Jacob Toman

Origin of Paul’s Faith and Teachings—1 Corinthians 11:23

Paul’s teaching was not of human origin at all. Paul delivered to the gentiles the testimony of an apostle. He was a living witness of the resurrection. He bore witness to Christ’s triumph over the grave. Paul received grace from the Lord Jesus having been found guilty of persecuting Christ’s church.

Over the last few months, I’ve been stewing on a verse. It’s come to mind regularly at various times. It’s a verse that I’ve spoken or referenced numerous times as I’ve had the privilege of administering the Lord’s Table. Yet for all the times that I’ve served the Lord’s table, and all the times I’ve received communion, this verse hasn’t laid hold on me. It wasn’t until the Lord saw fit to move me out of my most recent pulpit, that this verse grabbed me.  “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” 1 Corinthians 11:23a.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…Ἐγὼ γὰρ παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ Κυρίου, ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν…1 Corinthians 11:23
We typically think of this verse as an introductory note in the larger, more important section about the Lord’s table (v17-34). It is situated in the middle of both a rebuke and a corrective instruction for the Corinthian church regarding the practice of communion. While this sentence may seem like a simple linking idea, there is much to be learned from in considering these inspired Words from the Holy Spirit through Paul.
Rather than being a throwaway sentence or simple linking phrase, this verse is a statement from Paul regarding the origin of his own faith and what he teaches. This is a genesis, a backstory to all that he’s shared with the Corinthians. This is his source of authority, this is his source of faith, this is his source of practice, this is his source of instruction for other believers. His source is not his own mind (although he was perhaps the greatest thinker of his time), his source was not his own research (although perhaps he was the greatest interpreter of his time), his source was not his own spirituality (although no one could doubt that he must have possessed tremendous faith to suffer the horrific pains he endured). To put it succinctly and bluntly – Paul wasn’t the source for Paul’s religion.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…1 Corinthians 11:23a
This phrase reveals a pattern of ministry and consistent testimony regarding Paul’s faith, preaching, and teaching. In other words, this isn’t an isolated verse or a solitary statement. This is the repeated testimony of Paul. The substance of what Paul believed, taught, preached, and lived as an example came as something he received. His faith, its substance and essence, came as a gift from another. The source of the gift was none other than the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
The New Testament Concept of Paul’s Faith
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Philippians, and to Timothy, he writes to them regarding what he himself has received and what he delivered to them (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Philippians 4:9, 1 Timothy 1:16,). The most substantive testimony of what Paul taught, preached, and delivered to the churches is found in Galatians 1:11-12:
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11–12 ESV
When Paul speaks words of encouragement or challenge for the Corinthians and Thessalonians to continue in the faith, he speaks using terms of tradition (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15). This isn’t a philosophy (of Paul’s own making). Nor is this a new interpretation of something old (such as a Rabbinic comment which was very common in 1st century Judaism). What Paul delivered to the churches planted was precisely what he had received.
Paul’s preaching was put to the test after 14 years (as Paul counts in Galatians 2:1-2). His testimony to the gathered apostles was found to be Christ-honoring and in harmony with the testimony of the Apostles, even as he corrected another apostle (Galatians 2:11-14). How could this be if Christ did not disciple (teach and make him follow) this Paul? Thinking purely logistically, there were no assembled or distributed written gospels at the time of Saul/Paul’s conversion (recounted in Acts 9). All Paul could have heard from others would have been word of mouth. Even if there were documents for Paul to read and study, how could he have so accurately presented the resurrection message before the men who were there without himself being a witness? Yet Saul (so he was still called when Jesus was crucified and raised) was not there on what we call good Friday, or Easter. Yet he throws away all that he knew, his title, position, influence, social connections, all for the sake of the resurrected Jesus who confronted him (Acts 9:3-16). Paul’s preaching, absent the “seminary” training in Jerusalem from the disciples, came from none other than the Lord Jesus. Acts 9:16 is particularly helpful in understanding WHO it was that taught Paul. It was none other than the Lord Jesus:
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.Acts 9:15-16 ESV, emphasis added
Paul leaves his audiences with no doubt, whether they are gentile rulers (like Felix in Acts 24, or Agrippa and Bernice in Acts 25), or gentile commoners (Like those in Athens in Acts 17), whether they are Jewish leaders (like the Synagogue of Thessalonica in Acts 17), or Jewish disciples of Jesus (like the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15), it was no one else than the resurrected Jesus himself who confronted Saul/Paul and then instructed him in the faith.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…1 Corinthians 11:23a
How could this be? Jesus was already resurrected and ascended? Surely Paul didn’t walk on the road to Damascus (Luke 24), nor was he with the gathered disciples prior to Pentecost (Acts 1). How did Paul receive teaching from Jesus? Galatians is the book to turn to at this point. Notice what is absent, and what is present in Paul’s testimony.
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Christ is Our Only Peace as a Christian

