I Love Elders
At Polishing the Pulpit, I saw several people whom I had not seen in many years; I even got to meet some Facebook friends face-to-face for the first time. I saw some folks from congregations at which I had interviewed at one point or another. I saw a sweet lady from eastern Tennessee with whom I spent an afternoon several years ago. I saw a kind brother who retired from preaching back last summer, and I interviewed for the position he was leaving.
I also saw a brother who brought back some rather bad memories. From talking with the brother I saw at Polishing the Pulpit, I believe that he is a standup, cream of the crop type guy. But, he still brought back a memory of a rather unpleasant experience.
I interviewed with the congregation back in April of last year, and the interview could not have gone more smoothly. I taught class, preached, we had a potluck meal, and I preached again right after the meal, met with the men and we headed back to Alabama. The next afternoon, I received a phone call that the church was putting together a contract and they were going to hire me. Sounds good, right? I had six weeks of my job at the university left, and I already had another job lined up.
But, I turned them down. The boys, Tammy and I sat down to talk, and we were all opposed to moving there. Why did I want to turn down that job? Because there was no eldership, and there was one brother who was gonna run the show. If I crossed this one fella, we’d be looking for another job really fast–they had run off the last preacher after four months. Had there been an eldership to deal with this “Diotrephes,” I might have moved to work with that congregation.
I know that some of you 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! As we’ve mentioned in the past, 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 have godly elders in this congregation. “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Tim 3:1). I heard Tom Holland say this past week, “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.” The point for this sermon: “Our elders are good men.”
Our elders are good men, for they shepherd this church.
An elder has no greater obligation than shepherding 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). Peter to his fellow elders: “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.
A lot of the process of shepherding goes on behind closed doors, but rest assured these men are strongly committed to that task. I have seen them pray for members of this 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. These men are committed to shepherding this church.
One of the blessings of working with good shepherds is that they know this congregation far better than I do. There have been times that I’ve been to the elders and made what I thought were very good suggestions, but they’ve said, “Justin, that’s just not right for this church.” They’ll explain why that idea isn’t so great for this congregation, and I’m grateful that they have kept me from making mistakes here.
Our elders are good men, for they want to do right.
I don’t know that there is any greater thing in this world that could ever be said about an eldership. 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). Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50).
These are men who are committed to following Scripture. When I interviewed for this position, Joe, Philip and I spent a great deal of time talking about doctrinal issues and whether or not it would even be possible for us to work together. When I have met with the elders, there is one primary question that is raised over and over, “What does the Bible say?”
Our elders are good men, for they love Scripture.
These men 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).
Our elders are committed to the proclamation of the Word of God in this congregation. When we finish an adult class, the elders sit down to see where we need to go next. We’ll talk about where we need to go with sermons. The elders don’t try to micromanage me, but they are doing precisely what God Almighty has called upon them to do.
I wish time would permit me to delve much further here, but let’s move to application.
“Our elders are good men.” Therefore:
We need to honor our elders.
Honoring our elders is as biblical as it can be. “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). Let’s think about what that text means:
- In the first century, many elders were apparently paid. The double honor seems to be monetary support from the congregation. Notice the end of verse 18: “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
- The text implies that all elders are worthy of honor. If that is not the case, why are those who “rule well” worthy of “double honor”? The position of an elder is so honored in God’s sight that elders are worthy of honor.
We need to honor those who serve as elders, but how can we do so? Thank them. When is the last time you walked up to one of our 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.
We need to submit to our elders.
There is the idea in our fellowship that elders have no real authority. “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. How can brethren say that elders have no real authority? 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–I’m not going to agree with them every time–yet we must submit.
We need to imitate our elders.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” 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? The best place to start is 1 Timothy 3:1-7. As I read through this list, I thought of how well our elders fit that description, and how I could learn valuable lessons from imitating them. What in your life needs improvement this morning? Do you need to come to Jesus as we stand and sing?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.