A Brief Forward
The title of this series of posts is “Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church;” however, by this statement, we do not intend that there is no knowledge of Christ in the other members of the covenant communities that represent the catholic church in local assemblies of such members, but rather, we intend that there is an order to that deposit of knowledge of God in Christ Jesus by which He graciously communicates this knowledge to His church. We also do not intend, by the word “knowledge,” here, simply that which is able to be intellectually grasped, but also, by the same Spirit of Christ, experientially grasped and applied. This order and divine method is intended by the apostle Paul in such places as Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12:13-31, and is inherent (and often explicit) in all he writes in all his epistles, but these two texts touch upon it most explicitly, so the reader is invited to study them for further edification.
The overall text we will be concentrating on is that of the first five chapters of 2 Corinthians, to show how this went forth in the first elders (the apostles and their immediate contemporaries) of the church to the church in the area of Corinth. The key text from within this broader text will be given at the start of the exposition for consideration and meditation, which will be 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.
The office of elders in the church is often not fully understood, overlooked by those who are taught, led and protected by these men who are gifts of Christ to His church, and often looked upon as a position of personal authority (sometimes by those who hold that office); in truth, it is sad, on the first two counts, due to a large scale, purposed ignorance, by those who are led, fed and protected by those elders (and this fault lies, first of all, with the bad teaching of such who ought not to be elders), of what the Scriptures teach about this most weighty position, and tragic on the last count, due to purposed abuse of that authority by those who are elders in some churches, when the authority is not theirs at all, but actually Christ’s, and the elders only hold, in stewardship, that which Christ has, through His Spirit, gifted them with for the feeding, leading and protection of the respective local churches of which they are to be examples of His excellencies.
A definition of terms is needful, at this point: By feeding, we intend preaching and teaching (although all teaching is preaching, and all teaching is preaching, to an extent, when it comes to the Scriptures); by leading, we intend by example, both of doctrine and personal living that accords with that doctrine; by protecting, we intend that discipline in the church of God which is set forth so plainly in the Scriptures, so that there may be the order of God’s grace in Christ Jesus in the church, safeguarding against false doctrines, as well as against those who live carnally – tares, posing as true wheat among the sheep of Christ, enticing them to carnal behaviors (and this intends more than sexual conduct and words – we mean, by carnal, that behavior which looks upon the outward appearance more than the truth of God; that which promotes judgment by looking upon the behaviors and language of others in an ill-intended manner, such as would be called by our Lord the judgment that sees splinters past its own logs).
Thankfully, Christ has said He will build His church, and there are true gospel churches where His doctrine is preached, taught and lived according too, as He gives grace; in such churches, the office of elder is a blessing to those men who have been gifted to His church, and a blessing to those He leads, feeds and protects through them, though it is not an easy office to discharge, which follows hard upon the example our Lord and His first elders (the apostles and their companions) set forth, by that same life-giving, life-empowering, life-preserving grace of God all elders – and indeed, all believers – do obtain pardon of sin and eternal life through.
For those who are elders, truly ordained by God in Christ, words could be multiplied, but rather than do such, we will simply mention a few portions of Scripture, with some expounding, before launching into the main thrust of this series of articles.
Luke 22:25-27: And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
James 3:1: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
1 Peter 5:1-3: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
In these three brief portions of Scripture, we find the demeanor of the elder, and that behavior is modeled by our Lord in the first example. He was among the first disciples to be trained to plant and water His flock, in various local covenant communities, as “one who serves.” There can be no doubt of His example, as there can be no doubt of any living out that example consistently but Him; still, it is the example, and as He had the Holy Spirit without measure to live in a manner that satisfied God’s requirement of law, and being perfected, made expiation for our sins, so do elders have a measure of grace given them in the gifts necessary to care for those portions of the body He has charged and empowered them to be able to do so within (to avoid confusion, we certainly make no claim that any, from the apostles up to present day elders, in any manner do that which provides expiation of sin – that was Christ’s alone to do).
