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Definition: Elder

In Fulfilling the Great Commission, we saw that Yeshua hand-picked His disciples. His disciples responded by laying down their lives in the world, and serving Him with all of their mind, heart, and strength.

Luqa (Luke) 14:33
33 “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Yeshua later commanded His disciples to go into all nations, and raise up still more disciples, to form the Melchizedekian priesthood that was to shepherd His sheep (believers).

Mattityahu (Matthew) 28:18-20
18 And Yeshua came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them in My name*,
20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amein.

[*For why we immerse only in Yeshua’s name, please see “Immersion in Yeshua’s Name Only,” in Nazarene Scripture Studies, Volume 3.]

As we show in Fulfilling the Great Commission, Yeshua did not want independent ministers or independent ministries. Rather, He wanted a unified Melchizedekian priesthood, which would shepherd His sheep the world over. However, the disciples would not have to oversee each and every congregation personally. For this, they would have the help of the congregational elders (also called bishops).

In Hebrew, an elder (bishop) is a zakan (זקן). The word zakan basically means, “bearded one,” and it refers to a man who is old enough to have a beard). Titus 1:5 shows us that it is the apostles who appoint the elders (and not the other way around). Verses 6-9 give us the criterion apostles use to appoint (or recognize) the elders.

Titus 1:5
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
7 For an elder must be blameless, as a steward of Elohim, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, set-apart, self-controlled,
9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

Elders are also called bishops, or overseers. Their job is to serve as role models for the rest of the families in an assembly, and help them all to grow together in love. This is not an easy task. They should be happily married, ideally to the wife of their youth. (However, if they have remarried, they should be fulfilling all of their responsibilities to others as best they can, right now.)

TimaTheus Aleph (1 Timothy) 3:1-7
1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of an elder, he desires a good work.
2 An elder then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the assembly of Elohim?);
6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

It is essential not to appoint anyone as an elder who is not truly an elder. Yeshua established that he who is greatest among us should be the servant of all. If we are willing to accept it, the apostles should recognize those who are serving the congregation, and the needs of the Great Commission.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 20:25-28
25 But Yeshua called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.
26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.
27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave —
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The job of an apostle is either to convert or raise up assemblies. Once the assembly is started they should recognize at least one elder couple (and ideally three or more couples) who can serve as examples for the flock in his absence. Then they can go on to the next town.

In addition to providing a good example to the people, an elder also collects the people’s tithes, gifts, and love offerings, to help the apostolic effort go forward. The purpose of these offerings is not to fund any lavish lifestyles, but there are real costs to ministry work (and a lot more than one might at first think).

When people buy books and tapes from merchants, they are saying that they are interested to learn more, personally. However, when we give selflessly, to help the apostles take the Good News to people we never met, it shows Yahweh a kind of love that book and tape sales can never show. It shows Yahweh that we love His Son so much that we are willing to give of our funds to help take the Good News of His Son to other people. This is true, selfless love for Yeshua, and others.

Qorintim Bet (2 Corinthians) 11:8-9
8 I robbed other assemblies, taking wages from them to minister to you.
9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.

The Macedonians loved Yeshua enough to support Shaul’s ministry to the Corinthians, even though those in Corinth were unwilling to support Shaul. This shows the extent of the Macedonians’ love for Yeshua. This kind of love never has an opportunity to develop when each man is expected to buy his own books and tapes.

We all have the duty to go on the mission field—but if we are not called to go, then at least we can help fund those who are going.

Qorintim Aleph (1 Corinthians) 16:1-2
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints (set apart ones), as I have given orders to the assemblies of Galatia, so you must do also:
2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

And in addition to encouraging the people to support the apostolic effort worldwide, an elder should also encourage the people to perform local outreach. That is, they can witness to their local communities, just as the apostles can witness in far countries. Thus, whether we go on the mission field or not, together we can help to build Yeshua a unified kingdom.

Yeshua’s body is one unified whole, and each part of the body needs to help all of the other parts of the body to do their jobs. No one who says he loves Yeshua can simply sit and read the Torah portion, and say that he has “done his duty” if he is not both conducting local outreach, and is also supporting the global outreach with his tithes, gifts, and offerings.

All of the parts of the body are responsible for all of the other parts, and each one of us needs to give of our time and our funds to help support all of the other parts. “Just sitting and reading” does not cut it. “Just sitting and reading” is to shirk out duties as parts of His body.

In Yeshua’s kingdom, everyone has a job. Those who sacrifice the most are to hold the positions of greatest responsibility.

  1. Disciples lay down their lives in the world, and go forth either to establish or strengthen the assemblies (as directed by the unified apostolic foundation).
  2. Elders set the example in their local assemblies. They encourage everyone to support the global apostolic effort. They also orchestrate local outreach, to further the Great Commission in their own town.
  3. Congregational servants (deacons) are devout believers who assist disciples and elders in the conduct of ministry business. They support both the apostolic and the congregational efforts with their time, and with their finances.
  4. Brand new baby believers just come in and get fed, but as they learn and grow in the word, they learn to help support the global and local efforts with donations of time and finances. This should not seem like a burden to them. Rather, this is just evidence of the fruit of the right Spirit.

Because Yeshua’s body needs to be united, there should not be any “independent” ministers, ministries, or congregations. There should be only one single order of Melchizedek, and one priesthood of disciples united on one single apostolic foundation. All of the assemblies must be part of the same spiritual temple. This is what it means for the whole building to be fitted together, growing into a set-apart temple in Yahweh.

Ephesim (Ephesians) 2:19-22
19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of Elohim,
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Yeshua Messiah Himself being the chief cornerstone,
21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a set apart temple in Yahweh,
22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of Elohim in the Spirit.

When a congregation is small, elders may volunteer their time (out of love for Yeshua). However, when the assembly grows up to the point that the elder needs to work at ministry full time, he may be supported from the people’s tithes, gifts and offerings. While a deacon (congregational servant) is equivalent to Levite, an elder is equivalent to a Levitical priest. Shaul tells us that the congregational elders who rule well should have double the average income, especially if they labor in the word and doctrine.

TimaTheus Bet (1 Timothy) 5:17
17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

Because elders are not disciples, they may pass an inheritance along to their children.

When our people embrace sound doctrine again, then we will have peace and order in our assemblies once again.

May it be soon, and in our day.

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