The elders were to rule for the good of the people, watching over their souls and delighting to see them growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). They were to devote themselves to the service of the local congregation, carrying on the work the apostles had begun there (1 Corinthians 16:15, 16). The calling of elders thus to rule in the communities of the Lord was a noble calling, and was not to be lightly assigned (1 Timothy 3:1-7). The people of God were expected to support and submit to their rulers, as this was the divinely-appointed means of their knowing the blessings of God.

It is reasonable to suppose that those appointed to rule in the New Testament communities would also have possessed a commitment to God’s Law in order to do their jobs well. It shouldn’t surprise us to hear Paul appealing to the statutes of Old Testament case law in instructing the people how they are to govern themselves (1 Corinthians 5:12), or James scolding the wealthy of the scattered congregations of God’s people in accordance with that same legal corpus (James 5:1-4).

The apostles took it for granted that the churches they had founded and were continuing to serve were ruled by men who knew the Law, and were growing in their understanding of it, and who accepted the authority of the Law to guide them in the way of God’s shalom. They didn’t have to argue with the leaders of those churches concerning the validity of the Law. Granted, some clarifying of its use was necessary, but only in relation to the ceremonial and religious laws of ancient Israel, not with respect to the civil or case laws. Apostles and church leaders accepted the authority of God’s Law and looked to it for guidance in knowing the blessings of God. Competent church leaders were men of the Law of God, serving the communities of the faithful in the New Testament precisely as their Old Testament forebears had done.

And this raises the question of qualifications for church leadership today. Can we expect to know the blessings of God on His believing communities if we fail to require of our leaders a love for and skill in using the Law of God? How shall our pastors and elders be able to judge righteous judgment apart from a good working knowledge of the holy, righteous, and good Law of God (Romans 7:12)? The Law of God is as vital a source of good government today as it ever was; we neglect it at our peril. Let the elders and pastors who would rule wisely, who would prove themselves truly competent to rule, devote themselves to knowing and loving God’s Law. For therein lie the keys to loving both God and our neighbors according to the will of our Savior and King.

For Reflection

How do you try to encourage your church’s leaders to be diligent students of God’s Law? In what ways does the Law of God serve as a source of blessing for your church?

T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet), and Culture Matters (Brazos). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn.
This article originally appeared on BreakPoint. Used with permission.