- Exodus 18:13-23;
- 1Timothy 3:1-7
My dear brothers and sisters, family in Christ,
For some reason, I love the “Air Crash Investigation” programs. About all episodes begin with a simulation of the crash. The pilot is barking out commands to his off-sider, the sirens are loud, in the background, there is this annoying repetition of the alarm systems. Then there is a mighty explosion, followed darkness. This is followed by real footage of the wreckage covered in smoke, usually with ambulances, the right lights of emergency vehicles, and the pieces of the once beautiful aircraft strewn all over the place.
Everyone watching these programs wonders why on earth they would ever fly again!
The investigation usually, first of all, focusses on the pilot: what did he do wrong, or where could he have understood the signals better.
Who wants to board a plane with a half-trained pilot!
Unfortunately, many Christians are careless when it comes to the calling of a minister or the election of elders to be their spiritual pilots.
The seriousness of well-equipped elders
When Paul makes a list of the gifts to the church, about every time, he puts church leaders first. He does so in the chapters mainly concerned with spiritual gifts.
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28, NIV)
This is not accidental, and we should not miss his point. When he continues his argument about the importance of gifts in chapter 14, he states,
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV)
He continues in verse 3 and 12:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, excel in those that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 12, NIV)
“Prophecy” in these verses must not be confused with the gift of tongues, which is last on the list of gifts—Paul makes it clear that prophecy is more important than the gift of tongues. Prophecy is, in the normal scheme of things, nothing more than declaring the Word of God and to glorify his Name. After the canon of the Bible was closed, only in very rear circumstances is prophecy something which will happen in future. The phenomenon of people speaking in tongues to predict the future does not line up with the Scriptures; prophecy and speaking in tongues is not the same thing! Real discernment is needed to determine the difference between that sort of prophecy and fortune-telling.
Now, back to eldership. Why is it so important? It is paramount to understand that God calls people to preach the Word, and others to keep guard over the pure preaching of the Word, and also to shepherd the flock to live according to the Word. All other gifts become less critical when we grasp this truth.
This means that eldership is significant. It says that you must make sure that you elect elders who meet the qualifications of Scriptures, or they will be like half-washed pilots in control of the plane in which you are a passenger—not really because no-one in God’s Kingdom is a passenger. We are more like an army where everyone is engaged in battle, with the elders acting as the training officers.
When it comes to the “who” of eldership we don’t call the shots; members of the church cannot determine what they think elders must do, and what sort of lives they should live. It is the prerogative of God; it concerns his church bought in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ.
When Moses had to elect elders back in Exodus 18, he had to select men with specific spiritual values: capable men—men who fear God, trustworthy, who hate dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21, NIV).
When Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to appoint elders for leadership and feeder-ship of the congregations, he essentially lists the same attributes as mandatory for elders.
Our text says to be an elder is to fulfil a noble task. What is noble about it? Does is mean elders are of particular bloodline, more or less untouchable, high above the rest of the congregation? The Bible is more concerned about the respectability, of the calling of elders than it is about the people who hold the office. Elders need to meet qualifications to adorn their calling and fulfil the task they are called to do. These qualifications were not set by the apostle, but by God. After all, elders are caring for God’s people.
It seems one can divide the qualifications for eldership in two major categories: their moral character, and their testimony.
The elder’s moral character
An elder should be someone who cannot be attacked (even by non-Christians) because of his ethical conduct. This does not mean that an elder must be sinless; it does mean that he has set his mind at serving the Lord with all his heart. Titus 2:8 uses a similar idea which is translated as “that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.” In this regard, an elder must have a good track record. Verse 7 states: In terms of his good character, he must have a good reputation even with outsiders. Unbelievers might not share the same beliefs as elders, but they will have respect for them because they are trustworthy, respectable men of their word, men who practice what they preach. They are not two-faced hypocrites.
He must be a man who honours his marriage
The statement “a man of one wife” does not mean that an elder must be married. Unmarried men can surely serve as elders. But when they are married, two aspects must stand out:
- An elder is a man of one wife. This does not mean that a divorced man can never serve as an elder; what it surely implies is that if his infidelity in a previous marriage led to the breakdown of that marriage, and he subsequently married the wife with whom adultery was committed, such a person cannot serve as an elder. Such a man is surely not above reproach.
- The second aspect of the elder’s marriage is equally important: he must manage his family well. This includes disciplined children who know to respect their parents. The point is this: if an elder fails to be a successful godly example to his family, how can the congregation expect that he will be able to lead them to show reverence for God, and bow before the authority of the Bible?
Do you want a godly elder who can lead you in your Christian walk right into eternity? See if he is a godly father and husband.
An elder is a man whose conduct is free from any form of excesses, particularly in moral and spiritual matters. It might suffice to say an elder is a sensible and dignified Christian. He has a mind that is earnest and sound, he is well-ordered and free from confusion, hence “orderly” and well-behaved.
This takes us to understand the opposites mentioned in the paragraph: an elder cannot be a drunkard, a violent man, quarrelsome or someone who loves money. He is not someone who is known who can fly off the handle quickly; he is not someone who picks a fight or gets involved in a battle of words just to win an argument or to have the first and the last say. An elder is not greedy; too many widows can witness to the greed of church leaders who cheated them out of property and money. The opposite should be true of an elder: he is called to willingly part with his cash when needed—not putting his own family in jeopardy—to help the truly destitute.
An elder is a friend of strangers. His house is open to those in need. This might become more pressing in times of Christians losing their jobs because they profess Jesus Christ as Lord. In tough economic times, the elder is the one who welcomes in the destitute to give them shelter.
The elder’s testimony of the Word of God
An apt teacher
An elder is a true prophet to the people of God.
Not all elders need to be able to preach, but all elders must have sufficient knowledge of the main aspects of the teachings of the Bible to guide the people of God in their spiritual walk. Historically it was the task of the elder to teach the young people of the congregation to prepare them to make public profession of faith. Elders teach from house to house when they read the Scriptures, pray for those in their care, encourage the sick, the lonely and those who mourn. An elder must be able to apply the Scriptures when a member of the flock goes astray; he must be able to refute false teachings. It speaks for itself that an elder must love and study of the Word of God.
An elder is a true prophet to his own family.
It calls for sincere love and dedication of a father to be the prophet of his family and to make it his priority to lead them to salvation in the Lord, but it is also an unspeakable privilege. It calls for much prayer, teaching in the Scriptures, a good example, love, and dedication. Sadly, it is right here at this point that many who end up in eldership failed before they begin.
Not an immature Christian
It now speaks for itself that an elder cannot be a new Christian. Before he can be able to teach, he must himself grow in the knowledge of the Word; he must mature in his walk with God to the testimony of the congregation before he can take on the spiritual leadership role.
An elder is a male who loves Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour
Much is said about the equality of male and female roles in our society. We don’t have enough time to go into all the arguments, but it does not need an in-depth study of the Bible to come to the conclusion that leadership in both family and church family is ordained of God. We in the Presbyterian Church of Australia subscribe to the complementary understanding of God-given tasks between males and females. One is not higher or greater than the other; we have different roles which complement our service under the Headship of Christ. Eldership is according to the Bible a role for men.
It speaks for itself that capable elders can only be elected by members who are circumspect in their walk in the Lord. Watch over yourself; be diligent and prayerful to elect capable pilots to guide you to arrive safely at your spiritual destination.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 February 2019