the elderhood is just that, a marking out of God’s providence for His people. ‘I will not leave you comfortless,’ said the Lord, and we see that in his ascension to heaven, in addition to the very Holy Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of truth, he has given gifts to men, gifts which are further proof that he cares for the flock.
So an elder is a gift to the church. This is certain, for Paul said expressly that the Holy Ghost makes men overseers unto the church of God.
The elder is the man, while the overseer is the work, hence we can easily recognize he who God has branded. And the proof of this divine appointment is found in the qualifications God laid out for us. As faith without works is dead, so is the fruit of a man who God has not chosen. We are not speaking of a man being a Christian, we are squarely speaking of oversight.
We have seen many churches have a weak testimony, because God’s word is demoted to a pew bible. A man may go to bible college for 12 years, and come out with 10 doctors of divinity, and have no more spiritual gift than a housefly.
Truly, no amount of learning can impart spiritual gift to he who God saw fit to withhold. A spiritual gift has the blessing of heaven, it is observable, and others can not help but to notice God’s wisdom and care.
So a man that is an elder, is also an older man. We learn an important truth in the gospel of Mark. The Lord chose disciples, out of which he made apostles, and one of these was Peter. We see that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, and the Lord brought her to full strength. Do you think there is another truth here?
A man is made an elder by the spirit of God, hand selected as it were, but it was not until Peter was old, that he wrote as an elder, and we see the agreement by the Spirit of God and the Lord Jesus, that an elder must also be a married man.
Not a novice says Paul, and this means there must be a period of testing, because an elder will face spiritual pressure, for how he copes with unbelievers, how he defends the word of God against false doctrine, how he handles sin, what doctrine he brings, how he raises his children, whether or not his wife is a blessing or an embarrassment, will all in time be revealed, for spiritual maturity comes with the wisdom of a faithful life and many years.1
An elder MUST have the aptitude to teach. This is not a request, for the word of the Lord Jesus ‘ye MUST be born again’ is also not a request. This is a reality that leaves no room for excuses. An elder must have the aptitude to teach. For the caring of the church of God is a work to do. It is intense labor, and while yes, an elder may not be gifted to speak publickly, he still must be a teacher.
We are not speaking of a double honour, but at the least, there must be the ability to rightly divide the word of truth. An elder goes before, he is a leader, and the people of God follow him because he is a picture of the good shepherd. An elder has a shepherd’s heart, for the spiritual welfare of God’s people is ever before him. When he teaches the word of God, the flock recognize the voice of the good shepherd, for the wisdom from above is first pure.
Timothy could never have been marked out to be an elder because first, he was not married, and he had no children. He was a young man, and any who would suggest that Timothy was an elder is wresting the scriptures and is not being honest.
Secondly, the very words elder, and youth, are incompatable. There is a nurturing and a caring for souls that comes under the umbrella of real life experience, and while Timothy was a man of God, he would be the first to tell you he was not qualified to be an elder.2
Not a novice, that is, a Christian with very little experience, one in whom there was no testing in the arena of life. The elder must be able to convince and exhort says God, and we look for the proof, yes, we must look for the proof if we claim to believe all of Gods word. And proof there will be, for the fruit of the spirit of God is evident.
If a Jew stumbled into the church, the elder should have the freedom and liberty to change his teaching perhaps, and convince and exhort from the scriptures, that yes, the Messiah in which he awaits, was in fact the suffering servant of Isaiah. This teacher must be able to prove the Lord Jesus is God from the Old Testament, he must have a handle on the land promised to Abraham, he must be able to unfold the doctrine of atonement, and he should be able to prove that the true son of David is also David’s Lord.
He should be able to speak from his heart how a sinner is made right before a holy God, and he should clearly demonstrate that in Christ, the separation between Jew and Greek is gone. And the elder will comfortably be able to unwrap all the counsel of God. Not only will this man be able to direct the heart to the all sufficiency of the Lord Jesus, he will direct the saints to the all sufficiency of the word of God as well.
These truths take many years to learn, hence not a novice, and there are plenty of biblical principles that an elder should be at least fifty years of age, before he can be marked out. Perhaps the reader is troubled with such a strange word, but I remind you of the apostle Peter. It was not until he was an old man did he write as an elder.
You may recall that the Israelite men of war were to be 20 years old. The vigor and courage of youth suited them for the task, and God blessed their efforts. But in Numbers 8, we see a striking example of age as it applied to the Lord’s things. From the ages of 25 to 49 the Levites were called to wait upon the service of the tabernacle, and from 50 years upward the same Levites were called to minister in the tabernacle of the congregation.
