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Tape No. I-5043Page
The theme for our gathering together this morning is a special one for a special occasion. We are going to be ordaining elders here this morning and I’m going to preach on the theme of elders before we actually go through the ceremony of ordination. To introduce this theme today I’m going to read from one or two passages in the New Testament primarily in the book of Acts. Beginning at verse 21 it speaks here about the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. Acts 14:21:
“They preached the good news in that city, and won a large number of disciples, then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples, and encouraging them to remain true to the faith, we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust.”
There’s a very interesting transition in words there which I want to point out. When Paul and Barnabas on their return came to these cities where they had already preached and won disciples, the people whom they had won to the Lord are still referred to in the plural as disciples. But then through the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for every group of disciples. For the first time the word church is used. I believe this indicates a very vital fact that it’s the appointment of elders that marks the scriptural transition from disciples plural, just a group, to a church, singular. The word for church in Greek, ekklesia, is a governmental word. In secular Greek from the time of the New Testament it’s used for the government of a city/state. It’s used in Acts 19 for the governing assembly of the city of Ephesus. So, for there to be a church there must be government. The one decisive element in government is elders. So, here Paul and Barnabas returning to those who were still just groups of disciples constituted them churches in every city by this decisive act of appointing elders.
We see that they took it very seriously because they did it only with prayer and fasting. In other words, it was perhaps going to be the most important decision in the future destiny of those disciples. The ones who made the appointment did not enter into that decision without prayer and fasting.
Interestingly enough, in the previous chapter, chapter 13—we don’t need to turn there—we can see that the sending out of apostles was also the produce of prayer and fasting by the leadership of the church at Antioch. In my understanding, these are the two key ministries that must be present for a church or the church to function in any way that’s scriptural or effective. That’s the apostles and the elders. The apostle being God’s governing agent to the church at large, the universal church. The elder being God’s governing agent in the local church. There must be a tie-in between apostles and elders.
As I understand it, really, the authority of God in the church is balanced between the apostles and the elders. The apostles exercising inter-church authority, the elders exercising authority within a specific local church. Between them they express in essence the government of God. Interestingly enough—and you can check this for yourself—the only people recorded as appointing elders in the New Testament were apostles.
It somewhat amuses me to encounter groups of people, denominations, who will acknowledge the scriptural reality of elders but refuse that of apostles. Because, elders have no scriptural basis for appointment except by apostles. You really cannot have the one without the other. In a sense, they are self generating for it’s the elders that determine the apostles and send them out, it’s the apostles who appoint the elders.
The government of God is very delicately balanced. It’s neither totally in the one nor in the other. It’s like the husband/wife relationship in the family. You can put all the emphasis on the responsibility of the husband or all the emphasis on the responsibility of the wife. Each is scriptural but each is incomplete. A home only functions as it’s intended by God to function when both husband and wife fulfill their God given function. So it is with the church. It takes both apostles and elders, both the universal authority and the local authority working in harmony to produce God given results.
See, almost anything that God has ordained only works by the grace of God. That’s true of marriage. Christian marriage will never work except by the grace of God. God doesn’t design things to work without his grace. In fact, I think he deliberately designs thing that only will work with his grace because there is no way to live the Christian life apart from the grace of God.
Let’s turn to Acts 20 for a moment and just read two verses. Verse 17 and verse 28. This refers to the elders of the church at Ephesus. Verse 17:
“From Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.”
I just want to read one thing that he said to them in verse 28 bearing in mind that he’s speaking to the elders of the church.
“Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Two words are used there which we’ll return to: overseers and shepherds. So, there are three different titles. Elders, overseers, shepherds. But, they’re all applied to the same person, they’re not three different groups, they’re three different descriptions of one and the same group. If we might for a moment consider the distinction I would say the word elder which means, in essence, a man who has a beard, denotes a certain measure of maturity both spiritual and natural. There are many people who would wish to follow the practice of the Jewish Sanhedrin and not appoint an elder under 30 years of age. I think there would be many benefits to making that not a law but a general principle. That’s therefore the particular significance of the word elder.
