Two years ago on this blog, I was stepping through several passages and phrases that are used in Scripture to describe elders and other Christian leaders. I wrote one post called “Ruling or Leading?” as part of that series. I think the distinction between ruling and leading is a very important distinction. I hope you enjoy this post:
Back in March, I began studying “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority” in the context of the church. I’ve posted a few blogs as I’ve continued this study. This is another post in this extended series.
In the last post of this series, called “Exercising Authority…“, I examined several Greek terms that mean “exercise authority”, or “rule over”, or “be the master of” – in other words, terms that mean “to tell someone else what to do”. These terms are not used in a positive sense in the New Testament. This was my conclusion in that post:
So far, in these passages, there is no indication that one person should exercise authority over another person in a spiritual sense. In fact, it seems like just the opposite is indicated. But, if the apostles were not to exercise authority, and Paul did not exercise authority, and Peter told elders not to exercise authority, then I’m not sure where the command for leaders to exercise authority over other people is coming from. However, I’m still searching Scripture. It is possible that I’ve missed something, or that there are other passages of Scripture where leaders are instructed to exercise authority.
In this post, I want to examine two more Greek verbs that are occasionally translated “rule” in various translations. The verbs are:
Ï€ÏÎ¿á½·ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (proistÄ“mi) – (translated “rule/lead” in 1 Tim 5:17; Rom 12:8) According to the standard Greek lexicon (BDAG) this verb can mean 1) to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, be at the head of, or 2) to have an interest in, show concern for, care for, give aid.
Î·Î³á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (hÄ“geomai) – (translated “ruler/leader” in Luke 22:26; Heb 13:7, 17, 24) Again, according to BDAG, this verb can mean 1) to be in a supervisory capacity, lead, guide, or 2) to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard.
Most importantly, in some cases, Î·Î³á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (hÄ“geomai) is used in a sense to mean the opposite of a servant: “But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26 ESV). From the context of Luke 22:26, it is clear that Jesus is telling his followers to be “leaders” who act as “servants”. Thus, the extreme range of Î·Î³á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (hÄ“geomai) that means the opposite of “servant” cannot be in view here. Would Paul or the author of Hebrews or another believer promote a type of leadership that was condemned by Jesus?
Thus, in English, the word “rule” carries the connotation of making a decision for someone else, exercising authority over someone else, displaying dominance through the exercise of power. Meanwhile, the word “lead” can have similar connotations, but it can also carry a different meaning: “travel in front of”, “go in advance of others”, “guide”.
So, while both “rule” and “lead” are possible glosses for the two Greek verbs, and since the idea of “ruling” or “exercising authority” is always cast in a negative in the context of the relationship between one believer and another believer, it would seem that “lead” in the since of “walking ahead of” or “guiding” would be a better English translation. This would also explain Peter’s insistence that elders “shepherd” by being “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
There are a few other passages that can help us understand how the New Testament authors used this verbs in the context of the church. For example, in 1 Timothy 3:5, the Greek verb Ï€ÏÎ¿á½·ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (proistÄ“mi) is paralleled with another verb, ÎµÏ€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (epimeleomai):
“For if someone does not know how to manage (Ï€ÏÎ¿á½·ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹) his own household, how will he care for (ÎµÏ€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹) God’s church?” (ESV)
In this verse, Paul uses the verb Ï€ÏÎ¿á½·ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (proistÄ“mi) to describe someone’s relationship to their family, while he uses the verb ÎµÏ€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (epimeleomai) to describe that person’s relationship to the church. While Ï€ÏÎ¿á½·ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (proistÄ“mi) can carry a range of meanings from “rule” to “lead” (as has already been described), the verb ÎµÏ€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (epimeleomai) does not have the same range of meanings. In this case, it seems that Ï€ÏÎ¿á½·ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (proistÄ“mi) is used with the secondary meaning of “care for” not “rule”.
Thus, when the New Testament is looked at as a whole, and when relationships between believers are examined, it seems that believers are never instructed to “rule” one another, but that one believer may be called on to “lead” another believer or a group of believers. The concept of a Christian “ruler” who makes decisions for other believers, or who directs the lives of other believers, or who tells other believers what to do is not found in the pages of the New Testament. Instead, the New Testament authors call mature believers to lead by being examples to and serving other believers. Followers of Jesus Christ have only one ruler. He is the living, breathing, ready, able, wise, knowing, powerful, present, and authoritative chief shepherd. And, no one can serve two masters.