Saturday, December 09, 2006

Biblical Roles: Elders (Part 3)


“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

The Greek word used for “rule” means to “stand before” and to “preside over”. This is the same word Paul uses when listing the qualifications of an Elder. Paul stipulates that an elder, “must be one who manages [rules] his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).” (1 Timothy 3:4-5) Elders are appointed to rule over the church, not boards, not the congregation, not a committee, or even “the pastor”. God’s church is ruled by His elders. Paul likens and elder’s rule as that of a father over his household. As such, some of the roles of an elder include,

Leadership: Elders give direction and leadership to the church. Without leadership, a church can often become adrift, uncertain about decisions to make, where to go, or what to do. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” (Zechariah 13:7 NIV) This is not to say that elders must make all the decisions, but when there is confusion or differing opinions, it often falls to the elders to make the final decision and to set the course for others to follow. Just like in a family, all the members are responsible to make wise decisions regarding their own lives, but when it comes to making decisions that affect the entire family, it is the father that has both the final say-so and responsibility for the decisions he makes.

Conflict Resolution: As in any family, conflicts will arise between family members. When these conflicts grow to the point where they cannot be resolved among those involved, then it is the role of the elders to step in and help the warring parties to resolve their conflicts. In writing to the church at Philippi, Paul urges the elders to help two such women to work together in harmony. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel.” (Philippians 4:2-3) For some reason, these two women had become “sidewise” in their relationship with one another. It is unclear exactly who the “true companion” is that Paul referrers to but it is reasonable to assume that it was one of the overseers to whom Paul addressed his letter. Elders do not need to be involved in every little dispute within the Body of Christ, but when two believers have tried and yet have failed to rebuild a broken relationship, the wisdom of the elders may be exactly what is needed to restore harmony and fellowship.

Discipline: One of the hardest things an elder has to do is to execute discipline on a member of the church. Jesus laid out the process for church discipline, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17) In telling it to the church, it is the elders that represent the church and preside over any disciplinary action taken by the church. Discipline is never fun, but there are times when it is necessary for the health of the church and for the redemption of the one disciplined. Some elders shy away from discipline, hoping that the problem will resolve itself or simply go away, but when we ignore discipline it only makes the problem worse. In the church at Corinth, there was a sinful situation that called for discipline, yet none of the elders were taking action. So Paul made the decision for them and wrote to them commanding that they carry out his decision, “For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5) An elder must never cower away from the difficult task of discipline, if he does, it will only weaken the church, yet if he faces it courageously it will benefit the church greatly. “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11)

More to come… David Robison

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