Peace is a word frequently accompanying Christian traditions. For those who celebrate the church calendar, peace is one of the four themes of Advent. Christians worship the messiah as the “prince of peace”. Peace is a watchword for guarding Christian conduct. In the pursuit of truth and in the midst of disputes, peace is to be a priority. Blessings that are pronounced between individuals and large groups of Christians often involve the “peace of God”. Even beyond the Christian tradition of peace, there is a broader desire for peace. An absence of peace in home environments is the reason for all sorts of non-profit programs and government budgetary expenses. A lack of peace abounds where wars and violence rage. Peace is seemingly cross-cultural. Peace is a desire of humanity.
Yet, peace seems elusive in our present world. Families are torn apart by both internal and external reasons. Individuals suffer from a lack of peace regarding the past, present, and future. We have specialized words in English to describe the many multifaceted ways in which humans can experience a disruption or lack of peace.
Do you have a lack of peace regarding your future? That’s anxiety.
Is peace quickly fleeting from you? That is a disruptive disorder.
Have you lost any hope of gaining peace? That is depression.
Is your group willing to destroy peace with another group? That is a war. Is someone failing to provide sufficiently for the peace of those in their care? That is negligence. Are you deprived of peace when you seek sleep? That is insomnia.
Peace is something easily observed when present, earnestly desired when absent, and blissfully enjoyed when possessed.

False Teaching in Christianity—a Look at False Teaching in the Bible

Today we can find nearly any truthful propositional statement from God’s Word being challenged. If you have a favorite verse or text in scripture, the Evil one is actively trying to distort that same text. The remedy in this world of disinformation, distortion, and disdain is to cling closely to the Word of God and the faithful teaching of God’s Word. 

New Testament and False Teaching
In nearly every New Testament epistle, regardless of their human authors, there is a common theme of vigilance and discernment. Vigilance among believers to discern the truth of teaching and the practice of faith within daily living. Last summer I preached on a very “little big book” from Jude that highlighted some of the early churches’ struggles, and the similar struggles we share today in contending for the Faith of Christ. The need for vigilance and discernment expressed through the Scripture was applicable in the first-century church.  The problems, temptations, dangers, and sins which so easily ensnare, are also present today.
In 2 Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul engages in some hyperbole and rhetorically engages with the false accusations about him from the false teachers in Corinth. He starts off by saying that this entire method of controversy is foolishness. Then, with no shortage of sarcasm, the Apostle Paul apologizes for engaging in such foolishness and dives in headlong from 2 Corinthians 11:1-12:13 into an argument riddled with “foolishness”. He systematically takes on the accusations laid about himself and the tidings of Jesus he brought to the Corinthian church.
For a moment, he states clearly that the false teachers in Corinth are striking at the vitals of the Corinthian’s belief in Jesus. These teachers and their teaching are not simply people who have gotten a few details wrong and are in need of correction. This brings me to the namesake of this piece – the hallmark of false teaching. While there could be a great many marks of false teaching and a great many characteristics of false teachers – there is a single undeniable result of false teaching.
First Warnings in Old Testament
In order to take a look at some of the first warnings of false teachers, we’re going to need to start at Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22.
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
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Death and the Intermediate State—What Happens After We Die?

Life after death is not one that begins only after the great resurrection of the dead or with the second coming of Christ. Even after the body and soul have been separated in death, there is an ongoing existence of the soul even after the body has decayed.  

