"So when they had appointed elders in every church," Acts 14'23.
“The elders who are among you I exhort,
I who am a fellow elder,” 1 Peter 5’1.
"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders ...
and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil
in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer of faith will save the sick,
and the Lord will raise him up,” James 5’14-15.
According to the New Covenant Kingdom scriptures of Acts 2'1 to Revelation 3'22, Kingdom Elders could be described as the God-ordained backbone of the Body of Christ.
So what do these inspired scriptures say about elders and about eldership?
Eldership appears first during the Disciples' 10 days of waiting for "the promise of the Father" prior to the Day of Pentecost.
This incident is the first example of the pattern of plurality for shepherding and oversight of those who are Christ's Called-Out Ones.
Acts 1’15-17,20 says:
"... in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples
(altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty) and said,
'Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled,
which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas ...
for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry'"...
"... it is written in the book of Psalms … ‘Let another take his oversight’”.
The Apostles were told by the Lord, or it was revealed to them by the Spirit, that they were to be His special servant-overseers for beginning the building of His Ekklesia/Called-Out Ones.
Peter refers to oversight (v20). It comes from the Greek word episcope which means overseeing. Its noun is episcopos which is translated elder.
He also refers to this ministry. The Greek word for ministry (17) is diakonia which means service or to serve (from diakonos which is usually translated minister).
"Ministry" and "oversight" are the two characteristics at the heart of what an elder is.
Peter goes on to say that the one to fulfill the scripture would have to be from among the "men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us".
An overseer was needed who was godly and served the way Jesus did.
The 120 chose Matthias (Acts 1’20-26) who had been with Jesus from the day John declared: "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world," John 1'29.
These first 12 Apostle-Elders would lead the way in “preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ,” Acts 28'31.
The Day of Pentecost came, the Father sent the Holy Spirit signifying that Jesus had been glorified (John 7'38). The 120 received the Holy Spirit and with Him came Christ's New Covenant Kingdom of God. The Spirit's arrival changed the realities of everything!
Not the least of these things was elder and eldership. Now it would be all about godliness.
Godliness is the disposition of being aware of the Father's presence and being aware of His will, like Jesus was. (Refer Kingdom Godliness on the Menu.)
These New Covenant Kingdom apostle-shepherd-overseers were soon very busy. Acts 2'41 says that on that very day "About 3000 souls" were added.
(They were added to all the souls who had believed God and been counted righteous from Abel to the criminal on the cross beside Jesus (Hebrews 11, Luke 23'42).
"For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you,” Paul wrote to Titus (1'5).
This command shows that the ministry of Elders is indispensable to the building of the Lord's Ekklesia.
The Cretan situation apparently came about after Paul had ministered throughout the island and had not been able to complete the work. However, he was confident that Titus could do it.
He knew him well. He called him "a true son in our common faith" and "my partner and fellow worker" (Corinthians 8'23).
But above all he knew Titus had a heart for the Lord's People. Paul showed that he was thankful about this when he said to the Corinthians, "... thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus" (2 Corinthians 8'16).
Just the kind of man to appoint elders.
ELDERS AND SERVANTS
God's ordering for the Kingdom life of His People in a locality calls for others to assist the Elders. Paul, in his letter to the congregation of Philippian Believers, lays it out:
"To all the Saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,
with the Elders and Servants".
It should be noted that this letter is addressed to "all the Saints". This is not a hierarchy! There are not three kinds of believers being addressed here.
Nevertheless, although every Saint is called to be godly and holy, for Elders and Servants the requirement is more so.
Notably, Paul links truth to godliness while reminding Titus about appointing Elders:
"Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness".
The ministry of Servant began to emerge in Acts chapter six verse one. A need arose for men to formally oversee "the daily distribution" to the widows.
The Elders instructed the Saints to "seek out" suitable men whom they would appoint. (For more on Servants refer Kingdom Servants on the Menu).
The basic instructions as to who can be considered for Eldership were first given to Titus and Timothy.
“… if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,
holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict,” Titus 1’6-9.
"This is a faithful saying: If a man desires to be an overseer, he desires a good work.
An overseer then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach;
not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the People of God?);
not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil," 1 Timothy 3'1-7.
These instructions apply to those who would be elders and those who are responsible for appointing elders.
