Matthew 16:13-19 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
What a great passage. Who is Jesus? Who do you say that I am, is the question Jesus asks, and Simon Peter’s response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. Flesh and blood has not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. This passage is all about the confession of Faith in the person of Jesus Christ, on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. What an amazing statement.
The church of Jesus Christ is not built on Peter, I’m sorry Roman Catholic’s read the passage. The church is built on the confession of faith in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. I want you to notice a few things here. Jesus did not say Peter, you are the church. Many times today I will hear Christians tell other Christians that the church is not a place, that’ part is true, but what bothers me is when I hear them say “you are the church”. No, you’re not. The word Jesus uses here is the word ekklesia /ek·klay·see·ah, it is a compound word from the root words ek meaning out, and kaleo meaning called. Literally it means “the called out ones”, those who by confession of faith in Jesus Christ are called out of the world. Where does the confession originate, well, not from flesh and blood, by the Father, so it is the Father, according to His sovereign will and purpose, who calls out a people for His own good pleasure to save. The church is the assembly of God’s called out ones. You might be part of the church, but you are not the church, because you are not an assembly.
I want you to notice that the promise Jesus offers here is not a promise for individual Christians. He does not say the gates of hell shall not prevail against you, I mean if that were the case then why did Jesus if just a few chapters tell Peter that Satan desired to sift him, why did Paul write to warn
believer’s to be on guard against Satan’s schemes, why did Peter warn believers that Satan was a roaring lion on the prowl seeking someone to devour. Who cares if Jesus has already promised he can’t defeat us right. No, Jesus promised the gates of hell shall not prevail against “it”, the church!
The church is the only institution Jesus promises to bless in this unique way. I also want you to see in this little passage, this is the first place in the N.T. that the word church is found, and Jesus says of it, “I will build my church”. We are not building the church, though we certainly do get the great privilege of participating in what Jesus is doing. There are many things that could be cleared up by simply understanding Jesus words here. Jesus is the Lord of His church, and His church is being built by Him. That means that He directs it. Something that drives me absolutely crazy is to hear church leaders talking about casting a vision for the church. What? That is pride, arrogance, thinking that somehow we have the position of setting the direction and plan for the church. No. Jesus is Lord of His church. He has already given the plan, the vision of the church. We have that plan right here in the Word of God. We simply need to submit to the plan He has given.
Now the church is more than a once a week gathering of believers, and I hope that both by the reading of the Word and by your own experience you each know this to be true. The church is a community of people called out of the world, yet living in the world, a community built on this confession, a people united around this confession commonly held, citizens of heaven who are at present aliens in this world. Now, I would imagine many of you know much better than I what it means to be foreigners living in a strangle land, as many of you have immigrated halfway around the world. You gather together with other Chinese people because you have many things in common, and of course that is understandable. Well, as Christians, we gather together with Christians because we, with them, are foreigners in this world, and we have much in common, beginning with the common faith in Jesus Christ. Paul says it this way, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:2-6)
The truth is, though I myself am not Chinese, I know that is shocking to hear, but in truth, I, as a believer in Jesus, have more in common with you who are believers in Jesus Christ, than I do with members of my own family who do not believe. I am more united with you than I am with them. So, the church is pretty important. Imagine yourself, imagine being new to Canada, knowing no one, and having no people with whom you have anything in common to gather with? Well, that would be like being a Christian without a local church. We do have brother’s and sister’s in places in the world where this is a fact of life because there are no other believers nearby, but sadly, and in error, there are many others that believe that they don’t need to be a part of a local church, all they need is to be a Christian. Well, that is a lie, and a dangerous one at that.