One of the more common questions I’ve been asked since 2020 relates to death. Covid-19 has brought a sense of urgency to many. That urgency has led some to search the scriptures to find the answers to their deepest questions: What happens after we die?
Many people have been taught a generic “afterlife” concept. There is a generalized cartoony afterlife in mind among some of my friends who are unbelievers (some quite staunch atheists). This cartoon takes on either a “darkened red glow” or a “blue shining glow”. The red place is a place of torment, torture, and pain. The red place in many Americans’ minds is a place of a general deprivation of all things entertaining, lovely, and delightful. The blue place is a place of happiness, light, relief, rest, music, and peace. The blue place in many Americans’ minds is a place of general presence of all things pleasing, akin to an eternally open theme park or beach.
There are other generalizations that accompany these two cartoonish pictures of eternity. Some have vague notions that the afterlife spells an eternity spent floating on clouds. Others speak of disembodied souls. Some have hope of reunification with lost loved ones, though they know not how this is possible when the bodies once inhabited are long since decayed. Some have an ascension in mind, that this life is dirty and less than the life to come, and that in that life to come a loss of the physical state is a new promise of freedom.
These questions are partially what has led me to preach on this topic in August of 2021, and the two audio read-aloud series we are doing currently on YouTube. The Saint’s Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter is a beautiful book of devotional delights as Baxter contemplated and exposited what God’s Word has to say about the believer’s eternal life after death (you can click here to access that playlist and join along listening to the book). Andrew MacLaren preached a set of sermons on the book of Philippians, a letter from the Apostle Paul to a church without a hint of rebuke, but instead an abounding measure of praise and joy. Often this praise and joy Paul speaks of in Philippians come from reminders of the eternal joy Christians have awaiting them after death.
So as I’ve been pondering these things, studying these things, and preaching on these things, we come again to the question at hand.
What Does God’s Word Have to Say About What Happens After We Die?
It is good to expose whatever we may believe, think, or imagine to the truth of God’s Word (Psalm 139:1). Like a patient in need of life-saving surgery, we risk much by coming to the Word of God. In searching God’s Word, are we open to what God has to say? Are we willing to listen and follow where Jesus speaks and leads (Or will we come away sad like the rich man before Jesus in Mark 10:21-22)? If God’s Word says something very different from what we’ve been taught, will we lay aside our own notions and cling to the revealed truth of God? It is a dangerous thing to submit to the sword of the Spirit (Hebrews 4:12). We may lose face, our friends may think our faith strange, and our relatives may betray us (As they did to Jesus, thinking him crazy in Mark 3:21)! Yet for all that we lose by seeking God’s revealed truth, we gain much more (Mark 10:29-31).
‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ’no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’—Mark 10:29-31
When we come to God’s Word we do not enter into a conversation with a friend over coffee, offering speculations. When we come to the Word of God we are on holy ground. We are in the presence of Truth revealed. What a blessing God has given to us in His Word! It pushes the darkness of doubt away and lays open the treasures of reality.
So recall your cartoony thoughts. Remember what you’ve been taught about what happens after we die. Bring to mind what you’ve considered while mourning for lost loved ones in the Lord. Bring these thoughts and beliefs captive before the Lord of glory and face the exposure of the truth of God’s Word.
Passages from God’s Word
1. God’s Word makes clear that death itself is a consequence of sin. Death is not natural to God’s created order for mankind. In other words, without sin, there would be no death. Death first came to humanity as a result of Adam’s sin. Death is not a glory in itself, death is a consequence.
By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust, you will return. (NIV Genesis 3:19)
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. (NIV Romans 5:12)
2. God’s Word makes clear that mankind has been given a physical body inhabited with a living soul. At death, the body ceases its activity, while the spirit or soul continues. There are at the foundations of who and what we are as humans these two components; a body and a soul. We ought to guard that we do not overemphasize either of these two components which can lead to new-age paganism, agnosticism, or materialism. The sacred scriptures speak of both the body and the soul as being impacted at death.
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
…because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. (Psalm 16:10)
You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. (Psalm 30:3)”
3. God’s Word makes clear that in death our body and soul are separated. Our bodies return to the ground (to dust is the often-used expression), while our spirits depart from our bodies. The speech of Jesus to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 is particularly telling as it indicates that the bodies of the thief and Jesus would be dead yet, Jesus spoke of the thief being with him in paradise. It is this separation of body and soul which occurs at death. The material body after death to experience decay (or corruption is often the term biblically), and the immortal soul to dwell outside the body in another place.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. (Revelation 6:9)
4. God’s Word makes clear that there are multiple destinations or locations for those who have died. There is after death awaiting God’s people eternal rest, and awaiting the enemies of God an absence of rest. These destinations are spoken of biblically in many word pictures throughout various passages.
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46)
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire. (Mark 9:42-49)
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Reformation Figures: Martin Luther

Martin Luther had a role to play in the reformation as a seed planter. Luther wouldn’t live to see many of the fruits of discussions he had helped begin. He wasn’t a “finisher” in the reformation, he was a starter. He was used tremendously by God to restore and reform the church. Luther’s importance can be still felt today by anyone who participates in a community of Christian faith that seeks to rely on God’s Word rather than anything else as the highest authority in the church. 

