J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

A Good Man is Hard to Find: Qualifications of an Elder from I Timothy 3

a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1Sermon audio can be found online at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

The ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

1Timothy 3:1-7 – The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now the context of this letter is Paul writing to Timothy to prepare him for ministry once Paul is gone.  Paul is interested in encouraging Timothy in his personal discipleship as well as encouraging Timothy to continue to disciple and train church elders and deacons.  Paul says that if someone wants to be an elder or overseer, the office itself is a noble calling.  It is noble office because as we saw in Hebrews 13:7, God entrusts the oversight of the souls of His people to the leaders of the church.

The language most often associated with this kind of relationship in the scriptures is the language of headship.  This is when a person or persons leads and represents others before God.  And how things go for them is how things go for everyone else.  The life and health of the people they represent and care for are intrinsically tied to the Godliness of the head.  Adam is the head of the human race in Romans 5.  That didn’t work out too well did it?  The husband is the head of the wife in Ephesians 5.  The husband bears the spiritual responsibility of leading His family in Godliness and I’m sure we’ve seen good and bad examples of that.  Jesus is the head of the church in Ephesians 5.  He by His work has led His people in all Godliness.

And the elders of the church have the noble task of overseeing the souls of God’s people.    Godly and wise church leadership guides the church in Godliness and wisdom.  Ungodly and unwise church leadership leads the people towards sin and foolishness.  I’m afraid we’ve seen both of those in our days and maybe more of the latter than the former.

But if someone desires to fulfill that calling they need to meet several requirements, and these requirements fall into basically 3 categories:

  • Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3
  • Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5,
  • Spiritual maturity vss 6-7

Now before I go any further, let me make this point.  In fact, what I want to do is dispel a commonly held myth – one in which many of you might hold.  As we look at those 3 categories of requirements, we need to understand this:  elders and overseers, pastors, and deacons are not held to higher standard than anyone else in Christianity.  They are held to the very same standard to which every believer is held.  Let me explain.

There is no such thing as a higher or lower standard or higher or lesser righteousness Biblically.  God has commanded us how to live in the scriptures in accord with His character.  So, there can be no higher obedience than what God has commanded.  If there was a higher standard, then that would be what God commanded.  Let me use the most common example to illustrate how people think about this…drinking alcohol.

Scripturally there is no evidence whatsoever that a drink of alcohol is sinful.  In fact it is commanded by Paul to Timothy, exemplified by Jesus, and even commended in Proverbs 31.  Now some folks will say, “Well drunkenness is a sin, so I’m never going to drink alcohol.”   That is a perfectly fine application and I support it wholeheartedly.  Rock on.  But it is not higher righteousness.  If not drinking at all was the level of righteousness that Jesus wanted, He would have commanded us to not drink at all.  People have this impression of officers though.  They think they should be held to some fictional higher level obedience.  Folks, obeying what God has commanded is hard enough.  Obeying any extra rules is impossible and even counterproductive.

No, the elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer are judged presently for their character whereas most people in the church are not judged at all for their character unless their actions rise to the level of church discipline.  The officer though lives their Christian life for the world to see and evaluate.  In essence, the occupation of the church officer is the occupation of being a believer.  The job of an officer is to be a Christian.

So, a gifted overseer or elder in the church will have a holiness in his personal life.  The phrase above reproach is a summary description of the following 10 Godly characteristics.

  • The husband of one wife
  • Sober-minded
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach
  • Not a drunkard
  • Not violent but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money

Let’s start with the first one:  the husband of one wife.  Well, let’s ask a couple of things first.  Why would this characteristic, whatever it means, matter?  The answer is that an elder, an overseer must be committed and dedicated not given to quitting or impetuousness.   Being an officer of the church requires perseverance in the midst of the most difficult situations.   But believe it or not, this is a very contested characteristic.  Appears simple, but here are some of the questions that arise with this quality.

  • Does this verse mean that you have to be married to be an elder?
  • Does the husband of one wife mean you can’t be divorced?
  • Does this mean that you can’t be a woman and be an elder?

So, let’s eliminate a few things first.  Fist, you cannot be married to more than one woman at a time and be an elder.  That’s clear from the verse, so you can’t be a polygamist which was still pretty prevalent in that day.  Second, you don’t have to be married to be an elder because if being married was a requirement then Jesus himself wouldn’t qualify to be an elder.  Jesus wasn’t physically married, and if Jesus doesn’t qualify to be an elder, I sure as hell don’t want to be part of a church that wouldn’t allow Jesus to be their elder.

So, onto our next question:  can you be divorced and be an elder?  Well, being divorced is not a sin if a person divorces for biblical reasons.  So, since as we mentioned, officers are not held to some false higher standard, and being divorced is not a sin, you can be divorced and be an officer.

So what about women elders?  To eliminate the confusion, Biblically, there is no support for female elders, but I don’t think this conviction comes solely from this verse.  That conviction has to be seen in the larger Biblical context.  Now, as we jump into the issue of male/female elders in the church I would like to recommend 2 books on the subject that have informed me well on this subject.  “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by John Piper and Wayne Grudem and “Vintage Church” by Driscoll and Breshears.

The qualification of being the husband of one wife does lend some weight to this church’s stance on that issue if it is seen in the larger context. Again, being an elder is about headship and just as the husband is the head of the family, so are elders heads of the church.  Think of it in this way.  God created men and women in the image of God which means that we are equal but last time I checked incredibly different.  It takes the distinctions of both male and female to understand the image of God.  The differences are not merely physical appearance.  I don’t any men who have had babies lately, so obviously the idea of different roles with equality is something that God is okay with.

So men uniquely reflect God’s being a Father with leadership and guidance of His people by being the heads of their families.  Women uniquely reflect God’s creation and compassion by being mothers.  It takes both the headship of the male and the creation of the female to gain a full and accurate picture of the image of God.  Those roles begin to become clear as we walk through the Bible.

Despite the presence of many Godly women in the OT, the senior spiritual leadership of Israel was the male priests.  Jesus taught and trained many Godly men and women but His 12 disciples were male and He appointed them to be the apostles and leaders over the church.  Now, just because the priests were male and that Jesus trained 12 men that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want well trained females.  God intends for the entire church to be incredibly qualified theologians but He has commanded men to be the elder and teachers.

1 Timothy 3 commands that women should learn quietly in all submissiveness while forbidding them to teach or exercise authority over a man.  Now obviously the verse has been misapplied in many churches where women walk in looking like they are afraid to speak, keep their heads down, and avoid all eye contact.  But by commanding that women learn quietly, Paul was actually revolutionizing the approach towards women for the day.  Paul was saying, “Hey, this is the church.  The women of the church should be as stout as theologians as the men are.  They should learn and no one should prevent them from learning, so men, get over your backward ways, and women, get over your fear.

However, the women are to learn in all quietness.  Now the Greek word for “learning quietly” does not mean total silence as it has been translated and applied quiet often.  “Learning quietly” means learning in a peaceable demeanor.  It means learning in such a way as to be humble and respectful.  Women are to learn these things in submissiveness to authority without taking on teaching roles over the other men.  Now this of course does not mean that women are not incredibly gifted teachers or gifted in shepherding.  Of course they are.  If that’s the case though, why would God say that women should not teach or have authority over men when they can completely function in those roles if they had to?

The answer is that God has appointed the leadership and headship of the church to men.

  • Romans 5:12:  Adam was the head of Eve and the human race and took responsibility for her sin.
  • Ephesians 5:23:  Husbands are the heads of their wives and heads of their families and thus responsible for the spiritual health and teaching of the home.
  • Ephesians 5:23 – Christ is head of His bride the church.
  • In a few verses where we are told that an elder must lead his household well.  Can’t do that you can’t lead the household of God.
  • There are no Biblical examples of headship given to any female.

I know some folks want to say that the commands for an elder are written in such a way because of the male-biased slant of Paul’s day.  I would caution such a view for this reason.  God has written what He wants written in His scriptures.  If the Biblical writers could prophesy and then we see those things fulfilled, why wouldn’t God just command in such a way as to fit our “supposed enlightened” gender views.  God didn’t inspire scripture and then sit around waiting for our egotistical enlightened views of how those things were really supposed to be lived out.  God commanded what He wanted here.

Biblical wisdom finds its highest fruition if it is lived out in the context of God’s command.  Our women here have incredible, Godly skills and talents which include teaching and shepherding.  Deployed as God commands, those skills will find their highest fruition.  Deployed as we think best, they will not and churches who have gone against these commands have suffered for it as witnessed from the denomination that the PCA pulled out from 35 years ago.

Having said those things, let’s walk a little further in understanding holiness in personal life.  Let’s examine what those who will function in the headship of the church should look like.  Let’s look at 2 that are very similar:  Sober-minded and Self-controlled

Being sober-minded doesn’t mean that God is looking for men who never laugh or men who sit in stuffy rooms wearing big hats making decisions with furrowed brows.  Sober-minded really means big picture type guys.  Sober minded is the ability to assess how everything from the direction of the church all the way down to the questions that you have are part of the work of the Kingdom, the work of SK, the work of Christ in people’s lives, and how all of those things are reflective of the truths of scripture.  To be that leader, one must be self-controlled.  Now as I love to do, let me dispel another myth.  Self-control is the ability to say no to bad things like drunkenness, pornography, and anger.  But it is much more than that as well.  Self-control is more about saying yes than saying no.  Self-control is about being disciplined in all areas of life.

