Christian Service in the Body of Christ
Servants of God
A Servant’s Heart
Women’s Role in Christian Service
How to Choose Elders
Holding Elders Accountable
The Ministry Gifts
Christian Service in the Body of Christ
We are the Body of Christ, redeemed from our sins by the Blood of the Lamb. Our purpose, the goal of our salvation, is to spread the good news to the rest of humanity.
2 Corinthians 5:17-20 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passes away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. NASB
As we see from 2 Corinthians, each individual who has been reconciled to God through Christ, has been given the ministry of reconciliation. This includes every Believer, not just the paid professionals. We all have been given the ministry of reaching our sphere of influence with the word of reconciliation. Our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, they all need to see Christ in our lives. If they don’t see Christ in us, they may never see Christ at all.
As individual members of the Body of Christ, we should each have a working connection with our head, who is Christ. When we are in communion with our Lord, he can direct our paths, speak through us, minister to those around us. Together with the other members of the Body, we can work together, helping each other, reaching out to this lost and dieing world. When we are in communication with our head, and working with the other members of our Body, we will grow, mature and strengthen one another in love.
Ephesians 4:15-16 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. NASB
Prayer, meditation and studying the scriptures are like the nervous system that carries the head’s directives to the individual body parts. As human babies, our nervous systems need to develop and our musculature needs to strengthen and mature before we can function properly. Likewise, as young Christians, we aren’t born with fully developed connectivity with Christ. Our new Christian lives more often look like the flailings of a newborn. It takes prayer, waiting on God and studying scripture to strengthen our communication with Christ, and develop our Christian service to God.
While it is important for each of us to strive for a more meaningful expression of Christ in our lives, we are not alone in our maturation. We each have something to add to one another’s lives, and every brother and sister in the Lord has something to offer us. To paraphrase Ephesians 4:15-16, Christ, our head, holds the whole body together by what each individual supplies to the others. When each of us are working properly, we grow together as the Body of Christ, building ourselves up in God’s love.
To this end, Christ Himself gave gifts to men, for the use of the Body of Christ, to help it develop and mature.
Ephesians 4:11-13 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the fullness of Christ. NASB
For the Body of Christ to function properly, be healthy and grow, it helps if each individual understands the scriptural foundations for the Body’s structure. The early church spontaneously developed a structure to self-regulate the Body of Christ; provide support, inspiration, education, correction, and when needed, punishment. This structure allowed the Body of Christ to remain healthy and continue to grow in truth and holiness. Problems cropped up, as they will whenever humans are involved, but they were dealt with and the church continued to grow. This self-regulating structure of the early church was overseen by the original apostles. They were involved with the workings of the Body of Christ on a daily basis. The importance of the original apostolic church structure can’t be over-emphasized. It is important to study and understand the workings of the church in it’s origins.
Servants of God
God seeks out qualities and qualifications in His servants that make them unique for their specific ministry. If we understand something of what God looks for, we will know what to look for ourselves. It will help to look at some examples of God’s servants from the scriptures.
Prophetess Deborah, Judge of Israel
Judges 4:4-5 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at the time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Berthel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. NASB
Deborah was a prophetess who became Judge of Israel. Nothing is said either of her qualifications as a prophetess, nor her qualifications to act as Judge of God’s people. It can only be assumed God appointed her, since He chose to entrust her with the ability to speak on God’s behalf. One thing is clear from Deborah’s actions, she sought to please God rather than serve herself. The scriptural record of her service as prophetess and Judge reveals no personal indulgences. Deborah didn’t use her position or influence for personal gain or glory. She served God without bringing shame on herself or her Lord.
God’s choice of David as King brings out a key requirement in God’s servants. God sends Samuel to Jesse’s house to anoint the new King. Samuel supposes Jesse’s tall son Eliab was God’s choice, but God speaks to Samuel’s heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” NASB
Instead of tall Eliab, God chooses the youngest son, David. While David served God’s purposes as King, he also had his share of problems. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, even though Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, is named among David’s 30 mightiest warriors. When Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s child, he concocted a plan to hide his sin. When David’s plans fail, he has Uriah killed. But, when God sent Nathan to rebuke David, David repented before the Lord. Because of David’s repentant heart, God spared his life and allowed him to remain King. Though David wanted to build a house for God, the Lord would not allow it because David was a man of war who had shed blood. While David made several severe mistakes in his service to God, he was always quick with heartfelt repentance. Though flawed, King David is honored in the New Testament.
Acts 13:22 “After He (God) had removed him, (King Saul) He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’ NASB
While God judged and condemned David’s poor choices, God didn’t forsake David. David’s heart belonged to the Lord even though he made selfish and destructive decisions. In the end, God judged David according to David’s heart, not his mistakes.
After Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple in Jerusalem to be consecrated according to the Law. They were met there by Simeon, a righteous and devout man. God had told Simeon he wouldn’t see death before God had revealed the Messiah to him. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Simeon and he took Jesus in his arms and spoke God’s blessing over the child. Then Simeon prophesied to Mary of the things to come. Then came the prophetess Anna.
Luke 2:36-38 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. NASB
Here you have Anna. As a young woman, she suffered the tragic loss of her husband after only seven years of marriage. She could have become bitter, she could have remarried and tried to raise a family. Instead, she dedicates herself to the service of God. Day and night, with fastings and prayers, she seeks God for well over half a century. She doesn’t seek recognition or the praise of men, but rather, never leaves the temple, devoting herself to the service of God. God honors her service by introducing her to the Savior of the World and recording her name and dedication in the Holy Scriptures. What better endorsement could a servant of God receive?
These three servants of God are examples of what our Lord is looking for in His servants. Deborah and Anna exhibit selfless service that denies self and exalts God. David shows us that God doesn’t judge a servant by their outward appearances, or even their poor choices, but according to the hidden heart. And together, these examples show us something else about the heart of God towards His servants; He doesn’t choose servants according to social standing or reproductive equipment. That’s right, God doesn’t discriminate between male or female.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. NASB
As Believers, we are all one in Christ Jesus. God does not differentiate between us for any social, economical or reproductive reason. God is interested in our hearts. God is looking for hearts dedicated to Him. When He finds a heart that belongs to Him, the rest of the person comes with it.
A Servant’s Heart
Serving God is a tricky proposition. Because we are human, with all of our human frailties, we have to pay close attention to our heart’s attitudes. This is particularly true of men. Men are uniquely wired as doers, over-comers, conquerors, builders, warriors. It is in the nature of most men to achieve and dominate in some aspect of their lives. Men derive a great deal of their self-worth from what they are able to accomplish and the amount of money they can make doing it. While this motivates men to improve their provision for their families, it also works against them in their service to God.
As servants of God, men have a tendency to bring their personal ambitions along with them. They want to have a big congregation with a fine church building, a large ministry, be well known for their oratory, be well paid for their efforts, be esteemed for their godly wisdom. But it is the heart attitude of God’s servant that dictates the eternal value of their service.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. NASB
Notice two types of building materials can be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Some building materials are precious in the sight of God and have eternal value, others aren’t. Each individual can have selfless motivation and build with gold, silver and precious stones to the glory of God. They can also construct a monument to their own ambitions out of wood, hay and stubble. Both are built using a relationship with Christ as the foundational work. Both can look magnificent to the eye, because the scripture says the workmanship isn’t evident until tested by fire. But only what is done out of pure motives will endure for eternity. Everything done out of self-motivation is a waste of time. It may look grand; there may be some gold and silver trim with some pretty stones for decoration, but it will all crumble when tested by flames.
It is difficult, especially for men, to lay down their pride. Often, when God moves in mighty ways, men think it was because of what they did. If what they did was get out of the way and let God work through their yielded lives, then they are right. But the resulting move of God wasn’t because of what the servant did, but what God did in spite of the servant. It’s a catch 22 for a man of God. What we accomplish is wood, hay and stubble. What God accomplishes because we yield to Him is gold, silver and precious stones. So, if something of eternal value is accomplished through our service to God, it’s only because we didn’t do it! If a servant of God doesn’t humble themselves, crucify their pride and lay down their wills, it is difficult to accomplish anything of eternal significance.
This is why the heart attitude of God’s servants is so important. But how can we know another’s heart? We can’t really. Only God can truly know a person’s heart. But God knows our hearts better than we know our own. Luckily for us, God tells us what our hearts’ attitudes should be, so we can judge ourselves. Anyone who desires to be a servant of God must take these scriptures to heart.
Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever whishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” NASB
Matthew 23:8-12 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. NASB
Why is Jesus so specific about his followers avoiding labels? The very nature of labeling is exclusionary. Once a servant begins calling themselves a “Teacher”, they begin to think of themselves as a “Teacher”. Everyone else, if they accept the labeling of “Teacher”, must begin thinking of themselves as “Students”. The title begins to erode the servant’s heart. It becomes difficult to maintain a servant’s attitude of subservience, when everyone else is viewed as subordinate “Students”. Those who aren’t given a title of “Teacher” or “Leader” either resent being labeled as “Students” or “Followers”, or begin to think and act as if they are only “Students” or “Followers”. While all the time, the reality is, we are all on the same level in Jesus’ eyes, brothers and sisters.
We are warned not to call anyone on earth our “Father”. The title of “Father” carries with it authority. Yet, God alone reserves for Himself authority over His children. When we put-off God’s authority over our lives, and substitute instead a flawed human as our “Father”, we offend God and leave ourselves open to abuse. It is a dangerous position for a child of God to be in.