We can discern that God knows of the importance of age as to spiritual things than does man. Men of war, the service and the ministry of the tabernacle, can all be judged in light of the new testament doctrine of elders. But wait, were not the Levites the Lord’s portion, and were they not the privileged tribe who attended on the most holy things?
Of course, and surely there is a lesson for us here. How much more should be the christians attention unto the most holy things? When we read for example the 7th of Hebrews, are we not once more reminded that they who ministered in the office of the priesthood were 50 years old?
The cherubim of glory, ‘in which we cannot now speak particularly,’ says the apostle, is a fine place to see the need of the aptitude to teach, for this theme is woven through the entire word of God. The deacons perhaps would be akin to those who served in the tabernacle, for they served tables, but we see a remarkable truth in the heart of Stephen, who as a deacon, had no shortage of spiritual insight.
His summation of the God of all glory and how he pointed his audience to the person of the Lord Jesus should be an alarm to any who aspire to the office of an overseer. His knowledge of the word of God was exceptional, and how much more so should be the elders handling of the word of truth. So we also see that the deacons are to be men of the utmost integrity, but it is obvious they are much younger than the elder.
We see another example as to experience through age in the life and times of the man of God Moses. He was 40 years old when God called him to a specific work, yet it was not until Moses was 80, that his ministry began in earnest. Since he died at 120 years of age, we see God’s wisdom in that 2/3rds of his life was over before he was called to the ministry.
And if our lives today are reckoned as favourable at 75 years, then an elder at age 50 would be just suited to serve in the capacity of elder, for once more we see the principle of a mature man at 2/3rds of his life. We are obviously not saying men are not mature before, but only in the context of oversight do we speak.
Do we not have the old testament as an example?3 Another important aspect of this age qualification for elders, is the fact that many challenged the Lord Jesus, when they said ‘you are not yet 50 years of age.’ They recognized the principle of wisdom in relation to years, but in the case of the Lord alone, he was very God, and His understanding is infinite. We think the principle of age is a strong one even if it stood on its own, for we have never met a man who was qualified in all aspects under that age.
John baptist was the greatest prophet born of woman, but he knew nothing of elders in the church. God is no respecter of spirituality, and welcomes even the very youngest unto himself, but in the church, this is completely different ground.
Perhaps I should add that there just may not be a correct appreciation of how distinct the church of God is. Hence, the elder must be able to convince, and his keen insight will put to an end vain speculations, and he will show (as did God) the riches of the glory of God in and through the church..
“Doth not nature itself teach you,’ is a helpful principle, and it should act as a word of caution when we go about appointing men to ‘positions.’ Have you ever seen a pelican in the wilderness, or an owl in the desert? This is the inappropriateness of putting a man where he cannot function honestly before God.
We see this in the labor world as well where there are apprenticeships, journeymen, and master craftsmen. A man may work as a stone mason for 6 years, arrogantly thinking he learned all there is, then one day he arrives at a job sight only to find that his entire training is still not enough for a particular task, and we can appreciate the Lord’s word, ‘not a novice,’ for even a journeyman has still much to learn.
So the elder would be the master craftsman, having experienced years of difficult scenarios, learning by patience, and not giving up the good fight of faith.
A man who has taken a biology class and dissected one frog in his life, would hardly qualify as a surgeon. If you needed a heart transplant, surely you would desire the hands of a skilled surgeon with many years of actual (and successful) operations. ‘Please tell me sir you are not a novice.’ A young man may have received a pilots license for a small piper cub, but would an Air Force commander choose him for a deadly mission flying a B-52?
The science student and the young pilot may have a lot of energy, and they may be very good men, but their lack of experience would disqualify them for the tasks at hand. ‘Not a novice,’ saith the Lord, and how much more important are the Lord’s things, as we grapple with eternal things.
A man may be a good teacher, but his children cause him heartbreak. He may not be a drinker of wine, but his doctrine is all mixed up. He may be a good teacher, but he gets angry quickly. The idea of being ‘proved’ first is God’s way, and for all the afore mentioned reasons, a man must be held accountable ere he can be put into a position of such weight.
And the truly spiritual mind is ever so slow to be put into a place of such prominence. It should also be understood that the entire church must recognize those who God has marked.
It does no good if a handful of men select others to fill a void. We read in the word of God that the apostles, elders and church send greeting, or that they ALL came together to consider a matter. There must be a harmony, yea rather there is a unity in the body of Christ, so much so, that if the least esteemed have a doubt, suspicion, or concern of any nature, any decision to appoint so and so must be delayed.