It’s October! Which means it’s the season of cider, pumpkin spice, and the glorious changing of forest colors. It is also the month when the European Reformation began.
There were many people, men, and women, that God used to shape the Reformation era in European history. During this time an entire continent experienced a tremendous struggle and opportunity to seek the Lord through his Word.
One of the most recognized people of the reformation era is Martin Luther. Luther, more than any other individual is recognized as the catalyzing force which launched the reformation. When marking the period of the Reformation, October 31 is remembered as the day the Reformation began.  On that day in 1517, Luther nailed a document containing 95 statements of question and critique of the Roman church.
Protestantism is a direct result of this movement that began in 1517. Whether you are Congregational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Lutheran, or non-denominational, your historic roots have been influenced and shaped by the Reformation. Even if you are a part of the Roman church if you have ever read or heard anything from the Bible in your own native language that is only a reality because of the Reformation.
While only the most bookish of Christians will know any of the particulars of Luther’s 95 theses, it was the actions Luther (and other reformers) took that formed the memorable and ongoing legacy of the Reformation. More important than any of his individual 95 points, was the collective work and effort to point the church back to the scriptures.
While doctrinal distinctions abound among protestants, these smaller internal distinguishing points are only present because of a much larger action.
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Jerusalem the “New”

Jerusalem the old was a Sodom (Rev 11:8), an Egypt (Rev 11:8), a Babylon (Rev 14:8, 16:19, 17:5, 18:2, 18:10, 18:21). As Sodom was overrun by evil, so too was Jerusalem. As Egypt was an oppressor of God’s people, so too was Jerusalem. As Babylon was self-righteous and proud, so too was Jerusalem. Jerusalem was unfaithful to God, having had every opportunity to return to the Lord yet choosing to continue in rebellion. Therefore, Jerusalem the old was fully warned of judgment, entirely given chance to repent, and then fully rejected that chance and thereby received judgment in 70 A.D.
The “old” Jerusalem was the place given many nicknames. It was the historic city home to the Jewish leadership that crucified the Lord Jesus. While it was supposed to be the epicenter of loyalty to the One true God, it became the place of execution for the Son of God. The “new” Jerusalem is something different from the historic city of the 1st century. What the “old” Jerusalem could and should have been, is what the “new ” Jerusalem would certainly be.
With old Jerusalem’s downfall squarely in view in Revelation 18 and 19 the question then arises: Why does Revelation then talk about a “New” Jerusalem?
While the book of Revelation has many nicknames for the unfaithful “old” Jerusalem, there are a few times Jerusalem is mentioned with great excitement and goodness. A fascinating feature of Revelation is how Jerusalem is explicitly named. The 1st century historic Jerusalem is always referred to via symbolic nicknames. A”new” Jerusalem is mentioned by name explicitly 3 times in Revelation (3:12, 21:2, 21:10).
The reason I keep calling Jerusalem either “old” or “new” is because this is how the text of Revelation speaks of Jerusalem. The first time Jerusalem is mentioned by name in the book of Revelation it is accompanied by the word “new” (τῆς καινῆς Ἰερουσαλήμ):
Revelation 3:12 (ESV): The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
This “new” Jerusalem originates from God. This “new” city has as its founder none other than the Almighty. The name of the city is “my own new name”. The speaker in Revelation 3:12 is the resurrected Lord. This is Jesus, speaking of a new city, which has its beginnings from God, whose citizens will be those who conquer. Those who conquer are those who have kept Christ’s word and not denied his name (Revelation 3:8).
We begin to see in this first citation of the “new” Jerusalem that it is a group of people who are loyal to Christ. They are a special people who are given a unique name from Christ. Together, they form a group of people established by God. We begin to see how this “new” Jerusalem is not primarily about a geographic space, but is primarily about a particular people.
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A Few Words on Biblical Interpretation and Bible Reading

When we read and interpret the Bible, we should seek to do so in a manner that if we were to have a conversation with God, God would have no corrections for us. This means our interpretation should defer to what God intended in a passage, and also how God chose to communicate that passage, through a historical writer. 

