Well let's look together to what God would speak to us regarding from the Word tonight. As I told you when I started this series, it was going to be like link sausage, we're just going to whack it off anywhere and get the whole thing. And that's what we've been doing last Sunday morning, Sunday night and this morning. We're talking about the anatomy of the church, working our way through the first feature of the anatomy of the church, namely the skeleton or the structure, the framework and we have been suggesting to you that there are some essential elements in the church's life that must be recognized. Let me affirm to you, when I talk about the church, I'm talking about you. I'm not talking about an institution. I'm not talking about an earthly organization. I'm not talking about a denomination, or even a non-denominational organization, I'm talking about you, the living church of God, purchased with His blood. I'm talking about believers the world over who gather and assemble in local groups...that's the church.
And we're talking about what we are as a church and how we manifest our identity corporately and individually. Borrowing from the metaphor of the body which is clearly a very unique metaphor in the New Testament, in fact this morning I told you that the church in the New Testament is called a family, a kingdom, a flock, a plant, a building and a temple. But those metaphors are not unique to the church because each of those is used in the Old Testament to refer also to the nation Israel. But never in the Old Testament is Israel called a body. That is the unique metaphor that describes the church in a marvelous way in connection with its head, the Lord Jesus Christ. And we've extended that analogy of the body to talk about the anatomy of the church, look at a little more deeply and draw out of what the Scripture says the character of the church. And, first of all, we've been looking at that skeleton, that framework that is at the very foundation of the structure of the church.
And I pointed out to you this morning and last week that a good way to view what is essential is to see the church as heaven on earth. We base that on Matthew 6 where Jesus said, "Pray that His will would be done on earth." Now we know the only place that can happen is among His people, and that's the church. So if heaven is going to come down, it's going to come down in the church. We ask the question then, if the church is to be heaven on earth, what should we be doing? Well the simple way to answer that is to find out what's going on in heaven and bring it down. And we have suggested four things already, four features, four realities.
First of all, heaven is occupied with honoring and worshiping God. Secondly, exalting Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the presence of holiness. And fourthly, the honor of the Word of God. That's what the church must be committed to. We must be a worshiping fellowship who worship the true and living God, who exalt Jesus Christ, who pursue holiness and who give honor to the Word of God which we have come to understand and are committed to obey.
Now I didn't say everything that I wanted to say this morning about that fourth point, so let me return to that point for a little bit as we begin our study tonight. I want to talk a little more about the importance of honoring the Word of God in the life of the church. We're very much aware of Hebrews 4:12 that the Word is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. And so if we're going to wield a sword, we might as wield the sharpest one. We are told that we are begotten again by the Word so if we want to bring people to Christ, we use the Word. We are told that we are sanctified by the truth which is revealed in the Word, and so if we want people to mature and grow and become holy and Christlike, we use the Word. We are told that we grow by the Word. We are told in Scripture that it is the Word that purifies and keeps us from sin. We are told that the Word is what reveals the will and plan of God for our lives. And so everything that is essential to us comes to us through the Word of God. And most critically, God Himself comes to us in His Word, the Word being His own self-revelation. And so when the church comes together, it comes together to worship God, exalt Christ, pursue holiness and honor God's Word by understanding it, believing it, and obeying it.
To put that in to perspective in a particular text and to say a little more about it, open your Bible to Paul's epistle to Titus. Paul's epistle to Titus and remember now, we're summarizing things that we have studied and considered and poured over through the years, we're bringing them maybe into a fresh kind of context to sort of renew our commitment to what the church should be in a day when the church has really lost its way in so many places and among so many people. Titus chapter 1, verse 9 says that the leaders of the church, and we'll say more about them in our fifth point, "Are to hold fast the faithful Word which is in accordance with the teaching, able both to exhort with sound doctrine and refute those who contradict." Leaders in the church have the responsibility to dispense the Word of God for the positive effect of building up the saints and for that negative effect of assaulting and attacking and demolishing the fortresses of speculation raised up against the true knowledge of God. The Word is the key. That's why in chapter 2, and here's where I want you to look most particularly verse 1, Paul says to Titus who was a young preacher with an immense responsibility to plant and build churches on the island of Crete, he says, "But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine...speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine."
