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Article 24 - The Eldership
Jon Gary Williams
Wearing the name "elder" is not an honorary title bestowed on men. The eldership is not a place designed for personal pride or ambition. Rather, it is a position of service. It embraces a task to be performed. It involves a sacred trust over a congregation of God's people and consists of one of man's greatest responsibilities. There is no higher place man can hold in the service of God, for it carries with it the charge of souls. (I Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17)
I. What is the Eldership?
A. The eldership of the Lord's church is set forth in three different Greek words.
- 1. Presbuteros (Πρεσβυτεροσ) - translated "elder" Signifies one who is not a novice but is older in the faith having the experience of years. (Acts 14:23; 20:17; I Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:5; I Pet. 5:1)
- 2. Episkopos (Επισκοποσ) - translated "overseer" or "bishop" Signifies one who oversees, watching over his charge. (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7)
- 3. Poimen (Ποιμεν) - translated "pastor" Signifies one who leads the flock of God. (Eph. 4:11). The associated word "shepherd" is derived from I Pet. 5:2,4.
B. The eldership, therefore, is to be made up of men who are older in the faith, capable of overseeing the affairs of a congregation and able to adequately lead.
II. Who Can Hold the Position of Elder?
A. The New Testament places certain restrictions on who can hold this position.
B. Qualifications for this position are listed in I Tim. 3:2-7 and Tit. 1:6-9
- Both lists were penned by Paul and both were addressed to preachers.
- Nineteen specific qualifications in all are listed.
- These qualifications are broken down into five categories - character, experience, reputation, domestic relations and intellect.
III. The Qualifications
A. Character (five negative and eight positive statements)
- 1. "not given to wine" (ASV - "no brawler") - not subject to the influence of strong drink (Note: "brawler" [I Tim. 3:3 in the KJV] is a repetition and reinforcement of the restriction on wine.)
- 2. "no striker" - not contentious or quarrelsome
- 3. "not greedy of filthy lucre" (ASV - "no lover of money") - not longing for wealth (Note: "not covetous" [I Tim. 3:3 in the KJV] is a repetition and reinforcement of the warning about greed over money.)
- 4. "not self-willed" - not overbearing, headstrong or arrogant
- 5. "not soon angry" - not easily provoked or prone to hatred or hostility
- 6. "vigilant" or "temperate" -- self-control, prudent, discerning
- 7. "sober" (ASV -"sober-minded") - of sound mind, sound judgment and reasoning
- 8. "patient" (ASV - "gentle") - mild, kind, not contentious
- 9."of good behavior" (ASV- "orderly" - lit. "modest") - mannerly, dignified, modest
- 10. "given to hospitality" - (a love for strangers, a host, helpful
- 11. "lover of good men [things]" (ASV - "a lover of good" - lit. "loving good") - a love for all that is good: deeds, words, people
- 12. "just" - upright in dealings, treating all alike, fair
- 13. "holy" - devout, pious, moral, faithful in spiritual duties
- 1. "not a novice" - not new at Christianity, not a babe, spiritually mature
- 2. Why this qualification? (I Tim. 3:6)
- 1. "blameless" (ASV - "without reproach" - lit. "cannot lay hold on") - above suspicion, free of false doctrine and unethical, immoral behavior
- 2. "good report of them which are without" (ASV - "good testimony...") - a good witness from non-Christians
D. Domestic relations
- 1. "one wife" - must be a scripturally married man (Note: their wives must also have a good reputation (I Tim. 3:11)
- 2. "faithful children" (ASV - "children that believe") - children that are faithful Christians
- 3. An elder must exhibit a faithful family (I Tim. 3:4,5; Tit. 1:6)
- 1. "Apt to teach" or "holding fast the faithful word" (ASV - "holding to the faithful word") - capable and skilled at teaching
- 2. It is essential for an elder to have a good knowledge of God's word.
IV. What Are the Responsibilities of Elders?
A. "take heed" (Acts 20:28) - Prosecho (Προσεχο - "to hold to") - to turn attention to; to carefully watch; to guard
- 1. "to yourselves" - Elders must first keep a guard on themselves
- 2. "to all the flock" - Giving careful attention to the congregation is their job
- 3. This attention includes protecting the flock against false teaching - Acts 20:29 Tit. 1:9-11 (cf. Acts 15:6,13,19)
- 4. This attention also includes "admonition" (I Thess. 5:12) - Nouthesteo (Νουθεστεο - "to put in mind") - to call to one's attention to, to remind, to warn
- 5. This attention also includes taking the lead in discipline - which would include false teachers (Rom. 16:17), the disorderly (II Thess. 3:6,7) and the immoral (I Cor. 5:1,2)
B. "feed the flock" (I Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28) - Poimaino (Ποιμαινο - "to tend, to feed") - to provide for the flock
- 1. This involves general nourishment for the congregation
- 2. This is a part of an elder's "oversight" (I Pet. 5:2)
C. "support the weak" (Acts 20:35) - Antilambano (Αντιλαμβανο - "to hold to, to take instead of, to help) - to assist those who cannot adequately provide for themselves
- 1. Jesus said there would always be those in need (Matt. 26:11; cf. Gal. 6;10)
- 2. This help is not limited to physical needs - spiritual encouragement is also essential
D. "ensamples (examples) to the flock" (I Pet. 5:3) - Tupos (Τυποσ - "to strike" [to leave an impression], the mark of a blow) - a pattern, a model, an example
- 1. In contrast to being "lords" over the church (I Pet. 5:2) - Katakurieuo (Κατακυριευο - "to force down, to lord over") - requiring dominion and demanding rule over subjects (cf. Matt. 20:25 -28)
- 2. An elder cannot live by the rule: "Do as I say, not as I do."
- 3. An elder's example reflects on every aspect of his work
V. What is the Responsibility of a Congregation to its Elders?
A. "esteem them" (I Thess. 5:12,13) - Hegeomai (-εγεομαι - "to consider, to account, to elevate") - to elevate these men, to esteem and respect them for their work (cf. I Tim. 5:17)
B. "obey them" (Heb. 13:17) - Peitho (Πειθο - "to be persuaded, to listen to") - to take their advice and follow it
C. "submit yourselves" (Heb. 13:17) - Hupeiko (-υπεικο - "to withdraw, to yield to") - to be willing to be under them, to submit and consent to their authority