Are you small enough to be used in the Church's life? that is under your care, serving as overseers, not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy for money but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." I want this morning to come to the brief study that we have engaged in in the church for a final time by considering the priority which the New Testament gives to the establishing of effective leadership in the church. The priority that the New Testament gives to the establishing of effective leadership in the church.
How are we going to determine this? Well, the answer is, of course, by reading the Bible and looking into the Bible to see whether there is actually this priority. And where we would look would be not to the Gospels, which finish with the ascension of the Lord Jesus, but first of all to the Acts of the Apostles, which is, if you like, the minute book of the early church, and then into the epistles themselves to see what the emphasis is that is brought to bear by those who wrote the epistles. And when you do this—and I hope that you might consider it as part of your homework assignment, and you need only a concordance and look up the word elder or bishop, depending on the kind of translation of the Bible that you're using—then you will discover that what I am suggesting to you this morning is actually the case. So, for example, in Acts chapter 14, we're told by Luke that after the apostles had gone on their initial evangelistic campaigns and had seen men and women come to trust in Christ, they then returned to many of these towns and cities in order that they might establish elders' effective leadership within each of these churches. When in Acts chapter 20 you have one of the most moving records of a parting in all of Holy Scripture, you discover that when Paul takes his leave of the elders who'd been established for the church in Ephesus, he urges them to keep watch over themselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. He says, I want you to be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. And the reason for this emphasis and for the priority is because he says, I know that after my departure there will arise from among you fierce wolves who will seek to actually eat the flock and draw people away after them. So the big problem would arise not as a result of people coming in from the outside but as a result of people emerging from within who begin to take the flock off in all kinds of directions.
How is that to be handled? Well, it's to be handled as a result of leadership that submits to the leadership of Jesus and submits to the instruction of the Bible and is prepared to bring the Bible to bear upon the flock that is under their care. It's for that reason that he urges Titus and Titus 1 to make sure that, having been left in Crete, he will straighten things out and appoint elders in every town. When he writes to Timothy, who was essentially his understudy in the faith, he provides them with significant instruction in 1 Timothy chapter 3 and then again in chapter 5. And when you read these portions of Scripture, as I hope you will, then you will discover that in each instance the task of leadership is a shared task, that the burden does not fall upon any one individual but it rather is granted to a group of individuals.
If you are open, at 1 Peter 5, you will notice that it is in the plural, to the elders plural among you, I appeal as one who is a fellow elder. Now, you don't have to start in the New Testament to see this pattern emerge. You can go way back into the Old Testament, and you will discover that God grants in his wisdom and grace the kind of security that is represented in shared leadership. You need look no further than the story of Moses, which is a wonderful story. In Exodus chapter 3, you remember, God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, and he gives to him the amazing privilege and prerogative of going to Pharaoh, the Pharaoh of Egypt, and saying, Hey, let my people go. God says we're supposed to leave. And you may remember the story of all of the plagues that then ensued until finally it came to the plague, whereby the firstborn was to be killed in the home unless there was the painting of the blood on the lintels and door frames of each of those homes. And the people of God, led out by Moses, flee out from Egypt.
They cross the Red Sea, and they begin their journey towards the Promised Land. Whenever God is about to do something significant amongst his people, he always raises up leadership. You can find it in the Bible. You can find it in the history of the church.
You can find it in the history of this church. There is nothing happens without God raising up leadership. And the Old Testament pattern is very clear. Moses, I want you to take initiative. Moses, I want you to be an inspiration to these people. Moses, I want you to influence these people. Moses, I want you to instruct them. What a task!
What a responsibility! Surely no one man would be capable of that. And the answer is no, of course they would not. And so by the time you get to Numbers chapter 11, the people of God are now in difficulty. They've been complaining about the hardships that they've been experiencing.
The anger of God has been roused, and the fire of the Lord has begun to burn among them and has consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. Don't mess with God. That's the story. That's the message. Don't complain.
