- Psalm 23
- Acts 20:17-31
Dear friends in Christ,
Lord willing, in the near future, the congregation will elect elders. Last week we learned from the Scripture “why” the congregation of God needs elders. There are mainly two reasons.
- The first reason is that Christians, however living under the grace of God, are still not perfect. We rebel and struggle against sin and the attacks of Satan, both in our private lives and in our lives as members of God’s people. We need discipline to keep on the straight and the narrow, and we need guidance in our relationships as members of the body of Christ. We need the oversight of elders to pull us up and lead us back to the clear waters of the Scriptures.
- The second reason is that everything in the household of God needs to be according to his declared will in his Word to maintain unity, peace and Christians love. We need people, who are called and appointed by God, to shepherd us to obedience and order on the way to our promised land. This they do under the authority of the Scriptures.
In all of this, both our leaders and us, bow under the authority and Headship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Today we are listening to the Word on the “what” of eldership.
The offices in the church find their example and fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the offices of priest, prophet and king of the Old Testament. We need no priest anymore because our Lord was the last High Priest, the final sacrifice and the fulfilment of the sacrificial system. Christ is the fulfilment of all prophesies; He is the Word of God through whom God speaks to us. The Holy Spirit takes the words of Christ and declares them to us. As king, He rose from the dead, victorious of sin, Satan, death and hell.
The perfect Shepherd
Keep this in mind, and Psalm 23 gives us a perfect example of Christ as our Shepherd. He provides all we need so we don’t lack anything. He leads us and protects us, even through te valley of death. He prepares a feast for us in the sight of our enemy. He leads us to our eternal dwelling. Christ himself declared:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, ESV) My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28, ESV)
Paul met with the elders of Ephesus and commanded them:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28, ESV)
Elders take their role as shepherds from the example and command of Jesus Christ.
The flock of Christ belongs Him
Let’s never forget who we are. The Bible is clear on this point.
…the church of God, which He obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28, ESV)
The reference to blood takes us to the office of priest. There is no redemption, salvation or forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. Jesus Christ was the Lamb without blemish—perfect because He knew no sin.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. (Hebrews 9:13-14, 24, NIV)
As members of the body of Christ never forget that you belong to Christ, and the price was his blood.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)
Without question, then, elders should have experienced this redemption for themselves. Those called to be elders can only lead the flock in the ways of the Lord if they know and walk that way themselves. It was custom in years gone by for leaders in the civil community got elected as elders to acknowledge their leadership. Bank managers, school principals, doctors, chairmen of public organisations got the nod to become elders (and in may an occasion, unfortunately, members of the Lodge!), but unfortunately, many of them did not have any, or minimal, Christian experience. They could not make a credible profession of faith, they hardly knew the Scriptures, and they did not display a life consistent with a life in Christ. The church suffered badly because their leadership was not godly, was not based on the Scriptures, and in many cases was a shame to the Name of Christ. This is not the plan of God for his church. It was the death nail to the people of God in the Old Testament. Isaiah writes: 56:10-11
Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. (Isaiah 56:10–11, NIV)
An ungodly elder is like a bull mastiff eating through its meal like a hungry lion, but afterwards, it goes to sleep in the sun. As a watchdog, it is useless.
When someone is called to take up eldership in the church of Jesus Christ, such a person takes up and weighty and significant appointment. To his care is entrusted not just any group of people. The flock he needs to tend to belong from eternity to Christ. God chose them in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4); He predestines them to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5); He did this so that they should live to his praise and glory (Ephesians 1:6); Christians, bought in his blood, are now the family of God (Ephesians 3:14) and Jesus Christ lives in his church because they are his holy temple (Ephesians 2:21).
Elders as shepherds
To maintain good order, unity and peace within his church, our Lord calls elders to guard and protect the flock. They need to feed the flock too. That’s what shepherds do. Elders take their cue from the Upper Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He left the 99 and went looking for the lost one. He put everything on the line for the wellbeing of the flock.
For elders to be good shepherds, they need to take care of themselves, and of fellow-elders. “Watch over yourselves”, is the command. Elders are not a rule unto themselves. Fact is every heresy started amongst elders, of which the preacher is one. Elders watch over other elders and need to test their ministry against the Word of God; they first must stand under the discipline of the Word, before they will be able to take care of the flock. The point is, they have not appointed themselves. Once someone displays the attributes of being an elder, two things need to happen:
- He needs to have an inward calling from the Holy Spirit. It is a stirring which only the person who is called would know and understand. He might then put up his hand for the job, but a second calling is needed.
- The congregation, under the guidance of the same Spirit, must call him to the office. This is what we are preparing for at the moment. We are presently ascertaining the role of an elder against the Word of God. We are going to pray about it; then we are going to have a ballot. Those elected will receive training, the existing elders will come back to the congregation and report about the readiness and spiritual life of those appointed. Only then will we have a proper election—and after that will the elders-elect be ordained and inducted. This is a slow process but a necessary one.
Savage wolves seek to destroy the flock
There’s one thing the owner of the sheep knew very well in ancient Israel: you can’t leave the flock alone in the paddocks. Even today with the luxury of fences we understand the devastation of dingos and foxes. They can destroy a flock and cause much damage.
The same applies to the church of our Lord. We have an enemy, a raging lion who seeks to devour. It is the calling of an elder to be the guard against these attacks. It is for the benefit of the sheep that they heed to the warning of the shepherds, even if sometimes they don’t like it. Don’t despise the pastoral care of your elders when they speak out against spiritual laziness and sin in your life. It is entirely within the plan of God that his people need spiritual discipline by the elders. They don’t stick their nose into your business when they pull you up on slack attendance of public worship; they are not nosy when they inquire about your Bible reading and prayer, or your participation in congregational activities and witness to the outside world. They are there for your good.
How would you know if their oversight is godly? Easy! Test it against the Word of God. Elders are not permitted to Lord it over the people of God, but they are called to rule under the Word of God. Paul speaks of himself as a servant of Christ:
I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:27, NIV)
On this basis does he charge elders to watch over the flock of Christ—they would need to do the same: through constant study and contemplation, they need to understand the Word and know how to break the bread of the Word to their flock. This does not imply that they need to be theologians; they just need to love the Word and live under its authority. Paul says:
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, NIV)
The Word builds up; it guides us on the way to our inheritance. We are all under this gracious Word.
A calling with high demands
If Paul is anything to go by, and indeed he in some place calls people to follow his example, elders need to hear this:
I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24, NIV)
Not all elders are full-time workers, but in some sense, this must be true of all elders. They are called by God, they need to take care of the flock bought in the blood of Christ, they need to know the enemy, and they need to complete the task God has called them.
My dear friends, take your privilege of electing elders very seriously. Don’t expect of them more than you expect of yourselves; they are feeble human beings. They would certainly need to be held up by your prayers and encouragement. May God help us to be a congregation to his glory.