Those who possess secular authority are often scorned because they have authority. Some resent others having authority, yet we realize its necessity. Abraham Lincoln made an interesting comment:
“No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”
Every effort, whether family or big business, needs someone to make daily decisions. The “everybody’s business is nobody’s business” principle is true. The work of elders involves much more than merely “making decisions,” but still they must “decide.” How should we respond to their leadership, their oversight?
Respect the authority of God
Elders/pastors/bishops can never do the work God gave them without every member having respect for God’s plan and principle of congregational oversight. Titus 1:7 calls these men “stewards” of God’s people. Some may prefer to “vote” on what is done in the local church. A few want to remain in a “committee” system where they have equal “say” in a matter. Still others want no authority or control except their own. And some just want to keep things stirred up.
But God has already decided that question—elders are to oversee the flock of God, Acts 20:28-32! That’s God’s way for His work to be done. Your responsibility and mine is to recognize and work in harmony with that way. That’s the way it has to be!
Respect and appreciate their work
Someone told me several years ago that the most thankless work any man can do is to be an elder in the Lord’s church. That has not been my experience, but it may be true in some places, for I have also heard it from other sources. Our duty to those who serve in this capacity is found in Hebrews 13:7, 12:
“Remember them that have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct…Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
In these passages it is made clear that duly-qualified and appointed men serving in their authorized capacity are to be respected and honored in their work.
Submit to their biblical leadership
We have cited scripture which says: “Obey them…submit to them.” These words carry the following meanings: “to yield; to obey…resist no longer; give way; yield to authority.” We should not submit to sinful practices, but in matters of expediency, my will must yield to the elders’ decisions. No, they have no legislative authority, but they have authority to “oversee” the work; to “guide” and “superintend” the flock. And the flock must yield to their guidance.
Make their work a joy, not grief
This admonition, found in Hebrews 13:17, says that so doing will be profitable for you. In the first place, you obey God, but you also maintain a peaceful climate in the congregation, an atmosphere in which the work of the church can truly prosper, taking the Gospel to lost souls and bringing the wandering lambs back home. That is true joy!
All members love one another, seek the best interests of God’s people, resist the devil, and all the while prepare themselves and others for the joys of eternal life. Doing otherwise is unprofitable for you.
Be careful in receiving criticism of them
Men who tend the flock of God can make mistakes, and when they do they should repent. But it will never be right to gossip, or foster contempt for their work. David respected Saul as God’s anointed though Saul had many weaknesses, 2 Samuel 1:14. We can do no less toward God’s shepherds today:
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses,” 1 Timothy 5:19-20.
The Holy Spirit makes “overseers” today just as He makes Christians today—through His Word. We are all working in the Lord’s vineyard, and each of us must seriously consider our obligations to our brothers and sisters in Christ—including those who serve honorably as God’s bishops and elders. Only in this way can we truly be God’s family.
By Carl B. Garner
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