In the church of the living God, there is no such thing as a democracy, for the lowliest of all may have the mind of the Lord, and this means that all others must change their minds to suit what is right.
The flesh and natural man hates this truth, and it is extremely difficult for good men to humble themselves and admit perhaps that they were wrong about such and such.
‘They that rule,’ may not necessarily be the elder, and in this case before us, the one who rules is the person with the mind of the Lord, and it is always better to obey God.4
But the most easily identifiable mark of God’s appointing a man to the work can be seen by the man himself. The qualifications of an elder speak more to the kind of mind and heart that he has. He is deliberate; slow to anger refers to a calm resolve to act patiently, having thought through a situation, and all the attending possibilities.
The aptitude for teaching speaks of a mind that can naturally absorb concepts, and conveys truth easily. His speech, his forgiving spirit, his desire to cover sin, his godly life, his ability to accept correction, his ability to rebuke, exhort, and to correct others, his knowledge of the word of God, his desire to see souls brought to God will be noticed.
But one ‘must’ which disqualifies many, is that an elder must be hospitable, and a lover of good men. Dear reader, this is a natural going out of ones way to manifest the heart of the good, the great, and the chief shepherd. The elder is kind to the evil and to the good.
We are humbled when we read the tale of the good Samaritan, for the One who was hospitable was he who was kind to a complete stranger. The Jews have no dealings with Samaritans was the word, so we also see that the elder is not a man of prejudice, and an elders heart is revealed by his very hospitality. It is this example that the elder will show to the flock, not to be admired, but because it is an extension of his abiding in Christ.
To such an example would all saints aspire to follow. He not only opens his home, but his heart, to both the stranger, and to God’s people. He is one who feeds, and he leads, not to himself, but to the bishop and shepherd of our souls. How many elders have never reached out their hands to a stranger who has come into their assembly?
So an elder is a spiritual man, and we are thankful that God uses people to minister unto his own. Not covetous also, and there should not be an iron hand of wanting things or ways. An elder must be vigilant, for the snares of the devil are far too subtle, and many a man has been lured away from the Lord by the inability to ‘watch.’ It goes without saying that an elder must not be greedy of filthy lucre, and there is more to this truth than just desiring money.
It is also a knowledge that the image of Caesar is on the coin, and that the mingling of the sacred with the profane should not even be in his mind. ‘Silver and gold have I none,’ said the apostle, and it hardly needs further comment. An elder knows how to use the Lord’s funds, and he is an example of how believers should conduct their lives as to the mammon of unrighteousness.
He is patient of course, for the man who God selects as elder knows what it means to walk in the spirit, and patience is a fruit of the spirit, and this fruit is obvious to all, and it is pleasing to the heart and to the ear.
As to the ear, the true elder is an example of godly worship. What do we say of him who takes a high position of prominence in the church, and never leads the saints of God to further appreciate the glories of the living God.
‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,’ said the Lord Jesus, and is this not an indictment against our own hearts, when we refuse to indict a good matter? It is easy for a spiritual man to rise in praise, for to live in the spirit takes no effort and causes no sweat.
We remember a man in his 90’s who stood every week to pray, to offer a morsel from the word of God, to point out some lovely truth in a Psalm or hymn, and it was extremely refreshing to see a man who lived his entire life as an example to the younger men.
A very young man who claimed to be an elder, was but a grasshopper in his sight, and many were embarrassed at an appointment not given by God. ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man,’ was not heeded, and year after year of failed testimony was evident.
An elder is also not double minded, for how can a man pray so eloquently and ignore the needs of a brother who he despises? Can we say such a person is blameless? A man practically choked a christian to death, then went into the meeting to offer prayer and praise to God. Which of you will grab his neighbor by the throat, when you have been forgiven of so great a debt?
Instead of the elders of the church defending grace and decency, they simply cast the brother from their midst. An elder must not show partiality, and this single event proved there was no acting according to the mind of the Lord. It was the elder who should have been rebuked before all, but the easier way was chosen.
Maybe the brother deserved to be choked to death, but has God dealt with you according to your sins? ‘Not a novice,’ cannot be repeated enough, and this is the fruit when men go about the business of appointing other men.
It is much easier on the conscience to act collectively, than to bow to God’s word. Christians have various backgrounds and personalities, but strangeness is not sin, and an elder must know the difference.