We are told not to call ourselves “Leaders”, for each of us should look to Jesus Christ for our leadership. When a servant of God takes on the title of “Leader” the corrosive effect of labeling immediately begins to eat away at the servant’s heart. Everyone else falls into the category of “Follower”, yet we are told to be followers of Christ. Paul tells Believers to imitate himself, but only as an example of how he imitates Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. NASB
Paul led by example, not by authority, although he certainly had authority to speak on God’s behalf. Even when the term “led” is used, it isn’t used in an authoritative sense, but as an example.
Hebrews 13:7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and consider the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. NASB
The danger of God’s servants labeling themselves as “Leaders” is illustrated in Jesus comments to His disciples about God’s servants, the Pharisees.
Matthew 15:14 “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” NASB
Likewise, Peter reinforced the principle that God’s servants within the Body of Christ shouldn’t impose authority over the congregation, but be a living example of God’s grace.
1 Peter 5:2-3 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. NASB
The word used here as lording, is translated from the Greek word, katakurieuo; control. Anyone who aspires to oversee the Body of Christ; to give their lives for, and care for the Body’s needs, as a servant and slave, desires a good vocation. Anyone who desires a position of authority within the church possesses wrong motivation and is building with wood, hay and stubble. Even the labels of “servant” and “slave” can be corrosive when used with a false sense of humility. However, words do mean things. If someone calls themselves a “servant” or “slave”, they and everyone else, are more likely to think of them that way. It’s “servants” and “slaves” the Body of Christ needs to grow and mature.
Let’s look at the Biblical references to the service of “overseers” within the Body of Christ. An “overseer” is a term used to identify servants of God who work for the spiritual benefit and oversight of the Body of Christ. The term is often translated as Bishop, but the Biblical use of the term doesn’t mean what Bishop means today. It comes from the Greek word, episkopos, a superintendent, that is, Christian officer in general charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively): - bishop, overseer (Strong’s Concordance definition). An overseer can be an apostle, elder, shepherd, minister, deacon, steward, servant or slave. All of these servant positions have been entrusted with spiritual oversight for the wellbeing of the Body of Christ in varying degrees. We will look at a few of the specific uses of the word “overseer/s” as used in the Scriptures.
In Acts, The remaining 11 disciples are looking for a replacement for Judas Iscariot. They quote from the Old Testament.
Acts 1:20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it’; and, Let another man take his office.” NASB
The word translated “office” is translated from the original Greek word episkope. It refers to the office of overseer or bishoprick. So, Judas would have been an overseer, and by inclusion, the other apostles would have been overseers as well.
Titus 1:5-9 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely; if any man is 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 Gods’ steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid 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. NASB
In this passage from Titus, elders are referred to as “overseers” and God’s stewards. Qualifications are given as guidelines for choosing individuals for the position of elder. We will look at those more closely in a minute.
1 Peter 2:25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. NASB
In 1 Peter, a reference is made to Jesus as the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. The word “Guardian”, is from the Greek, episkopos, which is the noun “overseer”. So here, Jesus is referred to as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. There are many other instances of the derivatives of episkope being used to indicate spiritual oversight of the Body of Christ, but these examples are indicative of how the word is used.
The term elder is derived from the Greek word presbuteros, meaning; a senior; specifically an Israelite Sanhedrist, or Christian “presbyter” or elder. We will only be dealing with the Christian term, which is used to identify a relatively more spiritually mature and experienced Believer. Scripture spells out some specific qualities to look for in someone to serve as an elder within the Body of Christ. These qualifications were just covered in Titus 1:5-9, so we will review them.
The individual must be above reproach. The husband of one wife. This was important in the early church, when having multiple wives was a socially accepted practice among the Jews. (I will point out here, for future reference, it was never a socially acceptable practice among the Jews for a woman to have multiple husbands.) The candidate should have children who are Believers. The individual must not be accused of dissipation, (through drug or alcohol abuse), or rebellion. It goes on to say, that an elder, as an overseer of God’s children, and a steward of God’s affairs, must not be self-willed, quick-tempered, addicted to wine, one given to argument, greedy, but instead, should be hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful Word according to the apostles’ teaching, so they will be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict what was taught by the apostles.
Keep in mind while reading these requirements, these people once dwelt in darkness; operating according to their own lusts and desires, enemies of God. But now, having received grace, they have become children of light, new creations in Christ, adopted children and heirs of the glory of God. Not one of these people would have qualified as elders before they were redeemed by the blood of The Lamb. Not one of us would either. But qualification for God’s service isn’t based on our mistakes or history, but on our hearts.
Elders served a wide variety of functions and not all elders had the same gifts or functions within the Body.
