The Holy Spirit, by whose power and operation assemblies are formed, makes provision for their spiritual care and edification, so that the testimony, by the maintenance of the faith and by practice in conformity thereto, may be continued. The Apostle Paul enjoined upon Timothy, in his closing Epistle, to commit the things which he had heard from him “to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2. 2). Two qualifications were to be in evidence. The men must be faithful and competent to teach. The order is significant: first their character, then their ability to maintain doctrine. It was not a case of Timothy’s mere selection. Those who were to continue the promulgation of the truth must be known from the first by their possession of the twofold requisites.
So it was in the appointment of elders in the churches, that is to say, men to act as overseers or bishops (Acts 20, verse 17 with verse 28, R.V.). The men who were to fulfil these responsibilities, for instance, in the assemblies in Crete, must be men known by their godly character, conduct and competency. Such qualifications were unquestionably the effect of the operation of the indwelling Spirit of God. They were to be blameless, having a good family testimony. Each must be possessed of the following characteristics: “not self-willed, not soon angry, no brawler, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; given to hospitality, a lover of good, soberminded, just, holy, temperate; holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching.” Only such were to be “appointed.” Only by holding to the Word of God themselves could they “exhort in the sound doctrine” and “convict the gainsayers.”
What is important to observe is that evidences of the character and conduct in the life precede any appointment or recognition. God raises up and fits men to possess these requisites apart from institutional training and ecclesiastical ordination.
Those who have already been raised up and are discharging the duties of oversight should watch the lives of young men, with a view to discerning what the Spirit of God is doing in them to prepare for the continuance of such responsibilities. And let younger men seek help from God to live and walk according to the Scriptures, in holiness and righteousness, in absolute devotion to Christ, in separation from the world, so that if the Holy Spirit should give them the privilege of continuing the testimony of an assembly and acting as overseers, they may be ready for recognition by the assembly, according to 1 Thess. 5. 12, 13.
We can be thankful to God for calling and preparing numbers of men for the work of the gospel in this and other lands. But it is from existing assemblies that such are commended to God (Acts 13. 1-3; 16. 1-3), and the commendation is given by those who are stewards of God, caring for the assembly life and testimony, tending the flock (Acts 20. 28). It should be borne in mind that these overseeing brethren were formerly young men whom the Lord was preparing for the carrying out of such responsibilities. Let assemblies pray for the raising up of such, especially in days of abounding error and of departure from the teaching of the Word of God. The missionary calling may be more attractive than that of an overseer in a local assembly, but those who, being exercised in heart about it, seek to respond to the call and prepare themselves accordingly, will receive present help from the Lord, and reward in the day to come.
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