Elders (4): The Failures of Oversight in the Local Church

In Ezekiel’s time, the failures of the shepherds in Israel were blatant! Let’s learn from the text as we evaluate our own hearts and put our works under the microscope of the Word. Space will not permit our quoting the passage so please open your Bible to Ezekiel 34:1-6. It will clearly describe for us the nature of the work. We will see the Charge, the Crisis, and the Censure, as well as the seven sins of shepherds in Israel.

You Feed Not the Flock

The shepherds were guilty of feeding themselves, of focusing on what they personally were getting from the sheep. They were self-centered instead of selfless! Notice the rhetorical question: “Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (v2). We will not develop again the priority of expositionally feeding the flock save to reinforce that the feeding must be from the Scriptures, and is the outgrowth of one first feeding his own soul and then feeding the flock with what he himself has discovered, digested, and by which he has been personally impacted.

The Weak (Strong’s #2470) You Have Not Strengthened (#2388)

The ministry of the shepherd is meant to be a strengthening ministry. The word “diseased” (KJV) is translated “weak” by JND. We will look first at this strengthening. The young men whom John addressed were strong because “the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one” (1Jn 2:14 NKJV). This reminds us of David’s words: “Concerning the works of men, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer” (Psa 17:4 NKJV). Notice the secret of strength prescribed to Joshua by the Lord: “Only be strong and very courageous …. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Jos 1:7-8 ESV).

You Have Not Healed (#7495) the Diseased (#2470)

Overseers are not physicians but there are many instances when they encounter saints who are sickly. They are spiritually unwell. Paul wrote to Timothy about those who were “proud, knowing nothing, but doting [sick] about questions and strifes of words” (1Ti 6:4 KJV). Paul was possibly influenced by Dr. Luke when he included so many healthy words in the Pastoral Epistles. For example, the word “sober” is sometimes used to translate #3524, which means to be free from intoxicating influences, and thus to be watchful and vigilant. However, there is another common word for sober, #4993-4998, which is used in 1 Timothy 3:2 and in Mark 5:15, and means to be healthy minded. Additionally, the word for “sound” in “sound doctrine” in 1 Timothy 1:10 and for “wholesome” in 1 Timothy 6:3 is #5198, and is the word from which we get our word “hygiene.” (See also Luk 15:27.) Incidentally, the word “doting” (1Ti 6:4) is noseo, the word from which we get our word “nauseated.” Do you know any sick saints, who became ill after encountering and imbibing unhealthy teaching?

You Have Not Bound Up (#2280) the Broken (#7665)

Eliphaz reminded Job that Jehovah had a binding-up ministry: “For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole” (Job 5:18 NKJV). The psalmist wrote, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa 147:3). How tragic it is if we do not perceive brokenness and if we do not take measures to promote healing! We have seen in the ministry of the Lord Jesus that one of the works of the Anointed One was to “set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luk 4:18). We also read of Him, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench” (Mat 12:20 KJV). It is significant that the Lord chose followers who could “cast the net into the sea” but also those who were capable of “mending the nets” (Mar 1:16-20).

You Have Not Brought Back That Which Was Driven Away

We learn from Luke 15:1-7, a gospel passage, that the work of shepherds is to bring back that which has gone astray. Peter wrote: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1Pe 2:25 ESV). But what happens when straying sheep who have been brought to the shepherd then stray again into paths inconsistent with the Christian life? Are there those who can bring them back? The Lord Jesus did this with Peter in John 21:15-23. They dined, and then the Lord discussed devotion and direction. We must love before we can lead. Abraham understood the imperativeness of a recovery ministry. We read: “He brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people” (Gen 14:16 KJV). Consider also Jehoshaphat’s work in 2 Chronicles 19:4.

You Have Not Sought That Which Was Lost

Many believers have left the fellowship of a scripturally gathered New Testament assembly. Do we just write them off with expressions such as “They were not assembly material”? In Acts 2:41-42, they were all living stones being built into the building, the local church. Are we in any way like the shepherd who “went after that which was lost until he found it”? The search is costly but the sheep are valuable; they are those for whom Christ died!

You Have Ruled With Harshness and With Rigour

Were some driven away because the elders forgot they were pastors and thought they were policemen? Did they think they were generals instead of guides? Were they princes instead of patterns and, as a result, were lording it over the saints instead of leading them? We must hold fast to scriptural principles, but aren’t there times when we must compromise on mere preferences? As we move forward, we must distinguish between direction and domination.