Able to Take Up a Noble Task
1 Timothy 3:1
1. One of the most faithful and reliable statements ever made or written is that what elders are to do in overseeing the church is “a noble task.”
a. The phrase has been translated in other ways–“a good work”or “a fine work,” for example–but it actually indicates “a charitable deed.”
b. Taking up this task is, therefore, “a benevolent act for the welfare of others.” (Ferguson, The Church of Christ, 319)
2. It stands to reason that only noble men are able to take up this task.
a. It is interesting that the New Testament mentions appointing elders in these ways:
i. Acts 14:23–Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in every church.
ii. Acts 20:28–The elders of the church in Ephesus had been made overseers by the Holy Spirit.
iii. Titus 1:5–Titus had been left on Crete to appoint elders in every town.
b. When we put these statements together we can see that men do not just take this task up on their own, but that we are to identify them by taking the Holy Spirit’s word, made known by the apostles, on the kind of men who will be able to do such work in the church among them.
c. The descriptions offered in Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are not identical and are not intended to be exhaustive, but they give us a good view of the ability this noble task requires.
1. Able to exert the moral authority of a good example.
a. The phrase that summarizes everything else in these descriptions is “above reproach.” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6, 7)
i. It heads the list in 1 Timothy as if it is the key qualification, and the phrases that follow explain what this one means.
ii. In Titus it is said twice as if to emphasize that it is the main point: no legitimate accusation can be brought against him that will bring disgrace on the gospel or the church.
iii. His life can be seen as worthy of admiration.
b. Two other phrases suggest that this involves how he is thought of both within the church and outside of it.
i. This noble task calls for a man who is “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:4), for we have an enemy who is always setting snares to portray the gospel in the ugliest possible light before the world.
ii. It also calls for a man who is “respectable” in the eyes of those who know him best in the church (1 Tim. 3:2).
iii. The influence of these leaders arises largely from the fact that their lives show that “gospel” results in “godliness” (cf. Tit. 1:1).
2. Able to properly rule his own inner world.
a. He will have to pay careful attention to himself before he can watch over all the flock (Acts 20:28), and besides one of the Proverbs says that a man who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city (16:32).
b. Positively stated, this means he is:
i. “Sober-minded” (1 Tim. 3:2), sensible about all things and able to be reverent about serious things.
ii. “Self-controlled” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8) and “disciplined” (Tit. 1:8).
iii. “Upright” and “holy” (Tit. 1:8) in his motivation and in his understanding of himself–he knows that he belongs to the Lord and he acts accordingly.
c. Put negatively, this same thing means that he is not:
i. “A drunkard” (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7), or addicted to anything that is not noble.
ii. “A lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3) or “greedy for gain” (Tit. 1:7), for this is no role for anyone with a personal agenda.
iii. “Quick-tempered” (Tit. 1:7), for this noble task involves many moments that will try his patience, and “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28).
3. Able to form good, healthy relationships.
a. The terms the apostle used describe a man with an affectionate place for people in his life.
i. “A lover of good” (Tit. 1:8), whether things or persons.
ii. “Hospitable” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8), meaning not only that he cares about the practical needs of people, but also that he welcomes them.
iii. “Gentle” (1 Tim. 3:3) in spirit and in manner.
b. He is not the kind of person who will not address a problem, but neither does will feel like he has to look big and tough.
i. “He must not be arrogant” (Tit. 1:7), for that would make him unable to identify with the flock he would shepherd and unfeeling toward their condition.
ii. “Not violent” (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7).
iii. “Not quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3).
4. Able to manage his own household.
a. It is as if the home is the preparation field for this noble task.
i. Such a man’s ability to care has been demonstrated by his management in his family life.
ii. The reasoning is straightforward: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5)
b. What does this mean in practice?
i. He is “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6), a man of one woman, and she is a person of dignity, trustworthiness, and kindness.
ii. “With all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3:4).
iii. “And his children are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Tit. 1:6).
c. The most succinct summary of the issues here I have found are the comments in the ESV Study Bible: “His children are believers” cal also be rendered ‘his children are faithful’ (Gk. pistos). The primary argument for rendering it as ‘believers’ is that the letters to Timothy and Titus, this word almost always refers to saving faith. Those who think it should be rendered ‘faithful’ would argue that no father can guarantee the conversion of his own children, but he can ordinarily ensure that they act in a ‘faithful’ way. Also, the parallel passage in 1 Timothy 3 says only that the children must be well-behaved, not that their conversion is a requirement for their father to be an overseer. The concern in the passage is that the children behave appropriately and are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. The word ‘children’ (plural of Gk. teknon) would apply only to children living at home and still under their father’s authority.” (p. 2348)
5. “Able to give instruction in sound doctrine.” (Tit. 1:9)
a. This and caring for God’s church are the only two references in these lists to actual duties this noble task will involve.
i. This one is not necessarily required of all believers–not, for example, of the deacons.
ii. That means this is a distinguishing skill of elders.
b. Notice the phrases that have to do with this ability.
i. “Not a recent convert” (1 Tim. 3:6). He is one who has been humbled enough by life and experience that he will not become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
ii. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Tit. 1:9). Implied in this are the qualities of teachability, informed understanding, and steadfastness in the truth.
iii. “So that he may be able...” (Tit. 1:9)
(1) “To give instruction in sound doctrine,” that is, to show what is right.
(2) “And also to rebuke those who contradict it,” that is, to correct error. Titus 1:10-11 and Acts 20:29-30 show the reason for the emphasis on this ability.
1. Elders oversee God’s church by shepherding it as one would feed and care for a flock so that he could give account to the owner of it.
2. This is a noble task, and the perpetuation of it requires a church which can recognize the task for its nobility and enable noble men to fulfill it.