Vacant Chairs

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

I.         There is a office that is vacant; chairs that need filling

            A.        Perhaps there are some here today that can fill the need

                        1.         Not everyone can fill it. No everyone will want to.

                        2.         I Corinthians 12:12-26 - We all have different talents.

                        3.         Each is to use it to the best of their ability

            B.        The vacant position is that of an elder.

            C.        Every congregation needs them desperately, but, as with many things, we often don’t recognize our need with something we have never had.

II.        Exactly what is an elder? - Acts 20:17-28

            A.        Actually elder is just one of many descriptive names

            B.        Elder (vs 17) - presbuteros

                        1.         The same Greek word we get the word “presbyter.”

                        2.         Means one who is older, an senior person

                        3.         It implies one who is experienced with life, especially living as a Christian.

            C.        Overseer (vs. 28) - episkopos

                        1.         This same word is sometimes translated as “bishop”

                        2.         Means a superintendent

                        3.         A person capable of watching over and directing a congregation. A person who is responsible for the congregation.

            D.        The verb phrase “feeding the flock” (vs. 28) - poimaino

                        1.         In its noun form it is translated “pastor”

                        2.         To tend as a shepherd

                        3.         A person who watches and protects those given to his charge. A person who is answerable as to the fate of his charges.

                        4.         Feeding means to see that his charges are well-nourished.

            E.        All these descriptive terms refer to an older Christian who has the oversight of the spiritual well-being of a congregation.

                        1.         The same three words are seen in I Peter 5:1-4 (elders, shepherd, oversight)

                        2.         An elder should not be confused with a minister. They are different offices within the church.

                        3.         They serve different but essential roles.

                                    a.         Seen in Ephesians 4:11

                                    b.         An evangelist is different from a pastor

                        4.         At times, you may find a minister who happens to also be an elder - I Timothy 5:17

                                    a.         As Peter, who served as an apostle, a preacher, and an elder

                                    b.         However, every preacher is not an elder and every elder is not a preacher

                                    c.         Paul was an apostle and a preacher, but he never called an elder since he did not qualify not having a wife (I Timothy 3:2).

            F.        It is interesting to notice that elders in a congregation are always mentioned in the plural sense. The implication is that a congregation is not to have a single elder.

III.       Duties of an elder

            A.        I Timothy 3:1

                        1.         There is an office of overseer and there is work that the overseers must do.

            B.        Titus 1:5

                        1.         Men are placed into the position of elder.

                        2.         Men don’t just happen to obtain the duty.

            C.        I Peter 5:2-3

                        1.         To watch over the spiritual needs of the congregation

                                    a.         To see that each Christian is being built up

                                    b.         To see that false doctrines are not being taught

                        2.         Their method of leadership is not that of a dictator

                                    a.         They guide by first showing how to live as a Christian

                                    b.         A shepherd does not drive the flock but walks in front and the sheep follow his voice.

            D.        Acts 15:4-6

                        1.         They ensure the soundness of the doctrine being taught by the congregation’s members.

                        2.         They are not the source of doctrine. They make sure that the members stay within the bounds of the teachings God has given us.

                        3.         Titus 1:9-11 - They enforce sound doctrine by their own knowledge of the Scriptures and their ability to use God’s word to convict false teachers.

                        4.         Acts 20:28 - Since they must guide others, they must be especially watchful over their own lives.

            E.        Titus 1:7

                        1.         They are stewards of God

                        2.         A steward manages the affairs of a household.

                        3.         Hence, they are not dictators, but manage what belongs to God – the church. I Peter 5:3 - Those entrusted to them.

                        4.         I Timothy 3:5 - They take care of the house of God

                        5.         They will give an accounting of their work to God - Hebrews 13:17

            F.        Acts 11:30

                        1.         They are representatives of the congregation, acting on behalf of the congregation.

                        2.         In this case, they received the gifts sent and saw to the distribution to the needy brethren.

            G.        James 5:14

                        1.         They are comforters of brethren who are in need

            H.        I Peter 5:3

                        1.         They are examples to the members

                        2.         Told to follow their faith - Hebrews 13:7

            I.         All of these duties are things that each and every Christian should be able to do, but the difference is that the elder is responsible for seeing it happens.

                        1.         They are answerable to God for their action (or inaction as the case may be).

                        2.         Too often, when a congregation lacks elders, people expect the preacher to take up the slack.

                        3.         While a preacher should do some of these things, as any Christian should, and while some of the responsibilities overlap, such as in the teaching and upholding of sound doctrine, a preacher is not a stop-gap elder.

IV.      With these responsibilities and being a representative of the Lord’s church, you would expect those chosen for elders to meet high standards.

