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In the kingdom of heaven, the concept of authority and
greatness is radically different from that which we might conclude from
observing the affairs of the secular world.
They are at opposite ends of the pole.
At least on two occasions Jesus’ disciples disputed who
would be greatest among them. At
that time they had a great deal to learn. So
do most of we present day disciples. Jesus
responded as follows:
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called “Benefactors”. But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? Luke 22: 25-27
Will the kingdom of heaven follow the pattern of the secular world in regard to authority?
Certainly not! They are not to lord it over or exercise authority over one another.
What does “to exercise lordship over” or “to lord it over” mean?
The lexicon states the meaning is “to be the Lord of,” “to rule over” or “have dominion over.” Remember Jesus said that this was not to happen among His disciples.
W hat does “exercise authority over” mean?
To “exercise authority over” means “to have power or authority over” “to use power.” The use of power or force is not permitted in our relations with one another. Can any one who regards the word of God seriously, believe that Jesus is emphasizing “rulership” instead of “servanthood”? No, Jesus is promoting the servant-leaderconcept.
Is the benevolent use of force permitted?
No there are to be no such “benefactors” among the disciples.
What is the measure of greatness in the kingdom?
Greatness is achieved by service. The leader is to be the servant. This is so contrary to our normal view that it is very difficult to accept. Those who assume leadership is exercising authority have missed the point.
Thus the last shall be first, and the first last. Matthew 20: 16
Would anyone dare to be called, “your eminence” in light of this passage?
Certainly not. Christ is the preeminent One; we are brethren.
Whoever then humbles
himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18: 4
In the kingdom of heaven, what is the mark of greatness?
Humility. Only the humble should be in position of leadership. The true leader does not exalt himself, nor does he need to do so to fulfill his role.
But do not be called
Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He
who is in heaven. And do not be
called leaders; for one is your Leader; that is Christ.
But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whoever exalts himself shall be humbles; and whoever humbles himself
shall be exalted. Matthew 23: 8-12
What prompts this discourse by Jesus?
Jesus is commenting on the practices of the Pharisees and scribes who have taken the chair of Moses. They rightfully instruct in regard to God’s will but they are motivated by the desire to be noticed by men. They love the places of honor and the respectful greetings.
What principle is the Lord enunciating?
Don’t be called by titles that set you apart from your brothers; in principle don’t wear clothing that identifies you as God’s envoy. In our everyday parlance, don’t be called pope, cardinal, bishop, archbishop, father, pastor or reverend. We are brethren. Don’t wear special garb that sets you apart. Christ is our Leader, Christ is our Master, Christ is our Teacher and God id our Father. We serve one another.
And Jesus came up and
spoke to them saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on
earth. Matthew28: 18
And He put all things
in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the
church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1: 22, 23
Who has all authority? Is any left over for His servants?
Christ has all authority.
Did He delegate authority to others?
No, Christ gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelist, some as pastors and teachers. He appointed to a work, to a responsibility not to a position to exercise authority.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve , and to give His life a ransom for many. Matthew 20: 25-28
What prompted this statement by Jesus?
The mother of the sons of Zebedee asked that her two sons might sit on His right and left hand in His kingdom. The motivating factor was pride.
How do the rulers of the Gentiles function?
Who has all authority over the body of Christ, the church?
Christ is the one head; He has all authority.
He, as far as I can tell, has not given any man authority over another.
We shall look at other passages later that are thought to give authority
to others. Please note, Jesus said,
“It is not so among you.”
How does Jesus establish the “slave concept” of leadership?
What is the word Jesus uses to describe those who would be first?
Servant or slave. Does this word connote authority and power? I think not.
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5: 1-3
Is the elder, the
pastor, the bishop an exempt class? Has God appointed these to exercise
No, He has not.
They are to exercise oversight but not by lording it over those in their
charge. This is the same admonition that Jesus gave to His disciples.
Elder don’t lord it over others. The
idea is shepherd- flock, leader-follower.
How then if not by
authority as elders do they exercise oversight?
oversight by being examples to the flock. This is important; many people don’t get it, but elders
exercise oversight by example.
Why is the model of the
eastern shepherd, as opposed to the western shepherd, important to understand?
In the east, the sheep
hear the voice of the shepherd, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads
them out, when he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep
follow him because they know his voice. And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee
from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10: 3-5) The
eastern shepherd had a close relationship with the flock, he knew his flock by
name and the flock knows him. Therefore
the flock trusted the shepherd and would follow him. The shepherd in turn, fed and protected the flock even to the
point of laying down his life. The western shepherd on the other hand uses dogs
to control the flock. If a sheep
gets out of line, he sics the dog on him
If the true shepherd has
no authority such as men exercise in their relationship with subordinates and is
not to lord it over their charge how do they function? They function by the
authority and power of their example. They are to be exemplary in love and faith, above
reproach, temperate and prudent, able to teach and all the other qualifications
given in 1 Timothy and Titus 1. Their
“power” is by example. They
naturally take the lead in spiritual matters.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20: 28 KJV
Doesn’t this verse
indicate that elders are “over” and thus in a position of authority?
