Two Commands to Elders
Topic: Church Leadership Passage: Acts 20:28–30
In the New Testament, church leadership is always plural, which the Lord designed, for the benefit of the flock and for the protection of other elders who might abuse their authority. All elders are first sheep. The term "elder" comes from the Jewish synagogue, which is a spiritually mature person, to some extent. The second term is "overseer", a person who watches over those whom he is responsible for. Elder and overseer are the same office. The term "shepherd" is a metaphor; pastors are to watch the church like shepherds who care for their flock of sheep. A spiritual shepherd will give an account to the Lord for their shepherding (Hebrews 13:17). The church leaders are ultimately accountable to the congregation (1 Timothy 5:19).
Paul commands the elders to pay attention to themselves first. It’s a call to take one’s life, morality, behavior and doctrine very seriously. They are to watch their own hearts, as Proverbs 4:23 makes clear, “keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life”. Elders should be honest with their sin and seek the Lord daily; they should pay attention to Jesus’ words, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). There is a danger to teachers in hiding behind their theological education, teaching ability, and charisma. It can become easy to look good. Elders should also pay attention to the doctrine they teach. One of their qualifications is their ability to teach, to know and explain the gospel.
Elders are called to pay attention to the flock, or shepherd the people they’re responsible for. God gets angry at shepherds who don’t protect the sheep as we see in Ezekiel chapter 34. The Holy Spirit places each overseer as it is seen with Paul and Barnabas, who were the first ones to appoint elders. The work of the elders is to shepherd, to care for the sheep. They are to have a genuine love for their flock and follow Paul’s example with the Thessalonians, “we were gentle among you like a nursing mother cares for her children. We cared so deeply that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well. ” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
Paul commands the elders to pay attention to their lives, and their hearts because the Lord purchased the church with the blood of Christ. Paul wants to encourage and exhort the elders to know the seriousness of their role and responsibility. They should seek to know their sheep and be available to them. Paul knew that fierce wolves would come in after he left to speak twisted things and draw them away. So it is important that the elders know the word of the Lord and be able to teach it as well.