Dear Brother G.
May I add a little to the important question on the subject of bishops, priests and deacons, that was raised in the Forum by S.E.K.
The first three chapters of I Tim. could be summed up thus: Chap. 1, the Church’s doctrine; chap. 2, the Church’s intercession; chap. 3, the Church’s administration. The bishop stands in relation to its administration, the priest in relation to its intercession, and the deacon in relation to its doctrine and ministry.
Three words are used to describe the Church’s internal administration: Elder or presbyter, bishop or overseer, pastor or shepherd. Each pair comes from the same word in the original and describes the men who are the leaders in the assemblies of the saints. The word “elder” suggests spiritual maturity, and rules out the inexperienced or novice; the word “bishop” suggests spiritual work, and rules out the carnal; the word “pastor” points to spiritual capacity, and rules out the ignorant.
The work of overseers branches out in two directions: leadership in the assembly and the feeding of the flock. This twofold aspect of their work is joined in 1 Tim. 5:17, suggesting that some among the elders are gifted with leadership, others are gifted to teach while others combine the two aspects and are counted worthy of double honour.
Let me point out three solemn duties that God enjoins upon leaders: to themselves, to the Church and to the Word of God. First, to themselves: Three necessities are pressed upon elders in Acts 20:28. They are to maintain a good spiritual condition always, “Take heed to yourselves.” Only by sacrificial cultivation of the holy habit of prayer and fellowship with God can this be done. They are never to forget that their appointment is of God, “Over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” They are always to be conscious of the preciousness of the flock to the heart of Christ, “The Church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.” How precious is the flock to the heart of Christ! How precious should the saints be to us! How gentle, how tender, ought they to be dealt with, and always for their good! Observe how the Divine Trinity is crowded into this one verse, reminding us that any wrong done to the flock goes right to the heart of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Second, to the Church: Their burden is the care of the Church (1 Tim. 3:5). It is interesting to note that the only place in the New Testament where this word “care” is found is in Luke 10:35. There the good Samaritan said to the host, concerning the man that had fallen, “take care of him.” Every assembly is like the inn. The spirit of the inn is found in 1 Cor. 13, the inhabitants are described in 1 Thess. 5:14, and the oversight of the inn is the godly care of all the inmates.
Their authority is to rule or lead in the fear of God, being ensamples to the flock (1 Tim. 5:17).
Their work is to feed the flock and not to tyrannize it (Luke 12:42-45, Acts 20:28). Reverent fear, not slavish fear, must characterize the sheep of His pasture.
Their duty is to watch the sacred trust committed to their care (Heb. 13:17) Account must be given to the Chief Shepherd as to how this responsibility is discharged.
Third, their duty to the Scripture. They are to keep the sacred deposit committed to their trust (2 Tim. 1:14). By sound doctrine they are to teach, exhort and convince (Titus 1:9). The Chief Shepherd rules by His Word and under shepherds must know no other rule.
Three solemn responsibilities are placed upon the saints in relation to godly leaders; the assembly is to recognize such and acknowledge them (1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:24). The door of recognition should always be kept open so that when the assembly discerns the characteristics of a true overseer in a brother, he should be acknowledged by all.
The saints are to obey the overseers, and to submit to godly order in the church (Heb. 13:17). There is, as never before, a spirit of lawlessness abroad in the world, and it is making its appearance in the home and in the assemblies. May our Lord preserve the young people, and the older ones as well, from this lawlessness, and may He give to all of us the true spirit of humility which becomes those who are disciples of Him Who said, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Dear Brother McC.
Many thanks for your letter. I regret that it is too long to insert in this issue, but, in the will of the Lord, we hope to use more of it later on.
May the Lord bless and guide you.
Sincerely in Christ,