As we see in Jesus words, it is the church Jesus promises to protect and bless, and therefore, it would be wise on the part of any believer to attach himself to the one institution Jesus is so concerned for. The church is God’s means of growing his people. Notice how Paul refers to the church in 1 Tim. 3 “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” Paul says the church is the institution which, a pillar, upholds the truth, and a buttress, a supporting brace to uphold the walls. The pillar holds up the weight of the ceiling, the buttress holds the walls under from collapsing and buckling under that weight. The church is this for the truth. The church upholds the truth. The church is the guardian of truth. It is the church where believers are built up in the truth, guided by the teaching of the truth, disciplined if they step outside of the truth, admonished to remain in the truth. The church is of much importance. I cringe when I hear people say they don’t need the church, or they don’t need to belong to a church. That is foolishness and it arises from ignorance of scripture. Yes Christian you need the church! The church is Jesus plan and it is the church Jesus promised to bless. I can tell you this, the professing believer who is not connected to a local church is one prone to and most likely walking in great error in doctrine. It is not your own reading of the scripture that is the pillar and buttress of truth, it is the church.
This brings me, finally, to the topic I’d really like to get into today. Early on in Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul revisits the churches in the cities where he had ministered, brand new churches, people who recently came to faith in Christ, and Paul installs within these churches elders to oversee, to model spiritual maturity, and to teach and shepherd God’s flock in the local assembly. Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for
them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Paul knew the importance of elders in the local church.
Church leadership is vital to the health of the church. Paul handpicked these men who were to hold this office in these churches, because their role was vital to the church. Paul had a ministry that did not enable him to stay in these communities to lead himself, but someone needs to lead. A church without leadership is a ship on the ocean without a sail or a rudder. It is helplessly driven without means of staying a course. It might be moved in circles, it might be carried off by currents, but what it can’t do is select a destination and actually get there.
But these leaders are not just warm bodies given authority. Paul writes three letters in the N.T. particularly to men who have been installed in just such a role, the two letters of Timothy, and the letter to Titus, to give instruction to these men in the carrying out of the responsibilities of this office in the local church. We’ll get to some of this later.
Paul tells us in Eph. 4:11-16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Now we understand there are no more apostles. Jesus personally selected them, they saw the risen Christ, the have given instruction to the church in the written word of the N.T. and they are no more with us. So it is for the prophets, before the N.T. was written, we needed the teaching of men whom God revealed these truth’s to who in turn passed them on to the church. Evangelists, those uniquely gifted and called to take the gospel of Jesus to those outside the church and make disciples, and then of course the fourth and final office is that of Pastor/teacher. This speaks to one office
not two, it is one word in the Greek, the word poimen /poy·mane. It would maybe be better translated as just “shepherds” because teaching is one of the means of shepherding. And it is an office, poimen it is not a spiritual gift. These are men who hold a particular role in the church, these men are a gift of God to the church for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body, the church. They move the assembly toward unity of faith as they teach the doctrines of the Lord which produces maturity in church members, which grounds those in the church upon the foundation so that the errors and false teachings and false doctrines that come at us can not budge us in the least as they come, and they do come. That is the responsibility of the pastor/teacher.
Well, this is a serious role then and very important to the church. The work, the witness, the maturity, the grounding in truth, the protection from false teachings, the grow of unity of the body, is all tied to this man’s role. So, and I know this is obvious, but I still need to say it, we don’t just give that role to just anyone in the church. Thus in 1 Peter 5, 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1 we are given qualifications for the man the Lord would have hold this office in His church. These qualification are to be taken seriously, and if we, the church today, were to actually allow the Lord to be the head of His body the church, we would spare ourselves the heart ache of all the errors taking over the church today and the lack of maturity the church is seeing today. Do you want to be a church that honors the Lord, grows its people, matures and unites in grace and doctrine, stands firm against the devil’s schemes, and all the rest? Then you had better have godly men at the helm in this church.
God’s word tells us the authority of this position comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the man’s life, and when the Spirit of God is on a man, the church will see these men as having authority. God raises these up from within the church, and as they serve, they serve from within the body of Christ, not separated from the body in some special class. It is very important that we get this right. Now that doesn’t mean there is never a time when the body needs to go outside of itself to find an elder to lead in the area of teaching, but frankly I think the church took this more seriously, we should be training up men to take the helm in the years to come and we wouldn’t need to go looking outside of the local body to find our shepherds.
So let’s look at the words used in the New Testament of this office of elder.
