The Overseers: The biblical role of Elders

September 17th, 2017

Two weeks ago I looked at the biblical role of Pastor. We saw two main functions – equipping the church for the work of ministry and shepherding and overseeing the flock.

Next week I want to have a look at role of the church members and what role they should play in the congregation. But this week I want to have a look at the role of Elders according to the Bible.

In this message, I want to look at some examples from the Old Testament, at the time of Christ and the role they played in the early church. I will finish with some qualifications to be an Elder.

What is an Elder according to the Bible?

When we look at the Bible we see that the term Elder is one that spans through the centuries. The title of Elder has actually changed a number of times in Scripture to suit the setting.

1. The first use of the word Elder in Scripture is in the Old Testament. It referred to an older man in a tribe, family or town.

2. Also in the Old Testament, each town had a group of older men who were known as Elders. They made major decisions for the town.

3. The first four books of the New Testament also mention Elders too. These are sometimes known as the Sanhedrin. They were a group of men who governed the Jewish people in the time of Christ. Some were present when Jesus was arrested.

4. In the early church, the church leaders were called Elders.

5. In heaven it talks about 24 Elders surrounding the throne of God.

1. The role of Elders in the Old Testament

Firstly, I will look at some Old Testament examples of what Elders did. I am not going to labour this point but I just want to show you some practical things they did.

a. The Elders assisted to carry the burden of leadership – Numbers 11:16-17

Number 11:16-17 – The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

The Elder role was to stand with Moses and support him. They were there to help carry the burden of the people.

b. The Elders advised the Kings – 1 Kings 12:6-7

6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. 7 They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

King Rehobaom came to the Elders for advice. They advised him wisely.

c. The Elders judged the people’s disputes – Deuteronomy 22:16-19

16 The girl’s father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her… 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

They acted at judges and brought good outcomes.

d. Elders witnessed legal matters – Ruth 4:1-11

2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” “I will redeem it,” he said… 11 Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.

Boaz took some of the Elders with him to be witnesses to a transaction.

e. The Elders performed religious rituals – Exodus 12:21

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.

Another straight forward one. The Elders helped with religious duties. A bit like our Elders help with Communion.

f. The Elders played a vital role with the tribes – 1 Kings 8:1-3

1 Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the LORD’S covenant from Zion, the City of David. 2 All the men of Israel came together to King Solomon at the time of the festival in the month of Ethanim, the seventh month. 3 When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the priests took up the ark,

As older and wiser people they represented the tribes which was recognised by the King.

g. The Elders helped to educate the people – Exodus 19:7-8

7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.

The Elders were in the people receiving God’s Word.

Summary

a. The Elders assisted to carry the burden of leadership
b. The Elders advised the Kings
c. The Elders judged the people’s disputes
d. The Elders witnessed legal matters
e. The Elders performed religious rituals
f. The Elders played a vital role with the tribes
g. The Elders helped to educate the people

The Role of Elders in the New Testament

2. In Jewish society

a. The Elders were leaders of the people

Matthew 17:12 – When he (Jesus) was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.

Acts 24:1 – Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.

The Elders were there when Jesus was on trial and when Paul was taken before the Governor.

b. The Elders established and maintain religious tradition

Matthew 15:1 – Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

The Elders were there to help establish and in some cases fiercely maintain tradition. In many cases we see they didn’t like change and some really didn’t like Jesus.

3. In the Church

a. The Elders were overseers of the church – Titus 1:6-7

An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

An important part of the Elders work is overseeing the church. They need to see order is maintained and it is running smoothly. Most of us probably remember being in churches where the Elders used to sit up the front on chairs. They looked very stern and concerned… that is if they were doing their job properly. But the key component is making sure the Spiritual state of the church is in a good place.

b. The Elders were appointed by the Apostles – Acts 14:23 & Titus 1:5

Acts 14:23 – 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.

Titus 1:5 – 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.

In the early church, the Elders were appointed by the Apostles. They saw this as a key role in the health and life of the church. Generally, these days the church members vote on who the Elders are.

c. The Elders directed church affairs – 1 Timothy 5:17

1 Timothy 15:7 – The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Directing the church affairs is about keeping the church on track and doing the things that need to be done for us to operate as a church.

d. The Elders preached and taught the truth – 1 Timothy 3:2

2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

Teaching is a vital part of being an Elder. We are so blessed to have the Elders here we do. Robbie, Tom and Matt can all teach the Bible. Of all the church I have been too, these Elders are the best teachers/preachers. Usually only one of the Elders has been able to teach and the others might have been better at pastoral care.

e. The Elders guarded against false teaching – Acts 20:29-31 & Titus 1:9

This section in Acts chapter 20 is headed with “Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians’ Elders”. He says from verse 29…

Acts 20:29-31 – I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Titus 1:9 – He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Paul was well aware that people would come and try and teach false things to the church. Often they wanted the people to return to Jewish customs or worship Angels. Paul told them to be on your guard. Even today false teaching slips into the church and we need to be on guard.

f. The Elders served as Pastors/Shepherds

Acts 20:28 – Keep watch over 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.

1 Peter 5:1-3 – To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Two weeks ago we saw the role of Pastor / shepherd does in looking after the flock. Things like preaching, teaching, caring for and counselling people, visitation and looking out for each other.

g. The Elders held a position of authority

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 – Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As church members, we need to remember that our Elders hold a position of authority over us spiritually. Society in general does not like being under authority, but in the church, this is what God wants for us. He wants us to hold the Elders in high regard.

We saw last fortnight examples of good and bad shepherds. Bad shepherds were in it for themselves. Good shepherds were in it for God and for the people. Again, we are blessed here in BK. Not only do we have good teachers, but we have Elders who genuine care for our spiritual well being.

4. What were the qualifications to be an Elder?

The Elders needed to be qualified to do the job. They needed to have a certain character and standing in the community.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 & Titus 1:5-9 looks at this.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” 2 So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6 An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. 7 Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.

Titus 1:5-9 I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. 6 An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. 7 An elder is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. 8 Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9 He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.

Elder should…

live a life is above reproach. faithful to his wife. exercise self-control, live wisely, have a good reputation. enjoy having guests in his home, able to teach. manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. people outside the church must speak well of him. children must be believers. must love what is good. live wisely and be just. live a devout and disciplined life. strong belief. oppose wrong teaching.

Elders should not…

not be a heavy drinker or be violent. not quarrelsome, and not love money. not be a new believer. children not being wild or rebellious. not be arrogant or quick-tempered; not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.

Closing summary

Today we have looked at the role of Elders in the Bible. We saw that Elders appear right throughout the Bible. They have played a vital role in the lives of God’s people down through the ages.

For NT believers we saw that the role of Elders included…

a. The Elders were overseers of the church – Titus 1:6-7
b. The Elders were appointed by the Apostles – Acts 14:23 & Titus 1:5
c. The Elders directed church affairs – 1 Timothy 5:17
d. The Elders preached and taught the truth – 1 Timothy 3:2
e. The Elders guarded against false teaching – Acts 20:29-31 & Titus 1:9
f. The Elders served as Pastors/Shepherds – Acts 20:28 & 1 Peter 5:1-3
g. The Elders held a position of authority – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 & Hebrews 13:17