The word overseer is a very familiar word in contemporary society. An overseer, a foreman, somebody who oversees a job and sees that it gets done. That’s the job. The qualification is elder, the job is overseer.
Then, “be shepherds.” The same word is translated once in the New Testament pastor, it’s the same word and it’s only translated in the King James once in Ephesians 4:11. It occurs 18 times in the New Testament, 17 times it’s translated shepherd, once it’s translated pastor. Many people don’t realize they’re the same. That’s partly just due to the development of the English language. How many of you are musically minded and know what the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven is about? Not many of you, I would guess. But, it’s a symphony about shepherd life. The two words mean the same.
The shepherd or the pastor, I would say, is the ministry. It’s the God-given gift of a man to the church. The shepherd is the ministry, overseeing is the task, elder is the qualification. Elder, of course, is a relative word. In a group of children ranging between the age of 4 and 12 the children from 10 through 12 are elder. In this particular instance it’s pretty obvious that these people who were appointed elders had not been believers for more than at the most one year. But in the context of that group they were the elders.
One other passage we’d like to look at. Titus 1:5. Words of instruction from Paul to Titus who was fulfilling an apostolic function.
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished, and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you...”
That’s rather a vivid translation. I think it brings out an important point. Until elders have been appointed in every town, something has been left unfinished. Paul says to Titus don’t leave it unfinished. I’ve left you there primarily to appoint elders. That’s the primary purpose for which you are in Crete. Then he gives him a good many directions about how to do it.
With that background let’s speak a little bit about first of all, the qualifications for elders. What kind of person ought they to be? Since we’re in Titus we’ll read on there the next four verses. That’s Titus 1:6–9.
“An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer [notice the two words are used interchangeably, elder and overseer] is entrusted with God’s word, he must be blameless; not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to much wine, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain; rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined; he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refuse those who oppose it.”
We’ll also look in 1Timothy 3 which is the other main passage where the qualifications of elders are stated. The first 7 verses of 1Timothy 3.
“Here is a trustworthy saying, If any one sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach; not given to much wine, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money; he must manage his own family well, and see that his children obey him with proper respect; (if any one does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders; so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
I’d like briefly to sum up those qualifications without going into them in elaborate detail. I see four main areas that are covered.
First of all, the area of personal holiness. The word that sums it up, I think, is above reproach or blameless. There must not be anything in the man that is obviously inconsistent with the gospel which he’s teaching. It covers various aspects of character. I would say one of the key words there would be self-control. He doesn’t fly off the handle, he doesn’t get angry quickly. He doesn’t overindulge in food and drink. He’s not motivated by desire for money. All these areas if you sum it up, I think the word would be self-control.
That’s one of the requirements of the Christian life. You don’t need to turn there, 2Peter 1, there are seven steps upward and one of the key steps is self control. I personally believe there are levels to which we cannot attain in the Christian life until we have cultivated self control. I think there are gifts and ministries God cannot commit to his people until they have learned self control. That’s the personal character.
The second requirement is the man’s family must be in order and he must be hospitable. In the early church, generally speaking, when Christians from one city arrived in another city they would go to the house of the local bishop or overseer or pastor and he would accept responsibility for their hospitality. Either taking them into his own home or finding another home where they would be accommodated.
Connected with that also is the requirement that the man’s family must be in order. He must effectively manage his own house. I think manage is a key word. The comment is if a man can’t manage his own house, how can he manage the house of God, the church? That requires that the wife be in the right attitude and relationship to the husband and that the children be respectful and obedient.
As a matter of fact, I’ve learned by experience through visiting many homes of many believers over the years if the family is out of order you really never can have any real spiritual fellowship. Half the time is devoted to correcting the children or getting them out of the room or getting them out of trouble. The whole atmosphere is so restless that you just cannot really enjoy spiritual fellowship.