It's very much, by the way, what he told Timothy back in 1 Timothy chapter 4 and verse 13 when he said, "Until I come, give attention to reading the Scripture, to exhortation and teaching." And what he's saying there is read the Scripture, explain the Scripture, and apply the Scripture. "Take heed to yourself," he says in the last verse of that chapter, "and to your teaching." Guard the truth, proclaim the truth.
The church then, and its leadership, is called to the honoring of God's Word, to the exaltation, if you will, of God's Word even to the equal place of His own name, as we pointed out in Psalm 138:2. But look at the last verse of Titus chapter 2, and we'll focus on this one for a moment. Again referring to the things which are fitting for sound doctrine, he says, "These things speak and exhort and reprove," and then this most important phrase, "with all authority. Let no one disregard you." It is not only true that we are to teach the Word of God, but we are to teach it authoritatively. We are to teach it with conviction.
You will notice that there are three verbs there: speak, exhort and reprove. And they really break down the preaching/teaching process. Speak...what does that mean? That means to say things so people can understand. Exhort...what does that mean? To press them home to the point of faith and acceptance. And reprove? To hold them responsible for obedience. And so we preach that you might hear and understand, that you might believe and be committed and that you might ultimately obey. And we do that with all authority. We make no apology for preaching with authority. Now the only authority the preacher has is the Bible. We have no authority outside the Scripture whatsoever. I have no authority personally, not by my office as a pastor, as an elder in the church, that gives me no authority really, no authority to act on my own or somehow to take responsibility for matters apart from the application of the Word of God. I have no personal authority by virtue of my giftedness, of my intellectual abilities, whatever they might be or might not be. There is no such thing as a sort of an ecclesiastical authority that some earthly organization bears by virtue of its tradition and its ceremonies. The only authority we have is the Word of God and when we speak the Word of God, we speak with authority. And in the end of verse 15, Paul having told Titus to do that, says, "Let no one disregard you." That is a verb, periphroneo, peri is the word we get for perimeter, used for perimeter, it means to get around. And he is saying...phroneo means to think...let no one think to get around you, let no one evade this authority, let no one circumvent this authority. You preach so that people will hear and understand, so that they will believe and that they will obey. And don't let anybody evade that authority. The word "authority" here is epitage, every other use of it in the New Testament it is translated command. It's very much like 1 Timothy 4:11, "Command and teach these things." And so we make no apology coming into the pulpit to proclaim with an authority the Word of God.
Practically today the church is interested only in giving relative authority to the Scripture. For the most part, churches will give the Scripture some measure of authority, but not all authority, not absolute authority. In fact, for churches across the world today to give to the Scripture absolute authority would be for them to have to question a great deal of what is presently happening because if the church gave to the Scripture what it deserves and demands, absolute authority, then everything the church does has to be measured by the Word of God. Churches have grown accustomed to doing whatever works, or whatever seems to be effective. And the Word unleashed would sit in judgment on the church and should. If there was a commitment to the absolute authority of the Word of God in the church, the reforming process would be extensive and painful and costly. And many are not sure that they really want to do that...especially as long as things are going well. Furthermore, today's evangelicalism treats experience as a kind of authority and therefore Scripture can't be the only authority because we've decided that experience is the authority.
Has God spoken to your heart?...people ask. Did you feel good about the worship? Does this or that move you? What's your feeling about this Scripture? What is God saying to you? Are you excited about this or that?
Rarely...rarely does the church today examine matters of faith and practice by the Scripture alone principle. We really do like the idea that experience is a kind of authority. So what the church has today is a relative authority and not an absolute one, and that's tragic because we have in the Word of God an absolute authority. This is serious, by the way, because it is a departure from sola scriptura. It is a departure from the singular authority of Scripture and such a departure spells a sad ending. Michael Horton writes, "Apostasy begins harmlessly enough. First we are told that we do not need creeds and confessions and catechisms, Scripture requires no such protection. The result is then that the Scriptures go before long. Next we are asked to tone down on our doctrinal distinctives and emphasize that what unites us is love and good will. The result of this can be the rejection of the gospel..." he says. Finally, we are told, "All we need is Jesus, and we're left with a moral crusader."
Dealing with Scripture is at the heart of the life of the church and any departure from that is the slippery slope to disaster. And it starts with understanding that the Scripture is the singular authority that man does indeed live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. And that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth and that the truth is the only authority that we have. And we are bound to respond to it.
