Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 5, 1955

The Scriptural Work Of Elders

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

Examples To The Flock

Peter teaches (1 Peter 5:3) that elders must make themselves examples to the flock, the church that they serve. When Paul admonished them to "take heed unto yourselves" (Acts 20:28), he placed upon them the duty of guarding their own lives in a course that would cause no member of the flock to go astray, if that person imitated them in everything. This is a work, a vocation, a calling to which an elder must give the most serious consideration every day of his life.

All the people of God are taught to lead exemplary lives (1 Peter 2:12); but the elders, because of their highly developed spiritual traits, should be able to exemplify the excellencies of Christ more vividly than others who have not their qualifications.

This word example is an interesting word. It comes from the same root source as the word exempt. Exempt is composed of two words: ex, meaning "out"; empt, meaning "taken." Exempt means "taken out," or "taken away from," regardless of the purpose for which a thing is separated or "taken out." The word example also means "taken out," but the purpose for which a thing is taken out from others inheres in the meaning of the word example. It means taken out for a pattern or model. Therefore, elders are taken out for a model or pattern. They should be examples in everything that is right for a Christian to do.

1. In word. The eldership must be an example in sound speech that cannot be condemned. How can a man "exhort in the sound doctrine," if he himself is not a pattern in sound words? This certainly excludes all speculation, traditions of men and every form of error from an elder's teaching.

To be an example in word, an elder must be truthful with everyone in everything he says. Exaggeration, misrepresentation and all other forms of lying should never escape his lips. All Christians are taught to "speak ye the truth each one with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25), and elders must be able to do it under all circumstances.

His words must be sober, kind, calm and gentle. He must be courteous in his speech, even when others are discourteous to him. He certainly must reprove and rebuke members of the flock when they need it, but this does not justify his using unduly harsh and cruel words. A doctor may have to amputate the arm of a patient; but that does not mean that he should grab the patient by the wrist and jerk his arm off at the shoulder. How can an elder restore the erring "in a spirit of gentleness" (Gal. 6:1), if he himself has not learned to be gentle in word?

His speech must be modest and free of all bragging. A novice cannot be an elder, "lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Tim. 3:6.) A boasting, swaggering braggart is "puffed up"; he is a novice, regardless of how long he may have been a church member. Though he may have every other qualification that any in the flock would require (including a wife and thirteen believing children), he is a bad example and cannot do the work of an elder.

2. In manner of life. An elder's conduct should be worthy of imitation by all the flock. The scriptures teach human behavior may wield a greater influence over some people, than words either written or spoken. Some who speak against Christians as evil doers, "may by your good works which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12.) Speaking to wives whose husbands were not Christians, Peter said, "In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, even if any obey not the word, they may without the word be gained by the behavior of their wives; beholding your chaste behavior coupled with fear." (1 Peter 3:1-2.)

A man may not be interested in a flower seed; yet the finished product of that seed — the flower in bloom — may fascinate him. The word, the seed of the kingdom, merely spoken may not affect some people; but the finished product of the word — Christian behavior — may move them to obedience.

Some people are not interested at all in the rule book governing base ball; but they will travel many miles and pay an admission fee to see those same rules demonstrated on the diamond. The written and spoken rules and principles of the New Testament hold no attraction for some people; but those same New Testament principles, demonstrated in the behavior of a Christian, may charm them.

3. In faith. The churches are in great need of examples of living faith — faith in God; faith in God's word; faith in God's wisdom; faith in God's system; faith in God's way of doing things. The elders must supply that example. "Imitate their faith." (Heb. 13:7.) Their faith must be worthy of imitation.

Many of the departures from the way of truth and righteousness can be traced to a lack of faith in God. A lack of faith caused many of the Israelites to rebel and die in the wilderness. (Heb. 3:12.) A loss of faith caused them to change God's system of government from judges to a kingly form. (1 Sam. 8:5, 19, 20.) In their lack of faith they thought that God's system and God's way just would not work any longer.

Catholicism and all denominationalism are manifestations of a lack of faith in God's way of doing things. In the latter half of the past century, a host of preachers and elders lost faith in the divine plan for making the manifold wisdom of God known to all the world; therefore, they insisted on organizing a missionary society for the churches to support. They pressed that thing, and tore asunder the body of Christ. A lack of faith in God's plan for evangelization of the world created the missionary society.

4. Elders must be examples in obedience. The scribes and Pharisees who sat as teachers of the law of Moses were rebuked in scathing terms by the Lord, because they themselves would not do the things that they forever were telling others to do. Jesus said, "All things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe; but do not after their works; for they say, and do not." (Matt. 23:3.)

It is hypocritical and Pharisaical for an elder to bid others to attend the meetings of the church, when he himself will not attend; to bid others to give liberally, when he himself will not give liberally; to bid others to study the Bible and to pray, when he himself will not read it and pray.

No man can be a good leader, until he first learns to be a good follower. Elders must follow the Christ in humble obedience, if they would make themselves ensamples to the flock.

(To be continued)