Don't argue against God, who has done such a wonderful thing in bringing you here. The fire of God smolders against them, and Moses cries out to God, and as a result of his prayers, the fire of the Lord, we're told, dies down. And they named the place Tabirah because the fire from the Lord came and burned among them. And then out of the crowd—indeed, it is referred to here in verse 4 as the rabble—the rabble with them began to crave other food. We don't like this food. We want other food. And again, the Israelites started wailing.
It's quite interesting, the wailing and complaining that goes on. If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost. You remember what they were saying in Egypt? We gotta get out of this place.
It was the last thing we ever do. They were compelled to get out of the place. Their backs were being broken. They were imprisoned.
They were forced to make bricks without straw. Oh God, will you please help us? Will you please get us out of here? If you get us out of here, we will thank you for the rest of our lives. There's nothing we will ever say against you again.
We will just follow you and love you and serve you and praise you. And out they come and across the Red Sea, and here they are. We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost. Oh, there were wonderful restaurants in Egypt.
Oh, the fish restaurants in Egypt. They were unparalleled, and the cucumbers we had there, and the melons and the leeks and the onions and, oh, the garlic. But now we've lost our appetite. We've never seen anything but this manna. Now, when I read this again this week, and my mind went immediately to the opening scene in the musical Oliver, where you remember, they're all coming into the table to that opening song, you know, every day it's all the same, and all we get is groove. All we get is groove.
Remember that? Rent the movie for goodness sake. But you'll find that my rendition was very close.
Not on key, but very close. And that's exactly what these characters are doing. Hey, Moses, are we supposed to eat this manna stuff forever? I mean, what do you think you're doing with us, Moses? Now let's just pause for a moment and ask the question, how did Moses get in this predicament? Was he a volunteer?
Send a resume? Dear God, if you're looking for anybody to liberate your people from Egypt, I suggest that my background is remarkably strong. I've been in a number of places, and of course, I know the Pharaoh personally. I've had a number of dealings with him in the past, and his daughter was a great fan of mine in my early years, and so on. And if you think you could use me at any time, do get in touch with me directly.
My email address is as follows, and you can contact me in a number of ways. No. Because the story of Moses' preparation for leadership is quite remarkable. For forty years, his training was to become a somebody in Egypt.
Right? So for forty years, as a result, he's hidden in the basket in the bulrushes. The princess comes. She sees the baby. His sister says, Hey, I've got a nursemaid for you. Goes get the mother. Moses' mother looks after him in the court of Pharaoh. He grows up with all of this tremendous prestige and opportunity. And for the first forty years of his life, he is being trained to be a somebody in Egypt. And then the fight, and the murder, and the departure to the desert. So the first forty years, he's trained to be a somebody in Egypt. The second forty years, he is trained how to be a nobody in the desert. And it is after that he has learned to be a nobody that God then determines to use him.
Now, do not miss this in passing. For within the framework of the church of God, God is not looking for those who are able to present the resume. You see, God, I think I am in remarkable strong position for this. After all, I am a somebody.
Let me tell you what I'm able to bring to the table and so on. God says, Sorry, sit on the sidelines. I'm looking for a nobody.
I'm going to show the world what I can do with a nobody. And if you look at the history of God's dealings with people, you will find that at least in the secret place of the lives of those most greatly used, they didn't think they were somebody they knew they were nobody. And they were small enough for God to use. One of the reasons that some of us will never be particularly useful in the service of God is because we're too big. We're too big for our own boots.
We're too big for our own outfits. And we wonder why it is that we are constantly set aside in the reckoning. God prepared him for forty years as a somebody, for forty years as a nobody, and then once he had understood that, and not until, God said, Okay, Moses, let's go.
And so he finds himself in leadership. And he hears the people, verse 10, of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. He was presiding over a bunch of whiners. Whalers? Whiners?
Similar? And the Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the Lord, Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth?
Why did he tell me to carry them in my arms as a nurse carries an infant to the land you promised an oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me.