When we read our Bible, individually or corporately, we have the opportunity to hear, interpret and apply God’s word.
Hearing comes first, then our minds begin to comprehend, and make assessments of what we are hearing and how it impacts us. When we hear something, we begin to make sense of the sounds (or words) we hear. Once a determination is made, we begin to act in accordance with our assessment of what we’ve heard. It is only after we’ve heard something that we can assess it, and it is only after we’ve assessed something that we can act in response.
If you are driving a car and you hear what sounds like sirens, you may begin to check your various windows and mirrors. You may roll down your window to see if you can further hear which direction the sirens come from. You may slow down or pull over. You may speed up and move to the side. You only can do these actions, after you’ve made an assessment regarding the sound of the sirens.
When reading the Bible, most of us don’t think we are making any interpretations. Yet, when we open the Word and begin to hear we cannot help but begin to make an assessment. We compare what we hear with what we know. In our minds we begin to “play” with the ideas, concepts, and messages we’ve heard. As we are moved by conviction of what we’ve heard we begin to take action. It is in the realm of assessing what we’ve heard, and then applying what we’ve heard to our actions that interpretations take shape.
When we hear something and do nothing, we’ve determined that nothing other than the status quo should be done. Our interpretation of something we’ve heard, which inspires us to do nothing must mean our interpretation made no impression for our immediate life. Sometimes we hear something, and it takes many thoughts, many conversations, many relationships, many days and nights to arrive at an actionable conclusion. Sometimes we hear something (like a siren) and immediately begin to apply what we’ve heard (like moving out of the ambulance or firetruck’s way). Regardless of the speed of application, as soon as we hear something we begin interpreting it. 
It is frequently asked “is there a right way to interpret the Bible?” Often this question arises when people of two persuasions come to a particular impasse. Which way is right when one person interprets X and the other person interprets Y? How can a right interpretation be formed between multiple mutually exclusive interpretations?
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Elders in the New Testament—Elder and Overseer

Thus far in our study of the New Testament Christian elder we have limited our search to passages which explicitly include the English translated word “elder” (using the NIV 2011 edition). While the word “elder” itself does come up frequently, the concept of this role within the church is spoken of using a host of various other descriptive words.
Today we will consider the first of the synonyms for Christian elders in the New Testament (there are more than this one, but in attempting to keep this a more digestible read I’m limiting today’s discussion to one): Overseer. In future discussions we will examine other synonymous words and concepts for the elder (such as shepherd, and pastor).
The first time we see this word used in the New Testament is in Paul’s speech to the gathered group of Christian elders from the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28):
20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
We can make a few initial observations here about Christian elders. (1) the Holy Spirit is the one who has made the elders to be “overseers”. The Holy Spirit of God is intensely involved in the work of the church. One of those very tangible ways the Holy Spirit is involved is through elders/overseers. (2) The position of “overseer” is akin to one watching over, providing oversight. One of the tasks of elders is observational in nature. They are to “keep their eyes peeled” as it were with special focus on the special people of God. Christian elders should provide accountability in a Godly manner for the church. (3) The elders not only keep watch over the flock, but also themselves! This is sequentially the first thing Paul brings to the attention of the Ephesian elders. Not only is there an exercise of oversight from the Elders over the church, but there is also a duty of watching over themselves. Conceptually we see some overlap with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:42 and the parable of the plank and the eye. Before exercising another’s speck of a problem, one must deal with the plank of a problem in themselves. Christian elders are not free from oversight, they are established by the Holy Spirit and are held to a lofty standard (more on this later).
The second time we see the word “overseer” used in the New Testament is in the opening words of the letter to the Philippians:
1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 
We see Paul and Timothy address two major groups, with one group having two subgroups. The first major group are “all God’s Holy People in Christ Jesus at Philippi”. The second major group we may call church servants, or church officers. This second major group is composed of both the overseers and the deacons. We’re left wondering at this point if “overseer” is truly synonymous with elders. Yet as we will see throughout our study, the work of elders is often described with words like “overseer”, and “shepherd”. There is no third group which is singled out or differentiated from elders. There is however a group differentiated from deacons. Therefore, we can conclude that throughout the New Testament there are at minimum two groups identified in church service – elders (frequently called overseers or other titles in connection with their responsibilities) and deacons.

