Our examples, ours to imitate.
The elders in our local church ought to have characters worthy of imitation, worthy to lead by example and through sound teaching. Word and deed. This ought to be viewed by us as a description of maturity, knowing we all ought to be pressing on toward maturity (Hebrews 6:1f). “Elder” and “Bishop” or sometimes “overseer” used interchangeably here and in 1 Timothy.
Titus was in Crete, an island south of the Aegean Sea, to set in order what remains, to appoint elders in every city as directed. At the beginning of setting up local churches, we read of character qualities that have not changed with the passing of time. These are still what we must look for in our elders, as we too submit to life in a local congregation.
Similar list here to 1 Timothy 3:1-13, reading the two passages in tandem will provide a robust picture of local church leadership. We will see that this man should be faithful in shepherding his family, stewarding his own resources, and showing forth qualities that will enable him to shepherd God’s family and steward the local church’s resources.
Who should be an elder?
Any man above reproach. Reproach is a word we may shy away from in Western culture, this phrase means he will not bring shame to the ministry, to God’s church. Blameless, without demanding perfection. He ought to let his light shine, be the fragrance of Christ, and bring Him glory!!! Rather than tarnish His glory or steal His glory, or cause the name of Christ to become a byword. He must hold to high moral standards, and walk in repentance when rebuked rather than hiding or covering up his sins. (2 Cor 4:2)
If he is acknowledged as being above reproach, this implies that he has been respected by the community, that his fellow Christian neighbors would agree he is blameless–not perfect, not faultless, but one who leads in the way of walking by faith and repentance.
Husband of one wife–the main concern here is that the man would not practice polygamy or have concubines or meddle with prostitutes–which Paul teaches on in detail elsewhere.
Having children who believe–children, little children–the emphasis is not on having progeny who cannot apostacize, but on this man being a father who is teaching his children the faith. He is not a man who neglects his children–rather they are his first priority, he loves to shepherd his family.
Not accused of dissipation…or of wasting money, or being unable to save and wisely steward his own resources–this has the connotation of spending too much money on pleasures, unable to meet needs or share. …or rebellion. This man, in short, will be faithful in his home and family, stewarding what God has given him in his first sphere of ministry.
Why above reproach, blameless, glorifying to God?
Because verse 7, he is God’s steward, of God’s household (Ephesians 2:18-22; Hebrews 3:1-6). This man should set the example, and say with Paul “follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings….I endured and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” 2 Timothy 3:10f
Next comes the list of “nots” or what an elder is not. These correspond to some of the strongest temptations for those in this position: power, temper, pride, money, and drink.
Not self willed. This is not his church, he must be walking in the Spirit, not obstinate or headstrong, but humble like Jesus; obedient like Jesus.
Not quick tempered—because our anger does not produce the righteousness of God, because it would inhibit him from caring for the flock. He must listen, watch over, care for, all the while controlled by God’s love–and God’s love is not easily offended. Quick tempers have wrecked many a healthy fellowship.
Not addicted to wine–because Ephesians 5:18-21. The elder must not so fear addiction that he creates new laws (do not eat, nor even touch the fruit of that tree…sound familiar?). Rather he should not let alcohol have control of his reasoning or emotions. A sure way to be quick tempered and foolish? Get drunk. An incorrect way to deal with stress or opposition or a tough patch in ministry–drink to take the edge off, drink to forget, drink to get away from having to think about it… This man enjoys a glass of wine to God’s glory, but does not drink to excess.
Not pugnacious–not quick to argue, not easily irritated, not easily drawn into arguments. 2 Timothy 2:23 On the flip side–this means the man is patient, and wise–not losing his cool and not throwing any pearls before swine.
Not fond of sordid gain–think gambling or lying on taxes, to stretch his resources, but also think 2 Corinthians 4:1-5. He does not adulterate the Word of God. Though pastors are worthy of their wages, and we ought to pay them, they should not be motivated to pursue money as though the gospel could be swindled… Think back to how Roman Catholic indulgences led people’s faith astray and prevented them from having enough money for food or shelter; but also think about all the famous American prosperity gospel preachers getting rich off of their devoted fans.
A Godly Man
Verse 8, we finally get away from all the “not” phrases, and into some positive qualities. He is firstly described as hospitable, or having a devotion to kindness and caring, a devotion to the well-being of others. He delights to see others flourishing in heart, mind, body and soul.
Loving what is good, if God calls it good, so does this man. His passion and zeal are known, those around him know he loves what is good–not merely that he approves of the good, or puts up with whatever. It is known that he loves what God loves, and who God loves.
Sensible–1 Peter 4:7; senses submitted to the Spirit, not easily swayed by circumstances and what is visible. Sober in spirit and sound judgement (see 1 Peter). Slowly walking through, meditatively, Romans 6:12-14 is a little exercise to help grow in this area!
Just, no favoritism, no partiality, consistent in care, teaching, rebuking, etc
Devout–he loves God’s holiness, is in awe of Him and desirous of corporate worship. He gives God glory, and makes time for the various spiritual disciplines that will grow him in grace and knowledge.
Self-controlled–hence, we see the fruit of the Spirit in our elders. This is different than what we saw he was not, not self-willed. He exhibits Spiritual fruits, he is not easily controlled by temporal affairs, but is more controlled by the unseen, by hope, and by the weight of glory he anticipates.
Verse 9, this ought to be the aspiration of all Christians: Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
Holding fast, clinging–a command given to us all from Deuteronomy through Revelation; but how can an elder lead and steward and care for a flock without this? He must say “where else would we go?” with Peter, from John 5. 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12-14; Romans 6:17
In accordance with the teaching. The teaching. The doctrine. Devoted to the apostles teaching–Acts 2-6! Passed down from the Apostles, written without us adding to it, no elder has the calling to add to it or change it. He has been educated, he clings to it, it has taken root in him. He abides in God’s Word.
There can be NO true exhortation without “sound doctrine”!
Exhort, encourage and instruct. Elders will most likely be like Paul who says he is not skilled in speech, yet he is in knowledge. (see here for more on this verse)
Refute–there will be opposition, there will be “but I have always thought…” or “old wives tales” or one-off versions of the gospel. When a little leaven of false teaching creeps in he must be able to refute it. And we will talk next week about the how, why, and wherefore.
photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.