Some of us have been in congregations without elders. It’s not a lot of fun, is it? I have been in men’s business meetings that made me want to pull my hair out! In a congregation without elders, there’s not the right kind of vision, there are no shepherds. It’s often not a pretty picture.
We need godly elders. “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Tim 3:1). Tom Holland has said, “An elder has the greatest position on earth. Presidents deal with the here and now. Governors deal with the here and now. Elders deal with eternity.”
Elders are good men. Elders get more than their fair share of grief when things go wrong, but I’m convinced that the vast, overwhelming majority of elders are good and godly men. Let’s think about what makes elders good men.
Elders are good men, for they shepherd the church. “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet 5:2). There is so much tied up in the idea of “shepherding” the flock–Just as ancient shepherds, God intends his elders to guide, to protect, to feed, to correct and to lead the flock.
I have known many elders deeply committed to shepherding the flock. I have seen them pray for members of the church. I’ve bumped into them as I’ve been at the hospital; I’ve been with them as they have gone to urge erring members to come home.
Elders are good men, for they want to do right. Following the will of God [aka “doing right”] is very important. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50).
Elders are good men, for they love Scripture; they understand that Scripture is the written Word of God. “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13)–That word has now been encapsulated in Scripture. “Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).
Because elders are good men, we need to honor 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). Those elders who “rule well” were worthy of “double honor”–does that not imply that even an elder who does not rule well is worthy of honor. Indeed! All elders deserve honor.
What can you do to honor your elders?
Thank them. When is the last time you walked up to one of the elders and thanked him for his service?
Write a note.
Have them over for dinner.
Call them–not to complain about something, but to encourage them.
Because elders are good men, we need to submit to the elders. Some teach that elders have no real authority. But, notice: “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). The Greek term for “rule” literally means to “stand over.” The idea in that verse is that elders are superintendents. Notice also: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb 13:17). You don’t need to agree with the elders every time, but you must submit.
Because elders are good men, we need to imitate our elders. Someone has said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” And, Scripture urges us to imitate our elders. “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). How can you imitate the elders? Well, I think the best place to start is by reading 1 Timothy 3:1-7. As you read through that list, look at the elders and see how well they fit that description. Apply those principles you see in the elders to your own life.
May God bless those who serve as elders. May he richly bless you!