The Lord's Day Evening
December 4, 2011
“Called to Serving and Shepherding”
Acts 6:1-6; 1 Peter 5:1-4
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
As the children make their way to their classes, let me invite you to take your Bibles in hand and I'd like you to keep your bulletin close by as well and have it open to the section which is marked, “Guide to the Evening Service,” because during our mediation tonight I want to direct your attention to two things in that evening guide, one that you’ll find under the ordination of elders and one under the ordination of deacons. As you turn in your Bibles, let me ask you to turn first to John chapter 13 and just a couple of verses that I want to draw your attention to there in John 13 and then we're going to turn to 1 Peter chapter 5, a passage which we will also read out loud next Lord's Day Morning. And I will mention and read from Acts 6:1-6 as was noted in the bulletin tonight, but there's something in particular that I want to draw your attention to from John chapter 13.
Tonight is a very important and special occasion in the life of the church. We are ordaining and installing elders and deacons to serve and to shepherd this congregation. And every time we do that, every time we see a minister ordained, every time we see an elder ordained, every time we see a deacon ordained we are seeing a visible proof that the Lord Jesus Christ is reigning from the right hand of God the Father almighty in heaven because the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 4 that when the Lord Jesus ascended on high, He led captivity captive and He gave gifts to men, among them apostles, prophets, and pastor teachers. Now there are a lot of other things that Paul says in that passage, but what should catch all of our attention is that in the first group of lists that are given by Paul as to what Jesus has given the church are people. And those people are officers or servants or workers or shepherds or leaders for the church. So every time we see elders and deacons and ministers ordained we are literally seeing Jesus pour our His gifts on the church. Now that's a humbling thing for those of us who are being set apart for service but it is an encouraging thing for all of us as we see those gifts being given to the church. So this is a very significant thing in the life of the church tonight.
But I want to draw your attention to these two passages, first in John chapter 13 and before we read God's Word, let's pray.
Lord, we thank You for this time together in Your Word tonight. Encourage us in what we are about to learn about the work of deacons and elders. Encourage us to know better how to pray for them. Encourage us to know better how we ought to be thankful to You for them. Encourage us as to how we ought to encourage them and emulate their example. Teach us, O Lord, from Your Word. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.
In John chapter 13 you will remember one of the things that Jesus does is He washes His disciples’ feet and after washing His disciples’ feet He asks them a question and basically says, “Do you know what I've just done?” Look with me at John chapter 13 verse 12:
“When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
And then if you’d turn forward with me to 1 Peter chapter 5, Peter says:
“So I exhort the elders,” verse 1, “so I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts. Tonight, I want to give a two-point exhortation based on those two passages about what deacons are called to do and be and what elders are called to do and be because that passage in John 13 outlines perfectly what deacons are to model to our congregation and the passage in 1 Peter chapter 5 outlines perfectly what elders are to do and be in the congregation.
CALLED TO SHEPHERD
But before we get there, I want to go to other Scripture passages and some beautiful summations that we find in our Book of Church Order to remind us again what elders and deacons are to do and be. As you know, in the Presbyterian Church in America, we believe that the Bible teaches that there are two kinds of church officers — elders and deacons. The elders are jointly responsible for the government and the spiritual oversight of the church, including the teaching of the church. The Bible requires elders to watch over the flock. They are to shepherd. You heard that language in 1 Peter chapter 5, verses 1 to 4. They’re called to shepherd. Now what are the qualifications for elder? Well, they’re found in a couple of places, important places in your Bible; you may want to follow along. Turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 3. In verses 2 to 7, this is the qualification for the office of eldership that Paul records in his letter to Timothy.
1 Timothy 3 beginning in verse 2:
“Elders are to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one that manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity, but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God? And not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
And then if you’d turn forward with me to Titus chapter 1, in verses 6 through 9 Paul adds this:
“An elder must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sorted gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled; holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
So to summarize, the Bible specifies godly Christian character as one of the qualifications for an elder, family spiritual leadership as one of the qualifications for an elder, and an ability to teach the truth of God's Word. These are all part of the qualifications for those who are called to the eldership of the church.
Now what do elders do? Well, if you will look in your bulletins, the Book of Church Order gives a little synopsis of Bible teaching and it does it in large measure by looking at the words that are used to describe elders in the New Testament. Elders are called pastors, they’re called bishops, and they’re called elders, and each of those phrases are meant to describe activities or functions of the elders. And here's what our Book of Church Order says about that:
“Elders, this title is an office of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his various duties. As he has oversight of the flock of Christ he is termed a bishop or pastor. As it is his duty to be grave and prudent, an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he is termed a presbyter. As he expounds the Word and by sound doctrine exhorts and convinces the gainsayer, he is termed teacher…It belongs to the office of elder, both severally and jointly to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of doctrine or morals enters therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the church generally when calls thereunto. They should visit the people in their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples.”
And then listen. I love this phrase because this involves all of us here, no matter what our station is in the church:
“All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation.”
In other words, all of us, as believers, are called to pursue holiness, live a godly life, be a good example to one another, serve in the church, minister as God enables us, but elders have a special burden and charge and responsibility to do that, not just as all of us as private Christians may have, but under a divine called from God they are to exercise these things.
“And they are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.”
