The Character and Work of Elders

In the Bible the motif of the shepherd and the sheep is used prevalently to describe the relationship between God and His people.  This theme is used still in the Bible to portray Christ’s care for His sheep through under-shepherds or elders.  This idea is found clearly in texts like John 10; 1 Peter 5; and Acts 20.  Using the later text, Richard Baxter wrote to fellow pastors and elders the following that he wished them to write upon their hearts as a faithful pattern of ministry:

The elder is one who takes up his office with pure motives.  He does not depend upon himself for strength and success in ministry, but upon the Holy Spirit who gifted and called him to his work (20:8).  He does not serve in order to amass a fortune through his labors in the church, but has an eye on his heavenly reward (20:32-33).  The elder, in fact, values faithfulness to his ministry more than he does his own life (20:24).

The elder is a man who is humble and not arrogant (20:19).  He is compassionate, not disengaged or harsh (20:19,31; cf. 20:37).  He is generous with his resources and wants to help those who are weak i the church (20:35).  The church is precious to him because it is precious to God (20:28).

The elder is a man given to prayer (20:36) and devoted to the ministry of the Word (20:20,21,24,25,27,31,32).  He is diligent in the work of preaching and teaching (20:20), before all kinds of people (20:21).  He does not withhold what is profitable from his hearers (20:20), even matters that they may not receive well (20:27), and is willing to admonish every person with tears (20:31).  The substance of his teaching is the gospel of the grace of God (20:24, cf. 20:32).  He summons his hearers to repentance and faith (20:21), pointing them to the inheritance that belongs to every believer in Christ, and urging them to the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (20:32).  In all his teaching and exhortation, he aims for a clear conscience before God (20:26).

The elder serves in the midst of trials and afflictions (cf. 20:23).  He faces the opposition of unbelieving outsiders (20:19) and of fellow officers who have turned from he truth and try to lead professing Christians astray (20:30).  For this reason , he is vigilant (20:31) and dependent upon the grace of God (20:32).  He pays careful attention not only to the flock but also to himself, knowing that false teachers arise from among the ranks of the elders (20:28,30).

Here are lessons from the life and ministry of the apostle Paul in Acts 20 that ought to characterize every elder in every church and fill every member with prayer.  This is a pattern for all of us as well.  The elder is meant to be an example to the flock that they might follow their shepherd in the way of the Good Shepherd. May the Lord give His Church such godly and faithful under-shepherds who “when the chief Shepherd appears…will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

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