Saints, Overseers & Deacons

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 Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

Saints, Overseers & Deacons

Philippians 1:1

Introduction

Whenever you read a letter, there are two bits of information that are very important to understand before you can make proper sense of the content of the letter. You need to know who wrote the letter and to whom the letter is written. For example, ladies, if you received a valentine’s card that told you how much you were greatly admired and how beautiful you were, the signature at the bottom would make a big difference in the meaning of the message. If you are not married and it was signed by your boy-friend or fiancé, or if you are married and it was signed by your husband, it would be a very romantic message. If it was signed by your father, it would be a treasured message of acceptance and encouragement. If you got it from your 8 year old son, it would be cute. The same is thing is true when it comes to whom the letter is written. A man could send valentine cards that had very similar written content to three different people and it would have three very different meanings depending on if it was addressed to his wife, his mother or his daughter.

Errors in theology are sometimes made because people do not pay attention to who is speaking or writing and to whom they are speaking or writing. People remove Biblical passages from their context and end up making them mean whatever they want. For example, many people will quote Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” as a promise that God will help them do whatever they want to do. As we shall see when we get to that passage, the context that this is the Apostle Paul writing encouragement about a particular subject to the believers at Philippi restricts the meaning of that verse. It is not a universal promise, but fits within a particular context.

That is why we spent last week giving a brief overview of the life of Paul and his co-worker and co-author, Timothy. Their lives and their involvement with the church at Philippi helps us to understand their message to them. This week we will concentrate on who the letter is specifically written. Look again at Philippians 1:1

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” In my introduction to the book of Philippians two weeks ago, I gave the history of the city of Philippi and the founding of the church there by Paul as recorded in Acts 16. I will not go over that again except to highlight out these few brief important points.

First, Paul went there in response to a specific vision that God gave him to go to Macedonia, and it was at Philippi that the first European conversion to Christianity occurred when Lydia responded to the Holy Spirit and believed the gospel message Paul delivered. Within a few days, she and her household along with the Philippian jailer and his household and apparently a few others made up the first church there.

Second, Philippi was a Roman city. Its citizens used Roman language, practiced Roman customs and enjoyed all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship. It was in a real sense an outpost of Rome in a distant land. It was also located on the major highway between Asia Minor and central Europe.

Paul is addressing his letter to the church in Philippi, but notice how he addresses them. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” Who exactly are these “saints,” and who are the “overseers and deacons?”

SAINTS

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology has changed the common meaning of saint from its Biblical usage into referring to “a person whose holiness has been attested by miracles after his death and who has been officially recognized (canonized) by the church as worthy of veneration and to receive intercession.” For those who do not have a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox background, the idea of veneration and receiving intercession is that you are to give special honor to these people in a form that can approach worship, and you can pray to them with the expectation that they can intervene on your behalf and help you. In a real sense, such so called “saints” are given certain attributes of deity. But this is not the Biblical meaning of “saint,” and in fact we must add that the veneration of and praying to such a person is contrary to Scriptures.

Worship belongs to the Lord alone. That truth is codified as a part of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and is reinforced throughout the rest of the Scriptures. Exodus 20:3-7 states, “you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

These principles are repeated through the Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus repeated it to Satan in Matthew 4:10. Paul speaks of the issue of idolatry and worship of false gods in 1 Cor. 8, Eph. 5, Phil. 3:19 and Col. 2:18. Catholics will often argue that their veneration of saints is not worship, but what then is the act of bowing before an idol made in the image of someone that has died? While it was proper for men to bow down before the authority of a king or other lord, bowing before someone or something else is an act of worship. When Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet, Peter refused and raised him up and told him to “stand up; I too am a man” (Acts 10:25, 26). John tried to do this twice with different angels and both times was told to not do it for they too were fellow servants (Rev. 19:10; 22;8,9). Jesus, however, accepted such actions before Himself, because He is God (Mark 5:22; 7:25).

It would be well to remember the words of the Lord in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” While we are to give “honor to whom honor” is due (Rom. 13:7), the veneration of “saints” is more than just honoring, as is proven by the practice of also praying to them. “Veneration of saints” takes away the glory that belongs to God and gives it to men. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox definition of a “saint” is wrong. What then is a saint?

