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The Responsibility of Elders (2)

N Mellish, Stoke on Trent

5. Example of the home (1 Tim 3.4-5)

A man who has responsibility to see that the house of God is kept according to the divine pattern must have his own home in order as an example to the saints. It is impossible for anyone to speak to others regarding divine order if he cannot control his own family whilst they are under his roof. When children leave and establish their own homes they then come under another headship and are no longer their father's responsibility.

The elder is said to be one who "ruleth well his own house" (1 Tim 3.4). The thought behind the word "ruleth" is that of "standing before", thus to preside and to rule. A man who cannot control his own house is unfit to have responsibility in God's house.

His children must be in subjection to him and obey his words with all gravity. A Christian home does not follow the fashion of the world where in our day children seem to have authority and the parents none. In the Epistle to Titus the children must be "faithful" (1.6), a passive word which would indicate what they are to their parents. No man can save their children's souls, this is a divine work, but the way in which he instructs them and holds them for God will have an effect on them for good, and for salvation.

We see the consequence of failure in parenthood in the life of Eli, recorded for us in 1 Samuel 2-3. Here was a man that could hinder a spiritual exercise in Hannah, not being able to discern her desires for God, but would not restrain the evil seen in his sons who "made themselves vile, and he restrained them not" (1 Sam 3.13). These were men who spoiled the sacrifices and offerings that the likes of Hannah brought, because Eli honoured his sons above God (2.29) and allowed them to do as they would. Such men are not in a position to stand before the saints, if they cannot stand before their family.

It is at this point that the main burden of these papers is centred. If a man in responsibility acts in government for God in this dispensation of spiritual enlightenment, it is a very sad thing if the failure that marked every other dispensation is seen now in the assembly.

Note that 1 Timothy 3.5 deals with the responsibility of a man who takes the place of being an elder. He must "take care" of the church of God. The expression "take care" (Strong 1959) only occurs three times in the New Testament two of which are in Luke 10.34-35. When the good Samaritan took the man who fell among thieves to the inn, note that in v.34 he himself "took care" of him. The Lord left an example to those who hold responsibility in the assembly by doing what He asks others to do. Then the inn keeper must carry on the work of taking care in v.35. This is to have its compensations, for the Lord will never ask any, without blessing them, to look after those He has taken in. Perhaps it is here that we see the value of Hebrews 13.17 regarding the day when they will have to "give account" for their ministry. If all has been done for the glory of God then, when the chief shepherd appears, they will receive "a crown of glory" (1 Pet 5.4).

Sadly, we do find that there are many saints who suffer under the hand of some elders rather than knowing the care that should be given. They are like those of Ezekiel 34.2 where the Lord brought a woe upon the shepherds that "feed themselves", and in vv.2-5 a sad feature marks them as they who ill-treat the flock. Elders are not there to control, but to care. They are not a dictatorship but one in fellowship with the saints. Philippians 1.1 sees them as being "with" the saints; the preposition "sun" indicating that they are one with the saints, not a superior body over the saints. Peter makes it very clear that they are not to act "as being lords over God's heritage" (1 Pet 5.3) - the word "heritage" came from a word we know as the "clergy". It simply means God's chosen portion, such are those redeemed by precious blood. What right, then, has any man to lord it over them?

We are taught by Peter (5.1-5) the place of an elder; it is among the flock, not over them. The purpose of this place is to feed the flock of God. His practice is recorded as being, (a) not of constraint, (b) not for filthy lucre, (c) not as lords. The promise is a crown. The pattern is seen in both the Lord and Peter. We must remember who it is who owns the sheep, and feel the grave responsibility that the Lord has given to some to take care of the flock.

We see the effect of what bad handling can do in the life of Mephibosheth (2 Sam 9.1-6) which left him lame on both his feet. It would seem that there are many saints today who do not walk right because of the fact that they were caused to fall when it was not their fault. Many believers have been lost to the assembly because those in responsibility have not been wise in their care. Others no longer break bread because of the way they have been treated, and there are many broken hearted saints who have been hurt and no attempt has been made to seek their recovery. Is this taking care of the church of God?

Perhaps in some cases it is because the other requirements of 1 Timothy 3 are not adhered to such as:

6. The exclusion of the inexperienced (1 Tim 3.6)

The very fact that those who are called by the Spirit are called "elders" (1 Tim 3.1,2) would in itself indicate that they are older men. From this epistle they are also generally family men who have had experience in rearing their own children. Having done it well, the Lord can now commit His children into their care. When those who are newly come to the faith are given too much prominence, however gifted they may seem to be, it could cause them to fall into the snare of the devil, which is to be lifted up with pride. This could result in a high-handed approach to the saints.

7. An exemplary life (1 Tim 3.7)

All who are called to shepherd the flock "must have a good report of them which are without". No one in the system of the world should be able to point an accusing finger in any way against them, for the devil will set a trap, and if pride could mark the inexperienced, pitfalls await those who have a blighted testimony.

The need of the hour throughout the churches of God, wherever they testify to the Lord and leave a true witness to the fact that the Word of God can be carried out in our day, must be that there is a genuine care for the saints and a desire to see them protected. None should take "premenince" (3 Jn v.9), which is against the truth that the Lord has left us, and all must seek at all times the welfare of the stricken sheep who need special care and nurturing.

May we examine our hearts to see if we are faithfully tending the flock of God.

Concluded.

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