This is one thing that the men at Fight Club have tried to grow in.  Godly leaders to exercise self-control in every discipline of life.  They need to be disciplined in praying, studying their scriptures, disciplined in physical exercise and showing moderation in eating and drinking.  No one can expect to show discipline in saying no to temptation if they haven’t already said yes to the disciplines of Godliness.

The next two characteristics that demonstrate holiness in one’s personal life:  Respectable and Hospitable.  These two go hand in hand.  Now, no one can be respected by every single person, but across the board, this will be someone that you look around and say, “Huh, I don’t too many that would not resonate with that person.  They are respectful to me, respectful to others, and respected by most.  If you peak ahead to verse 7, Paul says that an elder has to be so respectable that even those outside the church, non-believers respect them.  Essentially, if the world doesn’t respect you, then the church won’t either.

  • The key to being a respectable Godly person is being hospitable.  Every Christian is commanded to be hospitable because in doing Matthew 25 says that we are serving Jesus Christ Himself.  People can disagree with your theological convictions all day, but if you serve them, they will respect you and that service in and of itself with provide for you a platform to proclaim the Gospel.  These two qualities, respectable and hospitable, are where you should look for people within SK who embody the mission of this church (creating and engaging).  If they aren’t doing those things, they cannot lead you well.

Another and a very important qualification for an elder:  Able to teach.  This is one of the distinctions between being an elder and deacon.  For the most part, the qualifications are the exact same, yet your shepherd, your elders should be able to teach.   Now the ability to teach is not something a person can proclaim about themselves unless it has been affirmed by others and here specifically affirmed by the leadership of the church.  Teaching is not exemplified by the ability to explain but exemplified by others ability to learn underneath a person’s teaching.  Teaching is tied to other qualities.  If you aren’t honorable in your home, or if you aren’t sober-minded or self-controlled, if you aren’t respectable and hospitable, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you will not be a good teacher because most will not want to learn from a person who is not those things.

Let’s try just a few more before we wrap up for this week.  You cannot be an elder and be a drunkard.  This goes back to the issue of self-control.  God wants disciplined believers and disciplined church leadership.  You cannot be an alcoholic and be an elder.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t have been one and have recovered to sobriety, but it does mean that you cannot be an alcoholic.  If you are one who is controlled by either your access or lack of access to alcohol, then you cannot lead God’s people because you are driven by something other than your desire for God.

Two more:  Not violent but gentle and Not quarrelsome.  Are you a gentle person?  Do people walk in fear of either your fist or your tongue or do people find themselves resting in your presence.  Do you love arguing everything from theology to politics to sports?  I don’t mean debating the BCS vs a playoff system or a flat-tax vs. income tax.  I mean do you love arguing?  Do you value being proven right more than value relationship?  God does not want quarrelsome men leading His church.  This is a tough one because many Christians fashion themselves excellent debaters when what they really are discontent quarrelsome men.  How do you know the difference?  Well, are you violent?  Do you regularly hurt people either with your tongue or with your fists?  Do you enjoy putting people down with your speech?  If you don’t know if you are or not, ask your children or your spouse if they think you are gentle.  If they struggle to answer or are scared to answer that you are those things, you are probably disqualified to be an elder.

And finally for today, an elder cannot be a lover of money.  This is tough one for the American church because we are so rich.  In America, if you qualify for welfare, you are in the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world, so American’s have a lot of money.  The question is, “Do you love money?”  You know, for as much greed as I see, even with the church, and as much as church’s struggle too meet budget, I’ve met very few Christians who will admit that they love money.  So how can you tell?  I’ll make it as clear as possible.   Do the works of your hands whether they may be at a job, the spending of your income or the debts you choose to take on, do they serve the work of the kingdom as a faithful servant or do they seek your own pleasure and enjoyment?  If those things serve your comfort and enjoyment first, you love money.  If they serve the kingdom first, you don’t.

Folks, this list should make each and every one of humble.  They are guidelines by which all of us should examine ourselves and Godly characteristics to which we should all aspire.  Even given to teach.  We all should know our scriptures well enough to speak to them in an instructional fashion.  As it comes to nominating Godly men, you are looking among this congregation and asking yourself, “Are there any men that are either these characteristics or men who are radically being transformed in their direction?  No one apart from Jesus will embody these things perfectly.  You have to see who is most set apart in becoming these qualities.

Continued next week.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

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October 18, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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