The word here is agioiV / hagios which means “holy” or “separated to” and when used of a person or thing means “one that is holy” or “one set apart for or by God.” This term is used throughout Paul’s writings as a reference to those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from sin (Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25,26,31; 16:2,15; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:1,2; 14:31; 16:1,15; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:4; 9:1,12; Eph. 1:1,15,18; 2:19; 3:8,18; 4:12; 6:18; Phil. 1:1; 4:21,22; Col. 1:2,4,12; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 5:10; Phle. 1:5,7). All true Christians are “saints.”

“Saint” is a good definition for a Christian. Every true Christian is cleansed from their sin through faith in Jesus Christ and His death as the substitute payment for sin. We are then clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Gal. 3:27; Phil. 3:9). We are therefore positionally holy before God. The Christian is also becoming holy in practical life as well. We are in a very real sense “set apart” from our sin and former way of life unto God. As Romans 6 describes it, we are “freed from sin and enslaved to God” (Rom. 6:22). This is sanctification and it is the process by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). A person does not become a saint because some church declares them to be so. They are a saint when God declares them to be so based on their faith in Jesus Christ.

Are you a saint? You are if you can answer “yes” to all the following questions.

Do you believe that you have sinned and violated God’s commandments and that all of your efforts to be righteous fall short of God’s standards leaving you condemned by His wrath unless He provides some means deliverance?

Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the eternal son of God, second person of the triune Godhead, who became a man by being born of a virgin and who lived a sinless life?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ willingly died as the substitute payment for sin, including your personal sin, and that He rose from the dead on the third day, that He ascended to heaven from which He will return for all who belong to Him?

Do you believe that God will forgive you and cleanse you of your sins against Him based on His promise to do so for all who believe the above? Remember that inherent within this belief of being forgiven and cleansed of sin is the belief that God wants you to now live a holy life before Him.

Do you believe that if you died today, you would be with Jesus Christ throughout eternity?

If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions, then see me or one of our church leaders after the service so that we might help you understand and believe Jesus Christ so that you can say yes.

“Saints” in 1:1 are all the people that are true Christians that make up the church at Philippi. Who then are the “overseers and deacons?”

Overseers

The Greek work here is ¦B\F6@B@iH (Episkopois), which is translated as “Bishops,” or “Overseers.” In some church traditions a Bishop is a church officer who above an Elder or Pastor and who oversees more than one church. However, the Bible clearly indicates that the Bishop, Elder and Pastor are all equal with each other and are in fact simply different titles for the same office.

In Titus 1:5 Paul charges Titus to appoint Elders, BDgF$bJgD@iH / Presbuterois, in every city as Paul had directed him. The term was used for those who were older in age and for those who held the office of an “Elder” or “Presbyter” (from which the Presbyterian church gets its name). In Titus1:6 Paul begins to list out the qualifications of these Elders, yet in verse 7 Paul calls the elder an overseer (¦B\F6@B@H / Episkopos). Another example of this is in Acts 20. Paul calls all the Elders to him (vs. 17) and then in verse 28 he says to this group of Elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (¦B\F6@B@H / Episkopos), to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

That last passage brings up the third term for this office, pastor. The Greek term is B@4µZ< / Poiman meaning Shepherd or Pastor. God made the elders (BDgF$bJgD@iH / Presbuterois) overseers (¦B\F6@B@iH / Episkopois) so that they would shepherd (poimainein / poimainein) the church. The verb form is often translated as “feed.” The elder is to shepherd or feed the flock of God entrusted to him as their overseer. Peter states this in 1 Peter 5:1,2Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you…”. In Ephesians 4:11 Paul lists the “Pastor” as the title of the God gifted man that is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” Paul does not use Bishop or Elder in that passage, again showing his interchangeable usage of terms for this church leader.

An elder/presbyter, a bishop/overseer and a pastor/shepherd all refer to the same person and the same office. The term Elder reflects both his stature as someone with wisdom the historical Jewish title given to a leader among the people. Bishop or overseer reflects his responsibility, and pastor or shepherd reflects the primary nature of his ministry.