1 Timothy 5:17-18 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” NASB
The word translated “rule” in this passage comes from the Greek word proistemi. Proistemi translates as; to practice, maintain. So we see the elder is to practice the ministry to, and maintain the wellbeing of, the congregation. We see from this passage that if an elder is a good servant and especially if they work hard at preaching and teaching, they should be considered worthy of double honor. From this we can infer not all elders will serve their congregation well. We can also safely assume not all elders will preach or teach. However, it is reasonable to assume any elder, by merit of their experience and maturity, would be able to both preach and teach when called upon and defend the principles of the faith.
1 Peter 5:1-4 Therefore, 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, 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. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. NASB
Peter exhorts the elders among the Body of Christ to shepherd the flock of God. The Greek word here is poimaino. It means; to tend to as a shepherd, to feed. It is no coincidence Peter’s words to the elders echo Christ’s words to Peter in the Gospel of John. After Jesus was raised from among the dead, he ate breakfast with the disciples on the beach.
John 21:15-17 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know That I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” NASB
Jesus used the same Greek word, poimaino, when instructing Peter to tend and shepherd His own flock. Peter passes on this directive to the elders to tend, to shepherd, to feed the flock of God among them. These activities are among the responsibilities of God’s servants, the elders of the church.
The elders were also responsible in part in settling disputes, both natural and spiritual, within the Body of Christ. When a debate arose over circumcision, and couldn’t be settled, it was brought before the apostles and elders.
Acts 15:2 & 6 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue…The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. NASB
In this next passage of scripture, James, the brother of Jesus, affirms the elders responsibility for praying for the sick.
James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. NASB
Notice, the elders cannot heal the sick. The elders’ responsibility is to pray in faith in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord Himself will raise him up, and if he has committed any sins, will forgive them. Elders are just servants of God.
Deacons are also mentioned in scripture as overseers of God’s flocks. Our term comes from the Greek word diakonos; an attendant, that is, a waiter at table or in other menial duties; specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess); - deacon, minister, servant (Strong’s definition). Deacons also have to meet specific requirements as God’s servants. They parallel the requirements to serve as elders.
1Timothy 3:7-13 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid 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. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 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. NASB
To be considered for the service of a deacon, a person must be dignified, honest, not an alcoholic, not greedy, but embracing the mystery of the faith without doubt or reservation. These persons must first be approved, then allowed to serve if they are beyond reproach. Women who would serve as deaconesses, must likewise be dignified, not bearing false rumors, watchful, faithful in all things. Male candidates must be the husband of only one wife, (again, women weren’t allowed to have multiple husbands, so it need not be addressed), and good managers of their children and their own homes.
1 Peter 4:10-11 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. NASB
In this passage from Peter, the underlined words “serving” and “serves” both come from the Greek diakoneo; to act as a Christian deacon. Jesus used the word diakonos; a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess): - deacon, minister, servant, when he addressed his disciples in Matthew.
Matthew 20:26 ... but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant… NASB
The same word, diakonos, is used in Romans when Paul commends the deaconess Phoebe from the church at Cenchrea.
Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. NASB
As with elders, the roles of the deacons vary, depending on God’s purpose for each servant. Some serve as waiters or attendants, and/or, as teachers and pastors, but all are subservient to the needs of the Body of Christ.
Women’s Roles in Christian Service
Perhaps this is as good as anyplace to address the role of women in positions of service within the Body of Christ. The painful truth is, the modern church in America wouldn’t exist without the willingness of Christian sisters to shoulder the load. It is most often the women who do the heavy lifting of making things happen in a church. This doesn’t reflect well on Christian men, but is most likely the result of a modern church structure that doesn’t afford brothers an opportunity to have any meaningful role in the function of the church. Men, who have been neutered by a power structure that strips them of any real spiritual responsibilities, have little interest in playing the role of eunuch. While they may love God and want to serve Him, they have little interest in playing church. So, it’s often the sisters who end up filling the menial positions of service.
Since before King James I of England abolished the death penalty for translating the Bible into English, around 1600AD, there has been a presumed inadequacy with women, preventing them from holding positions of authority within the church. This is commonly thought to stem from the notion that women are inherently inferior to men, or, the social structure of ancient Israel discriminated against women. After studying the scriptures, I have come to believe it has more to do with the attitudes about women as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages.
In ancient Israel, women held positions of honor and authority. Women weren’t barred from service to God. We saw earlier Deborah was both a prophetess and Judge of Israel. Anna was a prophetess and served in the temple night and day. Queen Ester was used by God to deliver God’s people from its enemies. Jael, wife of Heber, killed Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army and delivered Israel. Psalms 31:10-31 is dedicated to the excellent wife who works hard, conducts commerce, buys property, plants vineyards and teaches kindness. There were certainly social obstacles to being a woman in ancient Israel, but women were protected and honored by the law and not barred from service to God.
