When a man hankers after a position on the oversight of an assembly, and feels aggrieved because he is not invited to it, certain of his friends will sometimes champion his cause with more zeal than discretion, and with a variety of arguments - usually more personal than pertinent. Such an outlook betrays a complete misapprehension of the true position.
and by Him alone (Acts 20. 28). Although this familiar remark is sometimes dismissed impatiently as an attempt to evade a practical issue, no impatience makes the slightest difference to the plain and simple fact. If the Holy Spirit has made a man an overseer, then no man or body of men can prevent him from being one, even supposing that any man would wish to do so. On the other hand, if the Holy Spirit has not made a man an overseer, then nothing and no-one will ever succeed in making him one.
It is true that elder brethren may mistakenly invite a man to join them who has not been divinely fitted, but that will never make him an overseer in anything but the empty name. It is to be feared that this has been done too frequently, with deplorable consequences to all concerned, including the man himself. Similarly there may be failure to welcome the fellowship of a man who has been made an overseer by the Holy Spirit, but such failure makes no difference to the fact that he is an overseer, though it may hinder the man from being as useful as he could be.
The confusion of thought on this subject arises from the totally-false but deeply-ingrained idea that a man becomes an elder when he is invited to take his seat in elders’ meetings, and, conversely, that a man is prevented from becoming an elder if. his brethren do not so invite him. It cannot be too plainly stated that all that overseeing brethren can properly be expected to do is to acknowledge those whom they are able to recognize as having already been appointed by God.
But how are the elders to recognize these men? In the absence of a supernatural revelation, which none expects, it must be quite obvious to all that they can be recognized only if they bear the character and do the work of the overseers.
is given for us in Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus, so none can plead ignorance on this particular point. The undoubtedly-high standard here set before us has driven some to take refuge in the idea that this is an ideal and that we must perforce be satisfied with something far short of it. Any man with the slightest knowledge of himself and his shortcomings will find it easy to sympathize with this view, but the Scripture is uncomfortably plain and emphatic - “a bishop, then, must be blameless” -and we wait to be told what authority there is for saying he need not be.
If it be objected that few, if any, manifest these characteristics maybe we ought to inquire the reason, for surely we believe that what the Word of God makes imperative the grace of God can make actual?
Have existing elders failed to set a noble example or to give much-needed teaching on the subject? Or is the popular conception of the solemn responsibilities of an overseer so lamentably inadequate that the need for such a high standard of character is not appreciated? Needless to say a man’s instalment in a company of overseers will not suddenly bestow such a character upon him. If he did not possess it before, his presence ‘on the oversight’ will not impart it. The oversight is certainly the place which calls for the exercise and growth of every Christian grace, but not the place where we can expect them to be born.
is indicated in three passages in the New Testament, where solemn charges are given by (a) the Lord Himself (John 21), (h) the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 20) and (c) the apostle to the circumcision (1 Pet. 5). If these three passages are studied it will be seen that a man of character who has been made an overseer by the Holy Spirit, can do his work among the flock irrespective of a position in a recognized circle of elders. An overseer is a man who does the work -not a man who merely occupies a position. Who would wish to prevent such a man doing the work? No one, surely I If however there are to be found people who would wish to prevent such a man, what can they do about it? How are they to prevent him from being an example of godliness and humility? Is it possible to prevent him from praying for God’s people? If he has been fitted to feed the flock, how will they hinder him? There are sick and sorrowing saints to be visited and cheered - who is to stop him doing it? There are young believers to be encouraged, and there are those in need of a little Christian hospitality. Is he not free here?
The real shepherd will be content to do the work for the Lord’s sake and not hanker after ‘official recognition.’ On the other hand he will not despise the
because if his fellowship is valued and welcomed by his fellow-elders his usefulness to the assembly is increased, his help and counsel will be more readily available on matters which affect the welfare of the assembly as a whole, but which an individual could not handle at all. There is a tremendous value in the fellowship of God-given elders, and no true elder will be content to work in isolation. Heavy responsibilities rest upon them, and no man who joins them should be under any illusions as to the onerous nature of these, cares and the demands they will make on his heart and strength.
There can hardly be the shortest doubt that any company of overseers would be only too glad to welcome the right man. They are probably on the look out for such - at any rate they ought to be!! “But,” you say, “such men are not easy to find in our assembly.” Are you one? What can they do if the men are not there?
If the reader desires the work of a bishop let him remember that the work he is desiring is “a good work,” which demands real godliness of character and devotion to the Lord and His people. If he is satisfied he is being called to overseership, the best proof he can give is by manifesting the character and doing the work of a shepherd. Recognition will follow - it is absurd to expect recognition when there is nothing which can be recognized. If the reader has hitherto hankered after position in the fond illusion that acceptance in some circle will make him an elder, it is to be hoped that he will see the falsity of the idea and abandon it at once.
If the Lord does not come soon, your assembly will be in need of shepherds to take the place of those who have passed away. If you feel the call to shepherd work, do not waste time thinking you must wait until you are invited to join the oversight before you can do anything to fill the need. Whilst being careful to cultivate a spirit of genuine submissiveness to your elders, seek help from God to develop the character of an overseer in soberness of mind. Get to know the will of God as revealed in the Word of God, and do as much of the work of a shepherd as is seemly and consistent with your age and experience. Above all get to know the standpoint of the Chief Shepherd, and nourish and cherish a love for the flock for His sake. Be an example to others.
to be ‘on the oversight’- make it your aim to be well pleasing to Him. You will then be saved from a restless eagerness for recognition, and when it comes you will take your place with your fellow-elders with a due sense of solemn responsibility in a humble and sober frame of mind.
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