|Vol. 13 No. 10 October 2011||
Who or what are the elders? Consider how the qualifications and work of an elder would be one of the best influences a child could enjoy. Elders were associated with James in Jerusalem in the local church’s government (Acts 11:29-30; 16:4-5; 20:28-32; 21:18) and, with the apostles, in the decisions of the early church (Acts 15:1-35). Elders were also appointed in the churches established during the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 14:23). Paul addressed the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-35). Elders played an important role in church life through their ministry to the sick — both physical and spiritual (James 5:14-15). They also were teachers in a local congregation (1 Peter 5:1-5). In addition to ministering to the sick, their duties consisted of explaining the Scriptures and teaching doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17-20). The elder’s child would have the benefit not only of his own father’s influence in the home, but also the influence of the entire eldership to train him.
We know that John was an elder (2 John 1; 3 John 1) and as such had faithful children. Timothy was told to count those elders who ruled well worthy of double honor and not to receive an accusation against an elder except at the mouth of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:17-19). Timothy was also told to ordain elders in every city (Titus 1:5). The qualifications specified for becoming an elder follow in the next three verses (Titus 1:6-9).
An elder should be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity…” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). A very important qualification of an elder or bishop is that he rules well his own house. With a view to be qualified as an elder, a man would make a special effort to be sure his children are well trained in all the ways of God. Therefore, the elder would learn how properly to preside over and govern his own family. He must be a man who has the command of his own house, not by tyranny, but with all gravity, governing his household by principle — everyone knowing his own place, and each doing his own work.
“For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5). Method is a matter of great importance in all the affairs of life. Look at a man’s domestic affairs, and if and it is discovered that they are not good, he cannot be trusted with any form of government in the church.
“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly…” (Titus 1:6). It is an either or situation: either his children enjoy the proper training in the way they should go or he is not acceptable to rule God’s children.
[Editor’s Note: The Christian husband and father who instructs his own house in God’s Word successfully may be preparing himself for serving the congregation later as an elder. However, the man who fails to adequately instill in his family the orderliness and godliness characteristic of faithful Christianity not only fails to prepare for greater service later as an elder, but his family is at great spiritual risk. ~ Louis Rushmore]
The Message of Separation
Betty Burton Choate
When John the Baptist came preaching, what was his message? When Christ began to preach, what was His central theme? When His disciples were sent out, what were they told to preach? When the disciples went into all the world preaching the Gospel, what was their message? Acts 8:5 and 12 define the message for us: “…Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them… When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Again, what had Jesus preached? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). In the Gospel accounts, how many times was the kingdom — the coming of the church — the core of the message? Jesus said, “…theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, 10), and “…you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (20). He commanded, “But seek first the kingdom…” (6:33). “Not everyone…shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (7:21). “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35; 4:23).
The Gospel accounts show that Jesus proved Himself to be the Messiah by the works He did through the power of the Holy Spirit, but His message of words was not so much on the subject of Himself as on the kingdom! He was preparing His listeners for the day when He would begin to draw men out of the kingdom of darkness and to translate them into His own kingdom of light, into His church. No one can truly understand Christ without understanding His message of separation, of leaving the world and coming into His kingdom. He warned that those who follow Him must count the cost (Luke 14:28-33). They must enter the narrow way by the strait gate: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Those who would follow Christ must separate themselves from the world: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? ...Therefore, ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you’” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 17). They are drawn together in His body, which is His church, His kingdom.
The Kingdom of Darkness, the Kingdom of Light
Again, we see the two bodies of people in the world: the righteous, and the unrighteous; those in the kingdom of Christ, and those in Satan’s kingdom, which is the kingdom of darkness. We have come full circle, back to the realization that there are only two divisions of people in God’s record. Certainly, the one seeking salvation must have knowledge of these things in order to count the cost and to choose salvation in Christ. Sometimes in the eagerness of Christians to share the Gospel with sinners, great hurry is made to bring them to the point of baptism. Sometimes such people have not been taught enough of God’s requirements to be able, actually, to count the cost involved in discipleship. Such hurry, such deliberate “passing over” of possibly difficult requirements in order not to discourage the sinner and perhaps turn him back to the world, is an attitude contrary to the Scriptures.
God is not a beggar, eager and anxious to take just anything or any heart casually offered to Him. If we pay attention to His dealings with people, as recorded in the Scripture, we will see that though God loves all people and would have all to be saved, He does not compromise what He expects and requires just so that someone else can be grabbed (maybe unknowingly and therefore actually unwillingly) out of the world and thrust into His church! Think again about the parables concerning the kingdom in Matthew 13. From verse 10, what reason did Jesus give the disciples for teaching in parables? So that those who had no genuine love for the truth would not find it! What do we learn in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler? Obviously, this was a good man, a keeper of what he believed to be the will of God. Jesus did not look at all that was right in his life and say, “Okay, you are close enough to the truth. I will overlook the remainder.” No, He said, “One thing you lack,” and when that young man turned away rather than correct that one thing, Jesus let him go — even though He loved him!
In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, we read that there are those who, basically, do not really love the truth. Does God try to nurse them along, hoping that they will eventually be willing to turn fully to Him? No. The Holy Spirit recorded that God Himself sends them a strong delusion that they should believe a lie and be damned. Why? Because they did not believe the truth. Therefore, it is vital for people to realize (1) that the message of the kingdom or church was what Christ and the apostles came preaching, (2) that there is a wall of separation between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, which is the church of our Lord, and (3) that God Himself has laid down strict requirements that must be met before He translates anyone out of the kingdom of darkness and puts him into the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1:18).
Outside or Inside?
So, after one learns of God and of Christ and of the church, what more must be understood in order to be saved? Must he have a thorough knowledge of all of God’s directives about the Christian life? No, not really. He still is outside the kingdom, so the part of the message that is critical for him is the direction on how to enter that strait gate.
Hebrews 11:6 states clearly, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” The knowledge of God must bring faith in two aspects: (1) belief that God exists; (2) belief in the reward He has promised (God’s grace reaching out to man) to those who diligently seek Him (man’s response to God’s reaching out). Knowledge or understanding of Christ’s work in our salvation, as recorded in the Gospel accounts, is summarized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Jesus said, “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). The one desiring to leave the world and enter through the strait gate must choose to turn away from sin and to turn to God. He cannot genuinely make that choice without understanding what is involved in coming into the kingdom.
In Matthew 10:32, Jesus also explained, “…whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven…” The penitent believer must not be ashamed to confess the crucified Galilean as his Lord.
Baptism, the New Birth
Nicodemus came to Jesus, seeking understanding. “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (John 3:5). How simple the plan! How few are the requirements of knowledge and obedience in order to be saved!
1. Knowledge of God. 2. Knowledge of Christ. 3. Knowledge of baptismal birth through the Spirit into the kingdom – the church, the body of Christ, the family of God, which is separated from the world.
If today’s seeker had been in the crowd on the day of the beginning of the church (Acts 2), he would have heard the powerful and convicting lesson that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the resurrected Savior. With those 3,000 others who were “cut to the heart,” he would have asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). He would have heard Peter say, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (38). Further, he would have been among those “…who gladly received his word [and] were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (41); “…and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (47). Thus, the preaching of the kingdom, the call to humanity to come out of the world and be separated as a holy people unto God, is completed in the fruit it bears: the birth of individual souls into the kingdom. This separation unto God was Christ’s purpose in coming into the world. We must know and understand His call in order to respond to it, after having counted the cost.