The third requirement is the spiritual equipment of this servant of God. I think the main emphasis there is on a thorough grasp of the basic truths of the gospel, the Bible. Not merely a grasp but a manifested commitment to them. It says that he must be able to pass on what he has been taught. I see two kinds of teaching ministry in the body of Christ. One is the ministry of the teacher to the universal body which is a ministry to which God called me. The public proclamation and explanation of scriptural truth in a systematic way. The other is the local teacher in the local body, the shepherd. He doesn’t necessarily have to get all the truth for himself, he has to assimilate the truth which comes through the teaching ministry and be able to transmit it to his flock. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a tremendous pulpit personality. Some people who are tremendous pulpit personalities are very ineffective shepherds. Some men who can’t preach a tremendous sermon can take wonderful care of God’s people.
I think unfortunately in our general section of the church, whatever you like to call it, we tend to be over-interested in pulpit personality. A man can preach like an angel and live like a devil, did you know that? That’s the most dangerous kind of man to have around.
It is very important that the man that leads God’s people has a thorough grasp of basic truth. I don’t think he needs to know who the antichrist will be. That’s not the important thing. He needs to know all about baptism, why, how, with what result. He needs to understand the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that when the gifts are operated in his congregation they can be operated decently and in good order. He needs to understand the basic requirements of a Christian home and family so that he can help the younger members of his flock as they enter into marriage to enter into it in a scriptural way and with success. That’s the kind of truth that he needs to have mastered and to be able to impart.
He needs also to be fearless in confronting the wolves, the false teachers, the people who try, as Paul says, to sneak into the flock and snatch away some of the sheep. It’s usually the lambs that they try to snatch. It takes, in simple language, guts to be a shepherd. The shepherd sees the wolf coming and he goes out to meet the wolf. The man who’s just hired for the job runs away and leaves the flock at the mercy of the wolf.
The fourth qualification is the man standing in the local community. He must be respected by the unbelievers. This is very important. Unbelievers don’t believe the same way we do in the miracle of conversion. We believe that a man can be a drug addict one day and a saint the next. The world doesn’t see it that way. If a man who’s led a notoriously evil life immediately after conversion is made a leader in the flock, the world won’t understand that. And, they won’t accept it. When such a man goes to pay hospital calls or things like that or relate to the local community officials, they won’t respect him. It must be a man who’s established a good reputation in the local community. Otherwise he cannot adequately represent God’s people to that community. He is, in a sense, a sort of ambassador. As you know, every nation chooses its ambassadors with great care so they properly and adequately represent that nation’s government.
Another important requirement is that he must not be a new convert. He must have had some measure of grounding and testing. I’ve met many, many new converts who’ve been converted maybe one year. Everything has gone fine. Some of you have had this experience. God answers all their prayers, they’re just on top of the world. They know how everything ought to be done. Meet them 5 years later, it’s different. God gives most of us a honeymoon period when we come to him but the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. A lot of people who can enjoy the honeymoon can’t stand the subsequent tests and they fall by the way. It has to be a person who’s proved his commitment to the Lord and his ability to go through hardship. It was significant that it was at the appointing of the elders that Paul and Barnabas reminded the believers we must go through much hardship to enter into the kingdom of God. That’s a message that isn’t overemphasized today but it’s still true. Hardship is part of what it takes to become an effective member of God’s governing kingdom.
Let’s consider briefly the functions of an elder. I’m going to go back to some of the passages I’ve read and just read them quickly again. Acts 20:28, bearing in mind these words are spoken to elders.
“Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Let me make it just a by the way comment. You notice that it says God bought the church with his own blood? Who was it that bought the church with his blood? Jesus. But he’s called God. It’s one of various passages which are very, very important. For instance, dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses for one example, who believe that Jesus was not divine but created. There is a very important passage. God bought the church with his own blood.
