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Elders, Part 2: Qualifications

In these articles we are attempting to present the Father’s perspective on those who care for His flock so that everyone in Gateway can participate in the selection of additional elders to serve our church community.

Two words are used for “elders” in the Old Testament. The first, zegen, means “beard” while the second, sib, means “grey-haired”.  Both denote someone who is older in years. In the New Testament, though, only one word is used, presbuteros, which occurs 59 times (eg: Matthew 15:2; Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:19; Titus 1:5).  It means “old man” and describes a person of age, experience and maturity. A second word, episkopos, is used 5 times (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:7), and is translated “bishop”, and describes someone who “looks carefully upon and over” something (our word “scope” is derived from it). So presbuteros describes who an elder is and episkopos describes what an elder does. We could say that an elder is someone mature in character, faith and experience, who carefully watches over the people of God.

Paul, writing to Timothy, lays out the qualifications of an elder and tells us that he must be a man (1 Timothy 2:12, 3:2) who is “not a recent convert” (1 Timothy 3:6), “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), and “well thought of by the community” (1 Timothy 3:7).  He should be “above reproach… Sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable… hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome and not a lover of money“ (1 Timothy 3:2-3). His household is also part of his qualification, so he must “manage his family well and with dignity keep his children under control” (1 Timothy 3:5).  He is to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2) and so not be involved in polygamy, an extra-marital affair or be wrongfully divorced or unscripturally remarried.

Perhaps the main character-quality of eldership is humility (1 Timothy 3:6). Christian leadership is rooted in servanthood (Matthew 20:26), the supreme example of which is Jesus Himself (Matthew 11:29; Mark 10:45). Paul also modeled this (Acts 20:19).  Humility enables us to receive God’s grace and divine enabling, combats the Devil and his schemes (James 4:6) and facilitates harmony and unity among God’s people (John 13:1-17).

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