In other articles we have examined the many qualifications God has given for men who would serve as overseers of the church of God. We have tried to look at every word which describes their qualifications -- qualities dealing not only with their spiritual life, but also their family, reputation and character. In this final article on the eldership we want to look at the work of elders. Many of the qualifications for the eldership show part of the work involved as an elder.
The phrase "apt to teach" in 1 Timothy 3:2 is "one word in Greek, the adjective didacticos (cf. didactic). It is found only here and in 2 Tim. 2:24. The meaning is 'skillful in teaching'" (Ralph Earle). This phrase does not mean eloquent in speech, but it denotes effectiveness in communicating the word of God.
Elders are to "holding fast the faithful word" as they have been taught (Titus 1:9). The idea is that they hold on to and cleave to the word of the Lord. I have known men who thought they were elder material, yet they couldn't even name the books of the Bible!
This cleaving to the Bible is so they "may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). Exhortation means "to admonish, exhort, to urge one to pursue some course of conduct (always prospective, looking to the future)" (W. E. Vine). This is the same word as found in 1 Thessalonians 4:18, where Christians are told to "comfort one another with these words."
Cleaving to God's word will enable them to "convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). The King James Version translates this phrase as "convince the gainsayers." This proficiency in the word of God is required in elders so they will be able to put to silence every sort of false teacher (Titus 1:10-11).
Elders are also to "shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28). The King James Version translates this as "feed the church of God." As shepherds of the flock, they are to keep the flock from straying, "they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Heb. 13:7).
Shepherds will also keep the flock from danger. Paul told the Ephesian elders that after his "departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29-30).
It might come as a shock to some, but the primary duty of an elder is not to count the money and adjust the thermostats, but to "watch out for your souls" (Heb. 13:17).
The word "steward" in Titus 1:7 means "the management of a household or of household affairs; specifically, the management, oversight, administration, of others' property; the office of a manager or overseer, stewardship" (Thayer). This same word is used in Luke 16:1-4 concerning "a certain rich man who had a steward." Elders are not to be dictators over the flock -- they "manage" the property of another, i.e, the church of our Lord.
Elders are to "watch out" for your soul (Heb. 13:17). The word "watch" means "to be sleepless, keep awake, watch" (Thayer). Part of this duty would involve "watching" what is taught in a local congregation, both in the Bible classes and from the pulpit. I have known elders who could sleep through just about any sermon-these "sleeping shepherds" are a disgrace in the eyes of the Lord and his people.
While elders are to "take care of" the house of God (1 Tim. 3:5), they are not to be "lords over those entrusted" to them (1 Pet. 5:3). This is the idea of a loving shepherd leading the flock. Shepherds can not drive a flock like a cowboy might drive a herd of cattle -- sheep must be led. The shepherds voice will never direct them to a path that he would not walk himself. There is a real difference between a shepherd leading the flock and a "lord" barking orders.
Elders are to serve as "examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:3). Christians are to "remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Heb. 13:7). Disciples of Christ are to imitate the behavior of "those who rule over" them. Elders are to be good examples as husbands, fathers, neighbors and teachers. They are to set a good example in the recreation they choose, the company they keep and the words they speak.
Elders and preachers both have responsibilities in the local church (Eph. 4:11-16). Elders must realize that preachers are not "their employees." A preacher is a member of a local congregation -- just like every other member. However, there are some functions of a preacher over which no one has control.
In preaching the gospel a preacher is amenable only to God. "The word of God is not chained" (2 Tim. 2:9). The word of God is not to be "chained" by elders. Elders might see to it that a man's financial support is stopped, but men of conviction will preach the truth anyway.
Paul told Titus to "speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority" (Titus 2:15). In speaking, exhorting and rebuking an evangelist might even have to rebuke an elder. Timothy was admonished to "not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear" (1 Tim. 5:19-20). To confirm this message, Paul said, "Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15). The word "despise" means "Let no man think around thee" (A. T. Robertson). Preachers must not allow anyone to circumvent the truth with which they were entrusted, either by seeking to "chain" the truth or exercising authority over them to restrain preachers from declaring the whole counsel of God.
Not all men desire to become elders. Not every man can our should become an elder, for like all teachers they "shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1).
Those who have prepared for the eldership and then serve well have a promise from God that "when the Chief Shepherd appears," they "will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Pet. 5:4). We all need to encourage young men to work on the qualities of life that will enable them to serve as elders. "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17).