And so the qualifications for elder are laid out by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1 and then the Book of Church Order there has beautifully summarized the meaning of those different terms that are applied to elders to describe what they are to do. And we could summarize that by saying that they are called to shepherd the church. They’re called to shepherd the flock of God. To use the language of Acts chapter 20, they’re to shepherd the flock of God “which He has purchased by His own blood.” And of course that's the language that Peter picks up in 1 Peter chapter 5 and we’ll say something about that in a moment.
CALLED TO SERVE
But let me say a few words about the deacons as well. In addition to the office of the eldership the Lord has given us the office of the deacon and it too is an office to be held by godly men and those who hold this office are jointly responsible for leading in the mercy ministry of the church. The Book of Church Order puts it this way:
“The office of deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church. The office is one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in a time of need.”
And what are the Biblical qualifications for the deacon? Well, turn with me again to 1 Timothy chapter 3 and look at verses 8 to 10 and 12 and 13:
“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued or addicted to much wine or fond of sorted gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife and good managers of their children and their own household. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
Now deacons were first appointed in the church in the book of Acts, so turn with me now to Acts 6. I told you I would finally get to that passage. In Acts chapter 6, a problem had arisen in the church and the problem had to do with the aid that was being given to some of the widows in the congregation in Jerusalem. And the apostles determined that it would be wrong for them to neglect their job as elders, but that the ministry of mercy to those women was so important that that job could not be neglected. And so they appointed a different class of officers to deal with those matters of ministry of mercy to those widows in need in the congregation. And so here's what we read in Acts chapter 6:
“The twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.’ The statement found approval with the whole congregation and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles, and after praying they laid their hands on them.”
So we see here the elders devoting themselves especially to shepherding through the ministry of prayer and the Word. And it's interesting there that it's said in that order, isn't it — the ministry of prayer and the Word. By the way, one of the things that you probably miss is that your officers regularly spend as much time praying with one another as they spend transacting the business of the respective courts of the church. They take that very seriously. One of my favorite prayer meetings in the life of the church is the prayer meetings that I get to attend with your officers. They’re very important. But the elders here are devoting themselves to the ministry of prayer and the Word and the deacons are devoting themselves to the ministry of service. And so, if you’ll look at the description of the work of the deacon in that middle section on your guide, our Book of Church Order says this:
“The office of deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church.” And it goes on to add this: “It is the duty of deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, and to the friendless, and any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation.”
And so the Book of Church Order summarizes the obligations of the office of the deacon. Now what do those things have to do with John chapter 13 and with 1 Peter chapter 5? Two things, very quickly. When Jesus said to His disciples after washing their feet, “Do you realize what I have done to you?” He tells us explicitly that He was showing them, by His example, how He wanted them to serve and love one another. You remember later in that chapter what is He going to say? “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you.” Now of course the next day He was going to excel even the example that He had given of washing their feet by doing what? By dying for them. They’re to be so committed to serving one another they’re to serve one another to the death. Deacons are the office of the church that is to perpetually display before our congregation the service of Christ. They are to be the servants par excellence in the congregation moving all of us to serve. They’re to be generous in order to example and to move us to generosity. They’re to serve to move us to service in the congregation. They’re to be ministers of mercy so that as a congregation we’ll be a congregation characterized by acts of service and mercy. And when they’re doing that, whose example are they following? Jesus’. And whose example is being displayed again in the congregation? The example of Jesus. That's what John 13 is about.
The elders, on the other hand, are called to shepherd. You remember Peter's words? I exhort you to shepherd the flock of God. The deacons are called to serve; the elders are called to shepherd. The deacons are called to a ministry of serving; the elders are called to a ministry of shepherding. Shepherding to what end? So that we will know the Gospel, walk with God, and promote the Gospel in this world. So that we’ll know the Gospel, so that we’ll walk with God by grace according to the Gospel, and so that we will spread the Gospel in this world. The elders are constantly wanting to shepherd our souls in these things. And John and Acts remind us what deacons are called to do and Acts 20 and 1 Peter chapter 5 verses 1 to 4 remind us what elders are called to be and do. And here's the important thing. It is important, it is as important what these elders and deacons are as is what they do. What they are is as important as what they do. Deacons are to be servants. They’re not just to do specific tasks but in their character, their character is to be that of servants. Elders are to be shepherds and to be an example to the flock. Those words ought to, in both the case of deacons and elders, ought to really drive us to our knees, that we're to be examples before the flock. That's what the Scriptures say. That's what our Book of Church Order summarizes about the work of deacons and elders and that's what these men before you tonight are called to be and do.
May the Lord bless His word.
Now in just a few moments, I'm going to ask the elders of the church to come forward and we're going to ordain the elders and the deacons separately, recognizing the uniqueness to these office. Let me explain to you that in the Presbyterian Church in America the presbytery ordains ministers but the session of a local congregation ordains the elders and the deacons in that local congregation. And so the session tonight is going to be the body doing the ordination. When the elders come forward, I'm going to invite our ministers to join in with them, but really it's the elders who are doing the ordaining. And of course when we have presbytery doing ordination services the presbytery often has special guests of the commission and I'm going to invite our special guests of the commission to come forward with us when we ordain tonight. But I do want you to understand that it's your elders, just like you saw in Acts chapter 6, it's your elders that are actually setting apart both these new elders and these new deacons to serve in the congregation.