Elders and Spiritual Vision
by David Dunlap
"Where there is no vision the people perish; but he that keepth the law , happy
The Lord has placed stringent demands on
those that are called to be elders. He has called them to a spiritual work and
rigorous labor for the Lord. Paul charges the Thessalonian assembly that the
elders were to be recognized on the basis of their "labor" in the assembly.
The word translated "labor" in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 is the Greek word "kopiao".
This is a strong word, which means to toil to the point of weariness and
exhaustion. Regarding this word, author G. Campbell Morgan writes,
"Paul has in mind the kind of toil that has in it the red blood of sacrifice,
that kind of toil that wears and weakens by the way."
The "Labor" of Eldership
An elder in the local assembly must realize
that eldership is not merely an important title, but rather an indispensable
work. The work of the Lord in the church of God must not be neglected. Sadly,
this is often not the case in many New Testament churches. The shepherding of
the flock is left unattended, the ministry of the Word is mishandled, and
outreach to the lost is frequently forgotten. True elders set the spiritual
tone in a church. Where there are elders who are godly men, who put the Lord
first in there lives, who radiate the grace of the Lord Jesus, one can expect
to find a healthy, spiritual church; on the other hand, where elders are taken
up in the affairs of the world, overly occupied with outside interests, too
busy to read the Word of God or to pray, one can expect to find coldness and
deadness among the flock. Such men are not true elders. Yet, when the Word
of God speaks of the work of an elder, it describes men who
"watch over your souls"
"rule over you, who have spoken the word of God"
"labor in the word and doctrine"
(1 Timothy 5:17), and
"desire a good work"
(1 Timothy 3:1).
Indeed, many are carrying on this strenuous
work; yet how desperately our assemblies need more committed men to labor
sacrificially among the Lord's people. Biblical eldership necessitates
weariness, loneliness, criticism, sleepless nights, and tears. May we realize
that the work of the Lord requires our sacrifice, time and hard work. An
assembly cannot flourish without the arduous work and commitment of the elders.
If the elders fail, people may resort to unbiblical methods, bringing
spiritual harm to many. However, in all areas of the work of oversight in the
local assembly, there is one indispensable aspect which must not be neglected,
and that is : spiritual vision.
What is Spiritual Vision?
Spiritual vision might be defined as that
which God puts in our hearts to do when the spiritual need is great and our
hearts are filled with the concerns of God.
A few years ago an elder gave verbal
expression to spiritual vision when he prayed,
"Lord, break my heart with the concerns that break the heart of God."
A leader with vision does not see with mere human eyes, but with transformed
vision. As he passes by a hotel that is for sale, he sees the potential for a
missionary training center; when he sees a store front for rent, he envisions a
future Christian bookstore; when he sees new neighborhoods, he sees thriving
home Bible studies; when he see new growth in a town, he longs to see a new
assembly established in that area. This was the burden of church leaders in
the New Testament. The apostle Paul wrote,
"I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I
should build on another man's foundation, but as it is written: to whom He was
not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand"
Spiritual Vision in Antioch
After the stoning of Steven, a few disciples
of Cyprus and Cyrene entered the city of Antioch in Syria to make Christ known
in the preaching of the gospel. At that time, Antioch, situated on the Orontes
River, was a cosmopolitan city of 500,000 people, the third largest city of the
ancient world. Antioch was a city renown for its immorality and idolatry.
Juvenal, the Roman writer, rebuked the morals of Antioch by saying:
"The sewage of the Orontes has for long been discharged into the Tiber."
His point, which would not be missed on his readers, was that the immorality of
Antioch was so great that it was even polluting the depraved morals of Rome,
more than 1,300 miles away!
Yet these few disciples would not be deterred
from preaching the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great
number believed and turned to the Lord (Acts. 11:20-21). These men were men of
God with vision. These disciples, who were armed with the gospel of God and
equipped with the commandment to go into all the world, preached and served
Christ valiantly. However, not only did these few disciples have vision to see
cities won for Christ, but the persecuted assembly at Jerusalem also shared
"Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and
they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch"
(Acts 11:22). The assembly at Jerusalem sent one of their best men to help
establish the new work in Antioch. Barnabas was sent to Antioch and labored
there as a teacher, exhorting the believers that
"with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord"
(Acts 11:23). As the work in Antioch grew mightily , there was now a need for
another worker. Barnabas went to Tarsus to encourage Paul to come help in the
work at Antioch. Barnabas sought out a man of God--this man of vision sought a
man who likewise possessed a vision for establishing New Testament churches
throughout Asia Minor, Syria, and Galatia.
"When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year
they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the
disciples were first called Christians at Antioch"
The Cost of Spiritual Vision
" No wound, no scar.
Those who have most powerfully impacted the
world for Christ were men of vision. Spiritual vision and commitment are
strands of a cord used to raise high the banner of the cross. These men of God
laboring at Antioch were men of vision and were men of tireless zeal and
unflagging committment. Their charge was the Word of God and their commission
was that it must go forth at all costs. The work of God and the assembly of
God must not suffer loss. Personal loss, financial expense, physical
persecution, stonings, and the whipping post were all part of the high cost of
spiritual vision. New Testament leadership always exacts a heavy toll on men
and women of God. Amy Carmichael, who labored and sacrificed greatly to reach
the lost masses of India wrote,
Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole.
Can he have followed far--who has no wound? No scar? "
H. A. Ironside was once told by a man,
"I would give my all to have the knowledge and ability to preach the Scriptures
as you do."
"That is exactly what it has cost me."
The Lord Himself knew much of self-sacrifice in service. Christ, when
speaking of the humble character of his labors for the Father, said,
"Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. Even the Son of
Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many"
(Mark 10:44-45). John writes,
"He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the
(1 John 3:16).
Spiritual Vision and Spiritual Focus
Men of vision are also those who see with the
eyes of faith and with eyes fixed upon the power and glory of God. These men
have usually seen more clearly the importance of the work of God and have seen
farther concerning the glory of God than most others. This was true of many of
God's choicest servants in the Word of God. The Scriptures tell us regarding
Moses, one of the great servants of God, that he
"endured as seeing Him who was invisible".
Moses was able to see what the crowds could not see. He saw more fully, more
deeply, more powerfully than many around him the ways and desires of God. But
spiritual vision encompasses not only insight, but also godly foresight.
Spiritual vision is the spiritual ability to sense and anticipate what lies
ahead. These godly leaders can envision the results of inappropriate methods
or the rash decisions of others. These men see far out on the horizons the
dire consequences and the withering effects of unwise personal choices, petty
theological squabbles, and ill-advised assembly decisions, and seek to avoid
them. A leader of spiritual vision sees difficulties ahead, but also
possibilities, potential, and opportunities that lie in the future. Faith,
boldness, and wisdom are all ready weapons in his arsenal.
The bold vision of godly elders and spiritual
leaders within the local assembly is the great need of today. The church needs
men of God who possess wisdom, insight, foresight, and a heart for the glory
of God; men who work hard and esteem the work of Christ in the local church
worth the cost; men who step out in faith, seeing firstly God, and also that
which God desires to accomplish through the church. May there be more like the
"children of Issachar, who were men who had understanding of the times, to know
what Israel ought to do..."
(1 Chron. 12:32). Harry Ironside sets forth the necessity of vision writing,
"By vision is meant spiritual enlightenment and insight into divine
things...when this ministry is lacking among the people of God and the
assemblies of His saints, they soon become lawless, substituting for the
Spirit's energy the mere busy meddling of nature, and the opening the door to
what is simply of man in the flesh...but the anointed eye is needed to discern
what has been therein revealed... lack of vision will be manifested in a cold,
dry, theological, or philosophical, treatment of the Scriptures, as though
given to exercise the intellect, rather than the heart and the conscience."
(1) G. Campbell Morgan,
The Corinthian Letters,
(Old Tappan, NJ : Revell, 1946), p. 207
(2) F. F. Bruce,
The Spreading Flame,
(Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans, 1979), p. 141
(3) Harry Ironside,
(New York: NY: Loizeaux Brothers, 1977) p. 425-426
"One of the greatest blights on the church today is the recognition of men as
elders who do not have the spiritual qualifications. Because a man is
successful in business, he is thrust into a place of leadership, even thought
he may have little or no spirituality. The result is an abundance of whatever
money will buy and an absence of spiritual power."
"Eyes that look are common. Eyes that see are rare. The Pharisees looked at
Peter and saw only an unlettered fisherman,...Jesus saw Peter and discovered
the leader of a band of men who turned the world upside down...Vision includes
hope. No pessimist ever made a great leader. The pessimist sees difficulties in
every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunities in every
J. Oswald Sanders
"Spiritual qualifications are not gained by promotion, but by many tears, by
confessions of sin, by humblings and heartsearchings, by self-surrender, and by
a courageous sacrifice of every idol. That is the great price that must be paid
by him who would be a real leader."
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