A few weeks ago, I posted a blog called “What does a bishop oversee?” In this post, I suggested that the ÎµÏ€Î¯ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€Î¿Ï‚ (episkopos) / ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰ (episkopeo) word group, when used in Scripture for Christian leaders, should be translated “looking after people” or “being concerned about people” as opposed to “overseeing an organization”. I followed this blog with an example (a negative example, from my point of view) in a post called “The Church or the Organization?” I was surprised at the response to this blog post (three times the page views and comments of the next most viewed/commented post). I did not originally intend to discuss the church / organization dichotomy. Instead, I was heading in another direction, which began in a post called “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…” I will continue in the original direction in this post, which is looking at Christian leaders and their function and operation among the church.
In this post, I would like to continue to examine the ÎµÏ€Î¯ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€Î¿Ï‚ (episkopos) / ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰ (episkopeo) word group. Specifically, what does this word group mean for those who are not elders/bishops? Or, does it apply to non-elders/non-bishops at all?
Apparently, the author of Hebrews believes that this function does apply to all believers. For example, consider this passage:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it [from ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰] that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:14-16 ESV)
If you need to check the context, read from Hebrews 12:1. It is clear from this context that all believers are in view, and all believers should be “looking carefully” (as the NKJV translates the participle ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰ in 12:15).
Commenting on the word ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰ in 12:15, William Lane says in the Word Biblical Commentary:
The call to vigilance expressed in ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€Î¿Ï…Î½Ï„ÎµÏ‚ [that is, the participle of ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰] refers not to some official expression of ministry but rather to the engagement of the community as a whole in the extension of mutual care (cf. 3:12-13; 4:1; 10:24-25). Christian vigilance is the proper response to a peril that poses an imminent threat to the entire community… In view of this very real danger, the members of the house church are urged to vigilant concern for one another. [451-52]
Thus, Lane understands the verb ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰ to mean “to show vigilant concern”. This is very similar to the definitions that I suggested in my previous post (“What does a bishop oversee?“): “to look after” or “be concerned about”. In this case, it is clear that the object of concern is not an organization, but the people (that is, the church) themselves. Believers are to show concern for other believers so that they do not fail to obtain the grace of God, so that no root of bitterness springs up, and so that they are not sexually immoral or unholy.
If all believers are “to show vigilant concern” for other people, could it not also be that bishops and elders are “to show vigilant concern” for other people (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2)? Once again, I suggest that this is quite different than “overseeing an organization”; yet, this is the way the verb ÎµÏ€Î¹ÏƒÎºÎ¿Ï€ÎÏ‰ is often presented when it comes to Christian leaders. Perhaps, elders are supposed “to show vigilant concern” for other people not because they are elders, but because they are believers. In fact, they should be more likely “to show vigilant concern” for others because they are supposed to be good examples of what it means to follow Christ and obey Him.
The important thing to realize in Hebrews 12:14-15 is that it is our responsibility to be concerned about one another. This is not only the responsibility of Christian leaders. However, we all realize that there are occasionally hindrances and obstacles that prevent us from showing proper concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes, those hindrances and obstacles are in our lives; sometimes, they are in the lives of others.
What are some of the hindrances or obstacles to showing vigilant concern for other believers? How can we overcome some of these hindrances and obstacles?