            A.        In the list of duties within the church, given in Ephesians 4:11, there are distinct qualifications for each job

                        1.         For most, you have to search the Scriptures to derive the qualifications from many passages.

                        2.         The eldership is different. There are two passages that lay out clear lists of what is expected for a person to be an elder - I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9

            B.        In both lists, Timothy and Titus are told that men considered for the office of elder must have certain attributes

                        1.         Paul is not giving suggestions.

                        2.         The characteristics listed must be present.

                        3.         Only men with these qualities will be able to accomplish the duties God has in mind for the elders.

            C.        Must want the job - I Timothy 3:1

                        1.         The word for “aspire” or “desires” comes from the Greek word oregomai. It means to stretch one’s ability to obtain.

                        2.         In other words, an elder is not your average, run-of-the-mill Christian.

                        3.         It takes effort on the part of the man desiring the office to stretch himself to his full ability to live Christ-like in this present age.

                        4.         I Peter 5:2 speaks of being willing and eager to serve.

                                    a.         They should not be forced to serve.

                                    b.         They should not be doing for the money.

                                    c.         Serving God has always been voluntary - Psalm 110:3

            D.        Experienced

                        1.         They cannot be a new Christian - I Timothy 3:6

                                    a.         Otherwise, they may become prideful.

                        2.         A married man - I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6

                                    a.         This eliminates single men

                                    b.         It is the husband who has the responsibility to lead his own household

                                    c.         Marriage is practical experience in leading a group

                                    d.         Women cannot be elders in a church.

                                                (1)       The eldership holds authority over a congregation - Hebrews 13:17

                                                (2)       Women are forbidden from holding authority over men - I Timothy 2:12

                        3.         A husband of one wife

                                    a.         A man could not be involved in an adulterous relationship, whether caused by cheating on his wife or by an improper divorce - Matthew 5:32; 19:9

                                                (1)       Demonstrates stability at home

                                                (2)       Shows an ability to handle crisis

                                                (3)       An ability to hold things together in good and bad times.

                                    b.         Not a polygamist

                                                (1)       The Law of Moses allowed some men to have multiple wives in certain situations - Exodus 21:10

                                                (2)       But men entering Christianity from Judaism could not serve as elders if they had multiple wives

                                                (3)       A proper example of God’s teaching on marriage

                                    c.         This does not rule out those who lose a spouse due to death and then marry again - Romans 7:1-3

                                                (1)       If a man has two wives, he is an adulterer

                                                (2)       Death releases a person from the marriage covenant, so marrying after the death of a spouse does not mean he has two wives.

                                    d.         Similarly, since Matthew 19:9 implies that a man may remarry after divorcing his wife because she committed fornication, a man who thus remarries does not have two wives.

                                    e.         Can a man serve if his wife has died and he has not remarried?

                                                (1)       Remember these are qualifications that must be (a present state of being), not once were.

                                                (2)       You would no more consider a man who once was not self-willed or who used to be hospitable

                                                (3)       We often forget that there were qualifications given for elders and deacons’ wives - I Timothy 3:11

                        4.         Must have children - Titus 1:6; I Timothy 3:4-5

                                    a.         Shows the ability to nurture in the Lord - Ephesians 6:4

                                    b.         His children must be Christians

                                                (1)       The faithful are those who are Christians - Acts 10:45; 16:1; II Corinthians 6:15

                                                (2)       Hence, the man’s children are not just Christians in name but they have shown themselves to be steadfast followers.

                                                (3)       Showing that he can teach the truth and have others respond

                                    c.         His children must not be riotous or unruly

                                                (1)       They must not have charges against them of behaving like worldly people or unwilling to live by the laws of Christ - I Peter 4:1-5; II Thessalonians 3:6

                                                (2)       They must be well-behaved and disciplined

                                                (3)       An elder will have to keep a congregation in line and at time must measure out discipline.

                                    d.         He must rule his family well

                                                (1)       How a man directs his family reflects how he will direct the church

                                                (2)       The handling of a small number reflects ability to handle greater - Luke 16:10

                                                (3)       His children must be obedient to their parents - Ephesians 6:1-3

                                                            (a)       Showing proper respect. One that is sincere and honest, not one simply done for show.

                                                            (b)       Shows others are willing to follow as a congregation must follow an elder.

                                    e.         What if a couple is unable to have children?

                                                (1)       The wording in Titus does not allow for a childless couple

                                                (2)       Timothy gives the reason: Without children, a man is unable to demonstrate his ability to manage others.

                                                (3)       There is no requirement that the must be biologically their own. A couple raising adopted children would still qualify

                                    f.         What if a couple only has one child?

                                                (1)       The Greek word for children is in the plural form, meaning more than one.

