Does an elder have a more exalted position in the assembly than others?
The Bible teaches that a man publicly sharing in oversight is “exalted” in that he has greater responsibility and accountability, but he serves “at the feet” of the believers in lowliness of mind.
The Authorized Version is misleading in translating the verse, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, overthe which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). Rather than “over the which,” more accurate translations of this passage read “in which” (ESV) or “among which” (YLT). Although fellow-believers are to submit to (Heb 13:17), know and esteem highly (1Th 5:12, 13), and honor (1Ti 5:17) elders, those elders are in, not over, the flock. Their position is not above other believers.
When an assembly recognizes a man whom the Lord has raised up to be an elder, this does not change his heart’s concern for believers or his ability to care for them by means of God’s Word. It does however give him the added responsibility of meeting with the elders when they gather (Acts 20:17, 18). He has publicly joined others and shares with them an accountability for the spiritual health of each sheep (Heb 13:17).
The Lord gave a spiritual lesson by literally washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:7, 12). He was exemplifying loving care for others in removing all that hinders fellowship with Him (“no part with Me,” v 8). By girding Himself with a towel and stooping at His disciples’ feet, He was the model of servant-care (vv 5, 6). Thus, those who accept the responsibility of lovingly caring for the spiritual condition of fellow-believers are lowly servants of the Master. He taught that those who lead His people are ministering servants (diakonos) and bondservants (doulos) (Mat 20:26, 27).
What guidance does God’s Word give on the role of an elder’s wife?
Although Paul gives qualities requisite in the wives of deacons (1Ti 3:11), he does not do the same for overseers’ wives. Some biblical principles do provide guidance for her role, however.
When the Lord entrusted responsibility for subduing and having dominion over the earth, He gave it to them, the male and female (Gen 1:28), Adam and Eve. When that work began, Adam received the responsibility for tilling the garden, the commandment about what to eat, and the work of naming the animals (2:15, 16, 19, 20). It was not “good” for Adam to “be alone” in this, so the Lord made Eve (v18). Together, they were responsible for the work, but Adam carried out the work and Eve completed him in doing it.
An overseer’s wife, therefore, is an integral part of a unit that shares in overseeing the believers. Her husband does the work and she completes, supports, and enables him in this responsibility. She may have to help him make time for his work, and that will often mean sacrificing time she would enjoy with him. She will greatly enable him by living the Christian standards of God’s Word and seeking grace from the Lord to exemplify the qualities of a Christian wife. She may also help her husband by accompanying him when he gives spiritual counsel to assembly sisters. The overseers may ask her to assist them by dealing directly with a sister whose problem involves sensitive issues, difficult for men to address. At times, an elder’s wife may be able to provide insights that her husband’s male perspective lacks.
She will, at times, recognize that some matters her husband is handling must remain confidential and he is wise to keep them from her so as not to prejudice or overburden her. In any event, all she knows about her husband’s work is to remain between her and her husband. Information about oversight matters should never come from an overseer’s wife. Communicating such matters is his (or the oversight’s) responsibility, not hers.
Is her role just as significant as her husband’s?
Yes. Eve was equally responsible for the work entrusted to them on creation’s sixth day (Gen 1:28). Her role in fulfilling that work was different, but inseparable from Adam’s role. Competition between a man and his wife is unbecoming; marriage should reflect the wonderful union between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). Each rejoices in the usefulness of the other and supports and encourages the other in fulfilling God’s will.
A husband who fails to appreciate the significance of his wife’s role does not understand God’s intention in his marriage. Having responsibility as an overseer never exempts a man from his responsibilities as a husband. He is equally accountable to the Lord for both roles. Caring for and nurturing his wife (Eph 5:29) will express the kindness, sensitivity, and concern that should mark his shepherding work in the assembly (see 1Th 2:7). In caring for his marriage, he will be better equipped to “take care of the church of God” (1Ti 3:5).
Can an elder’s wife receive a “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4)?
That crown is apparently for “under-shepherds” who are taking care of the Chief Shepherd’s sheep. The context of the book may explain why Peter (by the Spirit’s inspiration) calls it a crown of glory. Peter reminds believers of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus and of His subsequent glory (1:11). He encourages believers in their trials that their suffering likewise precedes glory (1:7; 4:13). In two ways, elders may have special sufferings. When enemies persecute believers, leaders are special targets. In addition, the burden of caring for the flock often causes them much grief and suffering of soul. Glory follows suffering, so in a unique way the Lord has reserved for them a crown of glory.
Another crown, the crown of life, is offered to those who “endure temptation” (Jam 1:12). An elder’s wife may receive this crown for suffering with her husband (in whatever way you may wish to apply that!).