However, that’s just by the way. Notice the two functions there. Overseers and shepherds. We’ve spoken about them, we just mention that for the sake of thoroughness. To oversee is to manage, to see that things get done, to administrate. Everybody understands in the field of building construction what a foreman is. He doesn’t do all the work but he sees that the other people do their work. A shepherd who does all the work himself is not a success. In fact, he’s a failure. It’s his business to train others to do the work. A congregation that says we hired, let him do it, has got no concept of what it’s all about.
Then to shepherd. I think if I were to be asked for one word that goes to the heart of shepherding it would be the word care. The shepherd is the one who cares. He cares about God’s people. Not because he’s paid, not because he has a position but because he has a caring heart. It’s very remarkable how God’s people will gravitate to such a man. It’s possible to make a human appointment which isn’t a divine choice and say, “This is your shepherd, he’ll look after you.” But you put such a man beside another man who’s got a shepherd’s heart and you will find invariably God’s people will go to the man who has a heart. That’s what humanity needs more than anything else today.
I’ve probably put out as many teaching tapes as almost any preacher on this continent. But I tell God’s people remember, a tape could do a lot for you but it can’t shepherd you. You need a man of flesh and blood who cares, who’s there when your marriage falls apart. Before I got an unlisted phone—which was a good many years ago now—I used to get phone calls from all over the nations. “Brother Prince, what must I do?” Usually it was a lady about her husband. Sometimes it would be, “My husband has demons.” I used to answer, “Most husbands have demons. Relax.” In the end I used to say to them, “Don’t you have a shepherd? Don’t you have anybody you can go to? Why do you have to phone 1,500 miles across the continent?” And the answer was they didn’t have a shepherd. I would like to tell you my personal opinion. The majority of God’s believing people in this nation today do not have shepherds. They may have ministers, they may attend churches, but they really don’t have somebody who cares, who’s available. I have spoken to countless people. I was speaking to one young woman here last night. I could see I couldn’t solve her problems, she needs a shepherd. Everybody will flock to a visiting minister because he’s got a reputation and because they can tell him things they wouldn’t want to tell somebody in the locality. He cannot meet your need. There are many things he can do for you but care for you, shepherd you, he cannot do.
If you want to know what it means to have a shepherd, turn to Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd. We won’t turn there now. Look at the various things that a shepherd does. The one that impresses me most is this and David is speaking to the Lord as his divine shepherd.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
See, when you walk through the valley of the shadow it’s not enough to have a nice cassette player and a good teaching tape. You need a person to walk with you. Notice two things the shepherd has. He has a rod and a staff. For me, the rod speaks discipline, the staff speaks comfort. Discipline goes before comfort. Lots of people will run to a man for help when they’re in trouble but when he tells them that they need to straighten their lives out and get their marriage in order and their finance in order, then they don’t want to listen.
I’ve been dealing with a number of men in leadership recently and I have suggested to several of them you spend too much time on people who are not willing to meet God’s conditions. Lay down the conditions and then see how they respond. A lot of people want sympathy. Sympathy is a disease, did you know that? There’s a great deal of difference between compassion and sympathy. Compassion is divine and it inspires to action. Sympathy just wipes away the tears and says, “There, there, poor you.” A lot of people just lap it up. People who want sympathy cannot really be shepherded. If that’s all they want, they’re wasting the man’s time.
That’s, in my opinion, the real essence of the shepherding relationship. When the sheep is going through the valley of the shadows, you go with them. Don’t tell me a cassette or a book can do that, they can’t. You need a person. Woe to you if you get to the threshold of the valley and you don’t have a shepherd. Then it’s a bit too late to start looking around and say, “Who has God put in authority over my life?”
Now, the valley of the shadow of death is not just dying. Many, many times we go through that shadow here in life. In fact, sometimes dying would be an easy way out.
The shepherd is the one who cares, the one who cares enough to discipline. There’s an idea current in the world today that parents who discipline their children don’t love them. The opposite is true. Parents who don’t discipline their children don’t love them. It’s much easier to say, “Go on, do your own thing,” than it is to say, “You’re making a mess of your life and I won’t permit you to do it.” This translation is a little free but I’ll read it and maybe adjust it.
