Paul's Passing Thoughts

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Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 30, 2016

The Overseer’s Job Description

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on October 23, 2014

andy-profile-1I recently wrote a two-part article on the qualifications of overseers or “elders” (see part 1 and part 2).  It occurred to me the other day as I was preparing the lesson for the Tuesday Night Bible Study, that while we spend much time studying the elder’s qualifications, we don’t usually go on to the next step, and that is to ask the question, what actually is the job of an overseer.  What does he do?  What is his job description?

Now those of reformed and protestant orthodoxy will talk much about elders, or bishops, or shepherds, or apostles, or whatever they want to call themselves, using terms like “authority”, “ordained”, “gifted”, “rule”, and “obedience”. The emphasis is clearly one of a spiritual caste system, as Paul Dohse often makes reference.  We are the “elders”; you are the lowly pew-sitters.  We interpret; you follow and obey.  After all, we have to give an account at the judgment, and you don’t want us to not have any joy in performing our leadership over you.  That would not benefit you at all (paraphrasing the often abused Hebrews 13:17).  The thinly veiled threat implied in that statement being that the elders have some say in how things work out for you come judgment day.  It got me to thinking- does the Bible give us any list of duties of an overseer? The answer should come as no surprise to us, but, yes, it does!  The Bible speaks very plainly what an overseer is to do and how he is to act.

The major body of the overseer’s job description is found in Acts 20:28-35

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the assembly of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.  I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The apostle Paul is making his way back to Jerusalem. He makes a stop in Miletus which is near Ephesus, and he calls for all the elders of the Ephesian assemblies to meet him there.  He gives them one last personal exhortation because he knows in his spirit that they will never see him again.  Along with a stern reminder to them to remember everything that he has taught them, Paul also gives them a list of tasks for them to carry out.  These are the things an overseer is to do:

Take heed…

This imperative command in the Greek literally means, “to hold the mind”. Pay attention!  Be aware!  This is the primary role and the very definition of “overseer”.  The word “overseer” contains the word σκοπος (sko-pos), which refers to a watch or a sentry or a lookout. This is also the origin of the English word “skeptic”, or “skeptical”.  One who is a skeptic is by definition cautious.  He is always on guard.  He doesn’t automatically believe what he is told.  He confirms and verifies.  He is on the lookout for lies and deceit.

Paul’s first instruction to the overseers was to be on the lookout for trouble to come into the assembly. He warned that grievous wolves would come in as soon as he left, and not just from outside, but from within as well. Wolves are pack animals. They never hunt alone. And often times they do not present themselves as wolves. Paul described wolves this way in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15:

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”

This was the reason for Paul’s earnest exhortation to the overseers of Ephesus. They needed to take heed to protect the flock by watching out for wolves.  They needed to take heed even among the overseers, for a wolf would seek to work his way in to a position of leadership among an assembly.  There is nothing more deadly to the flock than for a wolf to be its shepherd.

Feed the assembly…

This is the word ποιμαινω (poy-my-noh), which means to tend as a shepherd. There is more than just feeding involved here. Notice now this relates to the first point. Paul again uses this familiar metaphor of tending to sheep to illustrate the same kind of care and watch over the assembly beyond just being on the lookout for wolves. If you want a full description of the shepherd’s role, just take a look at Psalm 23, paying special attention to the highlighted phrases:

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Follow my example in labor…so (thus, in this manner) laboring

In this phrase, Paul may be indirectly referring to his example in how he performed the previous two roles, but he is specifically referring to the fact that he earned his own wages through independent employment. He did not depend solely upon the assemblies to support him financially. Rather, he saw the importance of the assemblies using their resources to support the poor, weak, and needy among them. Remember how we read in Acts chapters 2 and 4 how the assemblies brought all their offerings together and distributed to every man according to his need so that no one lacked? Paul reinforces this message by exhorting them to remember the words of Jesus – that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The overseers were not to be a burden to the assemblies, but as much as was within their means, they were rather to see that the needs of the assemblies, both spiritual and physical, were met. Their role as overseers was not self-promotion or material gain but a Godly example after which the assemblies were to pattern themselves.  The apostle Peter echoed these same sentiments in 1 Peter 5:1-4 when he wrote:

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

Paul addresses two more roles of the overseer in his letter to Titus. In Titus 1:9 he writes:

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

Holding fast the faithful word…

I found this word in the Greek to be rather interesting. It is the word αντεχομαι (an-teh-koh-my), from the words “anti”, meaning against, and “echo”, meaning to hold. Literally the word means to hold against, or to stand in opposition to. Why would Paul be instructing overseers to stand in opposition to the faithful word that he’s been taught? The answer is, he isn’t. The context of the verse states that as overseers remain faithful to the word as they have been taught by the apostles, they are to stand in direct opposition to any false teaching. Stand in opposition to any false teaching that would be contrary to the words of scripture as you have been taught.

Paul writes in Romans 16:17-18,

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”

This instruction applies to all believers, but is especially needful for overseers. Notice we are to “mark them”. This is the verb form of the word “skopos”, σκοπεω (sko-peh-oh), and it literally means to take aim at. Find the ones who teach false doctrine. “Scope” them out. Watch for them. Aim your sights in on them, as if you are looking through the “scope” of a rifle. Make them a target. Stand against them, and then avoid them. Notice it does not say to take them head on. Point them out, not for the purpose of removing them, but for the purpose of going around them. In doing so, you make them irrelevant. And this leads in to the last role of the overseer.

Exhort and convince the gainsayers

This is the way that we are to mark and avoid false teachers. There are actually two parts to this. The first is to exhort using sound doctrine. This is the familiar word παρακαλεω (par-ah-ka-leh-oh) that means to come along beside. This is in relation to believers. The overseer must come along beside other believers and remind them of the truth of what scripture says and encourage them to continue in it. In doing this, they present the contrast of the false teacher, convincing the “gainsayers.” A gainsayer is one who speaks against something, in this case the truth of scripture. The word “convince” is ελεγχω (el-eng-kho) and is better translated as “expose”. Exhorting believers to sound doctrine serves to expose those who speak against it. In this way, false teachers are marked so that they can be avoided, and the assembly is edified, because if believers are able to effectively spot a false teacher, then the false teacher no longer has any influence there.

You should notice that all of these roles of the overseer are defensive and not offensive. Neither are they self-serving. Everything is for the benefit of the assembly to protect them and edify them and bring them to maturity. There is no emphasis on authority or rule or obedience, in fact this is expressly prohibited. Rather the emphasis is on that of a servant. An overseer is not there to make sure the assembly follows orders. The assembly is made up of individual believers that must each grow into maturity. They must grow into maturity so that they can fulfill their commission- their role as ambassadors of reconciliation, bringing the Gospel of the Kingdom to the lost. An overseer’s job is to make sure that those in the assembly have what they need in order to carry out their role, to see that they are properly equipped, and to protect them from danger along the way.