“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:” (I Peter 5:1).
For the next several days we are going to examine the biblical doctrine concerning the church office of elder. We are going see what the word “elder” means in relationship to the church. We will also identify the biblical qualifications of elders with not only what are the elder’s responsibilities, but also what are the church’s responsibilities to its elder leadership? Are full-time pastors the only ones who may hold the office of elder or may qualified men who are not pastors serve as church lay elders? We will not only seek to identify what church elders are to do, but also what they are not to do?
I Peter 5:1 begins with the statement, “So I exhort the elders among you…” The Apostle Peter wants to exhort (παρακαλέω; parakaleo) or continuously and actively appeal to and encourage the elders who were among the people to whom the apostle was writing. This was an earnest request by Peter to the elders in particular.
Notice that the elders were among the church. They were part of the church. It could even be said that the elders belonged to the church. They were not detached from the local church but actively involved in leading it.
What does the word “elder” mean? First of all, notice that the noun elder in I Peter 5:1 is in the plural form. This means that there was more than one elder to the group of Christians receiving Peter’s letter.
The word elder comes from the Greek word πρεσβύτερος; presbyteros. It is probably obvious to you that our English word Presbyterian comes from this Greek noun. The word’s root meaning is an old, or an older man. We observe that the word is in the masculine gender, meaning that Peter was referring to a man or men.
Elder also means a person of responsibility and authority in matters of religious concerns. This was not only the case among the Jewish nation, but also the New Testament Church, which consisted of both Jews and Gentiles.
One commentary explains that, “Elders, older and wiser men skilled in judging cases, ruled in most Israelite towns in the Old Testament. In the New Testament period, “elders” held a respected place in the synagogues, from which the churches took over this form of leadership.”
The Book of Acts, along with several New Testament Epistles, consistently refer to the presence of elders within the early church.
- “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 14:23
- “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.” Acts 15:2
- “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.” Acts 15:4
- “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.” Acts 15:6
- “As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.” Acts 16:4
- “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Acts 20:17.
- “On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” Acts 21:18.
- Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I Timothy 5:17-19.
- “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—“ Titus 1:5.
- “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5:17.
- “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,” 2 John 1.
- “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.” 3 John 1.
We see that the existence and presence of elders is conspicuous in the New Testament church. We see that they occupied positions of spiritual leadership within the church. We also conclude that these men were older and wise leaders who God used within various local congregations.
When next we meet, we’ll begin to see what else the Scriptures say regarding the qualifications of church elders. Until then, encourage the elders, pastors and or church leaders that are within your local church. Let them know you are praying for them and appreciate them. Do so today!
Soli deo Gloria!