(The Writings of Paul)

by Al Maxey

Ephesians 4:11

This epistle was written by the apostle Paul from a prison cell in the city of Rome in late 61 or early 62 A.D. It is possible it was intended to be a "circular letter" rather than one addressed to a specific congregation (the phrase "in Ephesus" in Ephesians 1:1 does not appear in most of the major ancient manuscripts).

Each member of the Body of Christ has been given a measure of grace so as to enable them to serve in some particular capacity in the church --- Ephesians 4:7 (cf. I Corinthians 12 -- especially verses 7, 11, 18, 28-30); Romans 12:3-8. The Lord also "gave" (vs. 11a), as "gifts to men" (vs. 8), certain positions of service within the church. These would be specially gifted individuals who in turn would utilize these gifts in godly service to others --- both in and out of the church. These godly "gifts" fall into four/five categories:

NOTE: The last two are very closely linked in the Greek grammatical structure. This indicates to many scholars that Paul probably had just one group of individuals in mind, rather than two. He was likely referring to pastors who teach (see: I Timothy 5:17). Some have suggested these last two should be rendered "teaching pastors."

The purpose and function of these men --- these "gifts" to the church by God --- is seen in verses 12 - 13:

  1. They equip the saints for works of service.

  2. They, along with those saints whom they have equipped, work to build up/edify the church of Jesus Christ.

  3. They work toward the attainment & maintainment, both in themselves and others, of:

    • The unity of the faith

    • Knowledge of the Son of God

    • Spiritual maturity

God has always provided His people with spiritual leaders who not only will set a spiritual example for them, but who will also take the lead in preparing and equipping them for their various works of service both to God and to their fellow men. Although the Lord's church today no longer has apostles and prophets in the same sense as they existed in its formative years, nevertheless it does still have evangelists and pastors (and also teachers, if you allow this as a separate category) who have been entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the saints for their works of service, and for maturing them in knowledge and faith. A charge not to be taken lightly!

Philippians 1:1

The church at Philippi was established by Paul during his 2nd missionary journey (about 51 A.D.). Twelve years had now passed, and Paul was writing this epistle from prison in the city of Rome sometime late in 63 A.D. He addresses this epistle to "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons" (Philippians 1:1).

Many commentators hasten to point out that Paul's letter is not addressed to the elders only, but rather to the congregation as a whole "including the overseers and deacons." This is the only letter Paul wrote in which elders are included in the salutation section. All of his other letters are directed either to a specific individual, or simply to the church. There are two major explanations put forth as to the reason for this:

  1. This was the only congregation Paul wrote to which had elders.

  2. Paul intended his writings to be read by all within the church, and not simply by the leaders alone. This may be seen in the fact that in this one case he addressed the letter to the church, and then mentions that this includes the elders and deacons also. Some see Acts 15:4 and 18:22 as further evidence that this was Paul's practice.

Although this greeting does not reveal a great deal about elders, it does convey an important message: The leadership of a congregation is a part of that congregation, not above it or outside of it!

I Thessalonians 5:12-13

The church in Thessalonica was established by Paul in the summer of 51 A.D. during the early part of his 2nd missionary journey. Approximately 3 months later, in the fall of the year 51 A.D. (some even specify the month as October), Paul wrote these saints a letter from the city of Corinth and sent it to them by Timothy. This is very likely the second earliest of the 27 NT books (Galatians being the earliest -- written around 49 A.D.).

Some have stated this passage refers to elders in Thessalonica. This is not likely, however, in view of the fact that this congregation was still in its infancy! It had just been established three months earlier!! Also, from the letter itself one can determine that they were still very immature in the faith in many ways. One commentary (The New Layman's Bible Commentary) nevertheless suggests that since a church must have elders to be "Scripturally organized," Paul went ahead and appointed the best of the inexperienced, immature new converts. This would seem to be a direct violation of I Timothy 3:6 --- "not a new convert/novice."