It is also important to note that the term here in Philippians 1:1 is plural. This is also true in many other passages that refer to the leaders of a single church. The church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:50); the churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium , and Anitoch (Acts 14:23); the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 3:17; 5:17-25); the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:1); the churches on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5); and according to Peter, the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1; 5:1).James instructs the saints who might be sick to call for the elders – plural – of the church (James 5:14). There is no New Testament passage in which it is advocated that an elder give oversight to a church by himself. Only four times does the term appear in the singular. Twice it is John referencing himself (The elder to...). Once it is Peter calling himself a “fellow elder” to the elders he was writing to (1 Pet. 5:1), and 1 Tim. 5:19 simply instructs “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.”

Why is this important? Aside from the more obvious benefits such as a shared work load (Exod. 18) and multiplicity of counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22), this is the pattern God has set for how He wants His people to be lead. There are many churches that continue to advocate and operate according to a tradition that claims there is to be only one Elder, called the Pastor, in each church. However, as we have seen above, that is not the Biblical pattern. Having grown up in such churches, I can tell you from experience that when you do not follow the Biblical pattern and vest such leadership responsibilities in a single person, you only increase the problems a church faces both from without and from within.

Some have asked, and rightly so, why I am still the only Elder at Grace Bible Church. First, understand that is by default, not purpose. We have structured this church to operate by a plurality of Elders, but in the absence of a plurality, our Deacons, the next most mature group of godly men in the church, along with some of our church officers, form a council which then leads the church. I do not lead the church by myself. GBC is lead by a team of godly men.

The key issue in church leadership and structure is not in having every office title filled, but rather in having qualified people in those offices and having the most godly and mature people directing the church. There were no elders in any of the churches Paul started until they were mature enough for him to have qualified men appointed. It is very interesting to note that though the church in Ephesus had elders a couple of years after it was planted (Acts 20), some 10 or more years later, Paul directs Timothy about the qualifications needed for those who would serve as Elders in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3). The churches in Crete had been established perhaps 15 years prior to Paul writing Titus, yet in that letter Paul directs Titus to “set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed” after which he listed out their qualifications. Elders were added only as they met the qualifications.

There is no one in this church that desires a plurality of Elders more than myself, but for those that are concerned about it, the best thing you can do is first, thank God for the godly men who continue to serve on the Pastor’s Advisory Council until we do have a plurality of Elders. Second, pray for and encourage men to rise up to meet the Biblical qualifications which starts with the desire to serve in that ministry role (1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Peter 5:1,2).

Elder Qualifications

The Biblical qualifications for an Pastor/Elder/Overseer are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3. I am not going to take the time to go over each of the qualifications in detail, for that is not the purpose of this sermon and there is a sheet in the literature rack in the back of the church that does that. However, I do want to point out that only the requirement to be “apt to teach,” which indicates some spiritual giftedness in this area, is beyond what every Christian man can achieve. Gene Getz in his book, The Measure of a Man, uses these qualifications to describe the godly character that every Christian man should be developing. Even the requirement in Titus 1:9 to be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict should be possible by any man who has been a Christian for 10-15 years and has been diligent to study their Bible.

I believe that every Christian man should be striving to develop the godly characteristics required of Elders whether they ever become an Elder themselves or not. If you meet the Elder character qualifications, then you also meet the requirements to be a Deacon. Even if it takes you 5, 10, 15 or 20 years to mature to that degree, every effort at doing so is worth the work and sacrifice because it will also be helping you to become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. I invite any Christian man here willing to take up the challenge of developing themselves to meet the qualifications of an Elder or Deacon to come and meet with me, and together we will map out a means by which you can do so regardless of how long it may take. After my sermon preparation, that needs to be my top priority of ministry, and starting today, it will be. If you are a godly enough man to take up the challenge, then talk with me after the service, or give me a call and I will arrange for us to meet and start working on it.