God is much wiser than we when he says an elder is not to get soon angry. Circumstances come into our lives to prove us, and sometimes the anger of a brother needs to be seen, for what boils beneath the surface may cause a massive eruption down the road.
There is good reason why the Holy Spirit gave us instructions as to elders. He is eternal, and he sees what we cannot. We know of a man who excused himself from any chance of being recognized as elder because of a faulty temper, and this man has more honour in his weakness.
And the elder must have a good report of unbelievers as well. God knows that a mans character is revealed in all areas of his life, thus there is no turning on or off the Christian life. A man is godly wherever he is, and many an elder has come up short on the job or in the market, for the elder must have an unimpeachable character. He must be sober and just, sober in the mind and a calm thinker.
He is fair, and he makes decisions based on what is right. We saw a church fall to the ground because the leaders were not just, for they showed partiality in their decisions. What should have been alarming was winked at, and why? Because a family member who was living in sin was shown favoritism, and the truth of God’s word was scoffed at.
We continue to see that God is showing us a pattern, a pattern of good works, for the elder is appointed to a work, and the qualifications needed for such a work are all God ordained. God has placed a system of checks and balances, whereby any church need not venture to ‘ordain’ he who God has not.
How much do we value sound doctrine? The elder should stand tall, but with a view not to be noticed, but to simply lead, encourage, and exhort. So the elder is large in his smallness, for he knows as did John, ‘he must increase, and I must decrease.’
There is probably no one qualification that is more important than others, but an elder must too be blameless. Men may pretend to ignore this charge, but it is God’s word. Blameless. If any has a charge, it should be received as to the biblical way, but the charges will be baseless, for if a man is a true elder, then the enemy would desire to bring him down.
And the elders wife is held to account as well, for the two are one. Many a man has been found wanting because of an ungodly wife, and it is impossible for God to point out a man whose wife is antagonistic toward the glory of God.
And the reader should understand that many a gossiping wife has disqualified their very husbands from the work. For the two shall be one, and he at the very least could not be blameless now could he?
Paul was apostle to the Gentiles, teacher, prophet, and evangelist, and you may recall that he addressed the Ephesian elders through prophecy, but it was Peter who exhorts the elders as one himself.
Peter was appointed by the Lord Jesus of course, and it was only when Peter was an old man did he command the elders to feed the flock. (Peters epistle came long after he walked with the Lord in faith, thus he was not a novice.)
This feeding is a natural flow of a faithful heart unto God, as a new mother cares for her young, but the apostle adds that it should never be a lording over. Paul was spiritual but he was not suited by his own words to act in capacity of elder in the church, for the husband of one wife he was not.
If there are no elders, then the company of saints God will bless regardless, but if there are elders, and they do not feed the flock, then the result must be a dry and ceremonial group with much activity. Men will be invited to speak from afar, while there are men in the very pews who are capable of ministering the word.
Poor doctrine is brought into the church, and nobody hears or cares. But it is the elders who are to be the examples says Peter, it is they who are to lead as the good shepherd, but it is they who desire to rule with an iron fist, to the shame of the church of God.
The elder Peter said also that believers are to share in the glory that shall be revealed., and the spiritual man knows what food is needed, and the apostle reminds the elders that the church is God’s heritage, and not theirs.
They were to be examples, and Peter learned himself that the greatest among you shall be your servant, thus an elder leads by serving, not by lording. Taking the oversight is the call, and true overseers are led by the spirit of God. These men are spiritual, and others naturally follow because the Lord did say ‘follow me.’
And this following will ever lead us lower and lower. So the voice of the Spirit of God is the voice to the church, but there is a massive difference between the voice of the spirit of God and the voice of men who were not appointed by God. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.5
As in all things worthy of God, it is a poor thing if we must turn to one verse or two to defend a position, for the word of God is a large book, and there are principles which apply to all ages. The idea of 50 years of age as a minimum for an elder is a truth which is received by all good men. ‘Let no man despise thy youth,’ was the word to Timothy, and it is surely possible to be a man of God, yet not be suited as an elder
A man may be a flaming evangelist, yet the poorest teacher in the world. This truth puts the onus on God, who distributes to every man as he wills. If we have made mistakes, surely it is honoring to God if we faced them, because after all, does not God bless the contrite in heart? It is one thing to appoint men because of a lack of learning, it is quite another thing to hear what is right, then to ignore it.
Pride is a terrible thing. It was the wedge that drove the man out of the garden, and pride is that monstrous beast that should have no home in a Christians heart.
If this paper falls into the hands of a soul who has been appointed an elder by man, and you have seen that this is not quite the same as being appointed by God, take courage! God knows all about it, and whether or not you are a Christian is not the issue. The matter is: the care for the flock of God.
If the Holy Ghost has made you an elder, then everybody would know it, for you are already doing what the word of God says of you, and the fact that you can speak forth the word of God and lead the saints is proof enough. Your wife is equal proof, and all your children are going on in the things of the Lord. Your teaching is exemplary, and saints are built up in the faith.
You have faced the infidels, the circumcision, the heretics, you have contended earnestly for the faith, and nobody can bring a charge as to your experience in the presbytery. Like King David, you have stood in the breach and defended the giants of false doctrine, and many souls have been comforted or brought to God by your very prayers.
But if it has been made clear to you, that you are in an utterly false position, please for the sake of the gospel, and for the testimony of the true church, ask God what he would have you do, for the yoke of the Lord is gentle, and he never directs us to that which cannot glorify him.
The true elder is above all a gracious man. Grace defines all his actions, even if an unrepentant believer must be put out of the church. He does all unto the glory of God, and is gracious to the evil and to the good. He is a living picture of the Lord. He attracts no attention to himself.
All charges against him are baseless, and there is a palpable gap if he is unable to attend the gathering of the saints (where one member suffers…) He is slow to pass judgements of any kind, and refuses to entertain mindless gossip. He abounds in good fruit, and his mouth speaks wholesome words.
He leads to independence of himself, as the chief shepherd is the all in all. He is well equipped, and the qualifications spelled out in Timothy and Titus can be seen without effort. He loves good men, and sees qualities in others of lesser means.
He is a careful listener and when he speaks, it is obvious he has been in the company of the Lord. He has been found to defend the word of God when a family member took a wrong turn, while at the same time other elders told him to look the other way.
He is a just man. His wife teaches the younger women the heavenly calling of the church and the all important obedience to the word of God in all things, and his children are also examples of his character, for a tree is known by its own fruit.
He is not a perfect man, but is ready to accept correction or rebuke when needed. He is keenly aware of the devil’s tactics, and this man of God has silenced many a voice of damnable doctrines. He bears long with others weaknesses, and ministers both the milk and meat of God’s word, and knows when and how to feed which.
The true elder is of course an older man, but he knows how to encourage younger men in the faith. He is a natural leader, and this leading is defined by his serving. He speaks not to be heard, but when he has something to say.
He refuses to succumb to what is popular to make the word of God appear attractive, and his defense for the word of God alone to prove all things, is conspicuous.
He refuses to do what is popular, and go about making a man an elder, because he wants no part in a fraud. On the other hand, he will defend he who has been equipped by God, and he will be gracious in the midst of hostile forces.
These words are not intended to shame, but to build up. If we do not contend earnestly for the faith, is this not an admission that we do not value the faith? But we are speaking of a topic in which there is little understanding, and many will take this ministry as strange words.
But you must decide before the Lord, and search your own heart, and see if there is a thread of proof in these words. You may then say, ‘who then can be an elder?’ and in the spirit of the Lord Jesus who knows all, the word is ever the same, ‘with men this is impossible,’ then of course the Lord added, ‘but not with God.’
Men can no more make a man an elder than a man can add color to a rainbow.
But we can see the proof of the man, and the pastoral epistles leave guidelines that these men may be noticed. It is God’s business to equip the saints unto his own glory, and the very appointments of men can only prevent God’s choices to be made manifest, and for this presumptuousness we should repent in dust and ashes.6
We know that God can bless a rock unto his praise, but if he chooses to bless a group of christians who stand not for him, this is in spite of the wayward actions. Thankfully, as long as there are souls who care about the glory of God and the honour of his word, there will be hope.
There is also grave danger by older men to assume that because a man is a christian, he is qualified to lead the saints in the ‘dividing of the word of truth.’ Giving a man a chance is one thing, inflating his ego is something else. If a young man be given the opportunity to minister the word of God, he, like all others, does so at the risk of being corrected.
This will make him accountable, and the believers will not have their time wasted, for why should christians be subjected to a man who speaks for one hour and says nothing? Not too long ago an individual sang his own praises, and how he was gifted to ‘speak on the fly,’ as it were.
If that was not insulting enough, he then continued to give a message that would have been welcome in any synagogue or apostate church, as he spoke on ‘a’ God above. His eyes rolled to the ceiling, out the windows, and it would not be a stretch to say he may have actually looked at one person in the eyes.
