“And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoke only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. And the LORD spoke suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam. Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation, and they three came out. And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle… And He said, Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth even apparently and not in dark speeches: and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them…” (Num. 12.2-9).
This passage is packed with lessons from which we might learn important principles in leadership and cooperation with God-ordained leaders. Many of the people in Israel, led by Moses’ sister, Miriam, and his brother, Aaron, began to lose esteem for Moses, and consequently they began to question his authority and wisdom. Significantly, it was not because of any moral failure on the part of Moses, nor because he had departed from the Word of God; but rather because he had chosen to marry an Ethiopian woman, which he apparently considered to be no one’s business but his own. But what seems to have been the real complaint of Miriam and Aaron was Moses’ superior authority in the government of the church. The complaint about his Ethiopian wife was therefore merely a subtle ploy to overthrow Moses’ divinely established position of leadership in the church.
Now when the Lord heard of Miriam’s and Aaron’s complaints and resistance to Moses’ authority, it angered Him: for He had called and established Moses’ position among them in the “church in the wilderness” (Num. 12.9- 16; see also Acts 7. 37-39; Heb. 3.4-6). It seems in fact that God took the rebellion personal, just as if they had lost reverence and esteem for He himself.
Through this example we should learn the importance of how God’s leaders in the church should be regarded, that is, as having been appointed by the Lord himself, particularly those ordained to rule in the church. Christ is the head of the church but He desires that His will be acknowledged and obeyed through His appointed servants. And this is shown also in the New Testament. Listen to the apostle Paul:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers for there is no power but God, the powers that be are ordained of God, whosoever resists the power resists the ordinances of God: and they that resist shall receive damnation” (Rom. 13.1).
And the inspired writer of Hebrews:
“Remember them that have the rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God unto you: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation [lifestyle] . . . Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they must give account . . . ” (Heb. 13.7, 17; see also Mk. 13.34).
The Pharisees had lost the respect and favor of the people; for they were concerned more about personal gain and their status among men—prestige and lordship—than they were for the wellbeing of the church (John 11:47-48). They ceased teaching the commandments of God in favor of the traditions and commandments of men.“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9). The Pharisees thus developed a system that exalted their chief priests and top leaders—men who loved the “praises of [other] men” more than the favor of God. Jesus despised their corrupt attitude and distorted concept of leadership. This was one of His primary aims in restoring the church; that is, He desired to restore true, theocratic government in the church—government in which God is truly exalted, and in which the leaders of the church under Him rule with humility and in a posture of servanthood. This is plainly stated by Jesus in Luke 22.25-27:
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them: and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But you shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that does serve. For [who] is greater, he that sits at meat, or he that serves? Is it not he that sits at meat? But I am among you as one that serves.”
This is one of the primary reasons He instituted the practice of footwashing: to illustrate humility and the attitude of servanthood in the government and ministry of the church (Jn. 13.12-17).
The disciples walked with Christ on this earth for three years, and during this time one of His objectives was to teach them how to minister and practice theocratic government; how to put the needs of the people ahead of their personal needs; how to govern; how to discipline in love and with equity and mercy and justice; how to judge righteously; how to forgive, encourage, love, and reconcile; and, most of all, how to serve. These were the characteristics of leadership that had been lost in the church and needed to be restored.
The apostles upon whom Christ restored the church (Mk. 3.13-16; Lu. 6.12-17; Eph. 2.20) loved the church because they first loved the Head of the church; they esteemed leadership in the church because they first esteemed the supreme leadership of Christ over the church. It was through the disciples that God ministered to the needs of the people; and thus the disciples were enabled to cast out devils, heal the sick, raise the dead, and preach the Gospel.
When Jesus ascended to the Father, He wasn’t of course any longer with the disciples in the flesh— visibly and physically—yet they ministered in His name! And the people recognized His authority and power in them! This is why the leaders were highly esteemed, reverenced and welcomed among the people. It was because they knew the apostles were instruments of God—indeed, an extension of His presence and power among them. They received their counsel because they believed it was one with God’s counsel!
Even after Christ ascended to His throne on high, the church understood that He had never really left them; and, in fact, shortly after the Pentecostal advent of the Holy Ghost, He more effectively reigned over His kingdom and directed the affairs of His church!
“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heaven, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some evangelist; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.10-13; see also Jn. 14.26; 15.26; 16:7, 12-16).
It’s through His church that His saints are equipped and perfected for the glory of God and for ministry. The saints are not here to perfect and instruct the ministry; rather God uses the ministry to instruct and perfect the saints. Therefore, to rebel against the church is to rebel against Christ. For as long as leaders uphold the integrity of the government, and see to it that the commandments and judgments of God are revered and upheld, we are to submit ourselves to them. Even if an individual in the government of the church fails, like Judas; it does not tarnish or diminish the authority of the church and its duly appointed leaders- –“those who have the rule over [us] in the Lord.” For the church does not rise and fall on the basis of the personality of an individual, however esteemed that person may be; rather it rests on the shoulder of Jesus Christ (Isa. 9.6), the One who is above reproach and Who never fails.
The church wasn’t established by men, nor was it made to please men. Rather it was established by the Lord, purchased with His own blood, empowered to proclaim His Gospel, and given authority to govern and discipline His people; and ultimately to be presented to Him “a glorious church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” So regardless if some in the church are more gifted and celebrated than others, it is ultimately the counsel of the whole church that we most highly esteem and obey! (Acts 15.1-16.5; and cp Prov. 11.14 with 1 Cor. 1. 11-13).
When an individual says he doesn’t need the church, he is really saying that he is perfect and without need of instruction. I had a lady tell me one time that all she needed was her Bible and the Holy Ghost to make it through this world and to go heaven. Well, that isn’t scriptural; for a person without the church is like a single piece of a puzzle which cannot reveal the whole picture. A single puzzle piece is meaningless without the other pieces; and as long as they remain separated the vision of the artist will never be realized! But when pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, piece after piece fitted together, the image of the artist begins to unfold.
The present condition of the church is like a large puzzle in which all the pieces have not yet come together. Meanwhile we simply go forward by faith on the basis of what the cover reveals to us. We know that eventually the bride will be glorious and without spot or wrinkle, for we see her perfect state in the prophetic Scriptures (S.S. 6.8- 10; Isa. 60.1-5; Rev. 19.7-8; et al). Accordingly, like Moses, we are now building the church according to “the pattern showed thee in the mount” (Ex. 25.40; Heb. 8.5), or rather we are going forward according to the blueprint mapped out by Jesus and the apostles (Mt.16.16-19; Acts 2.42), and revealed by the Holy Ghost in heavenly glory (Rev. 21.1-2, 10-27). We may not see the bride as perfectly as the Lord does at this present moment, for only Christ knows exactly what she is going to look like; but we know this, “that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3.2). Meanwhile, let us esteem very highly our elders, our overseers and pastors and teachers: for they are called and anointed to lead us to the Promised Land and to equip and perfect us in the image of Christ!
Written by Joel Brooks, Overseer for Mississippi, South Alabama and Louisiana.
Originally published in the Voice of Zion, April 2016.