Elders Who Rule Well
Text: I Timothy 5:17-21
I. Consider an imaginary congregation
A. At the beginning, there was much work to be done. The challenges of the demands required many sacrifices.
B. The members joined in planning and the work. As each was aware of what went on and what was required to do the work, high interest was created. Responsibility for the work kept the kingdom central to their lives.
C. The Lord blessed their work and they grew. Presently, they judged to have men qualified to be elders and they were appointed.
D. Things then changed.
1. The members no longer had a part in the planning – plans were made for them.
2. They did not have much, if anything, to say about the preachers they supported.
3. Everything was decided for them.
E. Deacons were appointed, but they did not have much to do.
1. Oh, occasionally, the elders would ask a deacon to run some errand or accomplish a task that the elders had planned.
F. The flock prays, “We are thankful for our elders and the work they do and the decisions they make.”
G. While there is not as much participation, at least the members have been relieved of many responsibilities.
1. They attend. They give money to be spent as the elders decide.
2. Lack of involvement cools the earlier sense of urgency, and the members settle into gentle complacency.
3. Comfort replaces sacrifice.
H. Elders can maintain that former interest – that first love – while they provide respected and mature counsel and direction.
1. Elders oversee (or see over) all the participation instead of preempting it.
2. Unfortunately, many see elders as micro-managing bosses.
II. The elders who rule well - I Timothy 5:17
A. We saw in Hebrews 13:17 that the word rule in that verse meant “to lead, to guide.”
B. In this verse, the word rule is translated from the Greek work proistemi.
1. It means, “placed in front” - Vincent
2. “Literally to stand before, hence to lead, attend to” - Vine
3. Used in I Thessalonians 5:12 - those who have charge over you.
4. “They help (proistemi)others to live rightly and therefore deserve special esteem and love” – Dictionary of New Testament Theology
5. When speaking of the qualifications of elders - I Timothy 3:4-5
a. Proistemi describes a responsibility a man has to his house, as well as the responsibility elders have to the congregation
6. The same word is used in Tit 3:14 - to maintain good works
7. Again, it is not authoritarian, but the significant task of standing before, to lead, to maintain, and to take care of thereby.
III. Paul compares elders and congregations to a man and his house.
A. The comparison is not exact. A man is the head of his house, but Christ is the head of the church.
B. However, if the rule of husbands allows for input and participation in decisions by those for whom he is responsible, then the rule of elders must allow the same.
C. Would it be the ideal, Biblical home, if the husband made all the decisions by himself and just announced them to family gatherings, with no one else having any determination relative to family functions?
1. The husband, by himself, deciding when the groceries will be bought, when the meals will be served, and what meals will be prepared?
2. He decides the decor of the home and what friends his wife may entertain.
3. Every detail of family life must be submitted to him to await his decision, and anyone strongly wishing otherwise is considered a rebellious malcontent.
4. I hope this doesn’t sound like your home.
D. Husbands who rule well
1. Seeking to understand his wife - I Peter 3:7
2. Honors, respects, values his wife - Proverbs 31:10, 28-31
3. Loves his wife - Ephesians 5:25, 28-29, 33
4. Humility, seeking the best interest of others - I Corinthians 13:4-5
E. Observe God’s characterization of a worthy woman in the house of her husband - Proverbs 31:10-31
1. She, not her husband, assigns her maids to their task (verse 15)
2. She considered a field to buy (verse 16).
3. She manages the household (verse 27)
4. All details and plans did not have to originate with or be activated by her husband.
5. As the Paul instructed, she rules (or manages) her household - I Timothy 5:14
a. Not the same word used of the rule of husbands or elders, which signifies overall leadership
b. Oikodespoteo: to manage the house, to guide the house, literally to rule the house
6. Did her husband object?
a. Did he think she took too much on herself?
b. Did he threaten her by telling her she did not respect God’s appointed authority?
c. Did he feel threaten by her initiative and participation in running the affairs of the family?
7. He called her blessed and praised her (verse 28)
8. A wife is subject to her husband and answerable to him in all things, but that does not preclude such initiative and participation as exercised by the worthy woman.
9. The rule of the husband includes the participation of the wife.
F. The same word describes the rule of the elder.
1. The rule of the elders includes the participation of the flock.
2. When servants were needed, who would be appointed over a task, the congregation selected them – even with the presence of apostles - Acts 6:3
3. Elders should note this precedence and lead the congregation to do this instead of having the elders do all the appointments.
a. Elders could and should point out any non-qualified selections.
4. Also note these servants did not simply put plates of food before the needy. They were appointed over the task.
a. Elders would not be called upon to plan all the logistics and assign tasks.
b. The deacons would be subject to the counsel of the elders, but the elders should give the right of judgment and initiative to the deacons, just as the husband did for the worthy woman.
c. Elders are over the flock which does the work and not over the work directly - Acts 20:28, I Peter 5:2
IV. Congregational Participation
A. Acts 15 is an interesting study of solving problems within and between congregations.
B. Members of the church in Jerusalem had been going to other congregations stating that Gentiles had to be circumcised.
C. The church in Antioch sent members to Jerusalem to discuss this matter. (verse 2)
1. Notice who made the decision to send Paul and Barnabas.
2. The church also implemented their decision (verse 3).
3. This was done even though Antioch had elders (Acts 14:23)
D. Compare this to the way churches today handle problems
1. The elders would meet and chose men. They would then announce who they were to the congregation.
2. Those men would then thank the elders for their confidence in them.
3. They would declare to all they were sent by the elders.
4. On their return, they would report back to the elders.
5. In all the sending, coming, and going in the book of Acts, does this sound like anything you have read in this book?
E. Even though the church in Antioch had elders with leadership and oversight, the congregation practiced a high degree of participation.