He pontificated from a psalm, and not surprisingly, he never mentioned the Lord Jesus. There was no doctrine, no edification, no comfort, no conviction, and surely no word from God.
But here was a man whose father was an elder, and this youngster had not one ounce of spiritual gift as a teacher or public speaker, but you can be certain, he is being groomed for the presbytery.
The saints went away hungry, and the speaker went away deceived. Is this a fable, or is this what is only far too common when men are partial, and when we ignore God’s counsel.
One more word as to the Levites. They stood among the Israelites as they who ministered the most holy things. When the Jews sent priests and Levites to the baptist to inquire as to his identity, part of their concern may have been John’s age. These men were the guardians of the faith, or at least they thought, and they wanted to know of his doctrine.
Who is this young preacher? If they had a desire for the truth of God, they would have gladly received the prophet’s words, for all that John spoke was true. But the Levites, even in their lofty position of honour, were found out as common sinners, and in this, there was no separate link to God.
They must come to the Lord by way of the mercy seat, the Lord Jesus. But can we not at least appreciate their zeal? Misguided said Paul, but he said they were still beloved for the fathers.
And even though we may not know any Levites, God knows them, and we can be certain some have believed. The elder understands what the Levites did not, (all christians should know this) that the remembrances that they had in their endless sacrifices were fulfilled in the man Christ Jesus.
Sadly, the Levites appear more spiritual having only half a bible, for we have the whole counsel of God, and a final blood shedding that not only covered their sins, but ours, and the sins of the world. How much more should an elders work be above the Levites? Did they not minister in the most holy place, and did not their garments of pomegranates and bells speak of the holiness of God?
Did they not see the cherubims of glory? But we must not be guilty of their mistake. An elder is not a Levite, and a true elder expects no recognition or honour. The Levites reveled in their importance, and forgot the One who the sacrifices spoke of.
So too can an elder become proud, and forget he is but a member of the body of Christ. So the word is: ‘watch.’ John the younger man, had the mind of the Lord, while the privileged ones went away empty.
But the Levites did not have what christians have, and that is the very spirit of God. And the difference? We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels….for the suffering of death. The ministry of the tabernacle points to the Lord Jesus. The Hebrew writer said it well when he wrote concerning those wondrous figures, ‘we cannot now speak of them particularly.’
Of course not, for the glory of the Lord Jesus is inexhaustible! Naturally, the elder helps toward this end, and preaches that all work is useless if it does not promote the glory of the Lord and the honour of his word. Sacrifice is before his mind, for the servant is not above his master.
It goes without saying that an elder desires to place nobody under law, for he knows the law works wrath, but he also knows that the law is holy, just, and good. And he also knows that there is much food in the Old Testament, and that once more the Levites will appear unto God on the page of history. And the same qualifications will be adhered to once more; and we can again see the importance of having all the counsel of God.
It may appear that we are emphasizing the elder, and we are, but not at the expense of other believers in the church. You will recall that the Spirit of God has not stressed the elder in that book of church order, yet we read that the Corinthians came behind in no gift.
Surely we should note such an important omission, and it appears that the Spirit of God is quite capable of ministering godly order.
We are unfolding the doctrine because it is right to do so; if we were speaking on widows we would dwell at length on that subject as well. The elder himself however, needs not to defend himself, for what is obvious speaks for itself.
The man with the heart of the good shepherd knows he is but a member of the true body of Christ, and he is no more or less important than any babe in the flock.
The elder understands that God uses whosoever he will, and he gladly steps aside so the little toe may serve his purpose. Truly, the elder is a spiritual man, and his mind is to allow the spirit of God to have his way in the church.
Even in this, he knows, ‘the elder must decrease.’ Who could argue with such a heart, to allow the spirit of God to have his way?
Finally, faith and hope are good, but love is greater. There is a love of the brethren, a love of the truth, and a love for the Lord Jesus. Lovest thou me… .was the soft request by he who was once dead. The love of Christ is manifested in the furnace of our daily lives, and what saith the scriptures…..proves whether our hearts delight in the truth of God.
‘If you love me, keep my commandments,’ saith the Lord, and the qualifications for an elder are more of those commands. We can not love God and ignore his word, for the written and the spoken word are one. If our walk and our part with the Lord would be honorable, he must cleanse our ways.
The greater the departure from his word, greater will be an appreciation of his restoring grace. Paul said to the Ephesian elders to take heed and watch, for he knew by the spirit of God that men would come in and make havoc of the people of God.7 And the believers resource then, is ours today, by remaining close to the Saviours side and his word.
