“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).
We have thus far seen that the word elder comes from the Greek word πρεσβύτερος; presbyteros. Our English word Presbyterian comes from this Greek noun. The word’s root meaning is an old, or an older man. 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.
I Peter 5:1 begins with the statement, “So I exhort the elders among you…” The Apostle Peter wanted to exhort (παρακαλέω; parakaleo) or continuously and actively appeal to and encourage the elders who were among the people to whom he was writing. Remember, these were difficult days for these Christians. Times were tough, persecution was rampant and death was near.
It is likely people had died for their faith. The church perhaps had become discouraged and most likely the elders or church leaders also. Therefore, Peter is wanting to encourage these leaders so they in turn would encourage the church.
What are the biblical qualifications for a man holding the office of elder? Two particular passages referring to an elder’s qualifications are I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Let’s begin by looking at I Timothy 3.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
The Apostle Paul uses the word “overseer” in referring to the office of elder. Overseer is from the Greek word ἐπίσκοπος; episkopos. We derive the English word Episcopalian from this. It literally means “guardian.” This word identifies men who are qualified and responsible to lead and protect the church (I Timothy 5:17; I Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:7). In the New Testament the words “bishop.” “elder,” “overseer,” and “pastor” are used interchangeably to describe the same men.
What are their qualifications for elders according to I Timothy 3? Let’s briefly look at each one.
- Above reproach. Above criticism.
- The husband of one wife. A one woman man.
- Sober-minded. Possessing a sober and restrained manner. A person who is self-controlled and disciplined.
- Self-controlled. Thoughtful, prudent and sensible in his behavior and decisions.
- Modest and well-ordered.
- A person willing to perform humble duties.
- Able to teach. Skilled at teaching God’s Word.
- Not a drunkard. Not a person who habitually drinks too much.
- Not violent but gentle. Not a bully but rather gracious and forbearing.
- Not quarrelsome. Lacking a spirit which pursues conflict.
- Not a lover of money. Not greedy.
- He must manage his own household well. Guiding and leading well in his home.
- With all dignity keeping his children submissive, (for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?).
- He must not be a recent convert, (or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil).
- Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Aside from being skilled at teaching, the preceding qualifications focus more on the character of the man rather than his job performance. What does Titus 1:5-9 say about elder qualifications and how does it compare with I Timothy 3? We’ll find out when next we meet.
Even a superficial examination of an elder’s qualifications should be sufficient for anyone to see that not everyone is qualified to be a church elder. Therefore, take time to seriously pray for those who presently serve as elders in your church and those who are asked to serve. Ask God to help these leaders consistently embody the qualifications found in Scripture regarding the office of elder.
Soli deo Gloria!