Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Duty of the Overseer/Elder

"Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Timothy 3:1)

The word translated as “overseer” in 1 Timothy 3:1 is also translated as “bishop.” Most scholars agree that the bishop and the elder in the New Testament are the same person. It is the same office, given two different titles that stress two different aspects of the duty. The word elder calls attention to the age, wisdom, and respect that this man is to have. The word overseer describes his duty: He is to oversee the work of the church.

In congregationalism, the overseer only works in a local congregation. In the Presbyterian tradition, the overseer also has a duty to watch over the larger church as a member of a presbytery, classis, synod, or general assembly. In the evangelical Episcopal tradition, there are ranks of elders above the local level who oversee larger areas of the church: bishops, archbishops, and the like.

The idea of oversight is related to the idea of visitation. In the Old Testament, the Lord was the Overseer of the congregation, and from time to time He would visit the people and inspect them. Such events were called “the Day of the LORD.” Paul exercises such a function when he writes to various churches that they can expect a visit from him. On a day-to-day basis, the overseers in the local church keep an eye on things.

The duty of the overseer is closely related to the duties of the priest and the prophet in the Old Testament. The priest prayed with the people, bringing their concerns to God, while the prophet brought God’s word to the people. Too often, officers in the church try to preach the Word of God without first being priests to the people. People will not listen to our prophetic warnings unless they come to trust us first.

The overseer must be intimately aware of what is going on in the lives of the people he is watching over. It is sad when a church member goes into the hospital and nobody visits him because nobody is watching over him. Elders need to keep in touch with people and have good relations with them. If we want people to listen to us, we must spend time with them, pray with and for them, and let them see that we care for them.

In a less formal way, each of us must be a spiritual overseer. Think of your Christian friends. How can you be an overseer to them? Do any of them have needs you can meet? Do any of them need a kind rebuke from you. Is your relationship sufficiently priestly for you to be able to exercise such a prophetic role?