So God feeds us through his word, and sometimes my friend, the food which we need the most, is the most difficult to digest; but it does not have to be.
A tale is told that some men needed help in the presbytery, so they appointed a young man who they thought, was a fine example of a christian. Like the forest in the dead of winter, years later showed the brutal honesty of man’s hand, for it was proved that the young lad was not even a christian. He knew the words and the form, his input at meetings was always sought after, but he was an imposter all along.
Such is the fruit of the flesh, and God’s word ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man’ was taken seriously by no one. ‘Let these also first be proved’ was thought to be unnecessary. ‘He was such a nice man,’ was the poor excuse for what saith the scriptures, and we reap what we sow. We should have the highest standard because God set the rule.
We thank God bountifully when he sends an elder along, and we doubly bless God when we see rule that is well. No doubt the elder indeed is he who labors in the word and doctrine, and he who rules is above reproach in all things. Simply put, the christians are to recognize they who God has appointed.
If a company of believers is not blessed by elders, God will honour the lack of forwardness by man to fill a ‘position.’ If there is oversight, and it is not according to the scriptures, the saints of God will suffer from brethren who are not exercised unto godliness, and the results will be alarming. Men will arise and speak perverse things, and none will hear nor care. The needed rebuke will be sadly silent, and we should weep, that ‘God’s rebuke,’ according to the voice of the prophet, is not welcomed.
We’ve heard of men who with great ease spoke of sporting events as if it was sound doctrine, and some saints joined with the chuckles of the speaker. Vain babblings and foolish jesting are not even considered, and instead of being corrected, these men are promoted. Free speech is not guaranteed in the church, for if some speak not according to the scriptures, others are to judge, and this principle will weaken mens desire to be heard.
A man speaks to a group of unbelievers regarding the doctrine of water baptism, as if he is trying to convince them that it is a good ordinance, and the thought never crossed his mind that they cannot understand. Ere they can submit to a good ordinance, they need life, and the gospel was somehow missing.
Once more, the saints of God went home happy thinking that they heard a good message, and the unbelievers are yet in their sins. Then we act surprised when we have no strength toward God, but the oversight must shoulder some blame, and face the truth that just maybe, men have been in control for far too long, and God has been left out.
We can graciously overlook the weakness of many men who were appointed elders because of poor teaching, but we cannot wink at a present denial of the truth, if in fact, a man is faced with the truth, then refuses to believe. The former is neglect, while the latter is rebellion. Usually, when men are in a position not suited for them, they will find fault with good men, who by their very presence, are a thorn in the conscience.
God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the wise, and this is evident where men usurp (to seize wrongfully) the place of the spirit of God. The little toe (that member whichwe think is least), is necessary for the health of the body, when he aches, the brain senses the pain as well, so why are not other brethren concerned as to the exercise of its members?
If God placed the members in the body as it hath pleased him, should we not then act as if we believed this? Where is the proof of this truth in our midst?
So the elder must be a lover of good men, and we see yet again God’s wisdom in these qualifications. Where there is an elder who rejects the counsel of a good man, here is a poor excuse for an elder. We desire the edification, the exhortation, and the comfort of the scriptures, and well we should.
But God would also have us corrected and rebuked when necessary as well, which is equally comforting. Where we have a group of christians who reject the corrective sword of the spirit of God, we have an unusual picture of Christianity, for we must have all the counsel of God.
What would our reader say if an announcement was made in the church of God that there was going to be a Super Bowl football party in the home of a brother, and all are invited? This is startling itself, but the greater question should be asked, and that is, why would such a brother be given such an audience in the first place? Is he ministering the word of God, is he teaching sound doctrine, or is he saying things that only embarrass a good man?8
The Word of God says the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, and what is a sports party if it is not that? The world, the flesh, the devil, are all represented rather well at these televised events, you must admit. The television commercials that are downright sinful, are winked at by christians who say they are watching for the right reasons. So the devil convinces us that as long as we are christians,
it matters not what delights our hearts, for surely says he, the return of the Lord will not be until after the fourth quarter….. What a pathetic suggestion and a pain to utter such words. I apologize for uttering such profanity. But men have no shame at such indifference, and spue forth the words of a sleeping man.
Yes my friend, christians have liberty, liberty to do the will of God to the hearts content. If one desires to hold a party of some nature, go right ahead, but do not bring this doctrine into the church of God and expect that sober men will not arise and say, ‘no, these words are not welcome here.’ But what do we then say if the leaders are the ones holding the festivities?