ELDERS, BE AWARE
For three years Paul had been among the Ephesian Believers teaching the things of Christ and the Kingdom of God, as he did everywhere he went (Acts 20'31). As usual, he appointed elders.
He had a close relationship with the Ephesian elders. Luke describes the poignant occasionwhen Paul arranged to meet with them on his way to Jerusalem in Acts 20'17-37.
Here are two excerpts from it:
“From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the Elders of the Ekklesia.
And when they had come to him, he said to them: ‘You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you'," Acts 20’17-18.
"'Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you Overseers, to shepherd the Called-Out People of God which He purchased with His own blood.
For I know this, that after my 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.
Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified',” Acts 20’28-32.
The meanings of three words highlight this ministry:
Elders (Greek "presbuteros": "elder", "of age").
Overseers (Greek "episkopos": "overseer").
Shepherds (Greek "poimaino": "feed", "rule", "govern").
What Paul is saying to these Elders, by the Spirit, is valuable to all who would be overseers-shepherds of God's Flock.
[There is a tendency to think that the ministries Paul refers to in Ephesians 5'-11-12 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) are above Elders. Of course, this is not the case.]
The Eldership ministry of shepherding and overseeing involves them in a range of things that include:
- Praying for the sick:
“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,” James 5’14.
“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership,” 1 Timothy 4’14.
- Ministering doctrine personally:
“When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him (Apollos) aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately,” Acts 18’26.
In order to provide the fullest ministry for the growth of God's People the joint contributions of Elders and their Wives is indispensable.
Whether those with particular needs are male or female, old or young, adult or child, unmarried or married couples Elders and their Wives have the breadth of experience to provide the varied ministry to help them.
This Eldership partnership of ministry is particularly significant when the needy person is a female and/or one of a married or betrothed couple.
Kingdom Elders are called to rule in the Body of Christ. God's will is God's rule.
As with all the things of Christ and the Kingdom, God's will must be done God's way - in love, wisdom, accountability, transparency while upholding the free will of others.
Hear what Peter lays this out in his first letter to Elders and the "Flock of God". As "a fellow Elder" he says:
“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, cast-
ing all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world,” 1 Peter 5’1-9.
Remember what Jesus said to Peter, the "fellow Elder"? “Feed My lambs” - “Tend My sheep” - “Feed My sheep" (John 21'16-18).
The writer to the Hebrew Believers also gives some thought-provoking words for Believer to think about:
“Remember those who rule over you,
who have spoken the word of God to you,
whose faith follow,
considering the outcome of their conduct.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever,”
He further exhorts:
“Obey those who rule over you,
and be submissive,
for they watch out for your souls,
as those who must give account.
Let them do so with joy and not with grief,
for that would be unprofitable for you,”
To summarise, those who are true Elders will:
- speak the word of Christ,
- be examples of faith,
- be open to questions about their conduct,
- hold to the simplicity that Jesus Christ is always the same,
- watch out for the souls of the Lord’s People,
- behave in a way that mirrors the Lord's way of ruling.
The lordship of Christ must be the ultimate rule over all in love and submission to one another with willing hearts.
Matthew 12’20 lays out the Lord's own disposition and the disposition that all Believers should have toward one another:
“A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench”.
ELDERS & GOD'S INTENT
Kingdom Elders are to be at the forefront of carrying out God's intent, which is:
"... that now
the manifold wisdom of God
might be made known
by Christ’s People
to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,
according to the eternal purpose
which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord," Ephesians 3'10-12.
So Elders are called to teach, shepherd-lead and oversee Christ's Called-Out Ones in the carrying out God's primary intention.
That doesn't mean just verbally informing the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. The Father wants them to actually know it.
His intent is to be made known. That means to be felt. Which in turn means powerfully defeating the enemy's works of darkness.
Starting in the Garden of Eden Satan began opposing God's wisdom and deceiving Eve and Adam with it. Now Christ's Called-Out People, are to make known to him God's Purpose and God's Manifold Wisdom and dispower him.
Remember what "... you are in Christ Jesus" - who "became for us wisdom from God" (1 Corinthians 1'30). This means that with Christ in us we have the living wisdom of God with which to defeat Satan.
Yes, Jesus is "wisdom from God"! Every person receiving Him receives His manifold wisdom.
Prayer. Thank you Father for faithful Elders who teach, shepherd-lead and oversee your Flock with godliness, holiness, love and power.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.