Henry Palmieri, New York, USA
We conclude our study of the subject of elders by considering their Recognition and their Compensation.
Their Recognition. The Scriptures give us divine instruction as to the obligation of the saints towards the overseers, to which we do well to take heed. We shall note ten points. Overseers are to be
Observed, I Thess. 5. 12. Although true elders will not deliberately parade themselves to be recognized as such, the saints will know them by the service rendered at all times. True elders will not demand respect; they earn it.
Prayed for, Heb. 13. 18. How much they need the prayers of the saints, since when the work is truly performed, it is arduous, humbling and often a thankless one. We need to pray that they may have wisdom, affection and strength to perform such a great work. Such a great responsibility needs the prayers of those committed to their care.
Esteemed, 1 Thess. 5. 13. They are to be esteemed "very highly in love" for the type of work that they are doing. When there is love for the elders, then their services will be valued and appreciated.
Honoured, 1 Tim. 5. 17. "Double honour" shows the high character of the respect shown towards elders.
Supported, 1 Tim. 5. 18. Paul said that elders should work according to his example. Acts 20. 35, but when an overseer has no means of support, it pleases the Lord that we show him practical fellowship by means of material things.
Trusted, 1 Tim. 5. 19. "No accusation is to be accepted against an elder except in the presence of witnesses and upon sufficient testimony, for elders are particularly exposed to misrepresentation by very reason of their work, e.g. in advising the assembly in matters of discipline. If there be ground for remonstrance, deference as to a father; yet if sin is proved, there must be public conviction, v. 20. Fellow-elders are not to cloak failure in one of their number". Mr. Henry Hitchman in his book Some Scriptural Principles of the Christian Assembly has well written, "It is good to remember the words of a most honoured servant of Christ, now enjoying the far better portion: 'Let never so clear a matter appear, I will not believe until I receive full proof. Had believers always acted upon this testimony, what sorrow would have been saved, and the reputation of many would have been preserved, instead of being ruined through scandal. In an ordinary law-court, a person is held innocent until he is proved guilty. Surely believers in the assembly should need evidence which would satisfy a jury before condemning any one on the ground of a reported accusation, Deut. 13.12-14."
Submitted to, 1 Cor. 16. 16. They must be submitted to as those who addict themselves to service of this kind. This submission is "to their known but unexpressed wishes".
Obeyed, Heb. 13.17. They are to be obeyed "in expressed injunctions", since "they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief".
Saluted, Heb. 13. 24. They are to be saluted as objects of love and not of suspicion; those committed to their charge must greet them with kindly wishes so as to encourage and not discourage them.
Remembered, Heb. 13. 7. This exhortation to "remember them" probably refers to those who had passed away, or to those who had been slain for their stand for the Lord, such as James who had been "killed . . . with the sword", Acts 12. 2, and a number of the early leaders who had spoken to them the Word of truth. They must be remembered as those used of God to guide His people by His Word. Their faith is also to be imitated, since the glory of Christ was their one object. True elders are faithful examples, and any faith that has the Lord Jesus as the main object can be imitated. Moreover, the outcome and issue of their lives should be observed. Although these faithful examples and these godly guides pass away, the Lord Jesus Christ ever remains the supreme Object of faith. Pastors pass away, but the Great Pastor, Heb. 13. 20, raises up others to pasture and pilot His dear people.
Their Compensation. That overseers will be rewarded for their work we have no doubt. The apostle John was an overseer, and wrote, "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward", 2 John 8. Peter tells of the "crown of glory" that is to be bestowed on all those who have taken up this most important work of godly rule and faithful shepherding of His flock, 1 Pet. 5. 4.
W. Lincoln has written, "It is a work that requires much labour, often gives much sorrow, and yields little present return. People have much interest in the evangelist's work, and there is present joy in seeing sinners saved, but the shepherd's work is more arduous and often little in it to cheer. It is because of this that the 'crown of glory' with its dazzling brightness, is promised from the Chief Pastor's own hand. He knows all the toil, has seen all the tears, and fully estimates all the labours spent upon the sheep for whom He gave His life. That crown of unfading glory will tell to all how much He appreciated the service of which men thought so little."
May the Lord help us all to ascertain our proper place in the assembly of His people, and deliver us from occupying a position for which we are definitely unfitted. Much distress has often been caused by men persisting in their own way rather than God's way. We must be thankful to God for those assemblies which have those in fellowship who aspire and strive earnestly to follow the pattern. But for those who have not, let us cry to Him to provide such leaders who are men of the Word, men of faith and last but not least, men of prayer.
(To be followed by two papers on Assembly Discipline.)