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
Most of the translations use the word “rule.” The elders who rule the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at teaching. There are two more functions. To rule and to teach. Ruling is primary, teaching is secondary. The scripture implies there there may be elders who rule but don’t really teach. It says if you have an elder who rules and teaches, count him worthy of double honor.
Let me point out that that double honor is in part financial. Let’s have no nice spiritualizing of that because the next verse says the laborer is worthy of his reward. I’ll come back to that a little later.
So, the function of the elder is to rule. The trouble is we have to have an absolute revolution with God’s people today to convince them that they need to be ruled. And Charismatics are the worst! “I’m free, don’t bring me into bondage, don’t tell me what to do. The Holy Spirit tells me.” When I hear people talk like that I just wait to see how soon they’ll need to be picked out of the ditch. That’s an arrogant attitude and God never blesses arrogance—never. Even if what such a person says were true, which it isn’t, God could not bless that attitude.
Second in this passage, fourth in our list, teaching. We’ve already spoken about that, there’s no need to go into it at length. Not brilliant inspired sermons necessarily although thank God for them. But basic, practical, down-to-earth, day-by-day teaching. How to get your finance in order. Most Christians need teaching on that. Very, very few Christians today have their finances in scriptural order. Most Christians are far too much in debt. I’ve learned by experience just giving people advice doesn’t get them out of debt. In some cases you have to get a hold of their checkbook and say make me a budget. Don’t write a check till I’ve approved it. That’s bondage, brother, isn’t it? But it gets people out of debt.
The Bible says the borrower is the slave of the lender. That’s a very true remark. You’re in debt, you’re not living free, you’re a slave. God doesn’t want his people in slavery. That’s one of the tasks of the shepherd, the elder, to see that God’s people truly live free. If you owe more money than you can reasonably pay and you’re continually struggling to make ends meet, you’re not free. You can speak in tongues as much as you like but you’re a slave. That’s not the way God wants His people. But it takes authority to get people out of that. I’m talking from personal experience, I’ve dealt with people. Just playing a cassette to them won’t do it. It requires a cassette with two feet and a voice and hands.
We go on to Hebrews 13:7.
“Remember your teachers who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
I see again two functions. The first, to speak God’s word. I don’t believe that’s necessarily the same as teaching. I believe that to speak God’s word means to be able to tell God’s people this is what God is saying to us right now. This is God’s directive now word for us as a people. God may have one word for the people in Florence, another word for the people in Charlotte, another word for the people in Raleigh. God may be saying something quite different and distinctive to each section of His people. It’s the leader’s responsibility to hear what God is saying to him and his people, to speak the word of God. We need to build a building, we don’t need to build a building. We need to spend time in prayer and fasting. We need to give ourselves to evangelization. There are many different directive words that God will speak to his people. You can’t do them all at once, you’ll live in total confusion if you do. The leader has to know what’s the now word. Is it prayer and fasting? Is it evangelization? Is it move into a bigger building? Is it send out messengers of the gospel to other nations? There are many different possible directive words of God that may come to Hs people. The leader is the one who has to hear and transmit God’s word to His people.
Then it says imitate their faith. That’s very important. A leader has to set an example of faith. I don’t know that there’s anything more important than that. You have to live a life that challenges God’s people to follow you because they see your faith and they see that it works. All the teaching in the world won’t change that unless it comes out of faith, unless it’s motivated by faith. People don’t want just a message, they want an example. God says you must have leaders whose faith you can imitate.
Just one more function in Hebrews 13:17.
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority: they watch over you as men who must give an account...”
The other translations say they watch over your souls. That’s a tremendous responsibility. I think a major aspect of watching over the souls of God’s people is praying for them. As we were in the city of Raleigh yesterday, one of the men who was with us who is not here today pointed out the largest Methodist church in the city. He told us from his own previous acquaintance of the man who used to pastor that church and had a membership of over 3,000 members. That man spent every morning in prayer in a rather secret room in the church which few people knew about. He never went anywhere before 10 a.m. unless it was a critical emergency. He had the names of all the members of his church, their children and their photographs. Every morning he prayed over that dossier of names and photographs. That was his first task each morning.
