We have started a series on the elders of the church. This study is the result of our church family’s study in Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul has left Titus on Crete to straighten out the problems in the churches and appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). That led us into a study of the elders. There were several reasons for this. You can go here to read more. In short, the goal of the sermon series on elders and these posts is to think biblically about elders.
Part of this series is looking at picture words. We think in pictures, and God has revealed truths in pictures for us. The biblical titles for elders give us pictures to understand their roles in the church. You can read a previous introductory post here.
The first picture word is the word “elder.” This is the most commonly used word for this New Testament office. This is the English translation of the Greek word presbuteros. It is easy to see where the Presbyterian denominations have derived their name. The word simply means “elder.” It can refer to older men in general as in Titus 2:2. It can also refer to an appointed leadership position in the church (Acts 15:22, 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14).
The word “elder” refers to maturity. Older men are elders in their physical maturity. The church elders are spiritually mature leaders.
The leadership of mature men is not new to the New Testament. In Old Testament Israel there were elders who were responsible for leadership and judgement (Exodus 12:21, 19:7, 24:1-18). We see this in Exodus 18:21-23. In that context Moses’ father-in-law advises Moses to appoint able and trustworthy men as chiefs to help rule Israel.
The appointed elders of the New Testament church are men who are spiritually mature. This is clearly seen in their qualifications in Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. They live as examples to the rest of the church family (Titus 2:7-8). They hold firm to the trustworthy word of the Gospel, discerning truth from error, teaching healthy teaching, and rebuking those who speak against it (Titus 1:9). The elders are spiritually mature men who lead and protect the church in word and by example.
These men also appear in teams. In Acts 14:21-23, Paul and Barnabas returned to the churches they had previously planted. They appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Each church had a team of elders. In James 5:13-18, sick believers are told to call for the elders (plural) of the church (singular) to have them pray for them. So, the New Testament has a principle of team leadership, which I hope to cover in a later article.
The word “elder” gives us a picture to understand this office’s role in the body of Christ. The elders are a team of spiritually mature men who lead and protect the church of God with the Word of God and by example.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- What does the word “elder” refer to?
- Since the concept of elders is found in Old and New Testament, what was the function of the Old Testament elders? How does this differ from the New Testament elders? What are similarities?
- How do church elders lead the church of God?
- The New Testament clearly presents a team principle for elder leadership. Why is this important? How would this be helpful in our church family? How could this be implemented?
Articles in this series:
Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.