The problem begins after 476AD, when power and wealth began to be consolidated within the Catholic Church. The name “Catholic”, simply means, “universal”. Under the growing rule of the Catholic Church, translation of the Bible into common languages was outlawed. The Church insisted the uneducated masses were simply too ignorant to understand spiritual truth. Instead, Church leadership would tell the masses what they should know and do. The ruling hierarchy of the Church was developed, insuring control of the vast wealth being amassed. Understandably, this corruption in the name of God was resisted by true Believers. However, the Catholic Church insisted their authority came from God. Anyone who dissented was labeled a heretic. The Inquisition was instituted to silence opposition to the Catholic Church. Under the Inquisition, anyone who spoke out against the Church was imprisoned, tortured and often executed.
To consolidate even more wealth within the structure of the Church, the Pope authorized Papal Indulgences. The masses were told, (without access to scripture to know it was a lie), for a sum of money they could buy the souls of loved ones and friends from purgatory after death. Various deceptive schemes were concocted by the Church to wring money from the masses. Without the Word of God to resist the lies, the world was plunged into darkness. Eventually, around 1000AD, enough resistance had formed from those with education and access to ancient scriptures, that even the Inquisition wasn’t able to kill dissenters fast enough. This brought about the Reformation. Martin Luther spearheaded the movement in Germany. His translation of the Scriptures into German was influential when the English “Authorized Version” was published. For his efforts, Luther was excommunicated by the Pope and outlawed by Emperor Charles V and ordered arrested to stand trial for heresy. King James I of England survived at least three assassination attempts by the Catholic Church for his role in bringing the Holy Bible back to the masses.
While this is fascinating history, you might wonder what any of this has to do with the role of women in service to the Body of Christ. I’m about to get to that. For the Catholic Church to consolidate power, and fend off dissention, rigid authoritarian structures had to be emplaced. Gone were Jesus’ and the apostle’s teachings of servants and slaves. In its place was the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Leadership within the church became a rigid top-down power structure that didn’t allow for dissent. As you can see from the scriptures, this was completely contrary to the apostle’s teaching of humble service. While the Reformation went a long way towards bringing the word of God back to the people, it retained the authoritarian power structure of the Catholic Church.
During the Dark Ages, the authoritarian rule of the Catholic Church infiltrated every aspect of society. It was like a cancer that spread throughout. With little resistance, men, who were stronger and more aggressive, exercised an exaggerated authority over women. Adults, who were stronger than their children, sold their own offspring into slavery to strangers. It was a time when everything that was good and decent struggled for enough light to survive. With the Reformation, light did return, but change returned more slowly. The very social disorders brought on by the authoritarian rule of the Church still held sway in the hearts of society. So, when the Scriptures were translated into English, these distorted social norms were translated into the Bible. Here is an example.
In 1 Timothy 3:7-13, the words diakoneo and diakonos are translated into “deacons” four times. In Romans 16:1-2, the same word, diakonos, is interpreted as “servant”. What is the difference between these two passages of scripture? In one, the word is translated as “deacons” and in the other it is interpreted as “servant”. It’s simple. Even 400 years later, we are still struggling against the effects of the Dark Ages. Today, church structure still rules from the top-down. Society still attempt to minimalize women and consolidate authority behind the dominate male. You see, in 1 Timothy 3:7-13 the translation attempts to limit “deacons” specifically to men, while Romans 16:1-2 calls the woman Phoebe a “deacon”, only it’s not translated that way. It is an embarrassing double standard.
It is certain, in an attempt to defend women’s position as inferior to men,1 Timothy 2:12 will come up. Believe me, I have dissected this scripture every way I could to try to prove it didn’t mean what it says. Let’s take a look at it.
1 Timothy 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. NASB
My best translation from the Greek is a little hard to read, but it goes like this:
Moreover, allow not a woman to teach, neither dominate man, notwithstanding, to exist among desistance from bustle or language.
Now, if I had to paraphrase that to make it more sensible for today’s audience, I would say: Also, never allow a woman to teach or dominate a man, but to live without empty distractions and excessive chatter.
What bearing does this passage have on a woman’s ability as God’s servant? How does it affect a woman’s ministry to the Body of Christ? First off, the scriptures tell all of us not to dominate one another. Matthew 20:25-28, 1 Peter 5:1-7, Matthew 23:8-12. In each of these verses the original language tells servants of God not to “dominate” anyone. Furthermore, in the latter part of 1 Peter 5:1-7, everyone is told to, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. NASB
So, if a woman or a man is a trustworthy servant of God, they won’t be dominating anyone. We all should live without empty distractions and excessive chatter, though I enjoy a good Western as much as the next guy, and everyone knows how much I like to talk. This leaves the instruction not to allow a woman to teach a man. I wish I could find a way around this one. I have learned a great deal from both my mother and my wife, not to mention the many wise teachers I’ve had in school and life. I realize how much I’ve learned from the women. But, I can’t find any loophole. There must be some spiritual reason it isn’t a good idea for women to teach men. I would assume 1 Timothy 2:12 refers to a woman teaching men spiritual truths in a formal setting. I guess I can live with that.