Now there is a component in the midst of this of immense importance and I want you to look at it with me. Second Timothy chapter 2...2 Timothy chapter 2 and verse 15, this is a very, very important portion of Scripture. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of Truth." Now if you don't handle accurately the Word of Truth, you ought to be...what?...ashamed. It is absolutely crucial that you take heed to your teaching, to your doctrine. And that means, according to verse 15, a great diligence to handle accurately the Word of Truth. Perhaps we can use the word precision, I like that word. What God is after is precise understanding of Scripture. Precision in interpretation, precision in sound doctrine. And the purpose of this pain-staking precision in interpreting the Scripture is to be faithful to the divine intention. God did not mean to say anything and everything when He spoke in His Word, He meant to say what He meant to say. And the challenge is to determine what that was. And it demands precision. It demands great discipline, careful study, careful examination, diligence. Precision is essential if we're going to come to a true understanding of Scripture. I had someone ask me, I suppose about a week ago, why does the church even need teachers anyway? Aren't we all taught by the Holy Spirit? Well my response was, "Yes, we are to some degree taught by the Holy Spirit, but one of the primary ways the Holy Spirit teaches us is through gifted teachers. And when the church doesn't have such teachers, it wanders away into error." That's why the Lord has raised them up. And the role of the teacher is to be the one who by careful precise work can come to the understanding of God's truth and keep the church faithful to the intention of Scripture.
I don't want to get technical but the great bottom line concept that you have to hold to in the Scripture is that when God wrote the verses of Scripture, He meant something specific, not everything that everybody thinks it might mean. And we must get to the meaning that God intended. Therein lies the effort of precision.
And let me just remind you, as well, that people don't go heretical all at once. They don't go heretical in one step. It's gradual. And frankly I think it's probably mostly unintentional. I don't think people start out by saying, "I think I would like to just go into a heresy. I think I'll trade in the true faith for deception." I don't think so. The church tends to go heretical gradually and unintentionally two ways. One by minimizing or diluting or diminishing the authority of Scripture and the singularity of its understanding. Verses do not mean what you think they mean, they do not mean what you think God told you they mean. They mean whatever God intended them to mean which is yielded up in a careful study of that Scripture. And so heresy comes because people, one, diminish the authority of Scripture and give it less significance than it has, and, two, of shoddy handling of it. And may I suggest to you that shoddy handling of Scripture is very often connected to something as very simple as laziness...laziness. As I have told young men through the years when they ask me what's the key to great sermons, what's the key to really understanding the Scripture? And I suppose they expect some mystical answer and I say, "The ability to keep your rear end in the chair until you've done the hard work." That's the key. And again I say, people don't go heretical all at once, heresy comes in when the church begins to diminish the absolute authority and priority of the Word of God rightly understood and rightly preached. When that is diminished, when mystical preaching steps in, when willy-nilly interpretation steps in, when the Word is given only a relative authority rather than an absolute authority and people experiences equal to that, or even extra biblical revelation is equal to that, you have started on the slippery slope.
Look at verses16 through 18 of the same text. "Avoid worldly and empty chatter." One of the things you don't do when you come to the Scripture is just pool ignorance. I have to laugh about this and yet it's not really funny, but I have in my life attended some meetings that were called Bible studies where basically no one knew how to interpret the Bible. So it was in every sense a pooling of ignorance called a Bible study. And what it yielded was probably nothing like what God intended when He wrote it. And so Paul says avoid worldly and empty chatter. The Bible is not something around which you just chatter. It's not something to which you bring your best worldly insights and experiences. That just leads to further ungodliness. And that kind of stuff spreads like gangrene among whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus, people who approach the Bible without precision, who approached it without diligence and have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place and thus they upset the faith of some.
You notice there that it says they have gone astray from the truth. In the Greek, they missed the mark. You know what that tells me? They were really shooting at it. They weren't trying to go astray, they didn't intend to fall into heresy, they didn't intend to come up with a deception, a lie, they didn't intend to lead people astray and upset their faith...they just failed at the point of verse 15, to the Word of God they brought their worldly wisdom and empty talk instead of the diligence that is required. They just failed in the areas where Paul commands Timothy not to fail, be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed because you handle accurately the Word of Truth. Accurate handling of the Word of Truth is the issue. And again, doctrinal slippage and failure to interpret Scripture is not generally the goal but if there's no precision and great diligence, it will be the end and then the faith of some will indeed be upset.