No, it does not.
You will note that I purposely quoted from the King James Version because
it does say “over.” This is a
flat mistranslation. The correct
translation is “among” or “in” and later translations, such as the NAS,
have corrected the verse.
mistranslation an accident?
No. It was not.
As excellent as the King James Version is, we must note that the King
charged the translators to follow his instruction in certain matters.
Three examples are listed below that are of particular interest to heirs
of the Restoration Movement.
Not to translate “baptizo,”
but to transliterate the word so as not to undermine the practice of infant
baptism. Can you imagine the impact
if the word had been correctly translated, “to immerse.”
Not to translate “ekklesia”
but instead to use the word “church” which connotes a polity or
organizational system in the body of Christ.
Would we have had a different notion if the word had been correctly
translated “assembly” or “congregation?”
To uphold “bishop rule,” to
insure that the “divine right” of the king to rule was supported.
Would many have a hierarchical concept of church organization if the
translators had done their job?
Sometimes there would be
mistranslation as in Acts 20: 28, where “over” is used instead of “in”
or “among”. Sometimes
where a word has a range of possible translations, those words that supported
“bishop rule” would be chosen. .
But doesn’t the
concept of “overseer” support the idea of one having authority?
Yes it would in the Gentile’s world, or in the secular world, but in
the kingdom of God, overseership is exercised, “nor yet as lording it
over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”
The “authority” of the elder is
their “example”, not the raw power to
command or compel.
And we beseech you, you brethren, to know them that labor 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 and be at peace among yourselves. 1 Thessalonians 5: 12, 13 KJV
But we beseech you brethren, to know those who labor among you, and take the lead of you in (the) Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them exceedingly in love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 1 Thessalonians 5: 12, 13 Interlinear Greek English New Testament
What is the point of
Our attention in on
“over you in the Lord.” Compare
this with Romans 12: 8 were the same Greek word occurs.
The NAS translates this word as “he who takes the lead.”
This gives an entirely different flavor to the passage.
Note that the Interlinear Greek English New Testament gives that
Why are leaders to be
Please note also,
leaders are to be highly esteemed on account of their works, not the position or
“office” as some suppose. The
“leading” is not about authority but caring for the flock.
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 1 Timothy 5: 17 KJV
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. I Timothy 5:17 NAS
The well who take the lead elders of double honour let be
counted worthy, especially those labouring in word and teaching.
1 Timothy 5: 17 Interlinear Greek English New Testament
(excuse the word order)
Is “rule well”
the only possibility?
The Interlinear gives us an alternative to the translation “rule well”. Remember that Jesus said that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their charges and exercise authority over them but that it should not be so among his disciples. If a disciple is both a “ruler” and a “servant”, how do we reconcile the two concepts. There are only two possibilities. Either one “serves by ruling” or he “rules by serving.” The later is the case. If we must have the translation “rule” then let’s use it appropriately. In the kingdom of God, one disciple of God does not exercise authority over other disciples. They do not lord it over the Lord’s heritage, it is the Lord’s. We are brethren; we are servants. The elders lead by example. Even the Apostle Paul said, “Nor that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.” 2 Corinthians 1: 24
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves for they watch for your souls, and they must do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Hebrew 13: 17 KJV
Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13: 7 NAS
What is the focus?
Again we are focused on
“rule over you.” The NAS has it
right, those who “rule over you” are “leaders”.
This word gives us the appropriate meaning.
These leaders are not necessarily identified as “elders” in this
passage they are the ones who spoke the word of God to you.
What is the
connotation of the Greek word translated, "obey"?
There are several words
that are translated “obey.” We
Peitharcheo- to obey a chief or
Peitho- to persuade
Hupakoe- to hearken submissively
The “obey” in Hebrew
13: 17 is from “peitho.” The
flavor of the word is “to be persuaded by.”
The passage could well be translated “be persuaded by your leaders and
submit to them.” We submit not
because of “office” or authority but because of work and example.
Because of their past spiritual leadership, their exemplary lives and the
wisdom they continue to display.
The NIV has, “Obey
your leaders, and submit to their authority.”
As far as I can tell the word “authority” does not appear in the
Greek text. Check it out.
Judge for yourself.
How do these concepts
work in actual practice? Are they
practical? Do they enhance
spiritual growth? Can the church
function, using these concepts? They
did in the first century.
Some may be skeptical
that the “authority” delineated above would not work.