So again, what bearing does that have on a woman’s ability as God’s servant to minister to the Body of Christ? As far as I can see, none, as long as she isn’t teaching or dominating men. I couldn’t find any specific reference to female elders in the New Testament, but I did find reference to female prophets. There was Anna of course, then, in Acts 2:17, we are told our sons and daughters will prophesy. In Acts 21:9, Philip’s four daughters prophesied. And of course, in Romans 16:1-2, we have the deaconess, Phoebe, serving the church at Cenchrea.
Since God doesn’t discriminate between male or female, all of us being one in Christ; and since God has chosen women as prophetess’s and Judges, as well as deaconess’s, I can find no scriptural reason to keep a woman from filling a service position of elder, as long as she doesn’t teach or dominate men. Remember, not all elders or deacons have the same ministry. Each one is gifted for their role within the Body of Christ. If anyone has a disagreement with this, it should be taken up in a Bible study group.
I feel it is necessary to add this footnote to this chapter. I have no animas towards Catholics, the Catholic Church, or the leadership of the Catholic Church. What I have relayed here is historical fact, not an attack on Catholicism. Whenever humans are involved in anything, it gets messy. Humans are imperfect. They mess things up, even their relationship with God. I can’t think of any “religious” organization that isn’t flawed by the influence of the humans who run it. That’s just the way it is.
There are true Believers within the leadership of the Catholic Church, and true Believers attending the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has done many things to improve the quality of life, and spread eternal life, during it’s history. Just because mistakes have been made along the way does not mean the whole organization has no eternal value. It just means the humans running it are imperfect.
How to Choose Elders
Who then, male or female, is qualified to serve the Body of Christ as an elder? It begins with the heart. A person who has the humble heart of a servant will exhibit many of the traits layed out in scripture for an elder. Without a servant’s heart, the position of elder within the Body of Christ becomes a position of power rather than service. We have seen in scripture that God opposes the proud but exalts the humble. So, a candidate for elder has a servants heart and meets the requirements listed in the scriptures. Keep in mind; nobody is perfect.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. NASB
John 8:7b “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone…” NASB
Having identified those who have a servant’s heart and meet the qualifications for the service position of elder, how are elders installed within the Body of Christ? In the early days of the church, the Apostles found themselves overwhelmed with the requirements of maintaining the growing Body of Christ. Their solution: turn to the congregation for help.
Acts 6:1-7 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So 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, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priest were becoming obedient to the faith. NASB
These first seven servants were the first of the diakoneo, what we call deacons today. The apostles gave the congregation sparse instructions on qualifications for service for these first deacons. The young church was equal to the task however, and with prayer and under the oversight of the apostles, the servants they chose allowed the church to continue to grow. Two of these first deacons went on in greater service to God. Stephen became the first martyr after preaching up a storm, and Philip became an evangelist.
This account doesn’t tell us how the congregation chose the first deacons, but it set a precedent for the congregation choosing servants to minister to the Body of Christ. There are other instances in scripture where the congregation helped make choices. When trouble over whether or not to circumcise Gentile converts to Christianity arose, James made a judgment. He settled the matter by saying new Gentile converts didn’t have to be circumcised. Having made this judgment, it was decided the judgment would be sent in a letter to other churches. But they had to choose men to go along with the letters.
Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, NASB
Here again we see the apostles and elders, drawing on the whole church to choose men to send to Antioch. Again, there is no indication how the men were chosen, other than by the apostles, elders and the whole church. In this next passage, the congregation is again choosing a brother, this time to accompany an offering being sent to the distressed Believers in Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 8:18-19 We have sent along with him the brother (most likely Luke, but could possibly have been Barnabas), whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness,… NASB
In this passage of scripture the word interpreted as “appointed” comes from the Greek word, cheirotoneo; to be a hand reacher or voter (by raising the hand), that is, (genitive) to select or appoint: - choose, ordain (Strong’s definition). This definition of cheirotoneo as; voting by raising the hand, is supported by all the Greek scholars. There is no scriptural or translational reason for cheirotoneo to be interpreted as “appointed” rather than translated as “voted on”. Knowing the original Greek word does, however, give us an indication of how the individual was selected in this instance. If not by the actual voting by raising the hand, it was at the very least an act of consensus on the part of the churches involved. And, here again, the congregation has been allowed to make the decision.
With that in mind, I will offer another scripture that deals specifically with electing elders. In this instance, Paul and Barnabas had passed through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, preaching the Gospel. On their return, they passed back through these towns, visiting the congregations of Believers who had sprouted up there.
Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. NASB
Here again, you find the word cheirotoneo. Here again, it is interpreted as “appointed” rather than by it’s translation “voting by raising the hand”. It is amazing that 400 years after the Reformation, the distorted perception of the church as a top-down power structure, causes Bible translators to “interpret” scripture rather than “translate” scripture. Regardless of this glitch in interpretation, it remains that the church selected elders for themselves by voting in each of these churches. They did it with fasting and prayer, and commended their choices to the Lord, believing His will was served.
What is the importance of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas establishing the practice of congregations voting for their elders? The Apostles certainly had the authority to appoint elders themselves. To understand the significance of this, we need to look at another instance where the word “appointed” was used.
Acts 20:13 And we went ahead to the ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul; for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. KJV
Here the Greek word is diatasso, meaning; arranged thoroughly.
If the intentions of Paul and Barnabas were to “appoint”, diatasso, arrange thoroughly, elders; why did they “appoint”, cheiroteneo, voting by raising of hands, elders? The answer is in the need of the churches. Paul and Barnabas were establishing churches to function on their own. If the apostles intended to return every few years and reappoint or replace elders, they would have diatasso(ed) elders. However, by “appointing”, cheiroteneo, voting for, elders; Paul and Barnabas left the churches with the pattern for maintaining themselves. In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the churches were given the qualifications they should look for in candidates to serve as elders. The apostolic instituted practice of congregational voting for elders, along with the apostolic qualifications for elders, equipped the churches for their self-perpetuation under the oversight of elders. The Bible records no return trips by the apostles to reappoint elders in any of the churches.
Holding Elders Accountable
Once elders are selected and commended to the Lord, they must remain accountable to the congregation. Without accountability, it is far too easy for human nature to creep into the works. We have already seen from scripture, that all elders don’t necessarily rule well. How can a congregation protect itself and the elders, from abuses or misguidance? The Scriptures give us guidelines.
1 Timothy 5:1-5 Do not sharply rebuke an older man, (elder) but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity. NASB
Here, the Apostle Paul is giving Timothy personal instructions, but they are applicable to us as well. The words “older man” are the same word in Greek used for “elders”. Whether Paul was speaking to Timothy about how to rebuke an “elder” or just an “older man”, I believe the approach should be the same.
1 Timothy 5:19-21 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. NASB
Baseless accusations aren’t to be entertained, but a complaint lodged by two or three individuals warrants investigation. With the other elders, go to the elder in question and confront the problem. If it has merit, rebuke the elder as you would a father or mother. If they don’t repent, but continue in sin, bring the offence before the whole congregation. If that doesn’t work, I would recommend following Jesus’ advice.
Matthew 15:15-17 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” NASB
With this background education, I believe any church would be well prepared to fast and pray and select elders to serve the Body of Christ.
The Ministry Gifts
When Jesus ascended above the heavens, so that he might fill all things, he gave gifts to men. The following passage from Ephesians may well be one of the clearest expressions of God’s plan for His children. In it, the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, outlines how it’s all suppose to work. In Chapter 4, verse 8 of Ephesians, we are told Jesus gave gifts to men, but the original Greek word, anthropos, carries the meaning, certain individuals. We are told what these gifts are, in verse 11.
Ephesians 4:11-16 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. NASB
Jesus gave certain individuals gifts; some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers. These are commonly called the “ministry gifts” because those receiving this grace from the Master are intended to “minister” to, or “serve as slaves”, the Body of Christ. It is a two-fold gift from Jesus. By the grace at work through Christ, individuals receive from Jesus specific assignments to serve the Body of Christ. These individuals, if they allow this gift of grace to operate in their lives, become gifts themselves; pouring their lives out in service to their Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.
The purpose for Christ’s gifts isn’t to institute “rulers” within the Body of Christ, but to provide “slaves” to minister to the spiritual needs of Believers. We are told in this passage from Ephesians, these gifted individuals are to: equip the Body of Christ for the work of service to God, to build up the Body of Christ to the point where every member attains the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming spiritually mature and attaining the fullness of Christ. That is a tall order and it is obvious the Body of Christ hasn’t attained these standards yet. But, the result of the ministry gifts building up the Body of Christ would be: that the Believers are no longer spiritually immature children falling for every new false doctrine, being deceived by the trickery of carnal men, being taken in by craftiness and deceitful scheming and money making plans. But that we would always be speaking the truth in love to those around us, and that we would grow up in every aspect of our conduct to be like Christ our Lord, and that the Body of Christ would be held together by our mutual nurturing of one another according to God’s grace at work in each of us for the benefit of all; causing the Body of Christ to mature and work effectively in this present age, to impact the lives of the lost and bring them to reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus.
That’s a mouthful, but it’s a snapshot of what God intends for our lives. To bring the Body of Christ to this ultimate expression of Christ in our lives, He has given us the ministry gifts. Not to lord over the church, but to give themselves a living sacrifice for the growth of the church.