Give us meat to eat. I cannot carry all these people by myself. The burden is too heavy for me.
If this is how you're going to treat me, put me to death right now. If I have found favor in your eyes, and do not let me face my own ruin. Now, what's the answer of God?
Look at verse 16. The LORD said to Moses, Bring me seventy of Israel's elders, who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Make them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you.
And I will come down and speak with you there. And I will take of the spirit that is on you, and put the spirit on them. And they will help you carry the burden of the people, so that you will not have to carry it alone. And the picture there, which you actually find earlier in the book of Exodus, of the discovery of leadership amongst the company of God's people, so being put together under the plan of God that the people of God may be led with effectiveness, is nothing other than the foundation upon which this New Testament pattern is built. Now, I may make much of that, but I do so purposefully, because the church is plagued by all kinds of individualism, both within its ranks and within its leadership. And that's why it is important for us to pay attention to the fact that not only in our passage, but in each of the passages, the word which is used to designate the leadership that is a priority in the church is a word which you'll find there in the plural. Presbuteru is the word there in 1 Peter 5, verse 1. That gives us, incidentally, as you would imagine, our English word presbyter.
A number of words are used interchangeably for these individuals. Back in Acts 20, to which I referred, in verse 17, the word again that is used there is presbuterus. When in verse 28 he mentions the elders again, he uses the word episcopoi, which gives us our English word episcopal, that is sometimes translated overseer, as in the NIV. It is translated bishop on a number of occasions in the King James Version—incidentally, a poor translation which has led to all manner of confusion.
I wish that the early translators had chosen not to interpret it as bishop, because it has allowed people to get on all kinds of tangents in relation to who the bishop is and everything else. And when you read the New Testament, you discover that there is no hierarchical structure whatsoever within the framework of eldership. It's all on a level plane except for one who is the chief shepherd in verse 4, who is Christ, the head of the church.
But everything else is on a plane. You can search the Scriptures in vain to try and find some bishop, archbishop, hierarchical framework which has been developed through the years. And again, the burden of proof lies with those who want to tell us that that's the way it ought to be done, and they've got to come and take the Bible and show us exactly how it is that from the Bible they're able to create that structure. Unable to do so, then we simply set it aside. So you have these individuals who are both episcopoi, which addresses the issue of their authority, and they are presbuteroi, which speaks to the issue of their maturity, and they are those who are to be exercising the responsibility of shepherd—the Greek verb is poi-mein.
Poi-mein. Those three words are very important. Men of authority, men of maturity, and men of responsibility. Now, when you begin to put this together and compare Scripture with Scripture, you discover this, that God has ordained that the church is not an autocracy. The church is not to be ruled by an individual.
The papacy is wrong. In its most garish form in the Vatican and in its lesser forms as you find domination within local congregations. And one of the reasons for plurality amongst the eldership is to prevent the proclivity to autocracy which is endemic in the hearts and minds of many of us. The church is not an autocracy. Nor is the church a democracy.
I think everybody would understand that it's not an autocracy, but many would say, Oh, I thought it was a democracy. I thought the church was one man, one vote. I thought it was really that everybody ran everything in the church. Well, that's true in a number of local churches, and that's why it runs the way it runs. When something is everybody's responsibility, then it's nobody's responsibility. When a church establishes its direction on the basis of the man who jumped on his horse and galloped off in all directions, then you can find the church going in every direction.
So unless there is cohesion in leadership, it's impossible to go forward. That's why what you have is not autocracy or democracy, but you have theocracy. Theos is the Greek word for God. And God rules. How does God rule?
