Most people miss a command regarding the elders because they speed right past it to what they consider the more important issues, not realizing that all those others would be much easier if they took care of first things first.
But we beseech you brethren to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake. 1 Thes 5:12,13.
Yes we are to give them honor, esteem, and obedience. You cannot read the epistles without seeing that. But Paul first says “to know them.” That doesn’t mean to just recognize them across the room or be able to point them out to visitors.
This is not the usual New Testament word for “know”--ginosko. If you have done much Bible study at all, or listened to many sermons, that is the word you have probably seen on all those power point displays. This word is oida. Let me show you how the Holy Spirit uses it in a couple of other passages.
‘You know neither me nor my father. If you knew me you would have known my father also…but I know him. If I should say I know him not, I shall be like you, a liar, but I know him and keep his word, John 8:19,55. Do you realize Jesus is talking to the Jewish religious leaders and telling them they don’t know God? No, actually he is telling them they don’t know God like he knows God, even though they think they do. This is a full knowledge borne of a close relationship, not a superficial recognition of who someone is.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and by your name cast out demons and by your name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them I never knew you; depart from me you who work iniquity, Matt 7:22,23. Will Jesus not recognize who these people are? Of course he will, but he will not give them approved acceptance.
Do you know your elders that well? Had you worked to develop a close relationship with these men before you chose them to lead you? Do you know them so well that you are able to approve their knowledge, judgment, and life in general? Why exactly do you think those qualifications are listed? Not so we can just check them off as quickly as we read them, but so we can investigate and really know they have been met.
If you know your elders as the Holy Spirit intended you should by using that particular word, the rest of the commands pertaining to them will come more easily. You will trust them enough to accept their judgment on things and obey them (Heb 13:17). You will neither gossip about them, nor listen to it either (1 Tim 5:17-19). You won’t be speaking to them without the respect due their position (I Thes 5:13). If you cannot do these things, it is your fault. You chose these men without really “knowing” them.
It isn’t their obligation to invite us over for dinner and be our best buddies. It is our obligation to find out who they are deep inside, deep enough that we really know what they are all about. We cannot always be privy to every bit of information they have when they make their decisions. God never meant us to be. That is why this knowledge we are supposed to have of them is so important. It’s what makes our trust and submission possible.
Look back at the beginning of this little essay. “Know them who labor among you.” This is a command, folks, not just a recommendation. Just which one of God’s commands do we think we don’t have to obey?
Obey those who have the rule over you and submit to them; for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable to you. Heb 13:17