Elder Responsibilities

What are the responsibilities of these church leaders? The various names imply some of their responsibilities: Elder – one who has wisdom for counsel; Overseer – one who watches over and directs the people; Pastor – one who feeds and cares for the flock. Here are some of their major responsibilities given in the New Testament.

1) Give oversight to \ rule \ administrate the flock. (Lead, guide, set the direction, care for) as the term “overseer” implies. 1 Timothy 3:5 specifically says that he has to be able to “take care of the church of God.” 1 Timothy 5:17 adds the idea of “rule well.” Both passages speak of leadership and management responsibilities. This is also seen in Hebrews 13:7.

1 Peter 5:2 explains the attitude the elder is to have toward this, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness, nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. ” It is not enough to carry out the duties. It must also be done with the right attitude and motive as well.

The sense of power that can come from having the authority to give oversight to others tempts some into leadership positions for wrong reasons. A power hungry man makes a lousy Elder for he lords his position over others. An Elder is a servant leading through example, not a ruler dictating the lives of others by command. His authority and power are strictly by the Scriptures and his ability to persuade others to submit to the Bible. Elders have no authority to tell the flock how to live beyond the commands, principles and precepts of the Scriptures, though the wise elders advice will be and should be sought on all manner of subjects. The Elder’s rule is that of a shepherd that sacrificially cares for his flock, not a hireling that exploits the flock for his own personal desires.

Peter is also clear here that a man should never be “button holed” into being an elder. If a man’s heart is not in doing the work of an elder then he will not do the work correctly. It will be done with either resentment or resignation, and both of those remove any eagerness to do the work. The church’s need for elders does not constitute a call to any particular individual that they must be an elder. It is a good work that he himself must desire to do (1 Tim. 3:1,2).

In the course of administration is also the elders responsibility to oversee the financial affairs of the church. Recall that I pointed out earlier that Saul & Barnabas brought the relief money from Antioch and gave it to the Elders of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:30). This gives some men the idea that they can gain financially by being an elder, but such greed makes them exploiters of the flock instead of care givers. 2 Peter 2:3 states that this is a mark of a false teacher.

2) Shepherd/feed the flock of God (Teach the Word). We already saw this in 1 Peter 5:1. Paul charged the Ephesian elders with the same responsibility – Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. The primary idea of the shepherding is feeding the flock, and as the flock is fed, it goes out to do the ministry. Through teaching and example the Pastor/teacher (Eph. 4:11) is to equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. Elders are to train the rest of the body to do the work of ministry in the church, not do it themselves. I am not paid to do the ministry. I am paid to teach you and to take care of some of the administration of the church so that you can go out and do the ministry

3) Settle matters of Doctrine & Church policy. When the church at Antioch had a doctrinal question they sought the counsel of the Elders at Jerusalem (Acts 15:2f). The elders need to be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). They are to know the scriptures well enough to settle the questions that arise about what the Bible teaches or how its principles apply to daily life.

4) Protecting the flock from false teachers

Paul gives many warnings about “wolves” and false teachers that arise from both within and without the flock, and he charges Elders to protect the flock of from them (Titus 1:8-11; Acts 20:28-30). Hebrews 13:17 adds, Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Elders must be vigilant to protect the flock from those that would exploit the flock and lead them astray. The influence of the world is great and there are many false teachers around that seek to entice people to follow after them. Just turn on TBN and you will find several of these kind of people on every day. Heretics and wolves that lure people by appealing to their baser interests. There are also those that rise up within the church that want their own little following. I have seen enough church splits in my life to give many first hand accounts of these type of people.

5) The Elders are to be proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3). They are to be marked by the characteristics of Christian maturity as expressed their qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 & Titus 1:5-9. The elder needs to be able to say like Paul does in Philippians 3:16, Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

There are some other miscellaneous responsibilities that belong to Elders, but those are the major ones.

Deacons

Now in mentioning Deacons earlier, I need to explain who they are since Paul also addresses this letter to the Deacons at Philippi.

In some churches the Deacons are given responsibilities and authority equivalent to Elders. That is particularly true of churches in which they believe there is to be only one Elder in the church, the Pastor. The Deacons then become an Executive Board to offset the power of the Pastor. Such separation of and competition between powers may be a decent model for business or even secular government, but it is not the model given to the church. The Biblical office of Deacon is not one of power, but of service.

