Elder's Biblical Basis
Copyright © 1986, Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.
Introduction - Paul has used the major part of his salutation to focus attention on his role as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. This would give weight and authority to his letter and to Titus as his representative in Crete.
The pervading theme of the letter is "godliness" or "good works." Believers are to be living lives that reflect and reveal the character of God and thus make an impact upon the unbeliever.
Paul now turns to the subject at hand and reminds Titus of why he was left in Crete.
"I left you in Crete" - This would indicate that Paul had been with Titus in Crete and for some unknown reason had left before the ministry there was completed.
As we noted in our previous study, the indication seems to be that Paul was released from the Roman imprisonment recorded at the end of the Book of Acts, and it was during this time before his second Roman imprisonment that he ministered at Crete and other places.
"That you might set in order what remains" - Titus was to complete the work of putting the church in proper order. This would involve appointing the proper leadership as well as dealing with areas of conduct that needed changing.
Evidently Paul was forced to leave for other parts before he could complete the work at Crete. Thus Titus was left behind with the apostle's blessing and authority.
"Appoint elders in every city" - It is significant to note that when Paul wants to prepare the churches at Crete for a life of godliness he begins with the leaders. This is probably for several reasons:
It was crucial that the leaders be godly men themselves.
These leaders would be an example and pattern of godliness for others.
The leaders set the tone and direction for the church as a whole.
We want to spend some time looking at what the Scripture says about this important area of church leadership.
First notice that Titus is to appoint elders. This word means "to put in charge." It says nothing specifically regarding how this was done.
In Acts 6:3 the congregation selected godly men to serve as deacons who were then appointed by the apostles to their position.
Acts 14:23 speaks of when they "had appointed elders for them in every church." This is a different word for "appoint," and means "choose, elect by raising the hands." However, the subject here is the apostles and the point is clear; they appointed men to this position.
The emphasis of Scripture is not on how men are placed into this position, but rather on the fact that they must be men who meet the biblical qualifications. That is where the emphasis will be placed.
"Elders" (presbuteros) - This title for the leaders is often said to denote the age and dignity of the position. It seems to have its background in the Old Testament.
It was therefore a natural transition to use this title to identify leaders in the local churches that were established.
Synonymous Words - There are two other words that are used to refer to this position in the New Testament:
"Overseer" (episkopos) - This word is sometimes translated "bishop."
Its stress seems to be on the responsibility of the office. It is
used of the elders in Titus 1:7.
Acts 20:17,28 also uses "elder" and "overseer" interchangeably.
"Pastor" (poimenas) - This is probably the title we are most familiar with today. It is the word "shepherd" and is used in Ephesians 4:11.
However, the elders or overseers are all instructed to shepherd God's people (cf. Acts 20:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Again, this picture of the leader of God's people being their shepherd comes out of the Old Testament:
1 Kings 22:17 - scattered without a shepherd.
Jeremiah 3:15; 10:21: 23:1,2; 50:6
Ezekiel 34:1-11(esp. v. 2)
There seem to be two prime areas of responsibility given to the elders: leading and teaching. Paul will mention the area of doctrinal responsibility in Titus 1:9.
The area of leading or ruling is a key responsibility which is seen in the names given to the position.
"Elder" - We have seen that this title was probably carried over from the leaders in Israel and later the synagogues.
"Overseer" - The very meaning of the word indicates the responsibility being fulfilled.
"Pastor" - Again, the key idea involved is caring for the flock by providing proper oversight. It is the shepherd's responsibility to lead and feed the sheep.
Several passages also speak to the responsibility of the elder to lead God's people:
1 Timothy 3:5 2.
1 Timothy 5:17
"Rule" (proistemi) means "be at the head (of), rule, direct, manage, conduct" (A-G). Also used in Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12.
This, of necessity, means that God's people are responsible to submit to the leadership of the leaders whom God has appointed. Acts 20:28 refers to the fact that "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers."
This runs contrary to much of the thinking regarding democracy which affects the way we operate in our churches. However, we must be careful to be biblical since it is God's church, not ours.
One other fact needs to be noted. In Titus 1:9, Titus was instructed to "appoint elders in every city." The New Testament pattern is a plurality of elders leading a local church. In each case we find a plurality of leadership (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:27; Phil. 1:1).
We need to turn our attention in our coming studies to a consideration of the qualifications God sets down for elders as well as a consideration of their other responsibilities in feeding or teaching the flock of God.
But let us stop and evaluate how we are doing in light of the Word to this point. Are we functioning biblically? Do we have a biblical order in our church? Is it governed by godly men appointed by the Holy Spirit to lead according to the Word of God?
Are we a people following the leading of the Lord through the elders whom He has provided?
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.
Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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