Sermon Meta Information
The Need for Structure
10 June 2007
Sermon Series on Titus
Paul introduces himself and then addresses Titus emphasising that they share a common faith and the blessings of receiving grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul and Titus fully identified themselves with the God whom they loved. They were his servants committed to doing his will for his glory. The fact that they were God's servant would have been obvious in their speech and in their manner of life. They were not ashamed of their Lord and gladly spoke about the glorious gospel of Christ. The opening four verses tell us that Paul and Titus were servants of God you had authority and were totally committed to honouring their Lord.
It seems that Paul and Titus laboured together in the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the island of Crete. The Lord blessed the proclaiming of the Gospel and called out from among the residents of Crete his elect. Small groups of believers had been gathered, meeting venues had been secured, but no formal church structure had been established. Paul, for reasons we do not know, left Crete before the work of planting churches on the island had been completed. Titus was to stay on in Crete and work with the believers to appoint elders and ensure that sound and effective ministry was exercised in the congregations. The instruction given in
‘For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should
set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you,'
implies that these instructions had been given orally to Titus before Paul left. There are three possible reasons why Paul now commits his previous instructions into written form.
To remind Titus of the task he is required to do in order to please the Lord.
To confirm Titus' authority to set the church structure in place in the event that some should dispute his authority.
To set a precedent for the establishment of churches in the future in a way that pleases God. The direction given to Titus makes it clear that Paul thought that the work of establishing a local church was only complete after Elders has been set apart to equip the saints for the work of ministry and for mutual edification. It is very tempting to simply skip over this directive and move on to consider the qualifications needed in an Elder which Paul sets out in
If we yield to this temptation we miss a number of important lessons concerning the church and also fail to interpret the letter of Titus fully in its context.
Biblical structure is vital for the spiritual wellbeing of the church.
The fact that Paul gives Titus the directive to appoint elders means that he saw the role and function of elders as an essential part of God's purpose and plan for those redeemed by the blood of the Lord. Jesus Christ, the head of the church deemed it necessary and best for his church to have elders in every congregation. Before we can answer the question;
‘What is an elder in the church?
What is the church?
Looking at the church in the widest sense possible the
Westminster Confession of Faith
The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.'
The church comprises of those whom the Lord Jesus makes his own. The church belongs to Christ, it is his. Jesus lived and died to establish the church. It is important to note that the New Testament speaks most often about the local church. Titus was establishing local churches on Crete which would be visible and active in the community in which they met. All believers on Crete belonged to the universal and invisible church of Christ, Titus' task was to gather believers together and organise and order them so that the
universal and invisible church might became localised and visible.
The function of the church is to glorify God and exalt the name of Christ; this is done by building up the saints and reaching out to sinners. If a local church is to remain what Christ intended, it must grasp that its union with the only true and Living Lord is of paramount importance. The church's business deals with your relationship with the Living Lord; if you enjoy such a relationship - the church works to deepen and strengthen it. If you do not have such a relationship - the church works in prayer and preaching seeking God's grace to reconcile you to God. Your relationship with the Living Lord or lack of it must be the chief concern of the church. Your relationship with the Lord according to Christ Jesus the head of the church is best promoted not individually, but corporately in the local church. Titus is to identify those who are united to Christ and enjoy God in their daily lives and form a visible body of believers. Titus is to appoint Elders to lead the local body of believers in maintaining their relationship with the Lord and add to the number as many as the Saviour calls to belong to himself. we need to ask the question:
What is an Elder?
It is important to note that in the New Testament a number of different terms are used to describe the office of elder. In
Paul calls for the appointment of elders, in
he sets out the qualifications needed to be found in men suitable for the eldership, as he goes through the qualifications he refers to an elder in
as a bishop.
records the meeting Paul had with the elders of the church in Ephesus. Listen to him instructing the elders in
‘Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit
has made you
, to shepherd the church
which He purchased
with His own blood..'
The word translated as
is the same Greek word translated in
The terms elder and bishop are interchangeable, they denote the same office. The office of a bishop is exactly the same office as that of an Elder. Listen to Peter making the point in
1 Peter 5:1-2,
‘The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a
witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the
glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as
not by compulsion but
Elders are to serve in the congregations as overseers. This congregation is blessed to have four bishops.
implies a structure with authority and accountability.
Believers were never meant to be independent agents with a loose bond of fellowship between them. Jesus' will is for the church to be structured and organised to worship and work together for his glory and honour. When the apostle Paul deals with the concept of the community of the church in
1 Corinthians 12
he uses the metaphor of a human body, which has many members but works together as one body. A leg, foot, hand, or arm does not act independently, but in harmony with all the other members of the body. The Elders are responsible for those whom they oversee. Those who are supervised are accountable to the overseer. The New Testament pattern is for the congregations to have Elders and not only one Elder. The work of shepherding a congregation was never given to one man, but to at least two Elders. The structure of two elders was designed to promote their spiritual well-being by making them accountable to each other and by countering the temptations of pride and self-centredness. The Elders are to watch-over you to encourage you to keep on developing your relationship with the Lord. The head of the Church deemed it good and necessary to structure those who belong to him in local churches.
Why is structure important?
Think about the skeletal structure of your body. The work of the skeletal structure is vital as it supports the body and enables it to function at its optimum capacity. While your skeletal structure is to a large extent invisible or unnoticeable, it nevertheless determines the form of the body. The structure is crucial to the function and the form of the body. Church structure is vital in determining the function and the form of the local church. Generally speaking there are two dominant views concerning the function and the form of the church. Do you view the church as the Kingdom of Christ on earth or is to be viewed as the family of God. Is church structure the structure of a kingdom or of a family? The relationship between the congregation and its leaders is forged either by the kingdom or family concept. The roles of the leaders and the congregation are also formed by these concepts. There is a massive difference between belonging to a kingdom and belonging to a family. An orphan belongs to a kingdom, but needs to belong to a family to nurture and care for him.
