In my last article I said that whilst seeking approval can become idolatrous, it is not always necessarily so. Sometimes it is right to be concerned for recognition and approval. In this article we’re going to dig a little bit more into that by focusing on elders and church leaders. What type(s) of recognition/approval should we be concerned for and when should we not be worried?
Priority 1 check – character check
First of all, Scripture’s primary concern is not about character. We should not be worried about having status and position recognised and gifting comes second to character. This is why the two Bible passages that focus on the appointment and calling of elders or overseers focus on the personal and home life of those under consideration. It’s God’s approval on a life that is marked by patient self-control that matters. Giving our approval is not so much about making our own assessment as seeing others as God sees them.
Note, this extends to the World as well. Whilst we may face persecution and false accusation, there is an expectation that on judgement day even our accusers will be compelled to recognised our godliness and give glory to God.
This helpfully points us to two things. First that the aim of recognition and approval here is not my own honour and glory but rather that God will be glorified as these things are evidence of his grace in my life. Secondly, my focus remains on my relationship with God and seeking to live as one approved by him rather than on focusing on how to gain recognition and approval from others.
Overall, the emphasis in Scripture is more on the believer forgoing rights, privileges and recognition. We see this in a couple of places. First, in Romans 12:3 we are told:
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
It is more important that I recognise the gifts of others than that my gifts are recognised. I should be ready and willing to give way to them.
Secondly, we see Paul’s example. In 1 Corinthians 9 he reminds his readers of the rights that the other apostles benefit from. Recognition of Gospel service comes with provision for Gospel service. Yet Paul says:
I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Primary concern is that God’s Word is not chained, that it is free to do its work. Indeed, this is important because when Paul does insist in 1 and 2 Corinthians that the letters’ recipients need to pay attention to him, I would argue that this argument comes primarily from the status of what he says as Scripture not from his relationship to the people as leader. So, in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul does boast about his authority with regards to the Corinthian church but notice that this is restricted to his specific calling and responsibility to them. His aim is that spiritual warfare will be accomplished in their lives so that they become captivated to Christ.
This is why it matters that we recognise who the elders are within our churches, not so that those men can claim status and privilege but rather so that the work of God’s Word can be done. It matters that the sheep know who the under shepherds are so that they can trust them to provide for them and protect them. This is why the one gift in focus when Paul writes about calling elders in 1 Timothy 3 is competency to teach. The elder’s authority is a teaching authority. They exercise leadership through the proclamation of God’s Word.
In all of this, what is the responsibility of a leader? Is it to ensure that they are recognised and approved by others? No, if we look to Paul’s example again, what matters is that I get on with doing the work that I believe I am called to. If I am using the gifts God has given me to provide for his people and to protect his church then I can say with him that I have a clear conscience. That’s where my responsibility lies.
The crucial thing at anyone time is whether in relation to the immediate local church you are able to serve with the gifts you have been given for God’s glory. Key questions to consider in terms of the approval/recognition that you do or don’t receive are:
- How will it affect the health of the overall church body?
- How will it help or hinder individual Christians?
- How will it help or hinder the spread of the Gospel?
 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9
 1 Peter 2:12.
 1 Corinthians 9:13.
 1 Corinthians 9:15-17.
 2 Corinthians 10:13.
 2 Corinthians 10:1-5.
 Acts 20:26.