Now how do you preserve this proper understanding of Scripture? Well the beginning of verse 15, "Be diligent." It's really the result of hard work, be diligent. There's really no other way to do it. I haven't found any shortcut. You just have to go to work and that's why it's wonderful to have trained men train us. I thank God for those who trained me in a proper understanding of Scripture, who taught me Hebrew and taught me Greek and taught me theology, taught me exegesis and interpretation, who opened up to me the whole world of biblical history which acts as a framework and a context, who taught me what to look for in the text of Scripture and the context of Scripture, who taught me how to think rationally and reasonably and understand the flow of thought, who taught me about the difference say between narrative texts and poetic texts and all the issues that are so much a part of biblical interpretation. I thank the Lord for that. I thank the Lord for diligent men who made me diligent..and some of them taught me some pretty profound lessons. I remember preaching my great first sermon in seminary and when I was done the dean of the seminary came to me and he wrote on this critical paper only one statement, "You missed the whole point of the passage." Now you talk about a lesson, there's one. I spent about three weeks preparing that message and no telling how many dozens of hours because I knew I had to preach before the whole student body and the whole faculty. And I think the basic idea is not to miss the whole point of the passage if you can avoid it. In fact, it's pretty hard to do to spend that much time hovering over that deal, cutting it every way possible and still miss the point...it's pretty tough. But I succeeded amiably at that. I was...I was given the greatest lesson of my life when the man I wanted to impress the most was decidedly unimpressed. He said, "Don't you ever miss the point of the passage again." That little remark lingers in the back of my mind even now in my life.
But there's a greater accountability even than that. Look back at verse 15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God." The accountability here is not even to a seminary professor or a mentor, the accountability here goes even beyond that. The accountability is to God. In the preaching and teaching of the Word of God there is a level of diligence demanded that is built upon the fact that I have an accountability to the God who wrote Scripture to cut it straight.
By the way, when it says at the end of verse 15, "Handling accurately the Word of Truth," in the Greek it means cutting it straight. It's the idea of...Paul was a tent maker, you'll remember, and to make a large tent you would have pieces of hide, or pieces of woven fabric, sometimes goat's hair. And like a woman who makes a dress or a shirt or something, you have a pattern and when you cut the individual pieces right, then the whole thing fits together right. If you don't cut the individual pieces right, the whole thing doesn't come together. And that's what Paul is saying. You have to cut each piece of Scripture correctly to make it all fit. You can't be a theologian unless you do the work of exposition properly. And your accountability, he says, is to be approved by God.
You know, it is a frightening, frightening thing to take in your hand the Word of God and step out into a pulpit or a classroom and say, "I'm now going to tell you what God means by what He says here." Boy, you're treading on some pretty serious ground. And so there is a demand for diligence, anything less than that should cause one to be ashamed. Shabby work in Scripture before our precise God is unacceptable.
So precision is that compelling desire to master the truth, to master the truth of Scripture in precise terms so as to present it purely and accurately to others and safeguard it against imprecision which always leads to error and false doctrine. Let me say that again because that's a definition, my definition, anyway, of precision. Precision is that compelling desire to master the truth of Scripture in precise terms so as to present it purely and accurately to others and safeguard it against imprecision which leads to error and false doctrine.
Much of Christianity is on the rocks today. Many churches on the rocks not because they intended to destroy the authority of Scripture, but they just subtly supplanted it with the authority of experience and gave it a reduced and relative authority, not because they intended to misinterpret it because of careless hermeneutics, rather, and unthinking and unbiblical theology. Mishandling the Word of the God of heaven, however, is a frightening thing. And we are those who must give an account for how we handle the Word. That's why James 3:1 says, "Stop being so many teachers for theirs is a greater judgment." This is a serious thing we do, that's why we are serious in the doing and serious in the preparing of other men who shall do the same.
And look at 2 Timothy chapter 4 for a moment, another very solemn warning. In fact, that very word is used. In verse 1, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is the judge, the living and the dead, even by His appearing and His Kingdom." Boy, that is about a solemn a charge as you can get. I solemnly charge you...he says as a preacher...before God and Christ Jesus who will come to judge everyone, preach the Word. You better get it right...you better get it right. The time will come, verse 3, when they will not endure sound doctrine, they want to have their ears tickled, accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. Don't change anything. You just keep doing what is right.