The word here is *4″6@<@iH / diakonois, which literally refers to a table waiter (Jn 2:5,9; Luke 4:39; 10:40; John 12:2) and came to be used of other types of servants (John 12:26; Romans 13:3,4; Luke 22:27) in common usage. Paul uses the term many times in his writings to refer to spiritual service or servants. He uses the term to specifically refer to himself (Col 1:23,25), Tychicus (Eph 6:21), and Epaphras (Col 1:7). He also uses the term twice in reference to a church office. Once here in Phil. 1:1, and in 1 Timothy 3:8-12 in which he lists the qualifications for a Deacon.

Many people view Acts 6 as the establishment of Deacons, however, the noun for Deacon (diakonos / diakonos) does not occur in that passage, only the noun for serving (diakonia / diakonia). Even Hiscox’s guide to Baptist churches acknowledges that Acts 6 does not establish the Deacons, though it does define and part in the type of ministry deacons would perform in the church. In Acts 6 the apostles appoint seven men to assist them by carrying out a specific ministry on their behalf. The apostles did not yield their authority to these men, but rather they served on behalf of the apostles. In Acts 11 the relief money and supplies for the poor in Jerusalem in that were brought by Paul and Barnbabas were given to the Elders (vs 30). Deacons are not even mentioned in this passage, and neither are Deacons mentioned in Acts 15 as part of the Council of Jerusalem.

In 1 Timothy 3 the qualifications for deacons indicate mature men of God who serve as servants (vs 10) under the direction of the elders (overseers). If 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to Deaconesses, which I believe it does, their ministry is of the same nature as the Deacons. Both are offices of service and not power or authority except as given by the Elders in order for them to carry out whatever task has been assigned to them by the Elders.

Conclusions

Paul’s salutation gives us an idea of the structure of a mature church. The congregation is made up of saints who are striving to know, serve and walk with the Lord and holiness. They are overseen by leaders who meet certain qualifications of godliness and giftedness who administrate, teach, direct, protect and give godly example to the flock that the whole body may be built-up in Christ and serve Him. They are assisted by men and women who are servants of proving godly character. The message of Philippians is to every believer in the church.

Sermon Study Sheets

 KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times different church leaders are mentioned – Overseers, Elders, Pastors, Deacons Talk with your parents about these offices, qualifications & importance.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Why is it important to know who wrote Philippians and who it was specifically written to? What does Roman Catholicism teach about “saints”? Why is this doctrine Biblically wrong? What does the word “saint” actually mean? How does this term fit the true Christian? Are you a saint? Why or why not? What is the relationship between overseers/Bishops, Elders/presbyters, and Pastors/shepherds? Differences? Why should the mature church have a plurality of these men? How can GBC gain more Elders? How can you help? What are the qualifications of an Elder? Deacon? Are these qualifications beyond the reach of the average Christian man? Why or why not? If you are a man, how are you striving to meet these qualifications? What are the 5 major responsibilities of Elders? What is a *4″6@<@iH / diakonois? Are the 7 men in Acts 6 deacons? Why or why not? How do Elders and Deacons differ in qualifications and responsibilities? What role do Deacons and Deaconess have in the church?

Sermon Notes – February 15, 2004

Saints, Overseers & Deacons – Philippians 1:1

Introduction

Saints

Roman Catholic Theology

agioiH / hagios

Overseers

¦B\F6@B@iH (Episkopois)

BDgF$bJgD@iH / Presbuterois,

B@4µZ< / Poiman

Plurality

GBC & Elders

Elder Qualifications

1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3.

Elder Responsibilities

1) Give oversight to \ rule \ administrate the flock

2) Shepherd/feed the flock of God (Teach the Word).

3) Settle matters of Doctrine & Church policy

4) Protecting the flock from false teachers

5) The Elders are to be proving to be examples to the flock

Deacons

*4″6@<@iH / diakonois

Acts 6

1 Timothy 3:8-12


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