Well, he carries out his rule through godly leadership. The godly leadership discovers how they are to lead by studying the Bible. The Bible is then brought to bear upon the hearts and minds of the congregation who, since they are sensible men and women, are then able to look into the Bible and see whether the leadership is in concurrence with what the Bible teaches. And that's why the Bible and a knowledge of the Bible is the great safeguard against tyranny and heresy. Because the easiest people to lead up the creek are those who don't know the Bible. That's why you should always be careful of places where you go and they don't teach you the Bible. Because the Bible is our sole authority, and the Bible is the safeguard. So you should always feel safe in a place where people are saying, Now, look at the Bible and see what it says. Where people are saying to you, Now, you are sensible people. You must examine the Scriptures and see if these things are so.
And when you look, you discover this to be the case. That some are to be responsible for the leadership of others, while all will be responsible to the leadership of Jesus through his Word. In the church of Jesus Christ, it is not the will of God that everybody should run everything. Those of you who have come out of a certain kind of background whose church government structure has been one of church meetings happening with a relative frequency, where everything that is about to take place in the church comes before a meeting of the congregation, and the congregation sits down to try and decide where it's going and how it's going and when it's going. And you deal with everything from the color of the front door of the minister's house to the color of the utensils in the bathrooms to the establishing of the missionary budget and so on. You know what that's like. And you know how that functions.
And it is virtually impossible on a practical level to get anything done with effectiveness. Oh, what people say, but you're setting aside, then, the priesthood of all believers. I mean, don't we believe in the priesthood of all believers? Don't we believe that we are all equal before Christ?
Absolutely. In the same way that Christian parents who have Christian children, the Christian parents and the Christian children are all equal before Christ. They all came to Christ as individuals. They all met Christ at the same place. They are actually brothers and sisters in Christ. But does that mean that there's no mother and father?
No. Because the priesthood of all believers does not set aside the structure of family life, nor does the priesthood of all believers set aside the structure that is given to us in the New Testament as to how the church is supposed to function. The priesthood of all believers is in the Bible to encourage our personal devotion.
It is not in the Bible to establish corporate democracy. That's why in Hebrews 13, if you turn back a couple of pages, you discover that the writer is saying, Listen, folks, I want you to obey those who are your leaders. I want you to submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. And I want you to obey them. Why?
Because they're perfect. No. I want you to obey them because they know everything. No. I want you to obey them so that their work will be a joy and not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
There's the exact same thing that happens in the house. Do what your mother says, would you? Don't always be rebelling and questioning and shouting and arguing and barging about the thing. That's no help to you at all. That doesn't help you. It doesn't help your siblings.
It certainly doesn't help your parents. Obey them so that their work will be a joy and not a burden. After all, they didn't sign up for this by volunteering. God put them in this position.
They don't give an account to you. They give an account to God, which is the far more awesome thought. Therefore, in light of the fact that they are heading towards this great ultimate accountability meeting, then unless they're teaching you heresy or unless they're trying to press upon you in some coercive manner, then just do what they ask you so that their work will be a joy and not a burden.
There is a pragmatism to this. This is, of course, extremely helpful. You're listening to Bible teacher Alistair Begg with a message titled, Shepherds of God's Flock. This is Truth for Life. Keep in mind, if you'd like to share this message with someone at your church, it's easy to do. Go to Truth for Life's website or mobile app, select the share icon, and you can pass them the link. Now, if you are a frequent listener to Truth for Life, you know we teach from the scripture every day. And it's never too early to start talking to your children about God and about His Word. Today, if you're able to make a donation to support Truth for Life, we'd love to send you a book for you to read with small children called, His Grace is Enough.
This is a hardcover picture book. It teaches children ages three to six or seven about how God forgives us when we trust in Jesus. In fact, the subtitle is, How God Makes it Right When We've Got it Wrong. The author of the book does a great job using just a few words to convey the powerful message of God's grace through the Lord Jesus.
In fact, the story is told in a fun rhyme. It explains that no matter what mistakes we make, God's grace is bigger than our failures. Request your copy. Again, the title of the book is, His Grace is Enough and it's yours by request today when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. You can find discord and division even in churches that have solid biblical leadership and practices. Tomorrow we'll hear why and we'll find out how to best battle against that kind of discord. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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