Whenever I hear somebody say that the day of Bible exposition is over, the day of preaching and teaching the Word of God is over, I am reminded of this passage. No matter what goes on, no matter whether it's popular or not popular, no matter whether they will endure sound doctrine, or not endure sound doctrine...and I tell you, as I've told you before, this is a day when men do not want to hear sound doctrine, they see it as divisive and unloving and the mystics have taken over, created the mood of the mob in evangelicalism today. It is a time when they don't want to endure sound doctrine, but that doesn't change what we're committed to, we still preach the Word, we still teach sound doctrine, we still do exactly what we've always done because that's the mandate. And that's what the church is to do.
So, the church is engaged then in bringing heaven down. And what does heaven do? It exalts God. It exalts Christ. It exalts purity, holiness, and it exalts the Word. And that's what we do. One last point. Here is a fifth essential to the framework, the skeleton, the foundation of the church, submission to spiritual authority...submission to spiritual authority. And this takes the whole idea of the teaching of the Word of God sort of one more step. If the church is heaven on earth, then who must rule the church? The same one who rules in heaven. Clearly in the Scripture the Son of God has been exalted to the throne and sits on the throne with God the Father and is the head of the church. So the church then is ruled by Christ, that's the issue. Christ is the head of the church. He desires to rule His church. And if we are going to be heaven on earth, then we are going to do the will of the head of the church. We're going to do the will of Christ, our heavenly King, our heavenly Lord is going to rule in our fellowship, He's going to rule in our individual lives.
And how's He going to do that? How is Christ going to do that? How can Christ rule in His church? Very simple structure has been established and it's indicated to us in the New Testament. He does it through godly, gifted men. They're called elders. They're called overseers. They are called leaders. They are called shepherds, or pastors. It is these gifted, godly men who are the agents of Christ through whom He mediates His rule in the church.
I want to just reintroduce you to this very foundational reality by having you turn, first of all, to 1 Thessalonians 5 and we'll just touch a few Scriptures with regard to this. But 1 Thessalonians 5, now let me just give you a sort of background while you're turning to 1 Thessalonians 5. It should be simple for us to reason. There's a lot of discussion about church organization. Some people prefer a democratic church organization which is kind of a traditional in many American churches, particularly Baptist churches where the congregation votes on things and they are sort of the ruling entity. Some people prefer the opposite of that, a clerical authority in the church borne by some body external to any local church, some regional power or some local power that sort of sends down all the orders for the local churches and local Christians to respond to. And you have all kinds of things in between.
But the Bible is very simple. The Bible is very clear. It does not advocate congregational rule in the church. It does not advocate some diocese somewhere, some...some monarchy somewhere or some plurality of leaders in a region that disseminate their rule down through all the ranks. All the Bible simply does is say that in the church Christ will mediate His rule through godly men who feed and lead the flock...that's it. And that shouldn't be too hard to understand. If the Lord wanted to mediate His rule in the church, how would He do it most ably? Well, first of all, if the Lord wanted to press upon the church His will, it would have to come directly through those who are the most able students of Scripture, right? The Lord would not want to mediate His rule in the church through those least capable of interpreting His Word.
Secondly, if He wanted to mediate His rule in the church, if He wanted to have a direct line to express His will in the life of the church, He would not only select those who were most capable of understanding and teaching His Word, but He would also select those who most approximated in their living that which He desired for His church, right? In other words, whoever the teachers and the examples are of what Christ wants in His church would be the ones through whom He would most readily mediate His leadership. That's what elders are, or pastors are. We're not fund raisers, although obviously there is a necessity for the support of the church. We are not CEOs running a company. We are not primarily great visionaries who are able to stir up people to all kinds of causes. You hear people talking about pastors as motivators. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I heard about a pastor whom I know of a prominent church who no longer allows anybody on the pastoral staff to be called pastor because it's an antiquated term. They're now called motivators.
If the Lord wants to rule in His church, most readily He can do that through those who can best understand His will as revealed in His Word, who can best articulate it, who can best model it. It's that simple. I mean, I don't know what the debate is all about with regard to church government. If you...if you make the congregation the ruler of the church by virtue of voting for everything, you got some major problems because you have people at that level who cannot adequately interpret and teach the Word of God or at all levels of obedience and response to it. So what does the Lord say? "Find those most godly and most gifted in the category of teaching and put them in charge." It's that simple.