The consensus of most scholars is that this passage is probably speaking of men who were working in the area of Thessalonica as evangelists. Bro. Raymond Kelcy suggests (in light of vs. 20) that they may even have been prophets. David Lipscomb feels they may have been those men within the congregation who were the teachers, or men who were aspiring to, or who were preparing themselves for, leadership (see Acts 15:22 -- "leading men among the brethren"). Whoever these leaders were, Paul reveals three things about them:

#1 --- They were laboring diligently. "Because of their work" the congregation was to "esteem them very highly in love." A worthy leader is not only one who is well-liked and -respected by the congregation, he is also a worker (which is probably part of the reason the congregation thinks so highly of him). Some also see the last statement in vs. 13 ("live in peace with one another") as a charge for the saints and those leaders who labor among them to maintain peaceful relationships with one another.

#2 --- Paul says that they "are over you in the Lord." This is the Greek word proistemi. Although this word does indeed mean "to preside over; direct; govern," one should not overlook the fact that it has other meanings as well. It is the context which will determine the meaning utilized. The other meanings of this word are: "To be a protector or guardian; to give aid; to care for; give attention to" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 539). "To be concerned about; care for; give aid; busy oneself with something; engage in something" (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 707). Some scholars, understanding the passage to be referring to evangelists rather than elders, and interpreting this word in the sense of "governing," have arrived at the concept of "presiding preachers" over a church, which quickly leads to a "clergy -- laity" situation, and the idea of a preacher being "the pastor" of the church. However, all Paul is asking the saints to do is "esteem" and "love" those who "diligently labor" among them (not above them) as their spiritual leaders and guides.

#3 --- Part of the function of these men was to "admonish." This is the Greek word noutheteo, which means "to admonish, warn, instruct." "The difference between 'admonish' and 'teach' seems to be that, whereas the former has mainly in view the things that are wrong and call for warning, the latter has to do chiefly with the impartation of positive truth -- as in Colossians 3:16" (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of NT Words).

I Timothy 3:1-7
Titus 1:5-9

These two passages deal with the various qualities and qualifications of those who serve in the position of spiritual leadership known as an "elder." For further information about the specifics of this area, refer to the lesson in this series on The Qualifications of an Elder.

I Timothy 4:14

This epistle was written to Timothy by the apostle Paul. Timothy was a young evangelist in the city of Ephesus, and according to tradition was also an elder in that location. He served in that capacity for many decades, and was martyred in 97 A.D. by being beaten to death for rebuking a group of idol worshippers. At the time this epistle was written, Paul was probably in the city of Philippi. The year was later in 63 A.D., after Paul had been released from his first Roman imprisonment.

Timothy was in possession of a particular spiritual gift --- charisma = "a freely bestowed gift, favor, endowment" (this is a form of the same word which we translate grace). There has been quite a bit of speculation as to what this "freely bestowed gift" might have been. It is generally regarded as being an ability, given from God, to teach and exhort both the lost and those within the Body of Christ (see vs. 13). Both of these abilities are referred to in Romans 12:6-8 as being "spiritual gifts" (the very same Greek word).

"A prophecy at the time of his conversion, or at some period, had been made concerning him (i.e.: That he would become an evangelist), to which reference is made in this passage" (David Lipscomb). Lipscomb further observes: "Spiritual gifts were given to qualify one for the work of converting sinners and teaching saints." Some have assumed this spiritual gift was imparted by the elders themselves, others say the gift was actually imparted by the apostle Paul (II Timothy 1:6), and that the elders merely appointed Timothy to this ministry through the laying on of their hands (see: Acts 13:3; I Timothy 5:22).

Presbuterion = "an assembly of elders." The NIV translates this word as "the body of elders." The NASB and KJV say "the presbytery." This word is only used three times in the New Covenant writings (and only here of spiritual leaders in the church). The other two occurrences refer to the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5). This passage clearly shows the elders acting as a unit.

I Timothy 5:17

This passage speaks of elders who are considered "worthy of double honor," and what specifically it is that causes them to be considered worthy of this distinction. Two things are listed:

#1 --- They have "ruled" well. This is the Greek word proistemi (refer to the definition in the above discussion of I Thess. 5:12-13, #2). It appears in this present text in the perfect tense, thus it refers to one's total record of service as an elder, not how one is doing at any one particular point along that continuum. This word appears only 8 times in the NT, and is used only by Paul. It does not mean "to lord it over" (or to "rule" after the pattern of the world), but rather the concept is of one who is "placed before; set at the head of; out in front." This same word is used of the relation of elders & deacons to their families (I Timothy 3:4-5, 12), for example, which could hardly be interpreted to convey the concept of "lording it over," but rather of loving leadership, sacrificial service, and godly guidance as the "head" of the family.

