What We Believe
i

Dear James,

Thank you. Your words warmed the heart of an old man. I heard about your ordination and was just speaking with the Lord about you this morning. I wondered how you were doing in this new calling to serve him as a ruling elder. You can imagine my surprise when your letter came today requesting some advice. God’s timing is always just right, isn’t it? Of course, I am delighted to share anything the Lord has taught me over the years. I wish I had learned more by advice and less by mistake! It is a good thing to ask for some help (Prov. 24:6). Just bear in mind that giving good counsel can be hard. Even older men like me must be cautious here, lest we become like one who “darkens counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). Weigh my words by Holy Scripture. One thing we know for sure—that is, “the counsel of the Lord stands forever” (Ps. 33:11).

No doubt you grasp the weight of this calling to serve as a ruling elder in Christ’s church. You are a soul-watcher now. And you will, one day, give an account of your watching (Heb. 13:17).

Soon enough, if not already, you will come to feel what Paul expressed when he wrote “we were burdened above measure, above strength” (2 Cor. 1:8). And this is uniquely so for those called to serve as ruling elders. You have already, as I understand from your letter, an earthly calling of significant responsibility. You also have a family. Now you are an elder. But I trust you will learn by experience just how strong our Lord is. He gives power to the weak (Isa. 40:29), which you will surely see.

Onto some advice. I think I will begin, if you do not mind, with an important caution. I do not know that you need it personally. But sooner or later it becomes a snare to many. I am talking about your heart. The greatest danger of the eldership is an elevated heart. Remember that. Nothing will ruin a man’s work so much as a proud spirit. It is vital you know this. Whole churches have been destroyed by nothing more than the haughty heart of a ruling elder. Pride is a potent poison. The fiery dart of pride is Satan’s favorite weapon. “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18) is a rule that has sadly been proven time and again. A false teacher is bad. A proud elder is worse. Heresy has slain her thousands. Pride her ten thousands. There is no damage like the damage done by an arrogant elder.

In Romans, Paul’s warning against pride is nearly the first thing he mentions when he goes from doctrine to practice. He explains the gospel. He shows our helplessness and need. He points to God’s righteousness in Christ. He teaches us the meaning of sovereign grace. Oh, the wonders of His love! So how should we now live? What must this Christian now do? Here is where he starts, that man is “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3). If this is true of every Christian, it is more so for us elders. Beware of pride.

I would also have you carefully weigh the warning of Proverbs 26:12: “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” The fool is a bad man. He is a godless man. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). But the proud man is a worse man. Pride makes us worse than atheists. An atheist thinks there is no God, but the proud man thinks he is God. That is worse. Mark this, a proud elder is worse than a godless one. A proud elder will share in Satan’s fate, “he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Remember, my dear brother, a proud elder is an ordained demon.

Having said all of that, our greatest need in this office of ruling elder is, by God’s grace and means, to cultivate a humble heart. Let that, my dear, precious brother, be your great aim. Keep your heart with diligence (Prov. 4:23). Jonathan Edwards called pride “the worst viper in the human heart.” Well, I have given you enough to think about for now. Feel free to write again should you want to discuss this topic, or maybe another, at greater length.

Your soul’s well-wisher,
An older ruling elder

Ordained Servant Online, January, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: January 2023

Historical Adam

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The Unfolding Word, by Zach Keele

Adam’s Silence

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