Look at 1 Thessalonians 5, verse 12. "We request of you, brethren," Paul says to the Thessalonian Christians, "that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another."
Now here is simply a reference to pastors. That's, by the way, speaking of their role of feeding and protecting...the word for shepherd, poimen, and shepherds feed and protect. Feed the Word of God to the people and protect them from error. They are also called elders. That speaks of their wisdom and maturity. They're also called overseer, that speaks of their authority and leadership. So we are the feeders, protectors who demonstrate wisdom and maturity and who exercise biblical authority over the congregation and thus Christ mediates His rule.
Look at verse 12 for a moment. There are really in verse 12 three things that he singles out that these men do. One, diligently labor among you. This is the word kopiao, I often refer to it, it means to work to the point of sweat and exhaustion, great discipline, great dedication, great devotion to work among the sheep for their good. Secondly, who have charge over you. So they work among you, laboring and working for your good and your growth. They also have authority or have charge. It's the verb proistemi which means to preside, to lead, to direct, giving spiritual direction, handling people, working with the development of leaders, solving problems, applying the Word of God to all kinds of situations, planning.
And thirdly, it says at the end of verse 12, they give you instruction. So labor among the sheep, have authority over the sheep, and instruct the sheep. This simply defines these men. They work as servants for your spiritual good, setting an example and a model by their great discipline and dedication. They have charge over you in terms of presiding and leading and directing you in the paths that the Word of God lays out, helping to handle the issues of life, solving problems, training leaders, giving spiritual direction. And they give you instruction from the Word.
And what do you do in response? Verse 13, first, you appreciate them...you appreciate them. That's what esteem them very highly in love means. You appreciate them, you honor them. Well that's actually in verse 12, you appreciate those. Then in verse 13, you esteem them very highly in love. Appreciate them, esteem them highly in love, and then in verse 13, live in peace with one another, applied, that you submit to them...you submit to them. You're not rebellious. When that leadership comes, you follow it. This is God's pattern for the church, a plurality of godly men and elders is a term, the term elders always in the plural except for two references to the elder John...every other use is plural so we assume a plurality of godly men in the church whose responsibility it is to represent the rule of Christ and Christ can most readily rule in His church through this plurality of godly men. So that's how heaven comes down, it comes down through godly leaders who are skilled at interpreting and teaching the Word of God and are faithful in living it out as examples and take the leadership of applying that truth to the lives of the flock.
Turn to Hebrews 13 and this gives us a bit of further insight. Hebrews 13:7, and he is calling here the recipients of this letter to do the same thing that Paul asked the Thessalonians to do and that is to honor their leaders, their elders, shepherds, pastors, overseers. And he says in verse 7, "Remember those who led you who spoke the Word of God to you and considering the result of their conduct imitate their faith." Now there you have the same basic responsibility. First they led you, that's oversight, that's...that's their spiritual direction, their leadership. They spoke the Word of God to you, that's their teaching and preaching. And considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. That's their living, their example. So you have a plurality of godly leaders who teach you and live out the patterns which they teach. That's leadership.
Down in verse 17 is even more direct. Obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over your souls. How? Do they have some titular authority? No. Do they have some authority by virtue of their charisma? No. They have authority over you because they bring to bear upon you the application of the Word of God which they teach and which they live. You obey them, you submit to them, they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. They're serious about what they do.
I can tell you that's true in this church. I can tell you that our elders agonize over decision of how we apply the Word of God to the given circumstances of our church life. And that's what we do. People say, "What goes on in an elders meeting?" I'll tell you what goes on. We are bathed and have been for years, we are steeped in an understanding of scriptural principles and what we do is take the myriad of contingencies, the mass of circumstances, all the issues of all the lives that come flooding into this place and sort out how the truth of the Word of God is to be applied to those. It is an agonizing and it is an exhausting effort. It is demanding. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy and clarity. That's what we do. And we do it with seriousness and sobriety because we have to give an account to God for the care of His flock.
