On the Authority of Elders

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

It’s important to note the bigger picture in the entirety of this passage before we begin to hone in on particular passages and “break it down” too unapologetically. See, having just explained to the believers the importance of their hope and how those truths should be applied to their lives, Paul now goes on to explain what it would look like for the community as a whole. It’s sort of a “how-to” guide, if you will, explaining the means by which they would be able to live in harmony with one another. To summarize, he lists these requirements (which we will go into far more detail about) as respecting the position of the spiritual leaders, pursuing good works, continual prayer and thanksgiving unto the Lord, and due respect for the Holy Spirit and the gifts which He imparts on the believers.

He begins this passage by telling them to “recognize those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord.” His wording in this statement is so brilliant, in that on the one hand he is explaining that those who are in this position also labor, albeit differently, while at the same time pointing out that there are, in fact, those who are “above you” in the Lord. See, this is so important to note because I’ve heard directly people say that once you are saved then there is nothing that can make you any more or less deserving of respect than you are the moment you are saved. A pastor is the exact same as a dishwasher in the Church body and thus deserves no more respect than any other member of the Body of Christ, and yet, when I look in Scripture, that’s not the image it paints. Using Paul’s human body analogy, a leg is pretty useless without it’s foot, but nowhere near as useless as a foot without it’s leg. If I lose my hand but maintain my arm, I can still do some things, but if I lose my arm and keep my hand, that hand becomes pretty useless. The point being that each of the parts make up the whole body, however, certain parts are more worthy of concern than others. See, when I look to Scripture, I see a very definite line between the elders and the laymen. I look to the Book of Acts, where the Hellenists were complaining about their widows not being cared for, and the twelve call the disciples together and decree, “it’s not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables…we will give ourselves continually to prayer and ministering the word.” (Acts 6:2,4). See, it’s not the apostles were considering themselves “too good” to do any task, or that they were above them, but rather that there were more important tasks for them to focus on. The disciples as well as the apostles each had the ability to do the mundane task of serving tables, however, only the disciples had the knowledge and experience to minister the gospel, thus they had to be able to focus on the spiritual health of the people whereas the disciples could put food on a table. Only the elders had the wisdom to be able to minister to the spiritual needs of the people, which is why Peter admonishes us to “submit yourselves to your elders” (1 Peter 5:5) and in the Book of Hebrews we are warned to “obey those who rule over you and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls.” (Hebrews 13:17).

It’s important for us to consider this fact; a true teacher of the faith is one who will do nothing out of selfish ambition. To the contrary, they will have proven through their own godly lives to be sufficient models of the faith (see 1 Timothy 1:3 and Titus for the qualifications for elders) and, because of the love that they have already proven to be genuine, they are sincerely concerned for the spiritual health of their congregation. In the medical field, we are taught to distance ourselves from our patients, to avoid what they call “transference,” where we begin to care too much for patients and thus would be devastated with each one that we lost. To enter the priesthood is the exact opposite, to prove that you are worthy of being appointed to the position requires that you prove, through your life and deeds, that you will truly and fully care for each and every member of your congregation. And especially in a setting like Paul is writing to in Thessalonica. We have to remember that this was a church where the believers were being endlessly persecuted, where merely proclaiming the name of Christ could be punishable by death, and that the elders were the largest targets. With no 401k’s or retirement packages, no insurance policies, no guarantee of salary or housing allowance, and yet, these people were still willing to stand for their faith and lead others into spiritual maturity. With no earthly recompense deemed worthy of the risk, they were still in the positions allotted. Thus Paul was calling them to consider this situation and to hold in esteem with love their works.

And, today, it’s a position we must still strongly consider. Meditate and pray deeply concerning this, if your pastor or priest warned you about a situation in your life, how would you respond? Would there be anything that they warned you about that you would disregard? Would you correct the issues that he approached you concerning, or would you dismiss his warning? If he is truly the one appointed by the Lord to watch over your soul, would you fully trust him, or would you lean instead on your own understanding?

I ask this because every single ounce of our nature; and the more secular and relativistic it becomes, our culture; teaches us that we can have whatever we want however and whenever we want it. Everything within us denies that anything or anyone can have authority over us, that we are our own masters and nothing can tell us what is right or wrong, we define those very boundaries with our own desires. I ask this to help us to determine how much we have allowed the world into our theology. Consider this, the world tells us that no one and nothing has authority over us; Scripture tells us that Jesus declared that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Thus, when we determine our own authority, be it through our own pride or our own desires and lusts, then we reject that theology.

Jesus has given us His Church, which through the apostle Paul, he has claimed to be the very Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, Ephesians 4:1-16), and He has given us His very words, the Holy Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). When we reject the authority of either of those, then we reject His authority and become an authority unto ourselves. And we must be very careful not to do that. We must be mindful to heed Paul’s teaching, to “hold fast the traditions that were taught, whether by word or epistle,” and never allow our own hearts, our own pride, the world, or the enemy, to lead us astray.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.


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