In Appreciation of Our Elders

"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor..." (1 Timothy 5:17). All too often we are inclined to think of the work of our elders as that of managing the money and of exercising oversight in matters of doctrine. These matters are extremely important. But oversight of the Lord's flock (1 Peter 5:2) includes much more than this. And since much of the labor of our elders is unseen except to those directly involved, it is seldom fully appreciated.

Much indeed has been written by very knowledgeable brethren about the responsibilities and work of our elders. But let us look at it from another perspective. Let us look at it from the perspective of one who has been the recipient of their love and oversight.

Following my baptism into Christ four years ago, I was closely questioned by our elders. This was done in privacy, and it was done in love. I was the widow of a denominational minister. Neither the elders nor the congregation had known me. The elders were exercising their God-given authority to see that no false doctrine be spread among the flock. This could not have been an easy task for them. I was a new babe in Christ. They had no way of knowing that I already believed in and respected their authority. Suppose I had resented their questions? Would I have drifted away from the true faith and been lost? Yet suppose I had come into the fold and then began spreading false doctrine? Would others have been lost? Think about it!

About a year ago a driver under the influence of alcohol hit the back of my motor scooter and I was thrown to the pavement. Besides suffering head and chest injuries and numerous broken bones, my spinal cord was severed, leaving me permanently paralyzed. The local hospital called our minister. Knowing I had no family, he called our elders. Within minutes three of our five elders were at the hospital. Of the other two, one was in a meeting and the other was out of town. They took care of all the details that ordinarily a family member would have had to handle.

Following my admission to a major hospital, one of the elders who is retired was selected to look out for my welfare. At the suggestion of the elders, I granted him power of attorney so that he could handle my personal affairs and also the mountain of paperwork involved in a major hospitalization of long duration. Since neither the driver nor I had adequate insurance, state and federal assistance was necessary. If one of your immediate family were in that situation, would you know what to do or where to go? Would YOU willingly take on that responsibility for another member of our Lord's family? They did!

Have you ever agonized over placing a family member in a nursing home, wondering what type of facility would be best for that person? Our elders accepted that responsibility for me. The easier way would have been to place me in a facility close to home and to have visited me occasionally. But they did not settle for the easy way. They examined all the options and selected that which seemed to best fit my needs, even though it was forty-five miles from home.

Since they were wise enough to select one with an outstanding physical therapy department, I now look forward to returning to independent living. Yet even the decisions regarding that return have not been easy ones for our elders. How do you tell someone who has their heart set on returning to their hometown that it is not yet in their best interest? How would you handle their heartbreak? Would you know what to do or what to say? Neither did they. Yet they handled the situation with love, understanding and patience.

But as important and difficult as looking after my physical well-being was, they had an even more important and difficult task to handle. They had to watch for my soul! Suppose I had become bitter and turned away from God? Or suppose I had become so depressed that I would not respond to therapy? Had I done so, would I have missed the mark that God had set for me? Would I have been lost? Think about it!

Our elders are selected according to Scriptural standards. Those standards are high. But our elders are only human. They have only human knowledge. They do make mistakes. Many times they do not know what to do. Yet on their shoulders rests the heaviest responsibility in this world -- the oversight of the flock of God. And possibly most of that oversight is not known except to those directly involved. Let us do as the Scriptures teach us and count our elders who rule well the flock of God worthy of double honor. TELL your elders that you love them! TEll THEM that you appreciate their labor!

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive