Howard Mooney - Elders - Portland, OR - April 5, 1960

It is quite possible that not too many of you have been in a meeting like this before. We arranged this gathering tonight, because we have found it helpful from time to time to gather the elders together and discuss with them the things that are of mutual interest to us. We hope that this gathering will be will be most profitable. One of the things we would like to accomplish, this evening, is to help you to realize how much we appreciate the place you are filling as elders in this great fellowship. The older I grow in the work, the more I find myself thanking God for men like you. I am so thankful that God, in His perfect plan, did not leave out the elders. They take such a great load from our shoulders. In fact, it is hard for us to find words that express just how much this means to us. 

Paul's letter to Philemon has, along this line, meant a great deal to me. This was written by Paul, a servant , to Philemon, an elder. It also took in his beloved wife, Apphia. The wives of elders can do much in helping their husbands fill the worthy place they have been called upon to fill. This is why we asked you wives to accompany your husbands here tonight. In this letter Paul referred to Philemon as a fellow laborer, verse 1; a partner, verse 17; a brother, verse 20. It is so hard for the religious world to comprehend a relationship like this existing. They cannot begin to produce an association like this, between their ministry and laity. This is a miracle found in God's true way. To us it is an increasing miracle; to those looking on, it is a deep mystery. 

When you think of a fellow laborer, you could think of two oxen yoked together both serving the same master, both pulling the same load, both laboring for the interest of the same field. This is a wonderful picture of the relationship existing between Paul and Philemon. The work partner reminds us that this is also the Father's business. At the early age of 12, Jesus was very much concerned about His Father's business. They share their profit and loss together. Partners have the same interest in the same business. They go through the same ups and downs. Their existence today and their hope tomorrow, depends upon that business. They are for that reason both constrained to put their best into it. 

Another nice thought about partners, is that when one is away they know that the other is taking the same interest in the business as though they were there. This has often meant a great deal to me. We are often called away to help out with special meetings, conventions, etc. How comforting it is, at such times, to know that we have a partner watching over each little flock. Men who have the same deep concern for that flock as we have, Again, I say, it is hard to find words to express just how much this means to us. 

Paul not only spoke of Philemon as a fellow laborer and a partner, he also spoke of him as a brother. This speaks of a closer relationship still, a personal feeling. Something deep-down inside that makes one care for you. I am very glad that this same relationship, this same care, still exists between God's servants and elders. 

I look upon my privilege of being in the work, as the greatest privilege God could give to a man. You can look upon your privilege of being an elder, as a god-given privilege, too. Both these privileges, however, are accompanied by a great responsibility. When you turn to Acts 20:28, you realize a little better how great that responsibility is. This was part of Paul's last visit with the elders of Ephesus. This verse speaks of the "church of God, which He hath purchased with His Own Blood!" A blood bought group of people, the most precious souls in the world. And to think that God has entrusted to us the great responsibility of feeding and caring for them! This is a wonderful privilege, with a tremendous responsibility. 

A great deal is mentioned about the qualifications of a servant of God. You read of them in the scriptures, you hear them often mentioned in Gospel Meetings and other meetings. There is also a great deal in the Bible mentioned about the qualifications of elders. We would encourage you to read, often, 1 Timothy 3. Also Titus1:5-9. Both these passages contain a list of qualities that every elder should possess. It is in Titus 1:5-7, where we are told that an elder and a bishop are the same. The word bishop, which means an overseer, is really the word that describes the position. They were also referred to as elders, though, because they were chosen from among the older ones. Paul told Timothy not to appoint a novice, 1 Timothy 3:6, lest he be lifted up with pride. If one who is new in the faith, was appointed to fill the place of a bishop, he might get the wrong idea. He might think that he is being given a high office and he could be lifted up with pride over it. To older ones, though it is just the opposite effect. It humbles them to the dust. They realize the seriousness of their calling. To think that God has actually entrusted to them the care of such a precious group! To an honest heart, this is very humbling. That is why the bishops were to be chosen from the elders, or the older ones. 

Some time ago, one of our brothers gave us an acrostic to the word bishop. He mentioned that if a man is a good bishop, he will be a 

B - Brother I - Instructor S - Servant H - Helper O - Overseer P - Protector 

A brother is one who can be easily approached. This is so vital. I do not know of anything more important than to be the one that others can feel free to come to for advice and encouragement. We feel so much the need of this quality as workers. Nothing would hurt me more than to know that someone was afraid to come to me with their problem. This is one of the reasons that Jesus forbade His ministers to take a title. Those titles belong to the Father and Christ, "Ye are brethren." You read of this in Matthew 23:8. Jesus knew that if these men began to take titles, it would automatically place them on a pedestal. He was not sending them out as dignitaries. He was sending them out to be brethren. Men who could easily be approached. It is also important to be an "Instructor." One who is instructed in the Word and who is in a position to give Godly instruction to others.  

Then comes the thought of a "Servant." In God's way, we rule by serving. There is a definite order of God's plan and when this is followed, you need no organization. According to God's order, the church is subject to the bishop, the bishop is subject to the ministry, the ministry is subject to Christ, and Christ is subject to God. When that order is followed, you need no organization. I realize that that, as a worker, it is only through service that I can hope to command the respect of the bishop. It is only through your willingness to serve that you as a bishop, can hope to command the respect of the flock you are in charge of. Jesus said, "I am among you as He that serveth."

The letter 'H' speaks of a helper. One who is ready, at all times, to lend a helping hand . 'O' stands for overseer. You might also think of overcomer. We cannot help others, unless we ourselves are overcomers. Last, but not least, there is the protector. The flock cannot protect themselves. One feels so responsible in this. We can't afford to lose any of these precious souls, over which the Holy Ghost has made us overseers. So, a bishop should be a brother, an instructor, a servant, a helper, an overseer and a protector. 

We might also notice what Peter mentioned about the elders. You will find this in 1 Peter 5:1-4. Peter included himself, in these verses, among the elders. He was an older worker, upon whose shoulders the care and responsibility of many was resting. His main message was: "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but by being ensamples to the flock." We could not hope to help God's people by lording over them. There may be times when one has to exercise their responsibility, but those times are rare and our main hope of helping others is by our ensample. It is so often true, the spiritual health of a little flock is determined by the health of the elder. There is so much more to do, beside giving out the hymns in a meeting. That is why we are so deeply grateful to God for the men who are proving to be real bishops, or elders. Notice the word 'ensamples.' There is a difference between an ensample and an example. An example is an original copy. An ensample is a duplicate copy of the original. In making blueprints, for an illustration, the architect draws out the original copy. This is the example. They might make 50 (prints) reprints of it, but they are called ensamples. They are copies of the original. In our fellowship we have only one perfect example, that is Christ. We uphold Him in all things. However, when we allow God to conform us to the image of Christ, then we become reprints of that original -- or ensamples. Like Paul was able to say in 1 Cor. 11:1, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ."

There are a great many ways in which one can be an ensample to the flock. Peter spoke of one of them, in verse 2, of this 5th chapter : "Feed the flock of God." Each year we realize, more fully, that the shorter testimonies carry the most food. We are told, at a recent special meeting, that it takes 40 gallons of of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. That represents a lot of boiling down. We might enjoy many things from the scriptures, during the week, but it takes a great deal of boiling down before it can be "real food" for others. Did you ever notice what is said of Asher, Genesis 49:20 "Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties." Royal dainties are condensed. They are rich, and nourishing, and you enjoy every bit of them. I have known men, whose testimonies were like that, and you found yourself eagerly looking forward to hearing them each time. 

We can also be an ensample in prayer. Prayers play such a vital part in the meeting. I have been in some meetings where I felt that the prayers had been more of a detriment than a help. In other meetings, you feel that it was a period of prayer that made the meeting so helpful. Do you ever prepare a prayer in your heart before coming to the meeting? We would not think of standing up and giving our testimony without some forethought, would we? Why then should we attempt to pray without a little premeditation. This is scriptural. You read of those who prepared their hearts to seek the Lord God. 11 Chronicles 19:3 "Pour out your heart before Him." Psalm 62:8, "When you pray, do you pour out your heart" .... or do you pour out whatever comes into your mind? I have found that when I take time to prepare in my heart something before the meeting, it is so much easier for me to pray in the meeting. I like to think of something special that I am desirous of, or thankful for. Something that I did not pray for in the last few meetings. To pray briefly, and originally, in a meeting is to pray helpfully. It saves us from the tendency of 'vain repetitions.' 

One thing I have learned from the prayers of Jesus, is that He always prayed specifically. He never prayed at random. You will notice this in Luke 10:21 also in John 11:41,42. No doubt Jesus had a multitude of things he could have thanked God for on each of these occasions. He didn't though. He prayed specifically for the thing relative to the occasion. This secret has been a great help to me, especially in my private praying. When we return thanks for the food, it should be for the food. When we pray for the meeting, it should be for the meeting. When we give thanks for the bread and wine, it should be for the bread and wine. I have known some who have missed the mark entirely by simply praying the same routine prayer for every occasion. I would like to learn to pray specifically, like Jesus did. If we, as workers and elders, learn to pray this way, we would be a wonderful ensample for the little flock to follow after. 

Another thing about prayer: There seems to be a common tendency for many to subdue their voices while praying in the meeting. There is another scriptural about that. So often the person praying can only be heard by the few nearest to them. Often the older folks have complained that the can only hear a small part of the prayers. That is too bad. Those old souls need encouragement and the stimulant of your prayers. If any thing, one should raise their voice while praying, at least loud enough so that all can easily hear and be edified and join in with a hearty "amen," too. This is another way in which we can be an ensample. Maybe we should mention something about the "amen," too. This is something we have been very reluctant about because the holiness of people have overdone it. In trying to be as unlike them as we can, we have sometimes transgressed the other way. To me there is something very helpful about a modest "amen" after each prayer and testimony. One of the things we remember so well about our brother Jack Carroll, was the encouragement he gave us younger workers along that line. When we would be speaking in a meeting trembling and often stuttering, there was something about the "amen" from that older man that would refresh the heart in us. I never want to forget what that meant to me. It is not easy for most of the Lord's people to pray and testify. An Audible "amen," when they finish, will assure them that you have fully appreciated their effort and that you have been helped by what they said. If we are faithful in doing this, the others will be encouraged to follow and it will add a great deal to the helpfulness of the meeting. 

Some have asked about a problem they have in connection with praying for the bread and wine. Often this falls on the shoulders of one or two in the meeting. These emblems are something we should all be very thankful for, and we should all relish the privilege of taking our turn in expressing thanks. If there is a tendency in our flock for most to leave this up to one or two each Sunday, it would be very good to call on some of the others by name. It might be helpful to do this meeting after meeting, until a number have been called upon. It would help all to realize their responsibility along this line. 

There is the endless visiting that also goes with the responsibility of an elder. The flock needs so much visiting. The sick ones, the discouraged ones, the careless ones. They could easily lose out if we did not keep in touch with them. Probably we fail along this line more than any other. We realize that the elder cannot keep up with all the visiting. Others in the flock should share the task. It is up to the elder, though, to see to it that someone does make the necessary visits when those visits are needed. A little personal interest like that, between meetings, often goes a long way towards encouraging those who may be weary. We can't afford to lose any of them. They are too precious. 

In closing, I would like to mention something about the neighbors. I have become very neighbor-conscious. We want every little meeting to be a light in the community, not an aggravation. The way in which the cars are parked, the way in which the children conduct themselves after the meetings, avoiding any undue excitement. We cannot be too careful about these things. We wouldn't want anything, in connection with the meetings, to irritate or distress the neighbors in any way. Like the golden candlestick, giving forth its light, each little group of God's people should add a golden glow to the community.