Ruler / Ruling
For Christians within a fellowship, Jesus transformed the typical understanding of “rule” into that of servanthood. Let us look first at the definition back in 1828 which predominantly prevails to our day.
Rule (Webster 1828)
To govern; to control the will and actions of others, either by arbitrary power and authority, or by established laws. To govern the movements of things; to conduct; to manage; to control.
If we fail to differentiate what rule means within the church, then we will easily fall prey to those who try to justify their preeminent suppressive power over others. The elite readily embrace the non-Christian definition to justify usurping the one and only true ruler, the only true Shepherd, the only head of the church: Jesus Christ.
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:25-28 (Also Mark 10:42-45)
The definition from Webster does not consider Jesus Christ having changed the definition on ruling, as applied to the assembly of believers in fellowship. It is not to be the way of the world where rulers lord it over people. Rather, Jesus shifted it to servitude in the scope of facilitating and protecting others.
Even though Jesus is the ultimate preeminent ruler, he directly demonstrated to the disciples how they were to rule among their fellow believers. One notable event was when he put himself into the role of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet. Other times he chastised the disciples’ behavior over inquiries concerning who of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
12And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. I Thessalonians 5:12-13
Being over someone “in the Lord” means according to his directive for ruling opposite of the way the world operates. We should know those who labour and rule over us in the sense of looking up to them; going to them for advice; esteeming them for their protective service. Elsewhere, Paul names (deacons and elders) and sets rigid criteria for those we should esteem.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Matthew 23:37
This verse shows how Jesus lovingly desired to be over the people of Jerusalem, providing us with a wonderful example of being properly over fellow believers; not in suppressive preeminence, but like a protective hen, spreading her wings over her chicks.
Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:8
Here ruling is within a list of many functions for all believers. It is not a preeminent position where someone can shut down or control other believers’ talents or gifts. Rather, it is ruling as a servant facilitator, making sure things run their course as smoothly and efficiently as possible, never hindering anyone’s gifts or service for the glory of God.
Romans 13:3 = For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: Romans 13:3
This verse is not about Christians as rulers among fellow believers in a church fellowship. It does depict rulership outside of the church fellowship where Christians will face the normal definition of rule. In this aspect of ruling, perhaps in one’s job or even like Stephen in the book of Acts, who was selected to take care of the business of caring for the widows, a ruler, having power over others, should never use that power to terrorize others, but for good works and not evil.
13But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. 14For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: 15Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, II Corinthians 10:13-15
Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. Psalm 18:36
I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart. Psalm 119:32
Paul never puts himself in preeminent control over others. He never took credit for other people’s work. His guidance and setting forth any rules were those rules that were delivered to him by Jesus; rules to further and establish their labors; rules that would increase their faith. Paul looked forward to the fruits of facilitating others. Like a boomerang, Paul looked forward to their faith increasing and then for them to wonderfully minister to him so that he could walk with even greater boldness and confidence; that he would benefit from the fruit of their labors, enlarging his heart with a desire to reach out to more people with the Gospel.
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. I Timothy 5:17
The criteria for being an elder is the highest criteria we see in the Bible for those chosen to be examples of living epistles. If they rule as good servants; facilitating others by their good examples and good teaching, then God will be glorified and they are worthy of much honor, even double honor.
Sometimes it can make more sense if we look at things in an opposite way. Would any Christian parent want their children to follow a person that is not serious, double tongued, a heavy drinker, greedy for illegal money, engages in illicit sex, is lazy, likes to physically fight with other people, always wants what other people have, and does not like the Bible that much? Those are the ones you would want your children to avoid and certainly not give them any honor. It is the elders, according to the Biblical criteria, you want to see honored so your children follow their example and listen to their voice.
Hebrews 13:7 = Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Hebrews 13:7
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17
Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. Hebrews 13:24
The three verses above all must fall within Christ’s call for not ruling like non-Christians; absolutely not in a preeminent position. Rather, as servant facilitators, guided by and examples of God’s word; protectors from evil to the point of giving their lives for all those within their care.