In an ideal situation, each of these ministry gifts would be operating within each body of Believers. This would provide a well-rounded ministry to uniformly build up the congregation. And again, in an ideal situation, these ministry gifts would most likely be among the elders serving the body of Believers. However, it has been over a thousand years since the ministry gifts functioned within the Body of Christ as Jesus had intended. The church has grown anemic and week from spiritual malnutrition and inactivity. For the ministry gifts to again work within congregations as outlined in Ephesians 4, will take a great deal of re-education. Let’s start with a brief outline of the functions of the ministry gifts.
In the Greek, apostolos, means: a delegate, an ambassador, one who is sent. The Bible specifically talks about the original 12 disciples or apostles. When Matthias was chosen by the remaining 11 disciples to replace Judas, there were specific criteria to be met to be counted among the “12”. Peter specifically said in Acts 1:21-22 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” NIV Matthias and Joseph met that criteria. Matthias was selected by casting lots for the position and the Bible says he was added to the eleven apostles.
Later, Paul refers to himself as an apostle.
1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, NIV
Paul didn’t meet Peter’s criteria for being counted among the “12” apostles, but he met God’s criteria as being, a divinely-summoned and divinely-appointed ambassador belonging to Christ Jesus, (taken from 1 Corinthians 1:1, WUEST translation). In Acts, Barnabas is included as an apostle along with Paul.
Acts 14:14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd,… NIV
So we see there were two distinct groups of apostles, those who were the original “12” apostles, plus Matthias who was added to replace Judas; and all other apostles, who were placed within the Body of Christ as Spirit appointed ambassadors of Christ.
In function, the apostles of the New Testament were closer to our present day missionary. The apostles established congregations in areas where the gospel hadn’t been preached. The immediate mission field was Jerusalem. But as Believers saturated the area, the apostles spread into surrounding areas, and eventually roamed to all the known world. Going into areas without established Believers, the apostles had to function effectively in all of the areas of spiritual need.
Prophets are mentioned as being appointed by Jesus to minister to the Body of Christ. In Greek, prophetes, means; a foreteller, an inspired speaker. Even in the Body of Christ there is a misunderstanding about the office of God’s prophets. Many imagine them to be fortune tellers or mystics. The plain truth of the matter is they are people with desires just like us. Yet, by God’s grace and appointment, they are able to yield themselves to God and speak inspired truths to help guide and build up the Body of Christ. In the days when the Old and New Testaments were being written, most prophets weren’t recognized as God’s inspired speakers. In fact, most prophets were rejected, tortured, imprisoned, or killed by religious leaders. The prophet’s message was often unpopular. The prophet’s inspiration is given by God and cannot function on demand or yield to popular opinion. For this reason, most of today’s prophets are ignored, unrecognized, or rejected.
This is as it should be. But it has lead many truly appointed, (though immature or prideful), prophets to proclaim themselves to be prophets. This is detrimental to the purpose, function, and value of these individuals to God’s work. Once an individual has succumbed to the temptation to draw attention to themselves, they become more susceptible to seducing spirits, often yielding to worthless spirits, all the time believing it is God manifesting Himself through them.
We all have the commission from Christ to be living examples of our faith in Christ. We are told to be the “light” in this darkened world, to be “salt” to preserve this world from decay. But, in the Greek text, the evangelist is specifically appointed to be a “bringer of the good news”. We think of an evangelist as someone who takes the gospel of Christ to the lost, and that is their job. But these ministering gifts were given to Believers to build up the Body of Christ and bring it to maturity and unity to do the work of the gospel. The evangelist’s work is also to prepare the rest of the Body of Christ to share their faith with the world as well.
PASTORS AND TEACHERS
In the Greek, these two words mean shepherd and instructor. The modern Body of Christ is familiar with these offices. They function in most modern church bodies, but not as they did in the New Testament. The modern church is structured around the concept of a pastor doing the work of the ministry, and a congregation supporting him financially. In the New Testament, pastors and teachers were members of God’s congregation, just like everyone else. But they were placed within the Body of Christ to counsel, care for, guide, correct and enlighten the church so The Body would be equipped to do the work of the ministry.
Jesus gave these five ministry gifts to individual Believers within the Body of Christ. Why? What was God’s purpose for selecting individuals from among the congregation of Believers to perform these specific functions within the Body?
Ephesians 4:12-16 …to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. NIV
These five ministry appointments by the Spirit of Christ are to prepare the congregation of Believers for works in God’s service. They are to bring the Body of Christ to maturation. These gifts to the Body are to help individual Believers attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. They are to bring the Body of Christ into unity, built up in love, each member and each congregation supporting each other in love, as each part does its part to further the work of God.
We aren’t where God wants us to be as His representatives in this earth. We desperately need all of the ministry gifts of Christ functioning as God intended to bring us into maturity. All of the gifts need to function to round out the training of the church.