The kingdom concept of the church subscribes to what is known as the Episcopalian system of church government.
describes this system as follows:
‘The Episcopalians hold that Christ, as the head of the Church, has entrusted the government of the church directly and exclusively to an order of prelates or bishops, as the successors of the apostles; and that he has constituted these bishops a separate, independent, and self-perpetuating order. In this system the ... community of believers has absolutely no share in the government of the Church.'
In very simple terms in this system all authority lies with the rulers, and role of the congregation is to submit and obey. The structure of masters and servants is very much at the heart of this system. The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church follow this structure with some modifications. Is this the model of the church we see in the New Testament?
Obviously if you view the church as a family in the Biblical sense the structure will be very different. The relationship between believers and leaders will be like that of a father and children. Fathers have authority, but also serve the family. The New Testament uses a number of terms to describe the church -
the body, the flock, the temple, the bride,
- but most frequently
is used so often that it is without doubt the most significant metaphorical image used. In John's Gospel Jesus commands his disciples to
love one another as I have loved you,
the Saviour's will is for believers to enjoy a very close, trusting, supportive and loving relationship with each other. Such a relationship cannot and does not easily exist in a body of believers structured on the kingdom concept, but comes more naturally to a body of believers structured on the concept of a family. The local church is meant to be a close-knit family of brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We need to note that the terms,
brethren, brother, or sister
appears about 250 times in the New Testament. The church is a family of brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus in
his followers not to organise and structure themselves as the scribes and Pharisees did, he says,
‘But all (scribes and Pharisees) their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.
They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
' But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi
'; for One is your Teacher,
the Christ, and
you are all brethren
Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But
he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be
The church is made up of brothers and sisters in Christ who humbly serve each other. There ought to be a desire to serve and not a desire for power and status. Elders are servants who lead by their example of service to Christ Jesus and his people.
In the structure of a family there is a large amount of accountability between family members. Accountability counters the natural self-centredness that plagues the hearts and minds of individuals. A self-centred person in a family usually renders that family dysfunctional in some way. Every local church is a family of God's people. How is the local family of God to be structured?
The Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme head and the source of all authority. His relationship to those who belong to him is very precious as he bought them with his own blood.
Christ Jesus exercises his authority by means of his word. Jesus does not rule over the church by force. Jesus rules according to the objective standard of his word and the internal ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus has endowed the church with power to do his will and proclaim his gospel to the glory of the Father. All believers have received the power to do the will of Jesus and to share the gospel with sinners.
Christ has called and equipped Elders to specifically exercise authority in the church according to his word. The Elders are chosen by the congregation who recognise God's call and equipping of them for the work he gives to them. The work the Elders do is to promote God's purpose and will that all those redeemed by the blood of Christ be conformed to the image and the likeness of his Son (
). The goal and aim of every member of the family of God is to be more and more like Jesus Christ.
There is no human authority higher than the Elders of the local church. Presbyteries, Synods or Assemblies do not have authority over the Elders of a local church, but provide a wider forum in which to deal with matters such as doctrine, disciple, missions, ministerial training and setting apart.
It is important to note that there is a real difference between the Elders of the Old Testament and the Elders of the New Testament. The Elders in the Old Testament were appointed by Moses essentially to be elder-judges to hear and decide the disputes that arose among the people of the Lord. These Elders ruled by interpreting the law and making judgements based on the law. These elder-judges were powerful and influential men who became the governors to cities and the nation of Israel. These elder-judges made up the bulk of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews in New Testament times and were called Pharisees. The New Testament Elder is not essentially about interpreting the law and making judgements, but about promoting the relationship believers enjoy with the Lord and each other so that they grew in grace, knowledge and obedience. This comes out in the exhortation for Elders to
the church of God
). If Elders are to be shepherds of the church then they need to imitate the Good Shepherd who owns the sheep.
The structure of the church is vital for your spiritual well-being therefore you need to understand and embrace the structure as your own. Do you see this congregation as the family of the Lord's people to whom you belong? Do you consider this congregation as your brothers and sisters in Christ bonded together for all-eternity? Are you committed to love them and to pray for their relationship with the Lord to flourish? Do you see this congregation as those who will help you to love the Lord more and more? If you count your relationship with the Lord the most important and vital aspect of your life then you will greatly value your brothers and sisters help in guarding your precious relationship with the Lord. Do you see yourself as someone who is helping others to walk with the Lord?
The Elders need to ask themselves (and I am an Elder) if their deepest concern for this congregation is their relationship with the Lord. It is so easy for Elders to think of the church structure according to the kingdom model rather than the family. This manifests itself when troubles and trial beset the congregation and authority is used to quell rather than resolve the problems. Elders are to guard, protect, feed, serve and lead the family of the Lord in such a way that the family is Christ-centred because it enjoys a living relationship with the God of all grace.
It is God's will for you to belong to a local church, for you to be fully involved in the family of the church. Listen to the rebuke
C H Spurgeon
gave to those who do not commit themselves to a local church.
‘I know there are some who say, "Well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church." Now, why not? "Because I can be a Christian without it." Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord's command as by being obedient? There is a brick. What is it made for? To help build a house. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose.
You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live and you are much to blame for the injury you do."
I pray that the Holy Spirit will cause us to think about his church and our place in it. I pray that the gracious Saviour will cause us to become a church that truly lives according to his Royal Word.
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