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: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Three words here in the Greek, words used throughout the NT of this same person, the elder. Presbuteros, episkopeo, and poimaino /poy·mah·ee·no. We aren’t going to take this apart yet, but I just want you to see these same three terms are also used by Luke as he records Paul’s calling the elders of Ephesus to meet him in Acts 20.
Acts 20:17-18, 28 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them:… 28Pay 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.
So let’s understand these three words because they are all applied to the same person, and each provides detail of the different roles within this one office of elder.
Presbuteros: Literally means elder man. Older man. More mature man. But in the use of this word where it speaks of this particular office of “elder” it is not speaking of maturity of age, but rather spiritual maturity. Remember that Timothy was an elder/pastor in Ephesus when Paul wrote the letters of first and second Timothy to Him, and Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him for His youth. So the term elder can’t refer to physical age, but spiritual maturity. I know people who have been Christians only a few short years who are just hungry for God’s word and growing and maturing, then again I know people who have been believer’s for many years who are just not very mature in their faith. So presbuteros is speaking of the maturity the Holy Spirit has worked in the man’s life as He walks with God. The word Presbuteros is used more than twenty times in the NT and is used of this special group of leaders in the church.
Episkopeo: is used 4 times in the NT. It means bishop, overseer, guardian. Jesus is referred to as the episkopeo of our soul in 1 Peter 2:25. The other
three uses refer to the leadership of the church in elders. In 1 Timothy 3:2 the elder is called the episkopeo as well as in Titus 1. These two passages are where the qualifications of Elders are set forth. And of course in Acts 20:28 that we already looked at.
Poimaino: In John 21:16. A great passage where Jesus is speaking to Simon Peter, Jesus comes to Him and asks his the question three times if he loves Jesus, and Jesus used this particular word. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend (poimaino) my sheep.” So shepherd, tend, care for my sheep.
We see this same thing in Eph 4:11 where there is a person described as a pastor-teacher, and like we said it is the word poimen, He is a shepherd. He feeds and gives direction to the flock. He leads them. He cares for them. This is a term used of an elder.
Presbuteros (Elder) speaks to who the man is. His Christian character. Episkopeo (Bishop) speaks of his role, oversight, leadership. poimaino
(Shepherd or pastor) is a description of the man’s heart toward the flock as he cares for and tends to their needs.
1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
I hear from time to time Christians arguing that we shouldn’t pay our pastors. Well, that is true if you want to be disobedient to God’s word. Actually, in context, that verse is speaking of financial renumeration of the man who is pastor. He is to receive double honor, which means he should receive double to wage of the average man in the church. He is to be provided for by the church so well, that he need not concern himself with how he is going to provide for his family. Church I don’t know where you are in this, but if your pastor is faithful to God in how he lives and in his teaching, he should be your first priority when it comes to where your money is spent as a church.
So we see the elders as rulers of the church, men giving authority and oversight of the flock by the Holy Spirit, and some elders also preach and teach. Not all elders are going to be spending equal amounts of their time in the pulpit for example, though all must be able to teach. This is not
difficult, you have a full time pastor devoting his time to this, and then you have some elders who are employed elsewhere, they make their living elsewhere, but hey still serve in this role. Obviously they don’t have the same amount of time to prepare sermons week after week.
1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
If there is any esteem for the men in this position, let it be the esteem of love and respect for the man’s life and labor, not superstitious regard for his position, title, education, or training. The character of his life should lead the church to esteem him. Literal translation of this verse is “those who have charge over you.” These are the roles of elders.
Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Elders are to preach the word and set the example. As you think of your elders here, they are to be men who accurately preach God’s truth, each elder you have, and on top of that, they are also to be men you point to and say “there, there is what it looks like to be a Christian man”. Look how that man treats his wife, look how he loves her and cares for her. Look how he stands on the truth, look how he turns from evil and walks in righteousness. Look at what humility he lives in and how he submits himself to God. You see unless your elders are men of that quality, then the writer of Hebrews next statement about these, will never happen.
Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Do you se the heart of the elder here? He is in it for you, looking out for you soul. Elders are to keep watch over the flock, even commanding the flock, and they will give an account to the Lord. They are to be obeyed in their leadership as they represent the Lord. Question: For those who say we don’t need the church, who in the world are they looking to as an example, who are they submitting to, who is watching over their souls, who is the
man who is going to stand before God and give an account for how you live?
Now, this is a terrifying thing, let me tell you. James 3:1 says “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” We will have to give an account. Not just for what we teach, yes that, but also, how we live. Does our living line up with our teaching? But more, also for how those we are responsible live. Your pastor and elders are going to answer for your lives, and that is serious business. For anyone else to take the authority of leadership, is to assume the role of overseer without assuming the responsibility and accountability. The only one who can take on this role of overseer, bishop, is the one who takes on all three roles of oversight, modeling spiritual maturity, shepherding from a heart of love the whole flock knowing they will give an account to almighty God Himself for every step he moves these sheep to take. The weight of that all must be on the man, because that weight will alter every single decision He makes in his leadership as he understands that he will give account for their souls to God. That weight will drive these to total dependence on the Lord. Would you ever want anyone else but the man completely dependent on God in this role?
I am passionate about this topic, as this is one God used to shape my walk. If more churches were passionate about this topic, as E.M. Bounds wrote of prayer, so I would speak of leadership, “we do not need better programs or machinery in the church, we need better men”, especially better men in leadership. If we took eldership seriously in churches we would not have churches drifting off into all these strange and unbiblical teachings. If we took it seriously we would throw out of leadership those whose life practice was counter to the word of God. We would rid the pulpits of those who get their doctrine from the world rather than scripture. And O how the church would benefit.
I remember visiting a church once with my daughters here in Saskatoon about four years before I moved here. They were looking for a solid church to get plugged into. We went to one, and the man speaking shared nothing whatsoever from scripture, and his whole talk was on how we all connect with God in different ways and depending on our personality type we should find the way we are wired to connect with God and go with that. He
listed many different ways to connect with God, but the one thing he did not list was the only thing scripture knows, read God’s word.
I nearly wept as I listen to that nonsense coming from that pulpit. Where were the elders of that church? Why did they not sit that man down? He should not have been teaching. God is going to hold the elders of that church accountable. But obviously, the men that hold that position in that church are not the men that scripture says should be leading. This is a serious matter. Lives of God’s flock depend on this.
We saw in Acts 14 Paul and Barnabas install eldership rule in every church they planted as they appoint elders in each. Plural. Elders. There was never a church that only had one elder. Always a multiple of elders. Paul and Barnabas set the example for those elders to follow as they lead, they encourage the believers, they teach the believers, they prepare the believers, strengthening their souls. They model dependence on the word and prayer. But notice who selects the elders? There is no vote of the people, it is the spiritually mature who select those who will lead.
We also see the same thing in Titus 1:5 where Paul is writing to Titus reminding him of his instruction. “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”
Leadership is appointed by leaders. This ensures that godly men are overseeing the church, because those men will set the direction of the church as they follow the Lord. Church leadership appointment is not the place for democracy. It doesn’t work, and the state of the church in our culture testifies to that. We live in a democratic system, and we have seen the abuses of fallen men in running nations leading to horrific results, and we impose that on the church leadership and say we should therefore have a democratic system of selecting leaders. Well, that’s not the council of our all knowing God. There is nothing of the sort in scripture. In His economy, those who are spiritually mature should assess the lives of those in the flock and see those whom God would have serve in this capacity.
No man should take the role of elder upon himself unless he knows He is called of the Lord to that role. In 1 Timothy 3 as Paul lays out the qualifications of this role, he says “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Not just a high and noble task, but a
God ordained task. If anyone aspires. There should be a calling on this man’s life. All elders, in my opinion should be ordained, because ordination is from the Lord not men, we merely affirm the Lord’s calling on a man, and our ordination merely reflects the weight of the office. It is so important that these leaders have both an internal calling, an aspiration to leadership, and an external calling, the church recognizing this calling of God, because as 1 Peter 5 tells us, the elder should
1 Peter 5:2-3 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.
His heart has got to be right. He must be in leadership for the right reasons and leading from the right motivation because that will dictate where he leads. So what we see is that the elders of the church appoint new elders, it is always from leadership, it is the spiritually mature who select men to leadership, and yet it is not something we impose on a man, we don’t force a man into leadership, there is to be a sense of calling in that man’s life as well, which is affirmed by the leadership of the local church as they lay hands on the man bringing him into leadership.
We see this for example in 1 Timothy 4:14 in the middle of a great passage for elders which we will, Lord willing, look more at next time I am with you, we see Paul write these words to Timothy:
1 Timothy 4:14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.
There seems to be a public ceremony of sorts to bring this man before the church and set this authority on him by the leadership of the church. They bring him forward and lay hands on him. It is a passing on and a communion in the authority they have and are giving to this man. He is called, they sense that calling on His life and affirm it before the church.
There will be some who aspire to leadership, who have no place in leadership. Some who think they should be leaders whose life is not in line with the qualifications for leadership, and the leaders of the church, as he presents himself, should make known to him that his life needs much
growth and surrender to the Lord before he is suitable for the role. Leaders protect leadership from those who are unqualified for the office.
In the same letter, Paul writes to Timothy and says 1 Timothy 5:22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands
Don’t rush into this. Examine the man’s life first. Discern his relationship with the Lord and his relationship with the world before laying hands on him and placing him in a position of leadership in the local church.
We do not select men to this office because they are successful in the world, or by their worldly credentials, including education. This is sadly the case in many, many churches. Well he has built a successful business, he is an executive in his workplace, so he must be a leader and should lead in the church. Did you notice his degrees? Did you see where he went to school? Did you notice he has a PhD? He has natural leadership abilities. No. Nothing about God’s plan is natural. It is all supernatural. It is other worldly. God’s purposes in leadership and God’s qualifications are much different than those of the world. This gets so many churches in trouble because they use worldly success, worldly wisdom as a measure and they put men into leadership who don’t understand the basic doctrines of scripture, who don’t submit their lives to basic teaching of scripture, and we allow these in so many cases to lead the church? This is a serious matter. Where do you think a man like that will lead too? It will not be to a closer walk with God.
Now I understand that within the Chinese community you place a great deal of weight on education, and I am not saying education is not important, but education can easily be a source of pride and a proud man is the wrong man for leadership in the church. We must be careful.
So let’s just summarize what we have seen so far: The terms bishop, overseer, elder, pastor, shepherd are used interchangeably in the NT and are the picture of God’s leadership in the church. This one office is accountable to God and God alone. They are the overseers of every aspect of the church. There is always a plurality of these leaders within the church. These men have strict qualifications as laid out by scripture. These elders are appointed by leadership in the church, and at the same time they are willing, God called men, to this role.
As they lead they are to be “proving to be examples to the flock.” Again seems to be a teaching/mentoring/coaching relationship to the flock. Not a duty, but a lifestyle through which they witness to the flock entrusted to the elders’ care. Church leadership gives oversight, direction, exhortation, protection, example, to the church. None of that happens without church leadership, specifically elders. Next time I am with you, Lord willing, we will dig in further to the exact qualifications for elders, and see more details of the job they are called to do, as well as how the rest of the body is to respond to these.
How important is the church? It is the pillar and buttress of truth. It is the only institution Jesus promised to bless and protect and bring to victory. It is where we are taught and brought to maturity of faith, it is where there are men who care for our souls and move us along in growth in Christ. It is where we are loved and even disciplined if need to be to ensure that we do not stray.
Well, if that is true, then the church is pretty important, and being so then; how important are the leaders of the church? Is it ok to say the little group that meets in your living room is a church? Well, if they don’t have biblical qualified elders exercising oversight, teaching, modeling the Christian life, admonishing, and exercising church discipline, it is not a church and if you think it is, you are in very serious danger and should be warned. Find a local church where these are true, and submit yourself to biblical elders. I look forward to being with you again soon to carry on this study.