1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, 3 “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1–3, NKJV)
Religious traditions (formed, validated, and passed down by humans) are not equivalent to God’s will. Many religious traditions fashioned and perpetuated by people contradict and violate the word of God. For example, Jesus not only rebuked the Jewish binding of traditions that were foreign to the Law of Moses, but He also exposed the tradition of Corban that excused violating God’s word (Matt. 15:1-3, 4-6; Mark 7:9-13). He called this conduct hypocrisy (Matt. 15:7). While claiming allegiance to God, they nullified God’s commands by demanding conformity to the tradition of the elders. A notable comparison to this is water baptism by sprinkling instead of immersion. Baptize (baptizo) means “to immerge, submerge” (Thayer, 94). Bible baptism requires much water, going down into and coming up out of the water (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). Baptism is a burial (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4-5). Sprinkling water as baptism began as an accommodation to the scarcity of water and, later, for clinical (deathbed) baptism in the third century for the bedfast. In some cases, the Roman papacy approved it in the eighth century until it was declared equal with immersion in AD 1311 by the Council of Ravenna (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, II:247-252). We must reject human religious traditions if they (1) Bind what God has not bound upon us or (2) Approve actions that violate the revealed word of God (Gal. 1:6-10; 2 John 9).
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17, NKJV)
The church in Ephesus was much beloved by the apostle Paul. He had spent three years there, “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials” (Acts 20:19). The 30-mile journey from Ephesus to Miletus would have involved at least a day of travel each way (probably more), plus the time the elders spent with the apostle. It would mean leaving their families and jobs to go to Miletus to meet Paul. He could have sent them a written message, but it was important for them to have a face-to-face meeting. Naturally, they made the journey to meet Paul without hesitation. In this age of text messaging we are tempted to forget the value of personal contact. Personal interaction establishes relationships, strengthens trust, enhances respect for others, and increases our ability to work well with others. God wants Christians to talk with each other – to teach, to encourage, to warn, to form and to strengthen the bonds of unity and commonality in Christ. We must not isolate ourselves from each other. We must make ourselves accessible to one another and responsive to the communication that is an essential part of our common faith, common hope, and common salvation. By doing so we are better able to help each other serve the Lord faithfully.
11 Yes, they are greedy dogs which never have enough. And they are shepherds who cannot understand; They all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his own territory. 12 “Come,” one says, “I will bring wine, and we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; Tomorrow will be as today, and much more abundant.” (Isaiah 56:11–12, NKJV)
By the time Isaiah spoke God’s word to a rebellious people, the prophets, priests and kings of Israel had become consumed with greed, self-interest and sinful indulgence. Instead of being God’s watchmen, warning Israel of danger, they were blinded by personal gain (Isaiah 56:10). The shepherds were fleecing God’s sheep (Ezekiel 34:1-6). The Lord God brought His judgment upon them for their faithless dereliction of duty (Ezekiel 34:7-10). Today, those who are charged with leading God’s people, teaching and warning them from God’s word of sin’s danger, must refuse the temptation of personal advancement and lure of personal gain. Elders of churches have become corporate CEOs tending capital, instead of shepherds tending souls (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28). Gospel preaching has become a career path, instead of a servant’s calling (2 Timothy 4:1-5). All the while, Christians starve for spiritual guidance, while “greedy dogs” indulge themselves. Harsh words? This warning is intended to convict and convert, lest a worse fate befall all who serve themselves, instead of serving the Lord and His people.
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17, NKJV)
All of us live under multiple authority structures. In the home, at school, and as citizens of communities, state and the nation, there are layers of authority under which we live. We either respect the authority under which we live unto our benefit, or we defy the authority to our shame harm. The local church also has an authority structure which Christians are taught to respect. Since Christ is the head of the church, His authority (revealed in His word) rules. He has set bishops or overseers (also called elders and pastors or shepherds in the Scriptures) in each local church to rule or lead them. Each member of that church is to “be submissive” as we obey them. With willing hands and hearts, let us humble ourselves to the rule of our elders and be a source of their joy instead of grief as they “watch out for our souls.”
12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, NKJV)
When was the last time you made it a point to commend the elders of your congregation? They labor among you, watching out for your soul (Heb. 13:17). They deserve to be honored for their faithful work. Moreover, they are to be esteemed highly in love because of their work. Being an elder in a church ought not be a thankless job, or one where criticisms and complaints arise to disrupt peace. While the elders do their God-given work, let the brethren yield to their oversight, heed their admonitions and lovingly esteem them for the work they do. God be thanked for godly, diligent elders and brethren who recognize them as a blessing from God.