Interestingly enough, the comment was made he’s never been to seminary but he had the largest Methodist church in the area. Is that cause and effect? We don’t know. Why did he have the largest church? One reason I would guess was he cares. Theology is no substitute for caring. When you say, “Brother, I’ll pray for you,” people get to discover whether your prayers amount to much. It’s easy to say I’ll pray but if nothing happens people think it doesn’t make any difference whether he prays or not. If you pray and things start to happen, those people will be back on your doorstep. “Thank you for praying. Now would you pray about the next problem?”
Seven functions. I’m only going to just recapitulate.
First, to shepherd.
Second, to oversee.
Third, to rule.
Fourth, to teach.
Fifth, to speak God’s word, God’s now word.
Sixth, to set an example of faith.
And seventh, to watch for the souls of the people committed to him.
How are elders appointed? I have just two more sections and we’ll close. Let’s turn back to Acts 20 for a moment. This is one of the key passages. Acts 20:28.
“Guard yourselves and all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers...”
The initiative is with God. It’s the Holy Spirit who initially determines that a man shall be an overseer. Actually, if you study the apostleship of Paul as it’s presented in the whole New Testament it’s very interesting. He said he was an apostle of God the Father by Jesus Christ the Son. But it was the Holy Spirit who indicated that. It was through the laying on of the hands of his fellow ministers in the church at Antioch that he was actually sent forth as an apostle. That’s really a pattern of everything that happens in the church. It starts with God the Father, it comes through Jesus Christ the Son, it’s communicated to the church by the Holy Spirit and it’s made effective by the believers in the church. Very interesting, though Paul was chosen to be an apostle by God the Father through the revelation of Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, though he had such a dramatic conversion and such a tremendous ministry, if you study the record he was never called an apostle until his fellow ministers recognized his calling and sent him out with the laying on of hands. It’s one thing to be called, it’s another to be recognized. Recognition by God’s people is an essential part of a total function.
Here Paul says the Holy Spirit made you overseers. How many of you know the Holy Spirit has no hands? He has no feet. The Holy Spirit does it but is made effective as he finds human instruments to carry it out. So, in the other passages that we read in Acts 14:23 it says:
“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church...”
Does it mean the Holy Spirit didn’t do it? No. But it means the Holy Spirit made effective through their cooperating with him and through something that was done publicly and visibly in the church. When Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 1:5 he said:
“Appoint elders in every church.”
Does that mean that the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with it? No. It means the Holy Spirit made the decision but it was communicated and made effective by the act of Titus.
How is the appointment made? If you want to take the whole history, it’s from God the Father. Everything starts from God the Father. He’s the source of everything. It comes through Jesus Christ. It’s communicated to the church by the Holy Spirit. Remember, Jesus Christ is Lord over the church. The Holy Spirit is Lord in the church. The Lordship of Jesus over the church is never more effective than the Lordship of the Holy Spirit in the church. That’s the measure of the Lordship of Jesus over it. It’s from God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son by the Holy Spirit through human agents. That’s when it becomes fully effective.
The recognition of a man’s ministry has got a lot to do with its being effective. Jesus said he that receiveth a prophet how? In the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. It’s important that if a man comes as a prophet from God you recognize him as a prophet. The one who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.
Finally, and this is very, very important, I hope your attention isn’t flagging, we’ve talked about the functions and responsibilities of elders. I trust you’ll see I attach great importance to this. I’m not in a hurry. You could sit through some movies for two and three hours—this is more than a movie. I want to speak now about the responsibilities of the sheep, the people of God. What are their responsibilities toward their shepherd? Responsibility is always two ways, you know that. Parents have responsibilities toward their children but children have responsibilities toward their parents. Those who rule us have responsibilities towards us who are ruled but we have responsibilities towards our rulers. So it is with the relationship between the elder and the people. The elder has his responsibilities, the people have their responsibilities. The thing will not function the way it should unless both parties discharge their responsibilities.
