Greetings to the Father, Son, Spirit, angels and saints in Christ. I was instructed to write on this topic a few weeks ago, but the structure became clear to me yesterday. I will write on the following – elders defined, elders in selected chapters of the books of Acts, Paul to Timothy, Titus and other believers, Pauls’ role as General Overseer to the Gentile churches, conflict in the early church (the divide) and selected Old Testament examples.

ELDERS DEFINED

A concise definition of the concept “elder” is found in 1 Tim 5: 17,18 in which Paul instructed Timothy that “… the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” The NIV’s translation says that “the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Paul clearly indicated the dual role of elders. On one hand, they were responsible for “rule” or administration and secondly, for laboring “in the word and doctrine.” Presbyteros is the Greek word for elder (Strong’s in blueletterbible.com) and refers to those who presided over the assemblies in the early church. Paul instructed Timothy not to underemphasize the work of elders in the church and to count them worthy of receiving wages for laboring in the gospel (1 Tim 5: 18, 19).

LET’S WALK THROUGH ACTS

A diligent search of the book of Acts reveals that “elder” was first defined in the early church in Acts 11: 30. However, the role of elder was ascribed to men who met certain prerequisites. The first of these examples is found in Acts 6, when contention arose in the church about the neglect of the Grecian widows in the feeding program of the early church. This job was the responsibility of the twelve apostles who were the leaders. They were experiencing a conflict of interest because they found that they were unable to effectively attend to prayer and the ministry of the word while taking care of the Food Pantry (Acts 6: 1-4). They therefore asked the believers to choose seven men who met three criteria. They stipulated that these men must be “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3). The men selected by the brethren were Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas and Stephen. They were so outstanding in their role that they were mentioned again in Acts 21: 8 as “the seven”. However, Phillip and Stephen superseded the other five on the committee and and received special mention in the book of Acts. They were not honored in the book for Food Pantry services and this is no error, because God is telling us the key characteristics of leaders in the church. Stephen, for example, was described as being “full of faith and power” and a man who “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” (Acts 6: 8). He was also an eloquent preacher whose words cut his hearers to the heart (Acts 6:10, 7: 54). He was so full of the presence of the Lord that his face looked like an angel’s (Acts 6: 15). Acts 7: 54 – 60 describes his death by stoning for the sake of the gospel. He saw a open vision of the Lord standing at the right hand of the Father, an indication of the spiritual power and the relationship that that he possessed with the Lord.

The second honorary member of the Food Pantry Committee was Phillip the evangelist, who was also the father of four prophetesses (Acts 21: 8, 9). Phillip’s exploits are described in Acts 8: 5-40. He left Jerusalem after the presecution of the church that arose after Stephen’s death and went down to Samaria to preach the gospel. The people believed and were baptized because the preaching of the word was followed by signs and wonders such as the casting out of devils, healing of the lame and those sick with palsies (Acts 8: 7). The apostles Peter and John came down from Jerusalem to assist Phillip and laid hands on those who believed so that they received the baptsim of the Holy Ghost. This man in charge of the Food Pantry also had an angelic visitation in which he was instructed to go to the desert. This is an indication of his fellowship with the Lord. Once in the desert, he met an Ethiopian eunuch who he baptized after he led him to the Lord. After the events were completed, something miraculous took place. The Spirit of the Lord caught Phillip away and took him to Azotus, where he continued his preaching ministry. Phillip’s minsitry was followed not only by signs and wonders, but by joy (Acts 8: 8, 39).

Several questions came to me as I completed this article. What is the calibre of the people who rule and labor in the word and doctrine in the church today? Do we follow the apostles’ example when selecting people for key leadership roles or are they elected or selected based on other criteria? Do we see evidence of the mighty power of God at work in the lives of leaders and those desiring leadership roles? We in this century need to outstrip the early church in example so that those who are lost could come into the kingdom. May God bless you richly.

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