Now if you'll just respond properly, if you'll be obedient and submissive, he says, then we can do it with joy and not with grief. It's enough grief just figuring it out. Once it's figured out and implemented, you respond and we'll have joy and not grief because if we have grief, he says that's unprofitable for you. If you have unhappy grieving leaders, it's not likely you're going to have a happy congregation.
That's the simple pattern of the church. That's how it works. A little note of affection in verse 24, "Greet all of your leaders and all the saints." The church always has leaders, always...gifted to teach, able to handle the Word of life, holding fast the faithful Word, able to teach it with clarity and conviction, able to refute those who contradict. This is the leadership of the church and this is what brings heaven down simply because where you have men who can handle the Word of God and who live out its principles, Christ can most readily mediate His rule through them. And, beloved, the church is the Kingdom, isn't it? It is...this is the Kingdom, this is the Kingdom of God on earth and the King wants to rule His Kingdom and He has chosen to do it through us. Once, you remember, there was a theocracy in Israel, a theocracy and God was the true King. But how many wicked and wretched kings got in the way of God's rule over His own Kingdom? How much is the Lord grieved when He tries to lead His church and bring His heavenly will down to earth in His church and there are not those faithful in the Word and faithful in the living through whom He can mediate His leadership?
That's why when it comes to choosing these people, the qualifications are so high and they have nothing to do with your education, your personal charm, your earthly wisdom or intellectual ability. They have only to do with your spiritual character. That's why you read things like this, if a man is going to be an overseer, a leader, a pastor, an elder in the church, he must be above reproach. In other words, there's nothing in his life that would scandalize the church. He must be a one-woman man, 1 Timothy 3. That doesn't mean he's not a polygamist. It means that if he's married to one woman, that's the only woman in his life. He's not unfaithful. He is temperate, moderate, prudent, or wise, respectable, hospitable, skilled in teaching because if Christ is going to mediate His heavenly authority through the church, He's going to do it through His Word properly understood and properly taught. He's not to be addicted to wine, obviously, or he can't be in control of himself. Not to be a fighter. But gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money, he must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. If a man doesn't know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God? You know what the proving ground for leadership in the church is? Leadership in the home. If you can lead your family to salvation and sanctification, those who are most intimate in your life, those who know you best, if they'll follow your spiritual leadership then you're suited to have the church follow. And not a new convert, by the way, because he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. He must also have a good reputation with those outside the church. That's the kind of person you want.
In Titus, much of the same is repeated with a few changes. Titus 1:6, "He is to be above reproach, a one-woman man having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion, children who are not disobedient, unruly and who are faithful." Every time the word "faithful" or "believe" is used in the New Testament, it's always referring to believers. So we assume they are believers. He is not self-willed. He's not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a fighter, not fond of money or sorted gain, hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, etc. So you're looking for a plurality of godly men through whom Christ can mediate His will.
Now, that sums it up. That brings heaven down. Heaven comes down in the church when we exalt God, when we honor Christ, when we pursue holiness, when we proclaim the Scripture and submit to the rule of Christ through His appointed shepherds...we bring heaven down. That's the church. That's the skeleton, that's the framework for the anatomy of the church. That's why we do what we do. When we gather together, it's to exalt God, it's to honor Jesus Christ. We're very concerned about dealing with sin, pursuing holiness. We are committed to the honoring of the Word of God and to godly pastors and shepherds and elders who feed and lead the flock and live out the very example of what it is that God desires in every life. That brings heaven down. That's the skeleton of the church.
And what you've got today in so many places in the church is...if not indifference to this, sometimes even in defiance of it with little interest in exalting God, little interest in pointing everything toward the honor of Jesus Christ, a small concern about the pursuit of holiness, a diminishing interest in the proclamation and precision of handling the Scripture and the placing into authority a people who are not qualified so that Christ is hindered in mediating His rule in the church. How sad.
Well, so much for the skeleton. Next time we're going to talk about the internal systems. And I think that's two weeks from today. Let's bow in prayer.
Father, thank You for this wonderful day and these precious, faithful people. Lord, what a great day it's been, what a rich and wonderful time of worshiping You, exalting Christ, calling ourselves back to the Word, back to godly leadership and submission. Lord, we just want to be Your church, the church that You want us to be collectively and individually. Lord, we pray that You'll work in us, blend all this great mass of people together as one in the wonder of the body of Christ that we might bring glory to our head in whose name we pray. Amen.