What are the responsibilities of the people? I’m only going to look at one chapter and that’s Hebrews 13 and just pick out certain key statements. Hebrews 13, first verse 7 and then verse 17 and then verse 24. Then there will be two other passages I’ll refer to briefly. Hebrews 13:7.
“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you: consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
There are two requirements. Remember and imitate. Why does it say remember? Obviously because it’s possible to forget. One of the things that helps a man in his service is recognition, that he’s not just taken for granted, that you remember you have a leader, you have an elder, you have somebody who cares for you. One obvious way to remember is what? Remember in prayer. Remember to pray every day for your leaders. Always lift them up to God in prayer. That’s remembering them.
Then it says imitate them, follow their examples. Don’t just be hearers of the word but put it into practice.
Then we go on to Hebrews 13:17.
“Obey your leaders, and submit to their authority...”
Two more clear requirements. Submit, obey. You might wonder why it says both submit and obey. I believe I can answer there. Obedience is an outward act. Submission is an inward attitude. Sometimes people obey but they don’t really submit. You’ve heard the story about the little boy in church who was misbehaving. His father was sitting by him and the little boy wanted to stand up in the pew and the father kept pushing him down. He would stand up again and his father would push him down. Eventually the father held him down. The little boy said, “I’m sitting down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside.” See, that’s obedience without submission. Lots of God’s people may be sitting down on the outside but they’re still standing up on the inside. We have to submit to authority even when we don’t obey it. There may be times when we have to say my conscience will not permit me to do what you’re telling me to do but I’m still submitted to you, I still recognize your authority. I’m not refusing you, I’m not rejecting you, I’m not rebelling against you. I am simply obeying the dictates of conscience.
The apostles had to do that when they were told not to preach any more on the name of Jesus. They recognized the authority but they said in this particular case we cannot obey you. They submitted, they accepted their punishment. They were still submissive when they weren’t obedient. I think one of the things that enables God’s people to prosper is a spirit of submissiveness. I believe we all need to cultivate it.
As Jay quoted at the beginning, I believe the primary submission is one to another. Submit yourselves one to another. I personally believe that even in the husband/wife relationship it’s mutual. The husband submits to the wife, the wife submits to the husband. Neither lords it over the other, neither manipulates or dominates the other. Within that mutual submission there is the particular function of the husband to act as head over his wife. I believe it should be so with all the people of God. Our submission should be mutual, we should respect one another, defer to one another, honor one another. Not be obstinate, self assertive, determined to prove that we’re right. Very many times it really doesn’t matter very much who’s right.
I have friends who are a married couple, I will not give their names. Both of them are very fine committed Christians. They love one another but they’ve had problems in making their marriage adjustment really work. One day they were having a discussion about something and the husband said to the wife, “Well, as a matter of fact, straight out I agree, you’re right. I’m happy to agree because I know it means so much to you.” That spoke to the wife as nothing else had ever done. She thought he’s telling the truth. It means too much to me that I’m right. Unfortunately, we Protestants—and I suppose most of you here are from Protestant backgrounds—we have a religious tradition of about three or four hundred years that the thing that really matters is to be right. No. The thing that really matters is to have a right attitude of the heart. Many of us know people who are right in their opinions and totally wrong in their attitudes. Isn’t that so? They’re the worst to deal with. God, send them to another church is my prayer! Unfortunately, he doesn’t always answer!
Submit, obey. Two dirty words. Another friend of mine was preaching one day on discipline and he’s one of these people who really believes in living healthy, eating the right things. He stood up on Sunday morning and he’s going to speak about discipline and wanted to introduce it in a dramatic way. He said, “Tell me, what’s the dirtiest word in contemporary English?” One of his dear sisters said “white sugar.” His message was spoiled, he never could get off the ground. Well, what I’m saying is submit and obey are two dirty words in modern society. But they’re in the Bible. In that sense the Bible has got a lot of dirty words in it, did you know that? Please understand the sense in which I say that.
