In Scripture, names often had meaning. Abraham: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations” (Gen 17:5). ○ Abram means “exalted father;” Abraham means “father of a multitude.” Angel to Joseph: Mary “will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). ○ “Jesus” means “Y HWH is salvation.”
This morning, we want to think about different names for “elder.” “Presbuteros,” [πρεσβ ύ τερος] translated into English as presbyter or elder. “Episkopos,” [ ἐ π ί σκοπος] translated into English as overseer or bishop. “Poimēn,” [ποιμ ή ν] translated into English as shepherd or pastor.
Scripture uses these three words interchangeably. Paul & Ephesian elders (Acts 20). elders ○ “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church” (v 17). overseersshepherd ○ “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). “Overseers” is the same word as “bishop.” “To shepherd” means “to exercise the whole office of a pastor.”
Scripture uses these three words interchangeably. Qualification of elders (Tit 1). elders ○ “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should... appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (v 5). bishop ○ “A bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self- willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money” (v 7).
Scripture uses these three words interchangeably. Peter to his fellow elders (1 Pet 5). elders Shepherd overseers ○ “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (vv 1-2). ○ The only noun is “elders” at verse 1. “Shepherd” and “serving as overseers” are both verbs in verse 2 that to the function of the elders.
“Elder” means “older.” “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim 3:6, ESV).
The use of the terminology “elder” surely comes from the Old Testament. “Elders” assisted Moses in his work (Num 11:16-25). “Elders” were used to decide cases (e.g., Deut 19:11-13; 22:13-21; et al.). The elders played an important role, because they were wise. ○ “He deprives the trusted ones of speech, And takes away the discernment of the elders” (Job 12:20). ○ “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Matt 15:2). Why did the people follow the tradition of the elders? The elders were deemed wise!
New Testament elders were wise men. Think about the Jerusalem elders when the question of circumcision threatened to tear apart the church. ○ Paul and Barnabas went to the apostles and the elders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). ○ With the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), the elders, along with the apostles, bring the matter to a close (Acts 15:22-29; 16:4). The Apostle John opens both 2 John and 3 John by calling himself “the Elder.” ○ There is absolutely no evidence that the Apostle John served in the role of an elder. ○ Yet, why would he call himself “the Elder”? He’s an older gentleman giving advice.
We need to seek their counsel. Right to ask God for wisdom (Js 1:5). Yet, we should also seek the wisdom of the elders. ○ If we’re facing a difficult decision, why would we not want to go to the elders and get sage, wise advice?
We also give them respect. “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders” (1 Pet 5:5). We need to respect the elders because they are God’s appointed leaders in this congregation. How can we respect our elders? ○ We can pray for them. ○ We can speak kindly to them and about them. ○ We can praise them when they get things right, and praise them for trying when they get it wrong. ○ We can ask what we can do to make their work easier.
Bishop/Overseer in Greek refers to one who watches over others to make sure a job is performed properly. You can think of a superintendent. Thus, elders stand over the local congregation; they, therefore, have authority. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Heb 13:7). “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb 13:17).
We obey. The authority of the elders is to make the authority of God alive and well in this congregation. You and I need to submit to their authority. ○ Bible study. Elders are to keep error away: Nothing keeps error away like Bible study. Elders are to keep sin away: Nothing keeps sin away like Bible study. ○ Even when I disagree with the elders, I need to submit to them.
In Scripture, elders are told to shepherd the church. Ephesian elders needed to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet 5:2). The image in the word “shepherd” or “pastor” refers to a gentle, caring, compassionate leader. Ps 23. “Good Shepherd” (Jn 10).
We need to get to know them. “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (Jn 10:14). Spend time getting to know the elders. ○ Why is this important? ○ When you have a problem, you can talk to men you know. We need to take burdens to them.
Do you need to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul?