Paul's Passing Thoughts

A Warning To The Watchmen

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 14, 2018

Today, Facebook’s “On This Day” feature reminded me of a scripture passage I had posted a few years ago from one of my daily Bible readings. It was a blessed reminder to me because when I stumble across verses like this it only serves to affirm or reinforce a scriptural truth I have already learned in my constant study.

1 Timothy chapter 3 lists the qualifications of an “elder” or “bishop”. In the Greek, the word επισκοπος (epi-skope-os) is a compound word. “Epi” means “over”. The word “skopos” is where we get the word “scope”, and it means to look outward; to see from a distance; to watch carefully and attentively. The word is really better translated “overseer.”

The function of an overseer is not one of authority. The etymology of the word actually describes someone who stands at the top of a fortress wall as a sentry looking outward for any signs of danger. A sentry has no authority. He has no power to command or enforce action. His job is simply to send out the warning cry when danger is coming so that appropriate action can be taken by others.

This is the way it is with an elder in an assembly. He may be gifted to teach, but his role is that of a sentry looking out for danger and warning others to take appropriate action. Note: he has no call to compel the action. He cannot force others to take action. All he does is sound the warning cry.

With regard to 1 Timothy 3, in most of your bibles you may see the expression, “if a man desires the office of a bishop.” The manuscript says nothing like that. The word “office” is not in the manuscript. In fact the word “man” isn’t even in there. The way this verse literally reads in the Greek is “if any desire oversight,” or “If any desire to be overseen.” The desire to have an overseer begins with the assembly. Overseers are optional. The assembly gets to decide if it wants an overseer or not.

Paul goes on to say further that if you want an overseer, that is a good thing. It is probably a good idea to have someone on guard duty. If there is danger out there, and there is, you probably want to have someone who is adept at finding it; seeing it early, and warning others to take action. But such a person has no call to exercise authority to compel others to take action.

To help us better understand this role of “overseer”, consider a passage in the Old Testament that uses a similar word: “watchman.”

1Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: 3if when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; 4then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. (5He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him.) But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

6But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.

7So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. 8When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. 9 Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

10Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

~ Ezekiel 33:1-11

I realize that this is a rather long passage, and I am not going to break down the whole thing, but I wanted you to see the context. God uses a metaphor that Israel can clearly understand: national defense. The implications are clear. If you have a watchman (i.e. overseer) on a wall who sees danger coming on the horizon and does not sound the alarm, that watchman is culpable for any lives that are lost as a direct result of his negligence. God makes it clear to Ezekiel that his role as a prophet is the same as a watchman. He has been given a message by God to deliver to the nation of Israel. It is Ezekiel’s responsibility to sound the warning cry.

But what should be obvious from this passage is that the only responsibility the watchman has is to sound the alarm; to give the warning. It is not his job to compel the action of those who hear his warning. Notice that God did not give any authority to Ezekiel to compel Israel to action. Ezekiel did not have the power to coerce Israel with “church discipline” if they did not heed his warning.

(On a side note, notice that God specifically says in this passage that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked! Yet you have men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Jonathan Edwards who blatantly contradict the plain teaching of scripture.)

The words of Ezekiel should be a stern reminder to both the elders and laity in the institutional church.   Elders have no authority. It is their role as overseers to be on the lookout for false doctrine that would do great harm to Christ’s assembly. Instead it is very often the elders themselves doing the harm; teaching for doctrine the traditions of men rather than the plain sense of scripture and compelling the laity to obey them unconditionally and abusing them for their own self-interest. These men will have to answer to God one day for these things. You who follow these men must understand that they will not be the ones standing in your place giving an account for you in eternity. While they will indeed have to give an account for the miserable failures that they are as watchmen, you will be accountable for your own actions (or inactions) as well.

~ Andy

One Response

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  1. Barbara said, on March 14, 2018 at 11:00 AM

    Another worthy explanation. Makes perfect Biblical sense, Andy. Thank you! Very grateful for this teaching. I will keep it ever so close.


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