We turn to 1Timothy 5:17 for the last two responsibilities. We could look in various places but I don’t want to spend too much time. 1Timothy 5:17. We’ve looked here before, we’ll look again.
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the scripture says, Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. And, the worker deserves his wages.”
There’s one requirement which I think can be stated in two words. The requirement is honor. Again, honor is something that we have almost forgotten how to pay. Contemporary society scarcely honors anybody. Maybe a few movie stars, somebody like that. I think it’s very significant that we talk about paying honor. I’ve come to the conclusion that it if it doesn’t cost me something I’m not really honoring somebody. If it just suits me to be nice to them that’s not really honor. But when I show them honor at my expense, that’s honor. There’s very little of it. As a matter of fact, things have changed even since I came to this country. I immigrated by accident to the United States in 1963. First I was in the northern part of the States mainly in Minneapolis, the state of Washington, the State of Illinois. But then about 1968 when I got involved with Jay Thurston I began to come to the south. With my British background I was amazed. It was much more like being in England being in the south than it was in the north. The thing I noticed was honor, respect. Children said yes sir to their father and yes ma’am to their mother. People showed me an honor that I seldom received in the north. I tell you, the south has changed a lot in the last 15 years. There isn’t much of that left. Honor is a diminishing commodity in this world today. That’s one of the ways the church has got to be different from the world. We should delight to show honor to God’s servants. Honor those that have the rule over you.
Then it says count them worthy of double honor. Shall I tell you a little interesting mathematical fact? If you double zero you still have zero. Did you know that? There has to be something there to start with if it’s going to be doubled.
It’s very clear from the context—which I invite you to examine for yourselves—Paul is not talking merely about formal declarations of honor. “Brother, we admire you, we esteem you.” He’s talking about the nitty-gritty. Finance, money. All over the world if you don’t know a foreign language well the first word you normally pick up is the word for money. ?Disente? they say in East Africa. ?Foloose? in Arabic. ?Kasef? in Hebrew. When you get to European nations they talk in thousands of krona, marks. Money is a very well understood commodity. It dominates the thinking of many people. Money is a way of showing honor. So, Paul says if a man’s doing a really good job, double his salary, that’s what it means. Honor him. Don’t just speak sweet words. Show you mean it.
It’s really interesting to me, I’m watching your faces. I think most of you have never been confronted with that. The Bible is such a down-to-earth book. I’m always troubled by people who always make everything so spiritual. Nothing has any real meaning. Do you hear people talk in church, they say, “Money doesn’t matter.” The moment they get outside the church building their attitude changes. They know it matters. They spend most of their lives working for it and worrying about it. The people who say it doesn’t matter are the ones who worry most.
I am saying that the man of God who rules faithfully the people of God is to be honored. Part of that honor is financial. Not all of it but part of it. I don’t have time to go into this but let me point out that it says in the book of Proverbs “Honor God with your substance.” What we give to God is honoring to God. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus chided the Pharisees because they took honor away from their parents because they didn’t support their parents financially. In Acts 28 when Paul and his company left the island of Malta it says “the natives honored us with many honors and supplied all we needed.” In every one of those cases: to God, to parents, to ministers of the gospel; honor is something tangible and material. So it is here.
Let me sum up and we close on a good note. Six responsibilities of those who are ruled, shepherded, pastored, cared for.
Number one, remember. Primarily in prayer.
Number two, imitate.
Number three, submit.
Number four, obey.
Number five, honor.
Number six which is the by-product of number five, support financially.
Those are the basic obligations of God’s people. The more each party fulfills its obligation the more the other party will be blessed. It’s mutual. It’s like a husband/wife relationship. It never works properly unless both parties do their share.
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