As the word of God was spoken to that young man of God Timothy, ‘let no man despise thy youth,’ he who has the mind of the Lord should have the freedom to arise and graciously speak the things that become sound doctrine, remembering that the truly spiritual is never partial.
The Holy Ghost points to the wholesome words of the Lord Jesus and his word, not to some athlete and his foul words. If we were happy enough in Colossians 3, and if our haven was in the Lord alone, we would not be having this discussion. How low the testimony of the church of God has become, for we as Christians have failed in our delight in the word of God alone.
We have substituted programs for doctrine, we have sought to entertain instead of to exhort. We have mistaken numbers for blessing, for people have been attracted by our carnality, we have been partial in our dealings with others, and we have allowed the deceitfulness of sin to erode our testimony.
We have manufactured a presbytery that is not suited for the work of the Lord, and decent people are forced out, or considered lunatics. Most importantly, our affection for the Lord Jesus himself has been found wanting, and his word, ‘lovest thou me?’ has become stale. Our fondness of the written word of God proves our affection for the living Word of God.
We have rejected for too long the necessary balance of God’s wisdom. We desire edification, exhortation, and comfort, but we reject reproof, correction, and rebuke. A stinging criticism we cannot tolerate, for this is not showing love to the brethren! This is the enemy’s lie, as he speaks with the honeyed word of that angel of light.
To rebuke graciously is part of the love of the brotherhood, and is only to be spoken when needed. It must be God’s and not man’s voice, but man must speak, and not be afraid of their faces as it were. If he who speaks thus is an elder, he has the rule.
If a Timothy spoke the mind of the Lord, he has the rule. Such is the word of the apostle to any with an ear to hear, ‘let no man despise thy youth.’ Our part with the Lord is to honour his word. This is the heart of the affair.
As to the strange power mentioned earlier, this is witnessed when men are cast out of the church. It should be a season of absolute contrition, as the leaders should take the rule and be examples of brokenness before the God of all glory. How this putting out should grieve any person of spiritual mettle.
But men are removed from the midst as a token of gratitude, and this spirit is truly not holy, for mercy rejoices against judgement. The wicked person is only expelled because all God’s gracious efforts to restore have been denied, and the foundation of God’s house must be maintained.
Hence, the absolute certainty of proving all things in forbearance is necessary. If we were to judge all believers with our eyes, how the seats would be empty. But God’s way is the way of grace, and only when a persistent believer revels in his sin, and has mocked the tender pleadings of other believers, should he be dealt with in a legal way.
Putting one out is an executive decision, agreed upon by the entire church, with the view to the hopeful restoration of the sinning saint. Of course, if repentance is needed, and acted upon, the fellowship should welcome he (or she) with open arms unto the glory of God.
You may have noticed that at the heading of this paper, the word elder had a small ‘e.’ This is correct, and a true elder would readily agree. Yes Paul was apostle, but he was also servant. John was the greatest prophet, but he was a mere voice.
The spiritual always diminishes himself, and wants no title. Where you find a man parading his elderhood, you can be sure here is a self made man. When the Lord chose Peter as an apostle, he fulfilled that ministry, but Peter did not function in the capacity of elder until many years later. Why?
Because he was but a novice, an apostle yes, but one not yet spiritually equipped to feed the flock.9 ‘All will deny me saith the Lord,’ and the beloved brother must have his very heart exposed in the presence of God.
And what lessons must he learn to be a guide to others! Many years later he would write as an elder: ‘think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.’
And : ‘be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.’ Yes, as a young apostle, he was to be blamed quite a few times, but as an elder, as one who was to feed the flock of God, he could now say: ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Thus we can see the fruit of a spiritual man.
One more word as to He who should consume our thoughts. Remember when the Lord went into the synagogue and stood up for to read? There was a holy appreciation, and of course, familiarity with the scriptures of truth.
He found the place where it was written, ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ and he read what was ‘acceptable,’ then he sat down. He made a visible distinction between his spoken words, and the written word of God. I assume the reader understands and knows the context, but the master teacher taught a wonderful lesson on what meaneth rightly dividing the word of truth.
God surely desires for his people that we act according to ‘what saith the scriptures,’ and carefully weigh what we think, against what God says. Many things in the christian life are acceptable unto the Lord, but it is downright unacceptable to appoint and recognize a man who God has not.
May the readers heart be tested as to the love of Christ, and consider if God’s word really does have the pre-eminence in all things. Is there then no hope? Of course there is always hope, but the will of God must be sought after.