#2 --- "Especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (KJV). The Greek word malista is an adverb, and it means: "Most of all; especially; chiefly." It should be kept in mind, lest we misinterpret this passage, that an "adverb modifies a verb by expressing time, place, manner, degree, cause, etc." (Webster's New World Dictionary). Some have overlooked this fact, and have assumed that Paul's special words of praise are for those elders who are preaching and teaching. The assumption which arises from this interpretation is that not all elders preach and teach. However, those who do are "especially" worthy of honor. This further lends itself to the interpretation that it is acceptable for an elder not to be engaged in proclaiming and declaring the Good News. This is not what this passage is saying!

The only verb form in this whole phrase (which the adverb would modify) is kopiao = "to labor and toil to the point of complete exhaustion; to be weary, faint, and spent from one's labor." The words "preaching" and "teaching" (NASB, NIV, etc.) are nouns; thus, the KJV rendering "they who labor in the word and doctrine," is by far the more accurate! The word "especially," therefore, refers to the individual's "laboring to the point of exhaustion." Those who thus sacrifice themselves in service to the Word and the Doctrine of the Lord, are "especially" worthy in the sight of God and His children! Although all elders are to be engaged in this work, it is a fact that not all labor to the point of collapse. It is the latter who are especially worthy. There is no justification for one to use this passage to "prove" some elders "labor in the Word and doctrine" and others do not (perhaps doing administrative work, property management, etc. instead). Those who have neither the ability nor desire to serve in the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:2, 4, 7 -- as the apostles characterized it) should not be appointed as elders! Key qualities of an elder are: "Able to teach" (I Timothy 3:2), and "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).

I Timothy 5:19-20

Those who serve in any leadership capacity in the church will on occasion be the objects of criticism. Sometimes the criticisms will be just and valid and constructive, sometimes they will not. To safeguard the work, effectiveness, and reputation of an elder, Paul instructs the evangelist Timothy not to receive (i.e.: Don't even listen to it!) "an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses." However, if an elder is engaged in some sinful activity or attitude, and this is amply demonstrated to be true, and if the activity continues without repentance, the evangelist is to rebuke the elder "in the presence of all, so that the rest (probably the rest of the elders; possibly the rest of the congregation) also may be fearful of sinning."

An elder is not above reprimand if he persists in sin. If such were to occur in Ephesus, Paul charged the young evangelist Timothy with the responsibility of dealing with the situation. To the evangelist Titus on Crete he wrote: "Teach and encourage and rebuke with all authority; and let no one disregard you" (Titus 2:15). Certainly, those appointed as elders on Crete would not thereby be placed above such rebuke, if such were necessary. The principle is no less true in the church today.

I Timothy 5:22

There is a good deal of debate about the meaning of this passage. Those scholars who feel it may refer to the appointment of elders in the church believe Paul's point here is that elders must not be appointed too hastily! A congregation, and those holding positions of leadership within it, must make sure that a man is genuinely qualified before he is installed, otherwise those who rushed to ordain him will share the blame for whatever harm may befall the flock as a result of his failings.

Bro. Carl Spain writes, "It seems likely that the laying on of hands is a reference to the evangelist's role in ordaining, or appointing, elders in the church (cf. Titus 1:5). Timothy, by the laying on of his hands, would be giving endorsement to the character and conduct of the man. He must be sure that the man being appointed is the kind of man described in 3:1-7 (i.e.: One who is qualified). If the man should prove to be unqualified, Timothy would be placed in an embarrassing and compromising situation" (The Living Word Commentary).

Another very real possibility here, especially in light of the context, is suggested by Bro. David Lipscomb: "He is speaking of the accusation and trial of elders, and it seems to me that the connection leaves but one possible construction---do not hastily lay hands on an elder to draw him up for trial. Since elders are presumed to be good, true, and faithful men proved by experience, let no accusation be brought against them hastily" (A Commentary on the NT Epistles). By siding with the accusers, and rebuking an elder in haste before determining all the facts, the evangelist shares in the sin of the accusers. (NOTE: Although both explanations have merit, this latter does indeed seem to fit the context better.)

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