Acts 14:23

Someone believed. Vermont Cemetery.

Friday, 24 February 2023

So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:23

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The previous verse indicated that the apostles strengthened the souls of the disciples, exhorting them that tribulations could be expected. With that, the narrative continues with, “So when they had appointed.”

The word is a new one to Scripture, cheirotoneó. It comes from cheir, the hand, and teinó, to stretch. Thus, it signifies to stretch out the hand for voting. It is an election by popular vote. If this is the intent now, and it certainly seems like the best intent for the word, then it should be translated as “chosen,” rather than “appointed.” However, some scholars argue that such a vote would be unlikely and that the apostles would rather appoint elders, thus stretching out their hands toward them as in the act of commissioning. The only other use of the word is found in 2 Corinthians 8 –

“And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, 19 and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind.” 2 Corinthians 8:18, 19

It does not seem unreasonable that the apostles would allow for a vote. The people would not want such a matter forced on them, and they would know best whose life was the most suited to such an office. Therefore, these elders were either “chosen” or “appointed.” This process was conducted for “elders in every church.”

The word is presbuteros, and it is where the word presbyter is derived from. It signifies a mature man who is experienced and has seasoned judgment. In the Bible, the office is always male. The feminine singular, presbytera, is not to be found in Scripture nor can the selection, appointment, and ordination of females be inferred from Scripture.

As for the establishment of this office of elder at each church, it was a necessary point that is fleshed out further in the pastoral epistles. A church body needs someone to guide it and to bear the responsibility of keeping the doctrine sound and the people properly trained. Without this, the church would become a rudderless ship, floundering in a sea of whatever strange teachings came along. But with a sound leader, the chances of the church maintaining the right course would be far better. Once these elders were selected it says they, probably meaning both the apostles and the church as a whole, “prayed with fasting.”

This is an obvious thing to occur in such a situation. These people had no idea if they would ever meet again. A church was being left in the care of men who did not have the completed Bible to guide them. Their training in the doctrines of Christ was, by today’s standards, extremely limited. Such prayer and fasting would have been to acknowledge this and to petition the Lord to favor their efforts into the future. With this then complete, it next says, “they commended them to the Lord.”

The word signifies to commit in a very close and personal way. It is as if the care of these elders is transferring from the apostles directly to the Lord, just as these apostles were set apart to the Lord in Acts 13:2. They are now the leaders who would shepherd or pasture the flocks. Therefore, they would need the hand of the Lord upon them in their duties. Of this word translated as “commended,” Albert Barnes notes the following –

“The word is the same as in Acts 20:32; Luke 23:46. It implies the confiding trust of one who commits what is very precious to him to the keeping of another. So in 2 Timothy 2:2 it is used of the depositum fidei, the treasure of truth which Timothy was to commit to faithful men. Here it implies an absolute trust in God as ordering all things for His Church and those who love Him.”

This thought is then intensified by Luke’s added words about their relationship with the Lord, saying, “in whom they had believed.”

The verb is  pluperfect or “more than perfect.” These men “had believed,” and this is the state in which they then conducted their lives since that defining moment. These were not just capable men of the town, known for their great administrative or oratory skills. Rather, they were men who had – first and foremost – believed the gospel message. Whatever other skills were noted that made them the ones to be chosen to lead the church, their status as believers was the primary issue for even being considered for leadership. Without this necessary qualification, no other attribute or skill could even be considered.

Life application: Of the prayer and fasting mentioned in this verse, Charles Ellicott states the following –

“It is a legitimate inference, from this recurrence of the act, that Paul and Barnabas recognized it as an established rule or canon of the Church that these two acts should jointly serve as a preparation for the solemn work of appointing men to spiritual functions. Without prayer such an appointment was a mockery, and fasting served to intensify prayer.”

Ellicott finds it a legitimate inference that this should be “an established rule or canon of the Church.” Although that may seem reasonable, it dismisses the fact that Acts is a descriptive account of what occurred in the establishment of the early church. It is true that one can often see what is normative from such repeated actions in the early church, such as baptism. However, it must be remembered (as noted above) that these men may never again have had anyone to guide them in their leading of this church, and they had no completed Bible for their instruction.

Instead, they were left solely to the care of the Lord and their own heart for Him as to how they would conduct their affairs. Today, we have seminaries set up to train and instruct leaders. We have churches that are already established and that have evaluated potential candidates, for extended periods of time. And, above all, we have the Bible as the rule and guide of our faith.

The instructions for selecting and ordaining elders are set forth there and nothing is said of fasting. As such, this is not to be considered a rule or canon for the church, even if it is a sound practice. With the lengthy process of preparing a person for church leadership, there is nothing wrong with ordaining an elder, praying over him, and then having a large celebration to acknowledge the many years of preparation that have readied him for that day.

If the Bible does not mandate something we cannot add to it without becoming legalistic. With each legalistic addition, there is a greater chance that more legalism is soon to follow. This cannot be tolerated. There is freedom in the church to express itself as a church in the local cultural setting. There is freedom in a church to meet when it wants to meet. There is freedom in a church to celebrate whatever days or events it chooses. In all things, the Lord is to be the primary consideration, everything else is secondary. And the Bible tells us the will of the Lord for the church.

Lord God, help us to never deviate from what Your word commands. Also, help us to never legalistically add to what Your word does not include. May we use our freedoms in Christ and in the church wisely and to Your glory. Yes, Lord! May all that we do be done to glorify You. Amen.