                                                (2)       Every parent knows that every child is different

                                                (3)       Being able to manage one child does not demonstrate the ability to handle a range of personalities.

                                                (4)       Again, if having multiple children is not possible, there is always adaption.

            E.        Having good behavior

                        1.         A respectable person. Someone who sets a good example.

                        2.         Blameless or Above Reproach - I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6

                                    a.         Both lists start with this primary qualification

                                                (1)       An elder represents the church for whom he serves

                                                (2)       His life is a reflection on Christ and His Body

                                    b.         Greek word: anepileptos, a person not opened to attack

                                                (1)       Above reproach (not above sin).

                                                            (a)       It does not mean a person who has never sinned or has never been accused of sin

                                                            (b)       If such were the case, there would be no elders - Romans 3:23

                                                (2)       Someone who is not readily accused of sin.

                                                            (a)       We are looking for someone who has a great reputation both inside and outside the church

                                                            (b)       Not a shady business dealer

                                                (3)       When something wrong happens, the man is not the first person - I Peter 2:13-17

                        3.         Temperate or Sober - I Timothy 3:2

                                    a.         Greek word : nephaleos. Literally means “drinks no wine.” It has the opposite meaning of being intoxicated.

                                                (1)       Clement of Alexandria used this word in this manner: “I, therefore, admire those who have adopted an austere [nephaleos] life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire.”

                                    b.         God has consistently expected leaders to be free from the influence of intoxicants - Isaiah 28:7

                        4.         Prudent (I Timothy 3:2) or Sensible (Titus 1:8)

                                    a.         Where nephaleos refers to physical abstinence, the Greek word sophron refers to a sound mental faculty. It is a compound word that literally means sound-minded.

                                                 (1)       It refers to a person who is rational and intellectually sound of mind.

                                                (2)       It would rule out elderly men afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

                                    b.         All older men are expected to be both nephaleos and sophron - Titus 3:2

                                                (1)       So are all Christians - I Peter 4:7

                                    c.         However, it is a critical characteristic in a man serving a steward in God’s household.

                                    d.         Also recall this duty - Titus 1:9

                        5.         Not given to wine or Not addicted to wine - I Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7

                                    a.         Greek phrase: me paroinos. Literally means “not near wine.”

                                    b.         An elder is not a user of wine and he is not associated with the use of wine.

                                                (1)       You wouldn’t find such a man hanging out at the local bar or owning a store that sold liquor.

                                                (2)       Albert Barnes defined the phrase, “It means, properly, by wine; that is , spoken of what takes place by or over wine, as revelry, drinking-songs, etc. Thus, it denotes, as it does here, one who sits by wine; that is, who is in the habit of drinking it ... It means that one who is in the habit of drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge in it, should not be admitted to the ministry. The way the apostle mentions the subject here would lead us to fairly suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he regarded it as dangerous and that he would wish the ministers of religion to avoid it altogether.”

                        6.         Self-controlled - Titus 1:8

                                    a.         Greek: egkrates, self-mastery

                                    b.         A man being considered for the eldership must be self-disciplined.

                                                (1)       He must be fully in control of himself.

                                                (2)       He cannot let the desires fo the body to dominate his life.

                                                (3)       He should be able to control his language

                                    c.         All Christians should develop self-control - Galatians 5:23; II Peter 1:6

                                    d.         Illustrated by Paul - I Corinthians 9:25-27

                        7.         Of good behavior - I Timothy 3:2

                                    a.         Greek: kosmios, respectable, honorable, orderly

                                    b.         In Kittle, “It describes one who disciplines himself and who may thus be regarded as genuinely moral and respectable ... The concept always contains the idea of control of the body and its movement and impluses.”

                                    c.         The same word is used in reference to women wearing modest apparel - I Timothy 2:9

                                    d.         His speech, dress, and overall demeanor is one that illustrates respectability

                        8.         Not greedy for money - I Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7

                                    a.         Greek: aischrokerdes, literally disgraceful gain

                                    b.         Such is what motivates false teachers - Titus 1:11

                                    c.         Money should not factor into an elder’s decisions - I Peter 5:2

                                    d.         Nor would he compromise his principles in order to make a buck.

                        9.         Not covetous - I Timothy 3:3

                                    a.         Greek: aphilarguros. Literally not a lover of silver

                                    b.         Hebrews 13:5 - A character free from the love of money

                                    c.         The love of money is at the root of all sorts of evil - I Timothy 6:10

            F.        Internal qualities

                        1.         Just - Titus 1:8

                                    a.         A righteous man. One who walks uprightly before God.

                                                (1)       He is not a sinless man, but one whom God has justified - Romans 3:25-26

                                    b.         The same word also describes a person who gives fair treatment to other people

                                                (1)       An elder must make decisions and he must do so without partiality

                        2.         Holy - Titus 1:8

                                    a.         A person who follows what is sanctioned by God is called “holy.”

