“SO THAT HE MAY BE ABLE”
January 16, 2005
We began last week a process which will lead to our having the opportunity to have some input in adding some additional brethren to serve the Lord and this congregation as elders and deacons. Today we are going to take a look at the kind of men it takes to serve in these ways. Tonight we will look more closely at the task of deacons and their service in the Lord’s kingdom. Please be with us tonight for that study.
There are three texts in the New Testament which offer helpful information about the kind of person it takes to serve the Lord’s church as an elder. The first of these texts is found in I Timothy 3. Beginning at verse 1 the scripture says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, 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. He must manager his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” ( I Tim. 3:1-7)
The second of these important texts is found in Titus 1. It begins at verse 5. The Bible says “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you – if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Tit. 1:5-9)
And then the third of these important passages is found in I Peter 5:1-3. The apostle Peter, preacher of the gospel of Christ wrote, “So I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
Now from those three wonderful passages we are going to try to pursue three lines of thought. I am going to ask you to consider first that in each one of these passages there is an important setting, a circumstance which called forth these words. And then we are going to illustrate that God’s answer to that situation was a certain function, or a task to be fulfilled within the congregations addressed. And then we are going to observe that in the doing of that noble task, a certain kind of man is required.
Notice first of all the context, the background, the setting for each one of these passages. All of these texts we have just read describe real life situations. They tell us that what elders do is going to have to be done in certain settings – settings which suggest the need that these brethren are going to be able to meet and the nature of the work they are going to be called to do. The setting that exists and the kind of work that is needed are not separate. They belong together in our thinking.
When Paul wrote to Titus, for example, we discover in the verse right before what he says that elders must be that there are some things that were lacking in the church at Crete, some things that remained or needed to be put in order. Titus, in appointing elders, was going to be addressing those things. Right after these qualifications are given, Paul says to Titus in verses 10-12, “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” That suggest a situation where worldliness is plaguing the church and causing it to be immature, and where some are taking advantage of that situation to teach things that shouldn’t be taught, and it is having the effect of upsetting whole families’ faith. That is the need that Paul is addressing here.
When he writes to Timothy, we discover that Timothy has been left at Ephesus to charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine (1:3). These are individuals who are devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies which promote speculation rather than stewardship from God that is by faith (1:4). There have been some at Ephesus who have already carried this so far that Paul has had to discipline them. He says in 1:19-20 that “some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” And Paul then describes the kind of person it takes to serve a congregation as an elder. After that, he says to Timothy, “I hope to come to you soon but I am writing these things to you so that if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth” (3:14-15). Apparently, then, the function that elders are going to serve will help to meet the challenge of unhealthy teaching and to uphold the truth.
And then when Peter writes, we find out, according to 4:3-4, that he says to his readers, “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do (the heathens, the pagans) living in sensuality and passions and drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” Here is a situation where the church lives in such an environment that because it pursues godly living, because it won’t engage in some of the things that society around them does, they are maligned or spoken against or despised. So Peter says in chapter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” And at 4:16 he says, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in that name.” And verse 19 says, “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good.” And then he speaks to elders and talks about what kind of men they are to be. Apparently the work that these brethren do within a congregation helps people face the unfriendly environment of the world and the suffering that may sometimes come in the Christian life.
Against that background, notice that in each case there is a task brought up. The answer for the church in each of these situations is what Paul calls “a noble task,” the office of overseer, as he puts it in I Timothy 3:1. We learned last week in our study that this office is that of bishop, shepherd (or pastor), or elder, all three describing exactly the same task.
That means, when you think about it, that when the church faces the pressure of the world or the danger of false teaching or the difficulty of suffering, what it needs is mature brothers in Christ who will be examples to the church of how to rise above the pressures of the world and how to cope with the trials of life. What it needs are watchful brothers who are strong in faith and experienced with the word who can recognize and refute opposition to healthy teaching and encourage the church to walk in the truth. What a congregation needs is caring brothers who will tend to believers who need help along the way to heaven and who will lead the church to behave as the household of God should and who will help to fill up what is lacking in the congregation in its life.
What a noble work this is that we are talking about here - to be a mature example, a watchful overseer, a caring shepherd – what a lovely and good function it is, and how blessed the congregation is that has brothers who function this way! I am not sure we realize sometimes how fortunate we are to have brethren around who have been faithful to the Lord long enough, and who are unselfish enough, that they will be willing to do their best in the midst at times of criticism and heartbreak and big decisions, and who will still accept that responsibility and do their best to fulfill it.
This is a valuable enough task and it is meaningful enough that not just anybody can do it. It takes a certain kind of man to function in this noble task. That is how the qualifications, as we sometimes call them, ought to be understood. They are not just a list of words to be checked off. They are descriptions of a person.
You can notice what I am saying in the explanations which are attached to some of these qualities. It is as if Paul is saying, “He must be this so he can do this.” For example, if a man must manage his own household well, as I Timothy 3:4 says, it is to show that he will be prepared and capable of caring for God’s church, which is God’s household (I Timothy 3:5). If he must not be a recent convert, it is so that he may not become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil, thinking that suddenly he is something and that he has more strength and ability or knowledge than he really has. If he must be well thought of by outsiders, it is so that he will not fall into disgrace (I Timothy 3:7), so the devil won’t be able to find something to use against him and against the congregation in the face of a critical world. If he must be willing and eager to serve not doing it for some kind of selfish gain, then it is so that he can serve as God would have him to (I Peter 5:2). And if he must hold firmly to the faithful word as he has been taught, it is so that he will be able to give instruction and sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it, according to Titus 1:9.
In that statement there is the phrase that I chose for the title of our study today. Titus 1:9 says, “So that he may be able to.” That is the nature of what these qualifications are about. They are not just thresholds a fellow has to get to so he can finally be appointed. They are describing what needs to be in his life so that he will be able to fulfill the stewardship that is placed in his hands when he is asked to function in this way. It is being able to do this blessed task without there being some trait in his life or some circumstance that the devil can use to wreck his efforts, which is always in view in the passages that describe this kind of man.
That is the context, that is the task and then we notice in these passages the man. I don’t know if there is a more difficult thing to do in preaching than trying to study these passages without making them just a list of word studies. That is not really what the Lord means for us to do with them. I want you to notice that these lists are not the same. I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 do not go through the very same list of qualities. They are describing a certain kind of man. And I want you to also notice that a number of the words can express the same general idea. In fact, several of the words – especially where character are concerned – are so similar in their meaning that if you read different versions, you will find a word translated “temperate” in one version and then a different word translated “temperate” in another version. One will be self-control here and it will be self-control with a different word in another version. What that is saying to us is, as Bro. J.B. Myers put it, “We must not view the qualifications as being a checklist with a new qualification in each word that is found, but that the best way to examine these texts is to group similar words into a single qualification.” I think that helps us to make them understandable and then to use them properly.
The first qualification in these passages is “character.” A man will have to have the kind of character that will allow him to do this work without letting his life be the issue or without being carried away with his power or without mistreating people in the process. It is important for me as I read these passages to observe that the character qualifications for elders are really the same as for all Christians. As far as character is concerned, there is not one thing asked of men who would serve in this way than there is asked of you to be a faithful Christian. It is just that these men have been Christians long enough that they have grown in such a way that they can be examples of this type of character.
What kind of character is it? Some have to do with mindset and attitude. He is a man who is reasonable and sensible and of sober judgment. He is a fellow who has moral self-control over his own life and who is watchful of himself. He is well-balanced and has clarity of mind that makes him stable and dependable, even when the pressure is on and when situations might be emotional. He is not someone who is quick to lose his temper and not someone who is willing to try to settle things with violence or with striking out against people. He is someone who is just and righteous in relationship with the Lord and with other people. He is devout and dedicated in his own spiritual life, a man of prayer and faithfulness. He is not someone who is a lover of money or pursues unscrupulous gain but instead is a lover of good. He does not spend his time focused on what is bad and what’s going wrong, but he focuses on what is pure and right and true and good. When you are around him, that is what you find him noticing. He is a man who is not given to much wine. I am afraid the translation “not a drunkard” is misleading. The word literally means that he is not found of wine. The term means that he is not at or by the side of or near wine.
He is a man who is someone who can serve as an example to the flock – a moral pattern for people who are new at Christian living to imitate. An elder is still a man and no elder will ever be perfect in the sense of being sinless in all these character qualifications, but he can and should be a mature and complete spiritual man. He is one who walks in keeping with what the Spirit has revealed in the word, and the fruit of the spirit is to be evident in his life. He can keep his balance, govern his own emotions, be patient and gentle with people, see the real issues of life, and offer clear-headed judgment, and thus he can set an example that people will take seriously.
The second qualification that is here has to do with leadership. This qualification is, of course, as essential as any other to the well-being of the church. He is someone who is not likely to be found domineering or regarding himself as the master of someone. He will view authority in terms of humble service. He is not someone who is arrogant or self-willed. He is not to be somebody who is unapproachable. He will be gentle and kind and considerate. He will be peaceable. The word which says “not quarrelsome” in I Timothy 3:3 actually means “not macho.” He doesn’t have to prove his power or take himself that seriously. Ask yourself, “Is this man capable of the servant leadership modeled by Jesus or is he more likely to think in terms of positions of authority and dominion like leaders in the world would?” Elders are humble, approachable, peaceable leaders. They just simply want to be loyal to Jesus.
There is character, leadership and the third qualification is family. The family qualification is not incidental to being an elder. There is something about the experience of marriage and children that is important – the kind of spiritual leadership that the household of God requires. You can read statements of the kind of person we are talking about here. He is first of all a man of one woman; he is the kind of an individual who has the reputation of being faithful to one woman in marriage, and it is a reputation that he has earned over a considerable amount of time. He is a man whose children are believers and are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. Remember, the man we are talking about here is a human being who has been trying to raise human children. He deserves the privilege of trying to win the hearts of his children and to bring them to faith. They are believing either in the sense of being a Christian, or in the sense of being reliable or trustworthy. They are not disorderly and out of control. He manages his own family well. That means he directs and guides and leads and cares for his family. There is a certain dignity about the kind of household we are talking about. In short, in his family he has shown himself to be emotionally stable and spiritually mature and wise in the leadership he has provided in his home. J.B. Myers observed, “The church must use some common sense judgment in applying this qualification to church leaders.” I believe that to be true.
The fourth qualification has to do with reputation. An elder must have a good reputation in the church and in the community. Three times in the letters to Timothy and Titus it is mentioned that he must be above reproach or blameless. Again, that cannot mean there is no weakness in his life at all. John said that if anyone were to say he was without sin, he would be deceiving himself. He would be lying. (I Jn. 1:8, 10) But to be blameless means that this man is a person of unquestioned integrity. He is a person of good behavior. He is orderly, respectable, and honorable in his life. He is well thought of by outsiders. It shouldn’t be difficult to sense when a man has a good reputation – when he is well thought of. I think we can do that. He has something better than great riches. He has a good name, as Proverbs 22:1 puts it.
The fifth one of these qualifications is service. To be an effective elder, a man must have demonstrated his faithfulness to God in Christian service. There are very few things that elders do that can’t be done by Christian men who are not elders. Do you realize that? And so the question is for anyone who might potentially serve in this way, “Has he been doing these things? Has he served energetically and effectively?” This is where it becomes a challenge to everyone of us. Are we going to be people who aspire to serve ourselves? This is a man who has the kind of heart that would cause him to set it on serving this way. He would be eager to do so. He would be an individual who would exercise oversight willingly, as Peter wrote. He must be hospitable, he must have knowledge of the faith and some ability to express it and communicate it to other people. He is able to teach in that way. It doesn’t necessarily mean in a pulpit or a classroom, but he can talk to someone about what scripture means and what it says. This is a responsible man and someone who can be entrusted with the stewardship of God’s household.
The next quality is faith. Think of what we have said: character, leadership, family, reputation, service and faith. This is the confidence in God that he will do what he has said he will do, and faith shows up in a person’s life when he obeys what God says. He must hold firm to the faithful word that has been taught. He must be able to give instruction and encouragement in healthy teaching. He must be able to recognize it when someone is opposing healthy teaching and then be willing to rebuke those who contradict the faith. That is why scripture says that he must not be a recent convert. The kind of faith we are talking about here requires time. It doesn’t develop overnight. So this is a person who has a grasp of the faith, experience in holding to it, and who works to maintain healthy teaching in the Lord’s church.
There we have a setting, a noble task, and the kind of person – a person of character, leadership, reputation, service, family, and faith. Those qualities are important. Everett Ferguson wrote, “Two opposite tendencies, both incorrect, have been exhibited toward these lists of qualifications. One is to set the standard so high that virtually no one can meet them and so not appoint men to the work. The other is to minimize the requirements with the attitude of choosing the best available even if unqualified. Both approaches have the consequence of ignoring or setting aside the instructions and thus not taking seriously the Biblical standards for congregational leadership.” That is well said.
Let us devote ourselves to having the Lord’s will done and letting him have his way with us. That starts with our own response to him. Have you let him have his way with you in obedience to the gospel of Jesus so that he can give you a clean heart and the joy of salvation? And then, have you continued to let him have his way with you by walking in the light, or is there something amiss that you need to take care of today?