Faithlife Sermons

The Gospel Identity of the Elder

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Introduction

We are stepping into a new chapter of the history of FBC Bagdad.
My personal chapters at this church have been marked by ~four year periods of time: Rooting/Repenting/Revitalizing/Reforming.
For the next few weeks (Probably six weeks), we will be placing our attention on Acts 20:17-38 to make sure we as a church body truly understand eldership.
We are going to study with exposition/rotation/reciprocation.
Acts 20:17–38 ESV
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
One Sunday (May 23rd, 2021), within a few weeks of Pastor Austin starting to meet here in the afternoon, I dropped in to worship with our brothers and sisters and this passage was in sharp focus.
1 Timothy 1:3–5 ESV
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Pastor Austin pointed out that in 1 Tim 1:3, the apostle directly references this meeting in Acts 20. He spoke passionately about the danger to the church of fierce wolves that attack, and that those wolves not only come from outside the church, but also from within, even from within the eldership of the church.
As I sat and listened, my heart was stirred and I couldn’t help but think of the many stories I knew of men placed into a position of Pastor who led their people astray or abused the position they were in.
Additionally, I look back and I marvel at the fact that the very first time I sat to worship with my brother, the teaching is growing out of this idea of eldership. To stand before you today with my dear brother in the room, with our church bodies desiring to join together and merge our individual elders into a true eldership… This is just one of many acts of God’s providence that has led us to this point.
When discussing how best to preach on eldership while keeping the scriptures front and center, we came to agreement that this passage has much more to teach us about biblical eldership than we see on the surface. It is a deep well of church doctrine and instruction, and it would be to our peril to ignore it!
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With all that being said, I have preached on this very passage before, in 2018, in a message titled “Be a Leader” I asked this congregation, “Why does our church leadership look different from what we observe in Acts?”
What this church is mostly unaware of, is after that sermon, I counseled with several men about my feeling that we did not measure up to biblical eldership.
One pastor showed me his church’s bylaws and documents where there were always five elders to act as counsel and ensure he didn’t act unbiblically in his pastorate.
Another man encouraged me… and then encouraged me to be cautious, not to move quickly, and to seek the counsel of others that have been through this process.
Two Godly men within our association, at separate times and places, cautioned me to take great care when appointing additional elders and to not appoint someone unqualified.
One dear mentor and friend cautioned me not to appoint elders for the sole sake of appointing elders.
I have preached on this topic before. When in Eph chapter 4, I stated that the popular method of having a single leader at the head of the church was unbiblical and leads to pastors leading bodies of believers without proper oversight.
I do not believe in having a ruling body or synod over all the churches.
I do believe that there must be a plurality of equal elders within the local church.
Senior Pastors & Associate Pastors do not meet this because we have taken on a form of “boss” and “employee”. The associate is unable to speak with conviction and instruction to the senior.
Associations & Fellowships of pastors within the region do not meet this calling. They meet monthly at best.
If properly upheld, pastors falling into great sin would have been appropriately called out prior to being ejected from ministry. [See 1 Tim 5, Gal 2])
We are going to take the next several weeks to look at this passage and understand the calling of this group of men and the example set for them by the Apostle Paul.
The Apostle has an unquestionable focus, the Gospel
Acts 20:24 ESV
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Echoed in Paul’s statement to Timothy
1 Timothy 1:5 ESV
5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

The Title of the Elder

Let’s focus on the first verse of this passage:
Acts 20:17 ESV
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
Additionally, see two more words:
Acts 20:28 NAS
“Be on guard for yourselves and for 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.
Overseer & Shepherd
See a similar passage for additional terms:
Titus 1:5 KJV 1900
5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
Titus 1:7 KJV 1900
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
Elders & Bishops used to mean the same office.
Really we only see our modern term “Pastor” in Ephesians 4:11, and only in certain translations.
Why do we say pastor then? It is from the latin pastus/pastor meaning to shepherd. To feed and care for. This is exactly the charge Jesus gives to Peter in John 21.

What an Elder Isn’t

An apostle
An evangelist
A “Father”
A CEO/Businessman
A board member/committee
Motivational speaker
Employee of the Church membership

The Calling of the Elder

What makes a pastor?
From Steve Lawson’s “Called to Preach”
A burning passion to preach
A marked ability to teach
An evident growth in Godliness
Living an exemplary life
Discerning the will of God
A strong confirmation from others
A spiritual influence upon lives
A pressing urgency in the heart
An open door of providence

Note the Qualifications of the Elder

From 1 Tim 3:1-7
Above Reproach
Husband of one wife
Sober minded
Self-controlled
Respectable
Hospitable
Able to teach
Not a drunkard
Not violent, but gentle
Not quarrelsome
Not a lover of money
Manages his household well
Not a recent convert
Well thought of by outsiders

The Responsibilities of the Elder

Proclaiming
Prayer
Leading
Teaching
Preaching & Praying
Acts 6:2–4 ESV
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Leading
This demonstrates leadership. Also see Acts 15’s Council in Jerusalem. The testimony of Paul & Barnabas, the confirmation of Peter, and the direction of James, who is among the elders of Jerusalem. There is agreement between both apostles and elders on how to approach the issues of circumcision and dietary law and they provide leadership to the elders of all the churches on how to instruct Gentile believers.
(Take note this is not any sort of ruling council for the churches, but are coming from the teachings of apostles who were charged with establishing the Churches of God in every place.
Teaching Sound Doctrine
Titus 2:1 ESV
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
Worship is for believers who can participate in worship.
Sermons are for the church to hear the instruction of the Word.

The Reward of the Elder

Most are called to subsist on their ministry
1 Timothy 5:17–18 ESV
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Some are called to labor for their ministry
1 Corinthians 9:11–14 ESV
11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
The ultimate reward
1 Corinthians 9:18 ESV
18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Conclusion

We are not the first to do this, not even the first within our association.
The focus is not on our internal body, but on how we accomplish our mission to preach the Gospel.
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