                                    b.         All Christians are to be holy - I Peter 1:14-16

                                    c.         Elders, being an example to the flock, must display this characteristic

                        3.         A lover of good - Titus 1:8

                                    a.         Greek: philagathos, loves good, promotes virtue

                                    b.         A man who loves all that is good and right before God

                                    c.         He upholds it and embraces it

                                    d.         He sets the proper example and encourages others to do what is right

                        4.         Not pugnacious or Not violent - I Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7

                                    a.         An elder cannot be a violent man

                                    b.         He must be in control of his temper

                                    c.         An elder will face many irritating people and situations. He cannot be the type of person who settles problems with his fist - II Timothy 2:24-26

                        5.         Patient or Gentle - I Timothy 3:3

                                    a.         Translators have a difficult time with this word as there is no corresponding English word that closely matches what is being said.

                                                (1)       It describes a person who is considerate of others, peaceful, open to reason, and full of mercy.

                                                (2)       One writer described it as “gentle toleration for others, in spite of having justification for intolerance.”

                                    b.         Here is a man able to endure ill-treatment. Forbearing. Long suffering.

                                    c.         An elder will deal with situations that will try any man’s patience.

                                    d.         Leading people out of sin often takes time and often requires gently pulling the sinner out of the mire they have willingly entered.

                                    e.         It is no place for snap decisions. He must be able to humanely and gently look at the facts of a situation before he comes to a just decision.

                        6.         Not quarrelsome - I Timothy 3:3

                                    a.         The word refers to a person of great strength who has no need to fight.

                                    b.         An elder is a peacemaker and does not delight in stirring up controversy.

                                    c.         He shouldn’t be a man who uses a club when a word of rebuke will suffice.

                                    d.         He will stand and defend the truth, but not just to win. He is determined to win his opponent over to the truth.

                        7.         Not quick-tempered - Titus 1:7

                                    a.         An elder must not be hot-tempered

                                    b.         He will often be in conflict with those who oppose the truth and he must retain his mental faculties - James 1:19-20

                        8.         Not self-willed - Titus 1:7

                                    a.         From a Greek word that literally means “I please myself.”

                                    b.         An elder’s duties are in service to God and his fellow brethren. He is not in the business of serving his own desires.

                                                (1)       A self-willed man attempts to lord his own preferences over others - I Peter 5:3

                                    c.         An elder is a steward given charge of a portion of the Lord’s flock.

                                                (1)       It is his duty to care for his charges.

                                                (2)       One day he must give an accounting of his work to the Lord.

            G.        In relation to others

                        1.         Hospitable - Titus 1:8; I Timothy 3:2

                                    a.         Greek: philoxenos, fond of guests, a natural desire to serve the needs of others.

                                    b.         All Christians should develop this attitude - I Peter 4:9

                                    c.         An elder must enjoy being with the brethren; otherwise, he cannot fulfill his duties, nor set the proper example.

                        2.         Holds fast to the Scriptures - Titus 1:9, Able to teach - I Timothy 3:2

                                    a.         He knows his Bible and stands by it - II Timothy 2:14-16

                                    b.         A person who is able to use God’s word to encourage the brethren and to refute false teachings.

                                                (1)       They watch for the souls of those in the congregation - Hebrews 13:17

                                    c.         It doesn’t mean an eloquent teacher, but a person who able to effectively communicate the gospel to others.

                                                (1)       This is their duty in feeding the flock of God

                                    d.         Note the “as they have been taught.”

                                                (1)       They are not men who are innovative.

                                                (2)       Their duty is to preserve the Truth

                        3.         Having a good testimony among non-members - I Timothy 3:7

                                    a.         In his time before being a Christian, he should not have past scandals which will come back to haunt him.

                                    b.         Christians are to let their light shine - Matthew 5:13-16

                                    c.         Those without may disagree with him concerning religion, but they should see him as honest, just, and reliable - I Peter 2:12

                                    d.         As all Christians should - Colossians 4:5-6; I Thessalonians 4:11-12

V.        There is a great need for elders in this congregation

            A.        We need to encourage the men to strive to obtain the office.

            B.        Never make the mistake to look for a sinless man, for all sin.

            C.        Never look for a man who has never made a mistake. Look at his life as it is.

                        1.         The past is only used to show ability and maturity

                        2.         Mistakes may have been made, but how were they corrected?

            D.        On the other hand, don’t compromise the standard just to have elders.

                        1.         Encourage those to correct the problems and lack first.

                        2.         The qualities to look for in an elder are those an elder needs in order to fulfill his duties both to God and to his brethren

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