The third instance of “Overseer” in the New Testament is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy in chapter 3:
3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
We can make a few observations here. (1) The work of the Christian overseer/elder is something noble. This work is something which may be aspired to, desired, or hoped for. When I think of a “noble task” I think of one particular young man who I’m praying for at the moment. He’s someone I’ve gotten to know a little bit over the last year, and he’s generously signed up to serve in the armed forces as a marine. He’s dedicated himself to all sorts of various tasks and made himself subject to others in authority over him for the sake of serving millions who he will never meet and who will never know his name. That’s certainly a noble task! Paul says to Timothy that this work of the overseer is also a “noble task”! (2) The overseer/elder is a matter of “being”. It is not merely duties attached to a title, a role associated with responsibilities, but is also a matter of existing. It is not merely something to “do”, but rather the New Testament Christian elder is to “be” something. (3) In addition to “being” something, the Christian overseer/elder is also to “do” something as there is a task. We should not reduce the role and work of overseers/elders to only their tasks. Yet we should also not absolve or ourselves neglect the call to action in New Testament instructions for elders. There are things for the Christian elders to “do”.
Paul continues his discussion on elders with a lengthy standard and set of qualities for Timothy to put to use in the church (3:2-7):
3:2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Elders in the New Testament: Occasional Letters

The Christian elder in the first century church had responsibility to serve under Christ’s authority, caring for the people of Christ, providing Godly conflict resolution, decision making, teaching, preaching, administrating, praying, serving the sick, and diligently working up a Christ-like sweat while seeking the good of Christ’s people. 

Last post we began to discuss how the New Testament speaks about elders. This discussion was prompted by a great question during a recent congregational conversation: “What are elders?”
Here in written format I’ve begun to answer that question with a simple survey detailing the instances that the word “elder” comes up in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Today, our discussion moves from the mostly narrative driven accounts of the Gospel and Acts, to the letters written by various Apostles to individuals, and churches in the rest of the New Testament. I’ll continue with the “survey” format, simply citing a passage and giving a brief statement.
In 1 Timothy 4:14 the Apostle Paul was writing to his “true son in the faith” (1:2). As Paul gave instructions to Timothy, he presented a reminder about Timothy’s own ministry which began with the involvement of elders. From this we see that elders are involved even in the training and launching of others into Christ-honoring ministry:
4:14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 
Later on in this same letter to Timothy, Paul describes the work of Christian elders (5:17), the compensation of Christian elders (5:18), dealing with accusations against elders (5:19-20), and strictly forbids any sort of preferential treatment towards elders (5:21).
5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. 
Timothy wasn’t the only person the Apostle Paul wrote to regarding Christian elders. Titus was one of Paul’s missionary team who was given instructions regarding Christian elders. His task was to carry out the work of appointing Christian elders in the church at Crete. We see included in Paul’s initial instructions to Titus a reminder of his mission to appoint Christian elders (1:5), and a description of qualifications accompanied by reasons for these qualifications (1:6-9).
1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
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Elders in the New Testament: What do the Gospels and Acts Say About Elders

Paul gave an account of his own service (20:18-27) to the believers in Ephesus at this meeting with the Christian Ephesian elders. He then gave a solemn charge to the group of elders he was speaking with (20:28-31): 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 

During a recent extended congregational conversation, the question arose “what are elders?” This is an exceptional question! The New Testament speaks about elders a LOT. Some of the time New Testament writers (especially in the gospels) wrote about elders referring to the Jewish leaders of communities. In other words, not Christian elders. There is certainly a distinction to be made between Jewish elders, and Christian elders.
For reference, the Gospels speak of elders in the following places as Jewish religious and community leaders: Matthew 15:2, 16:21, 21:23, 26:3, 26:47, 26:57, 27:1, 27:3, 27:12, 27:20, 27:41, 28:12, Mark 7:3, 7:5, 8:31, 11:27, 12:12, 14:43, 14:53, 15:1, Luke 7:3, 9:22, 20:1, 22:52, and 22:66.
The rest of the New Testament speak of Elders (almost) exclusively as Christian’s serving within the local church. The few exceptions are in spots that refer to the actions of Jewish elders within Jerusalem (Like Acts 4:5, 4:8, 4:23, 5:21, 6:12, 23:14, 24:1, 25:15). Besides these passages the rest of the New Testament speak of elders as servants of Jesus caring for and administering Godly decision making in the church.
To give us a starting point for learning about Christian elders I’m going to cite several passages below which speak about Christian elders in the New Testament. Some of these passages are descriptive (describing elders), some are narrative (stories that includes elders), some are prescriptive (instructions for elders).
In Acts 14 we read that it was the Apostle Paul’s pattern to appoint Christian elders within churches:
Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
In Acts 15:1-2 we read that Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement with another group and their teachings. The group who would settle this disagreement was the apostles and Christian elders:
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