In our post-modern age of self-determination, authority has become increasingly problematic. The NHS in the United Kingdom and the American Psychiatric Association have published criteria for diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children, which includes emotional and behavioural symptoms that can last at least six months. The child with ODD
Often argues with adults or people in authority
Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
Often deliberately annoys or upsets people
Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviour
The local church is a place where, for their spiritual growth and accountability, believers submit to the leadership of elders. Submission to spiritual authority becomes challenging when the prevailing social ethos is brought into the church and Christians begin to think like consumers. If you like the church and it provides for your needs, then you will stay and contribute. However, if there is a better option nearby you will jump ship and take your business with you. After all, the customer is always right. With this consumer attitude the idea of a spiritual authority proclaiming, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ seems out of place.
We have seen in this series that the function of elders is to lead the local church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray and judge doctrinal issues. Now we want to consider an often-overlooked question: what are the responsibilities of a church to its elders?
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
The apostle Paul urged the Thessalonian church to appreciate those who diligently laboured among them. The word esteem means ‘to hold in high regard’ and ‘to consider.’ Believers are to hold leaders in high regard because of their work. For example, Paul instructed the Philippian believers to receive Epaphroditus in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard (Philippians 2:29).
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 (Hebrews 13:17).
Obey means ‘to be persuaded, or to listen to.’ It is not the same word used elsewhere of children and parents (Ephesians 6:1), bond-servants and masters (Ephesians 6:5), or readers obeying the instructions in Paul’s letters (2 Thessalonians 3:14). It speaks of an obedience resulting from confidence. It is rendered elsewhere ‘confident’ (Hebrews 6:9) and ‘trust’ (Hebrews 2:13; Luke 11:22).
The command is not absolute, because sometimes elders lose their way and should not be obeyed. For example, in Acts 20:30 Paul warns the Ephesian elders that ‘from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.’ To the extent that elders lead according to the Word of God we must demonstrate a teachable, pliable, persuadable, convincible spirit. We should extend trust to such leaders, placing confidence in them.
Real leadership and authority are not what Peter describes as ‘being lords over those entrusted to you’ (1 Peter 5:3). Submission and obedience are, however, closely related as full obedience requires submission of the heart. The word appears only here in the New Testament and means to ‘make room for by retiring from a seat,’ or ‘yield to’ or ‘submit to.’
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17).
The ‘double honour’ that elders are worthy of includes honour (respect) and recompense for any financial loss suffered as a result of the work done by an elder, especially those whose particular emphasis is on the study and teaching of scripture.
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct (Hebrews 13:7).
The word means ‘to call to mind, to recollect, or to be mindful.’ One of the best ways to fulfil this command is through prayer. Paul pleads with the Thessalonian believers to ‘Pray for us’ (1 Thessalonians 5:25). Your elders need your prayers. Pray for their spiritual walk, pray for their families, pray that God would give them wisdom in making decisions and sensitivity in dealing with difficult issues, and pray that they would work in harmony together.
Elders need to be leaders whose character and faith are worth following. That is why God has given qualifications for those in leadership. God does not want elders to be essentially different from other Christians, but He does expect them to be visible role models.