Faithlife Sermons

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“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” [1]
The Word of God appears quite clear in presenting the concept that churches are to be composed of saints—believers, each of whom is equally valuable, and hence, equally valued.
No hierarchy is found among the churches of the New Testament.
Nevertheless, churches, like the people comprising the membership, tend to move to extremes.
People are creatures of the extreme; and people are sinners, imagining that their fertile minds are superior to the revealed will of God.
Early in the history of the churches, a transformation took place as elders were elevated to exalted positions that were never intended.
Admittedly, this exaltation of the elders to the position of princes over the churches was a natural phenomenon; but the churches were to be supernatural entities with Christ as head.
The elevation of the elders instituted a bifurcated congregation, with clergy forming a hierarchy separate from the remainder of the congregation; the most of the congregation was relegated to the status of laity.
In more recent history, and especially among evangelical churches, elders frequently have been reduced to individuals hired to function as executive officers of the congregation.
The function of the elders is to “run” the church in a manner pleasing to a board.
The elders are hired to perform certain tasks.
According to their job descriptions, elders are expected to preach what the congregation wants to hear, affirming sinful saints in their self-willed ways and ensuring that enough money comes in to sustain payments on newer and larger buildings.
Undoubtedly, some will accuse me of exaggerating; but when reviewing the progress of churches during the past century, it is difficult to see the trend among evangelical churches as anything other than what I’ve described.
In the verses comprising the text for this message, the Spirit of God prompts the Apostle to present instructions that would avoid a major error that plagues the churches in this day.
It is fair to say that our tendency is to ignore the Word in favour of our own supposition on how we are to conduct ourselves in the House of God.
Perhaps we would benefit from a reminder of the will of God through study of this particular portion of the Word.
*WHEN AN ELDER IS CHARGED* — “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
Complaints against the elders are much more common than the average church goer might imagine.
His service is a sacred trust based on integrity, credibility and purity of life.
Should he be demonstrated to be untrustworthy, inconsistent or impure, his service before God will be rendered ineffectual or even utterly destroyed.
Consequently, attacks against his person come with dismaying frequency.
It is vital that the elder so live that when gossip and lies are bruited about the people can say with confidence, “That cannot be true; I know my pastor, and he would not do that.”
Because false accusations are a very real possibility in the service of Christ the Lord, Paul gives Timothy instructions concerning how to respond to accusations.
To be blunt, unsubstantiated accusations, rumour and innuendo are to be ignored.
Let that sink in—unsubstantiated accusations are to be ignored.
Accusations that are supposition, accusations that repeat gossip, accusations that promote slander are all to be dismissed out of hand.
The congregation is to be protective of the reputation of the eldership.
Gossip and slander are destructive and must not be tolerated among the people of God.
Gossip and slander are soundly condemned in the Word of God—it must not be tolerated among God’s holy people.
Here are a few warnings against gossip.
“A contrary man spreads conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends.”
[PROVERBS 16:28 HCSB]
“Without wood, fire goes out;
without a gossip, conflict dies down.”
[PROVERBS 26:20 HCSB]
“A gossip’s words are like choice food
that goes down to one’s innermost being.”
[PROVERBS 26:22 HCSB]
These proverbs hardly serve as commendations.
In fact, they are warnings concerning the dangers of associating with gossips.
Let the wise take heed.
Paul found it necessary to confront the Corinthian Christians with their lack of Christian character.
Listen as he wonders what he would find when he went to Corinth.
“I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” [2 CORINTHIANS 12:20].
Clearly, slander and gossip are seen to be as wicked and these evils are just as detrimental as other forms of misconduct in the child of God.
The Master warned that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” [MARK 7:21, 22].
He clearly identified each of these actions as “evil things,” stating that “they defile a person” [MARK 7:23].
Intuitively, we agree that He is correct.
However, when we are angered by something the preacher says, without thinking we react with rage.
We won’t hit him with our fists, but we want to hurt him.
So we look for some juicy piece of gossip or we make some slanderous comment, intending to injure him.
And we often succeed far beyond our wildest imaginations!
As Christians, we have been commanded, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” [EPHESIANS 4:31].
This charge is iterated in the Letter to the Christians of Colossae.
There, Paul writes, “You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” [COLOSSIANS 3:8].
Christians “must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people” [TITUS 3:2].
Do not imagine that Paul is alone in teaching the need to put away slander.
Listen to Peter as he instructs the Jewish believers in the Diaspora.
“Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” [1 PETER 2:1].
An elder is to be accorded the same courtesy as any other believer in the assembly.
Christians need to recall the teaching of the Master.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” [MATTHEW 18:15-20].
How is it that we read these instructions, give general assent to what they say and then ignore them when we are upset?
Church members appear often to imagine that the Master said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell a few others so that they can pray with you.”
It seems immaterial whether we imagine our brother (or our sister) has sinned against us; what matters is that we feel as if they sinned against us.
We want to gather our posse to do what Jesus commanded; forget about gaining a brother!
We want justification, not reconciliation.
Perhaps it is because we don’t believe obedience will work in our favour.
Assuredly, our actions appear to be tinged with pride, coloured with arrogance and an exaggerated self-importance.
More likely, we act as we do because of cowardice; we really want someone else to do what we know has the potential for conflict.
Surely you know that I am speaking with great sarcasm.
If we are reluctant to confront fellow members of the assembly, despite knowing what Jesus taught, then our reluctance to accord such courtesy to elders has to be the stuff of legend!
Even as I speak, throughout the nation there are church families having roast pastor for lunch.
Some dear little saint of God is complaining even now, “He didn’t even shake my hand!”
Another is grousing about some statement made during the message which didn’t quite set right with him.
Another is whining because she didn’t get the recognition she imagined was her due.
I can remember a woman who assembled her posse because she didn’t agree with something I taught.
She and her posse chose to confront me during a Sunday School class as I was teaching.
I patiently pointed to the Scriptures in answer to her challenge, stating from the Word the basis for what I taught.
Then, I asked her for the Scripture supporting her position.
“That’s why I don’t like to talk to you,” she exclaimed!
“You won’t listen to anybody!” Her posse agreed with her.
Confronted by such irrational demands, I recalled the words of Luther.
“Unless I shall be convinced by proofs from the Scriptures, or evident reason (for I trust neither Pope nor councils alone, since it is certain that they have very often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures which I have adduced and my conscience is bound to the words of God.” [2] Though Luther was resisting the efforts of the papal legate to recant what he had written, the stance applies to the whole teaching of the Word.
To be certain, an elder is responsible to live a holy and godly life.
This is true for all Christians, just as Peter has written.
“Maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears” [1 PETER 2:12 NET BIBLE].
Peter’s words echo those Paul penned to Titus, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” [TITUS 2:7-8].
Did you notice the phrase, “except on the evidence of two or three witnesses?”
I don’t wish to leave the impression that elders are untouchable—they must be held to account just as every other member of the assembly is to be held to account.
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