There is perhaps no greater responsibility than being a leader of God’s people. Such is why “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
From Moses to David and from Nehemiah and Ezra to the elders of the 1st century church, the leader’s of God’s people have always held a position of serious responsibility. The task of being an elder (overseer/bishop/presbyter/shepherd) should not be taken lightly. Here are three reasons why.
1. They Look After God’s Prized Possession
Phrases like “…this is to die for” and “I would die for you” are pretty common in everyday English discussions. This normal hyperbole expresses a greater truth. The things that are most valuable to us we value greater than life itself. So, when God the Son died in order to acquire the church (Acts 20:28), it spoke of His priorities. The soul-saving institution that is God’s church can easily be described as God’s prized possession. He wasn’t willing to spare the life of His only begotten Son to obtain it.
This is, in part, why elders have such a huge responsibility. The charge that Paul gave to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 was to “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.” God’s prized possession is left to the care of local elders. Peter instructs fellow elders that the flock for which they care was “entrusted” to them (1 Pet. 5:3 NIV). The responsibility of elders is great because God has entrusted them with His prized possession. Elders are to oversee, protect, and spiritually nourish the church.
2. They Are Subject to the Chief Shepherd
Peter tells his fellow elders in First Peter 5:4 that when they fulfill their responsibilities, “when the chief Shepherd appears, [they] will receive the unfading crown of glory.” I find it interesting that Peter would remind shepherds that they too have a Shepherd. Jesus is described as the good shepherd, the great shepherd of the sheep, and the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (Jn. 10:11; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25) and all elders will have to give account to Him.
The Hebrews author reminded his audience that elders keep watch over the souls in the congregation they serve as “those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). God will hold elders accountable for how they oversee His people. The seriousness of their responsibility cannot be overstated.
3. Judgment Will Begin at the Household of God
This is Peter’s point in First Peter 4:17-18: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'” Here we have perhaps one of the most profound insights regarding the holiness and justice of God. God is so holy, so just, that the righteous are scarcely saved. Thank God for His grace!
The concept of God beginning judgment at His house with His people is found throughout the Bible (Jer. 25:29; Ezek. 9:6; Amos 3:1-2; Rom. 2:9). The Household of God today is the church (1 Tim. 3:15), and elders are to “care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28). God’s judgment will begin with the very place that elders are entrusted to oversee, even further amplifying their responsibility.
Overall, the serious responsibility given to the overseers of the church should cause Christians to obey and submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17). Further, we shouldn’t take the office lightly. Thank God for His plan for church organization and the qualified men who fill the role of shepherds!