It is an incredible opportunity if we are in a church where we can submit and obey godly elders. Our relationship with elders over the years has not always been good, many of us have been manipulated, taken advantage of….all the while, being reminded of how important it is that we stay “under” spiritual authority. Sadly, this cycle of abuse continues in churches across the world. If God has led you out of such a situation, don’t let the past hurts keep you from believing that God’s will is a loving, unselfish authority in your life. Yes, truly godly elders do exist! It is a tremendous blessing to His sheep to have a shepherd watching over their souls. Paul says in Philippians 3:13: “…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” This scripture is of great importance to us in our church relationships as well as our private walk with God and will fill our hearts with hope instead of despair.
Jesus is the perfect elder. In 1 Peter 2:25, He is called the Shepherd and Guardian of our soul, He is the “good shepherd” (John 10). Jesus tells us that His sheep will hear His voice and not follow the voice of a stranger. Satan will come as a shepherd, promising pasture….but we must be discerning to know if the voice we are hearing is Jesus or a stranger. A godly elder will help us to discern the voice of Jesus. Jesus said that “the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (v.11). So a truly godly elder, as Santosh shared from his years growing up in the church, will help the sheep know the voice of Jesus by their words and their life. That elder will be filled with the Holy Spirit and consistently, over the years be speaking with the gift of prophecy and thereby helping all the sheep to know His voice.
Be careful that your elder does not take the place of the Holy Spirit in your life. Don’t expect your elder to be perfect or to be God for you, but do expect to hear God’s voice more and more clearly through an elder. When Paul was leaving the elders in Ephesus he said, “and now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32 This, an elder will continually endeavor to do: not to draw the sheep to himself but shine a light so we can see and hear God more clearly. Also, like Paul, he will “solemnly testified to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:21 May repentance and faith be the main messages we continue to hear from our elders!
Paul’s life was also an example of what our relationship with an elder can be. In Acts 20: 17-38 we see how Paul fulfilled his responsibility as an elder. Exercising authority is born out of death to self, of serving others, not by knowing the word and being a dictator! We should obey and submit to our elders as they exercise oversight with joy. In this way, we also consider them worthy of double honor. Elders are not lording over us their authority, they understand their authority is given to them by God, not established by themselves through them twisting arms and hitting their sheep over the head. (1 Timothy 5:17-20 & Hebrews 13:17)
We learn from our elders how to be more Christ-like husbands and Dads. Paul says he “served the Lord with all humility.” Acts 20:19 This might be the most important ingredient to a right relationship with our elders. Without humility in the hearts of two believers it will be impossible to experience all that God has planned for us to experience in a relationship. With humility, an elder will lay down his life for the sheep. Likewise, with humility a sheep will be willing to lay down his life for the shepherd. Humility puts an end to strife, unrealistic expectations and criticalness.
After Paul and the elders had knelt down and prayed, “they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.” Acts 20:37 &38 This may not be the response you would imagine yourself to have if your elders present or past came and told you they were leaving and would never see you again. But this kind of mutual love is God’s perfect plan for our relationship with our elders.