In reading through First Thessalonians recently something jumped out at me:
"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work" 1 Thess. 5:12-13, ESV.
This Scripture informs us that in the churches of God there are those who are "over" us "in the Lord!" It further instructs us to "respect" these men, "to esteem them very highly in love" for the sake of their work in the church.
We know that all believers are equal before God, and that we don't need any priest (other than Jesus) to get to God. The Bible is clear about the priesthood of the believer (1 Pet 2:5). And yet the word of God also clearly sets forth God's plan for leadership in the churches. The Lord desires all believers to connect themselves with other local believers, with recognized, ordained (set apart for this task) elders, or overseers. God commands his saints to "obey" these leaders and follow them in the faith (Heb 13:7, 17).
So the question is, WHO is over you in the Lord? Have you bowed the knee to God's command in this area? Many today pull away from a real and vital connection to a local group of believers, who can live the Christian life with them, encourage them, hold them accountable, etc, in favor of flying solo with Jesus. But this "me and Jesus" idea is not Jesus' plan! Some think a church will hold them back in their ministry, or progress. Maybe the rest of the body is moving slower than you. But what if God wants us to help the others progress, rather than pulling away to do our own thing?
Are you in submission to recognized elders in a local church? Elders who know you, and are fully aware that you are submitted to them in Christ? Elders need to know who they are responsible for, because they have a serious charge from Christ to keep:
"for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning..." (Heb 13:17)
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
The only way an elder can know that you are part of the flock he is responsible to watch out for is for you to connect yourself to that body and submit to that leader!
Many today have a bad taste in their mouth when they think of church leaders. But that attitude is not from God, and cannot be found in the Scripture. Our attitudes should be conformed to the ones given us in God's word. Church leaders are spoken of in Ephesians 4 as gifts from Christ to the church. And in the present text in 1 Thessalonians we see we are to respect them and esteem them very highly in love, for the work they are doing in prayer and the ministry of the word. Church elders are a blessing from God!
When an elder is not doing a good job, pray for him! If an elder persists in sin, he is to be rebuked publicly (1 Tim 5:20). But when an elder is following Christ and leading the flock in love and truth, follow him! Love him! Respect him! Encourage him!
I praise God, that though I am myself an elder, I have 2 other elders working beside me in our local flock. And I respect them as those who are over ME in the Lord. I am accountable to them.
Who is over YOU in the Lord? To which local church elders have you submitted to, according to the command of the Lord? A brother from South Africa once said, "You can't follow Jesus without following a man." That's a controversial statement. But it seems to be correct, according to God's plan for his churches, revealed in Scripture.
May God bless all those who labor as elders in his churches, all over the world!!! And may God pour out rich blessings on all who joyfully and willingly submit to their leadership - not elevating them in an unscriptural way - but unto Christ, as equals who are over them in the Lord.