The following are examples of the working of this “authority” in the
The selection of an Apostle to replace Judas Acts 1: 15-26
Peter outlines the problem to 120
persons, men and women
They put forward two men
They drew lots to select one
Matthias was selected
Grecian widows are not being ministered to
Acts 6: 1-6
The 12 Apostles summed the
congregation of disciples
The disciples selected seven men
of good reputation to solve problem
Approval of the whole
Apostles prayed and laid hands on
Report at Antioch Acts 14: 27- 15:3
Paul and Barnabas reported after
gathering the church together
Brethren determined to send Paul
Sent on their way by the church
At Antioch some men from Jerusalem were teaching that the Gentiles must
be circumcised to be accepted by God. This
was a major doctrinal issue.
Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem after great dissension and debate at
Antioch. Acts 15:4-29
Received by the church and the
apostles and the elders
Apostles and elders came together
Peter spoke God’s acceptance of
Cornelius, a Gentile
The multitude kept silence as
they listened to Paul and Barnabas
James speaks and gives his
Apostles and the elders, with the
whole church choose leading men to go to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas
Letter sent to Antioch by Paul,
Barnabas, Judas and Silas
Return to Antioch Acts 15: 30-34
Gathered the congregation
together and delivered the letter
Judas and Silas encouraged and
strengthened the brethren
Sent away from the brethren in
sins Matthew 18: 15- 20
Go and reprove him in private, if
he won’t listen
Take one or more brethren with
you, if he won’t listen
Tell it to the church (not to the
elders), if he refuses to listen
Let him be as a Gentile and
Many problems and difficulties arose in the early church.
Letters of instruction.
· The epistles of the New Testament were written, for the most part, to the church and to the saints, not to the elders. The epistle to the Philippians includes the elders and the deacons. Many problems were addressed but it was the church that was expected to deal with these problems. Undoubtedly the elders would take the lead in the local congregation but the idea that the elders were some kind of decision-making body is not supported.
Personal observations :
Has the writer of Plain
Talk ever been an elder?
Yes I have been an elder
in the churches of Christ. I do not
now recommend that type of authoritarian eldership.
I feel I was a victim of my own ignorance but have no one to blame but
Who should participate in making the decisions of the church?
member of the body who is affected by the decision.
But are we not to
submit to our leaders?
Yes we are.
. Be persuaded by your leaders and submit to them.
Why? Because our leaders
have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.
Hebrews 13: 17
Subject yourself to the
righteousness of God. Surely
this includes everyone. Romans
The Corinthians were to submit to
the household of Stephanas as they were the first fruits of Achaia, and they
have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints, that you also be in
subjection to such men and to everyone that helps in the work and labors.
! Corinthians 16: 16
Be subject to one another in the
fear of the Lord. Again this includes all disciples. Ephesians 5: 21
“Wives be subject to your own
husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the
head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
But as the as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to
be subject to their husbands in everything.
Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church, and gave
Himself up for her.” Usually
the attention is focused on the wife submitting, but the verse also says
something about the husband loving and dieing.
Ephesians 5: 22-25
Wives be subject to you own
husbands, as is fitting in the Lord, husbands, love your wives, and do not
embitter them. Colossians 3:
“But he gives a greater grace.
Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the
humble. Submit therefore to God.”
This includes everyone James
“Submit yourselves for the
Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority,
or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of
those who do right.” This includes everyone.
1 Peter 2: 13
“You younger men, likewise, be
subject to your elders; and all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward
one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
All of us are to put on humility toward one another. 1 Peter 5: 5
Humility is one of the
keys to receiving God’s grace. If
our vessel is full of ourselves there is no room for God to give His grace.
Jesus humbled Himself. Although
He existed as God, He did not consider that as something to be held on to, but
emptied Himself taking on the form of a bondservant, humbling Himself to become
obedient to a death by crucifixion. Help
us Father to have this attitude. Submissiveness
is not just for women and children, it is the way for all believers.
I hope this essay will
not be construed as being opposed to elders.
That is not the point. The
intent is to encourage elders as God intended them to serve.
Elders serve “in” and
“among” the flock rather than “over” the flock
Elders oversee by example, not
lording it over the flock.
The congregation should make
decisions with the elders leading the flock not sequestered from the flock.
Teaching the flock is a primary
responsibility of elders.
Teaching the lost is the primary,
but not solely, the responsibility of evangelists
Any hierarchical organization of
the congregation, whether it is pope, cardinal or elder, is counter to God’s
What is the objective of Plain Talk in regard to this subject?
The purpose is to present a perspective that may not be known to present day heirs of the Restoration Movement and others but was advocated by E. G. Sewell, David Lipscomb, Lee Jackson, Tolbert Fanning and others. This work is one of persuasion not compulsion, reason not confrontation.
This work will utterly fail if it seeks to undermine or depose any existing eldership. Change takes place first in the heart, and then without, in actions and practices.
Take what you can,
Reject what you must,
But always share and uphold the truth, as you understand it.God bless
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Last Update 09/26/12