WITH THE OVERSEERS AND DEACONS

If you developed an organizational chart for the church from Scripture, what would it look like?  In the church, there isn’t a whole lot said on the topic.  We know for certain that the church is the body of Christ and that he is head over the church.  In Colossians 1:18 it says, “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”  Notice that it is “HIS body, HIS church and that he is to have first place or supremacy always in the church.  In any church, anywhere if our focus isn’t on Jesus and praising Him in everything we are messing things up royally.  Jesus said that if he was lifted up he would draw all people to him.  Tie that with the fact he said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him up in the last day.” (John 6:44-45)  The truth is people may be drawn to a church for a multitude of reasons.  They may be looking for friends, for companionship, for encouragement and for salvation.  If all I’m looking for at church is the same thing I might find by visiting a Rotary club or Lion’s Club meeting then I will likely be fooled into making a very unwise choice about my life and future.

It is certainly important at church to recognize people for doing good things.  Think of Paul’s writings in places like Romans 16 as he tells of good things going on in the lives of many of the members of the church in Rome.  But every place we hold as followers of Christ is tied to service.  It is Jesus who is lifted up, who is head and who is glorified.  Anytime we put some man or woman in the place that belongs to Jesus alone we are leading the church off in the wrong direction.

When Paul wrote the church in Philippi he started like this, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.”  This sentence holds several vitally important points with regard to the church as God planned it.  Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and was the primary servant through whom the gospel had been preached in Philippi.  If any man had a right to have identified himself as the one who started the church and as their leader, it would have been Paul.  Yet he puts himself in the same category as Timothy and declares that both are servants of Christ Jesus.  It is worth remembering that Jesus also described himself as the servant.

He writes to “All God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi.”  He desired to reach out to the whole church and every member of it and not just to those in places of leadership.  It would seem natural that when this letter reached the city of Philippi that it would be read before the whole church since he wanted the whole group to hear it.  In our time it is often difficult to get a message to the entire church because the letter arrives at an office and is read by someone who represents some segment of the church and there may or may not be a report of the message to the whole congregation.  Most likely the church there met in the home of someone like Lydia so that getting it to the entire group would have been easy.

Finally, Paul declared that he writes to the overseers and deacons together with the whole church.  From our structure today it would have been far more likely that he would have written the letter to the elders of the church for them to share with the deacons and some parts of the letter to the whole church.  It might even be the case that the letter would be addressed to the preacher there for him to share with the elders or overseers who would then tell the deacons about it and perhaps have some highlights shared with the whole church.  In reality, the whole address of the letter fails to fit our structure.  If he had followed our thinking it would have been more like the following:  “Dr. Paul the one who planted the church in Philippi along with my assistant Timothy, to my friend and co-worker Dr. Epaphroditus, the Senior Minister at Philippi and to the overseers there, along with the deacons and the other members of the church.”  Just think how much we could have assisted Paul in his letter writing skills by getting all the correct way of addressing people down.  Strangely, he being guided by the Holy Spirit, was satisfied to simply use the word “Servant” and apply it to both he and Timothy as fellow workers in the kingdom.

It does make me wonder how far we may have strayed from God’s plan with our emphasis on organizational structure.  Is there a difference in writing to the church with their overseers and deacons and in writing to the overseers and deacons for the church in that place?  I really think there is a difference and that it would be good to go back to the plan described in Philippians 1:1.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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