Knowing What You Should Know (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

Questions beget questions. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 gives us the qualifications for what the KJV terms “bishops.” What is a bishop? Modern translations help in well communicating the original meaning with the word “overseer.” What is an overseer? When was the last time you heard it clearly communicated who the overseers were in your church? When Paul lists the qualifications for elders in Titus he goes on to call them overseers. Overseers are elders. Does that help? What is an elder? An elder is a pastor. Overseer, elder, pastor—all are the same office.

Diabolically perhaps, many churches uses the least common terms in the Bible, and have abandoned the most common. As a result, the Scriptures sound foreign to us. There should be a ready, one-to-one correspondence when we read about overseers and elders such that we exclaim, “I know (experientially) that,” or “I should know that!” What should be domestic, is alien, and we are like sheep without a shepherd for it. Pastor (shepherd) is only used one time as a noun in Scripture to indicate this office (Ephesians 4:11), and even then, it isn’t a proper title but a metaphor. Elder and overseer, those are the titles (by the way, “minister” and “preacher” don’t officially count either). Shepherding is the chief metaphor, teaching, the essential job skill. That this is so is seen in the following passages (all emphasis are mine):

“Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.  …he said to them…‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock [this be shepherding language], in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:17–18, 28 ESV).’”

“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 (1 Peter 1:5–7 ESV).”

Two things seem especially pertinent: 1. There are multiple elders in a singular church, 2. Overseers oversee souls.

The task of shepherding the flock isn’t to be done alone. Without exception, the pattern in the New Testament is that churches are to be shepherded by a plurality of elders. This was true of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22), Ephesus (Acts 20:17), Philippi (Philippians 1:1) the churches in the towns of Crete (Titus 1:5), the churches that Peter wrote to (1 Peter 5:1), the churches that Paul planted (Acts 14:23), the churches that James wrote to (James 5:14). Shepherds are to look after their own souls as well as the flock’s. Shepherds need other shepherds to help look after the flock, but also to look after them. They need other overseers to oversee their souls  for the sake of the flock’s souls.

Overseers oversee. They do not oversee the church as though she were an organization, a company, a business, a non-profit, a trust, or a charity. They oversee souls. Why did the early church esteem the office of overseer so that a “trustworthy saying” spread through the churches calling it a “noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1)? Why are they not esteemed so today? Because too many look at their leaders as professional managers, visionary CEOs, program developers, entertainers, charismatic personalities and dynamic communicators, whereas the early church knew their elders the way a sheep knows its shepherd. They knew their overseers’ feeding, leading, guarding, and knowing of their souls.

When you know this truth, you then read through the Scriptures and either know that you know (again experientially) this, or know that you should know this shepherding of your souls. And that leads to this final wowzer of a thought: as a regenerate church member, there is no bigger decision you make in the church, than who the elders of that church are, or, as a Christian, the biggest factor to consider when joining a church is who the elders are that you will entrust your soul to.

Acts 20:28 & When the Watchman Hydes

Elders are watchmen, entrusted with a city dear to the King. A city he bled to conquer with love. The task calls for unceasing vigilance. Not only are enemies without the walls, treachery is within, and the most dangerous men inside the city are the watchmen. In Christ we are all a Mr. Hyde turned Dr. Jeckyl. It is one thing when Hyde is within the city. It is another when He is the watchman of that city. Elders must make sure that Hyde stays dead. They must mortify him (1 Corinthians 9:27, Romans 8:13). They must “pay careful attention,” not only to the city, but to themselves.

Elders are sinners, and in desiring and being appointed to that office, they place themselves in a position to sin disastrously. If Hyde comes out you will sin against God’s little ones (Matthew 18:6), his dear blood bought city. Elders, watch yourself. The greatest danger when the watchman Hydes isn’t his destruction of the city, but the destruction of his own soul.

[T]hat man will never be careful for the salvation of other men who will neglect his own soul. -John Calvin

Still Out of Order

First Baptist Church Meridian, 

We’ve installed elders in this lemon, and that is a good thing. More order is better than less. Yet, while it is true that we have made a step towards order, towards having the right kind of frame in this old klunker, let us not think that the shocks, brakes, power steering, and everything else is in order just because. We have traded a wooden frame for a steel one; this is good, but it doesn’t automatically fix other problems. The church is a classic, but she is also a former rust bucket. She is made up of those made in the image of God being made new. But perfect and full restoration still lie down the road. Until that day, may we be the church semper reformanda for we are still the church simul justus et peccator.

Titus 1:5-9 & Out of Order

Until elders are put in place, the task of missions is incomplete and the church is out of order.

Paul was a pioneer missionary. It was his “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest [he] build on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:20).” Paul was fulfilling the Great Commission by going to “all nations.” Evangelism does not complete the task of missions. Church planting does not complete the task of missions. Paul’s normal pattern for missions was to install elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Until this is done, things are out of order. Our call is not to garner professions, but to make disciples. Disciples that we teach to observe all things, whatever Christ has commanded. Biblical church government is one of those things. There is no way to soften it, until a church is led by a plurality of elders, she is disobedient. And disobedience always brings disorder. It turns new creation into chaos.

Sure, every church is sinful, but no church has an excuse to remain that way. Yes, the gospel is chief, but this is not to say that church government is inconsequential. When the toe hurts the body hurts (1 Corinthians 12:26). How much more does the body hurt when the eyes, or the mouth, or the ears are out of wack? Don’t think your obeying the command to not despise the lesser members of the body by denying the cruciality of the leader-members.

In the church car, government may not be the motor, but perhaps it’s the frame. No matter how sound the engine may be at the time, a whompyjawed church government means this car is going to wobble. Sure you can ignore problems in the frame longer than a plume of smoke coming from the hood, but to think that you can ignore the frame altogether isn’t wise. Something has to hold that motor in place. No frame, no order, only chaos.