Vol. 6, No. 9
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Four times during my experience as a Gospel preacher I have preached the funeral services for elders in the Lord's church under which I have served. Each time, there was a flurry of conflicting emotions. Intense sadness and grief were present as family and friends said goodbye to their precious loved one, and yet hopeful happiness and contentment was also present, no doubt attributable to the faithful example of the deceased. Such was the case with Samuel G. Spencer, known by all at Weirton Heights simply as "Sam."
Sam was not an elder when my family moved to Weirton Heights church of Christ (Weirton, WV) in 1994, but it was soon apparent shortly after we had been here that Sam was a special individual. I came to respect and appreciate his comments in my Adult Bible Class as well as his warm caring smile and his hearty handshake. Sam told me on many occasions that he had no trouble being humble, and he genuinely meant that. It was this attitude of the heart, and his love of God's Word that compelled him to serve the congregation here as one of her elders.
Being an elder in the Lord's church is an awesome task that carries an equally awesome responsibility. Sam diligently met that challenge well, although in his mind he often felt inadequate to the task and expressed his concerns to me. Great men seem to always have a lower opinion of themselves and their abilities than others do, especially when their charge is no less than the care and nurturing of the flock of Jesus Christ. It has to be sobering to be an elder in the Lord's church and read passages of Scripture like Hebrews 13:17, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Elders are responsible for each individual soul in the congregation they serve. Peter adds further:
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Sam Spencer was fully aware of the responsibilities he faced as an overseer of "God's heritage." I remember hearing him say on many occasions that he would "just as soon take a beating" as confront someone about their sins. Yet, confront them he did, time and time again. It was not, is not, an easy job, but he rose to the occasion many times over. When such confrontations came, Sam and the other elders with him were firm in their convictions, and yet gentle in their demeanor so as to lovingly draw the erring back into the fold. (See Ephesians 4:15.)
The Scriptures also say, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17). Sam's gentle caring spirit and his steadfast resolve to keep the faith made him a great example of one who strove to live like Christ would have him to live.
We are reminded of the passage in Matthew 19:29 where Jesus promises those who forsake houses, lands, fathers and mothers, etc. shall receive a hundred fold. Our Christian family does indeed enrich us with many we regard as "mothers" and "fathers," and the older I get, the more I realize how precious these older brethren are. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians to cherish these beloved mentors while they were alive, for their time was short. "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers..." (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). When Paul's death was imminent, he wrote to his "son in the faith," young Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Sam was a beloved husband and father to his family, and he will always be regarded as a lifelong friend by so many. He was a loyal and generous friend to preachers of the Gospel, and a tireless enemy to false teaching and the gainsayer. He will certainly be missed at Weirton Heights, but we take great comfort in that he faced the time of his departure with a calm dignity which displayed his tremendous faith in Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. If he were able to do so, I feel certain he would say to all of us to keep fighting the good fight, be faithful unto death, for the reward is well worth it.