The biblical concept for elders is that they are God-appointed leaders who are charged to oversee the flock and must answer to God for their discharge of this duty. In the New Testament, the men who are called elders are also referred to under different titles. They are called elders (Acts 20:17). They are called presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14). They are called overseers (Acts 20:28). They are called pastors (Ephesians 4:11). Incidentally, the preacher of a local congregation should not be called pastor unless he serves as one of the pastors or elders overseeing the flock. The elders are also called bishops (I Timothy 3:1). They are referred to as shepherds (Acts 20:28).
The word “feed” in this passage means to shepherd. These six terms may be grouped into three pairs: (1) Elders and presbyters denoting experience. (2) Bishops and overseers denoting position. (3) Pastors and shepherds denoting the work to be done.
The work to be done by these men can be listed under three general headings:
(1) They are to exercise the oversight of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). This duty cannot be delegated to others with divine approval. The central idea in overseership is that of directing or ruling; and it is therefore the duty of the elders to rule over the congregation (1 Timothy 5:17).
(2) They are to be shepherds to the flock. This is one of the tenderest, most beautiful and most intimate relationships which exists between the leaders and the congregation. “A good shepherd calleth his own sheep by name.” (John 10:3) Eastern shepherds have phenomenal memories. In a flock of hundreds, they can call each sheep by name. One famous Bible scholar noted this practice: “Thousands of sheep and goats were grouped in dense, confused masses. The shepherd spaced in several directions. They called their sheep in shrill, peculiar calls. The sheep listened, recognized their master, and flowed as a stream towards their own shepherd.“ Also, a good shepherd “goeth before them.” (John 10:4) A shepherd does not drive the sheep – he leads them. In going before the sheep, the shepherd is the first to meet the vicious beast and to discover and to point out the dangers to be avoided.
The test of a good sheep is to listen to its master’s call and to learn his will. Jesus said, “They know his voice.” (John 10:4) The sheep does not see the green pastures or still waters, but it knows they are there. A man once changed garments with a Jerusalem shepherd thinking he would deceive the sheep. But the sheep followed the shepherd’s voice, and not his garments. “A stranger will they not follow.” (John 10:5) The duties of those who serve as the under-shepherds of the Christ are to “feed” and “tend” the flock. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, (Vol. I, pages 562, 665) points out that the word Poimaino, translated “feed” and “tend” embraces more than feeding. It includes all that is involved in the office or work of a shepherd, such as guiding, guarding, folding, and feeding.
(3) A third phase of the work of elders is that of teaching those under their care. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9) If good leadership is important, so is good fellowship. This is the emphasis of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.
We will continue this topic next week.
May the Lord bless you and keep you!
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