Many people see the example of our Lord’s life, in His first advent, as just an example, but it is more; it is that which shows us that we can depend on God for that same power by which our Lord lived; that is, it is an example that leads to and provides that same power of God in the believer’s life which He exercised in raising our Lord from the dead. He lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and this is what the true example is. It is living in reliance and trust in God’s power, according to the life of our Lord (about the grace He earned for us and continues to give us daily, moment-by-moment). Being a servant of the flock of God entails an empowerment that gives which, while expecting return (those served grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord), never demands a return, because, as their Master, they are among those He has set them as undershepherds over as a servant. A servant does not demand, but gives example, whether in teaching or holy living. The Lord of all creation deigned to enter into His creation to live as a man to show us that, and earned for us the multifaceted grace to do so, which comes to us through His Spirit; this is more obvious for those who have the stewardship of His flock in local churches, although not less necessary than it is for all in the flock. Our Lord spoke these words to His first disciples, whom He appointed to be apostles, because, in their apostleship, they were to be stewards of the manifold grace of God in Christ Jesus, which is to say, intrinsic in their being used for revelation, they lived according to that revelation already given, by the same inexhaustible grace of God as our Lord (although the apostles and their companions in ministry did not have the “Spirit without measure” as our Lord alone did). They gave new revelation, but they lived according to both that revelation which came before, as well as that which they delivered, and in all this, they were faithful teachers, preachers, and watchmen of the church of Christ, which is to say, they exercised, among their gifts, the office of being the first elders to the church (we are not saying that elders are apostles of Christ, but that apostles of Christ were the first elders of His New Covenant church, as well as being the source of new revelation which expounded clearly on that which already was theirs).
Many aspire to become elders (for so James intends in his instruction when he mentions teachers), but they often desire it for the office, instead of the service. This is no more than the very “being noticed of men” which our Lord so strongly condemned, and for those who want the office for such reasons, we say, please, step down. If that is the reason for desiring the office, that is the proof that those who so desire it should not have it, for they seek reputation, rather than the glory of God. They do not understand James’ simple admonition, and will reap the reward of all who seek the approval of men, rather than God, for if the true elders receive stricter judgment, what shall we say for those who do their ministry to be held in high esteem of those they should rather be serving?
The apostle Peter simply expounds upon that which He received first from our Lord, in regards to these matters. It is to be noted that he gives these instructions to the elders among you, and he does so in the same manner as our Lord did, by association, as a fellow elder. Peter could have made appeal to the apostolic authority he was given by the Lord; he did not. Rather, he appealed to that station and office which is one of service and example, just as we observed our Lord doing. As one not better than those elders he appealed too, although used of God to give the revelation of the New Covenant, established in Christ, to the church, he simply states and instructs from a position of like servitude, as one who serves the flock of God, even as those He is instructing and writing to also do. This is not done by appealing to his authority as an apostle, and neither are those receiving these instructions to appeal to their authority as undershepherds of the flock of God entrusted to their care, but rather, by being an example of faith and practice in the doctrine of Christ. It is therefore not for shameful gain, as of temporal treasure, whether of reputation or monetary gain; rather, the oversight – the care, protection, and nourishing of the flock they have been charged with and gifted by God – is in accordance with that glory that is to be revealed of which all believers will have their part, and which is now, in a limited sense, communicated to the church through their elders by that gifting and office that they have been given. It is not sought by compelling, or demanding, from their position, but rather a willing example of service that models that trust in God which we first see perfectly in our Lord Jesus Christ, and which elders are to show to those entrusted to their care. It is not domineering, but example of service, that those they care for by God’s grace may also grow in that grace and knowledge of our Lord by their mutual care of and for one another, to His glory, by His grace.
This gives us a foundation, now, to consider how the apostle Paul is doing these very things in his ministry to the Corinthian church, which we will begin to look at in our next installment of this series of articles.
SDG – Bill