F. When the brethren arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church, and the apostles, and the elders (Verse 4).
1. This was not a private session with the elders. Everyone was there.
2. In that assembly, some of the Pharisees insisted that the Gentiles be told to be circumcised.
G. A subsequent meeting was called where the apostles, the ambassadors from Antioch, the elders, and the leaders of the church where these troublemakers came from gathered to discuss the matter. (Verse 5)
1. Again, it was not a closed door meeting because all the multitude listened to Peter, Paul, and Barnabas (Verse 12)
2. They all heard James’ application of the prophet Amos to show there was no need for the circumcision of the Gentiles.
3. “After the Pharisee had stated their position . . . the assembly adjourned without discussing the question. The second meeting is announced . . Neither this nor the first meeting was composed exclusively of the apostles and the elders . . . from verse 22 we learn that the church was now present.” Commentary on Acts, McGarvey
4. “The consultation of the apostles and presbyters . . . thus put forward here afresh, was not confined to themselves. . . but took place in the presence, and with the assistance, of the whole church assembled together, as is evident from verse 12" - Meyer
5. “A special meeting of the church was called to consider the matter” - A. C. Hervey.
6. “All the multitude, the whole mass, of those present, implying a much larger number than the apostles and elders” - J. A. Alexander
7. “The delineation of the apostles and elders implied the presence of the brethren also, who are intended by (all the multitude)” - H. Alford
8. “The church is not named here as in verse 4, but we know from verses 12 and 22 that the whole church came together this time along with the apostles and elders” - A. T. Robertson
H. This was a problem in the church. It was a concern of the church.
1. What took place was not a sequestered council of the church hierarchy
2. It was not a private elders’ meeting which deliberated and announced its conclusions to the assembly.
3. The congregation was present, heard the convincing evidence and joined in the conclusion and in sending greeting to the Gentile converts.
I. Those sent with the letter were also selected by the congregation (Verses 22-23)
J. Notice how the participation of the congregation is reiterated over and over in this chapter.
1. The oversight of the church in Jerusalem did not preclude the participation of the congregation.
2. Authoritarian leadership is an idea developed in denominations.
K. One would expect elders to confer on matters relating to the flock.
1. It would be poor leadership to go into each assembly without any idea of where the flock generally needs to go.
2. However, these conversations must not result in decrees.
3. Elders are not to be self-willed, self-pleasing, arrogant - Titus 1:7
4. They must remember they are fallible. It is not necessary for them to have a finger on every detail of the work. Determining every detail is not their province.
5. Their task is to transform ideas into purpose and action, to work in concert with the brethren, persuading as leaders.
6. Persuasion necessitates presentation to the persuaded and the participation of the persuaded.
7. If men cannot lead under these circumstances, then they are not qualified to be elders.
V. It is not a democracy
A. We must not conclude that the congregation is to function as a pure democracy.
B. Christ established function by leadership
1. There are those who are chief - Luke 22:26
2. Those who are first - Matt 20:27
3. Those who are leaders - Heb 13:7,17
C. He did not intend for minimum knowledge and brash assertiveness to have equal influence with wisdom, proven service, and spiritual maturity. This though happens in a democracy.
D. While Christ banishes personal authority and dominion, he has ordained a leadership by the mature, the exemplary, the spiritually experienced, and the knowledgeable.
1. It is the job of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to perfect the rest - Eph 4:11-12
2. It is the truth and spiritual wisdom abiding in them that gave them leadership.
3. This is why elders may not be the novice or the immature - I Tim 3:6
4. This is why those who influence us must be qualified by character, knowledge, and experience.
E. The paradox is that the leadership of God’s people is found among those who have been humbled by service - Matt 20:27
1. Jesus exemplified this as he washed the disciples’ feet. - Luke 22:27
2. The paradox keeps the domineering from power.
3. Human will and personality will not dominate. Human pride will not be empowered.
4. Leaders established by serving. Leadership without dominion. Being first by service and not by power.
A. One more word needs to be examined: oversight - I Pet 5:2
B. Episcopeo, translated “exercising the oversight, to watch over, to watch out for. The word expresses the careful regard of those who occupy a position of responsibility.” - A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Westcott
1. The same term is used in Heb 12:15 in the phrase “looking carefully” or “see to it”
C. Oversight is exercised in tending, taking care of, and watching over.
D. Oversight does not mean rigid control.
E. Elders are to lead, activating the group, seeing over the assembly as it works, and giving example and counsel, not directives.
F. Oversight and dominion are not the same. One decides and imposes. The other watches over. Elder do the later.
G. It takes special men to lead in this fashion. Real elders are very special men.