If you’ve been here at the Gathering (or if you’ve been following along online) you know that we are working our way through the Pastoral Epistles as a family of churches. So Mid-cities & West County are in the same text as you are every weekend as we study 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.
With the exception of this weekend, we’ve moved a couple of things around here @ The Gathering to accommodate for the installation this morning of Jinson Thomas as an elder.
So the text that we we’re scheduled to study this morning (1 Timothy 2:8-15) will be pushed back 2 weeks so that we can talk about “The Qualifications of an Elder” and then next weekend we can look at “What an Elder Is & Does“.
We felt like that adjustment was most appropriate given the weight & importance of installing a new elder. This is no small thing!!! And we want to celebrate that together as a family.
Alright let’s get to our text this morning- 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Before we read our text and begin the discussion of qualifications for elders let’s go to the Lord in prayer together.
So my aim this morning is simply to work through & explain the Qualifications for an Elder. What are the things that qualify a man for this position in the church? We’re going to talk about that and then save some time at the end to actually lay hands on & pray over & commission Jinson to this work.
And I should probably tell you up front that this might feel a little bit like a Bible Study at times I’m just going to be reading & explaining each verse. That’s sort of the nature of this text and I want to be as faithful as possible to the text.
Having said that let me make a few foundational statements that will help us navigate these qualifications. I remind my church all the time as I remind myself that the gospel is the set of lenses through which we’re able to understand & apply the Scriptures.
Without the gospel, without a high view of the glory of God, without an understanding that Jesus Christ is preeminent in everything, we tend to read Scripture in a way that just provides information. And that can quickly lead us to pride. And that’s the last thing we want.
So I want to take just a moment and set the stage for us. With a few foundational statements that will help us navigate a discussion about Elders in a way that most glorifies God & magnifies Jesus as the head of the church.
And that’s actually MY FIRST STATEMENT. When it comes to a discussion about church government we must understand that JESUS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF HIS CHURCH. This is clear & undisputed in Scripture.
Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.“
Ephesians 4:15: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.“
Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.“
Elders serve as under-shepherds to THE CHIEF SHEPHERD Jesus Christ. And elders are in fact sheep themselves. That’s important to remember because humans have a long history of trying to usurp God’s leadership don’t they? And by “long history” I mean since the garden.
We tend to do things in a way that puts our hope in men & not in God. That’s how we define idolatry. And if you want a case study on that, just look at the Nation of Israel rejecting the direct leadership that God provided them as they clamored for a king. Didn’t go very well and in fact it never goes very well.
Many of you know Francis Chan he’s an author & a pastor that I respect greatly. He has an amazing quote that reminds us of the futility of being an elder specifically in the role of teaching & preaching. He said, “Preaching is like a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.“
As a preaching piece of clay, I would agree with that statement. So let’s remember that Christ is the head of HIS CHURCH. But He has called certain men to bring leadership to the church under His direct leadership in a way that creates deep & abiding dependence upon Him for EVERYTHING. We have to remember that!
Here’s the SECOND STATEMENT Every member of Christ’s body(the church) are priests & ministers. This is also clear in Scripture:
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.“
Revelation 1:5-6 “Jesus Christ to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.“
Now why is it important that we highlight this? It’s important because here’s what tends to happen as the leadership of a church develops.
The body (which is all of us) can easily forget that we are all called to the work of ministry. We are all ministers. We are all His ambassadors. We are all called to love & serve & proclaim the excellencies of Jesus.
When we don’t remember that, the body will increasingly sit back and expect the “professionals” to do the work of the ministry. And then the body becomes lethargic & slow & it atrophies over time. It’s basically what has happened to me physically since I turned 40 (But that’s another topic).
Now we’re going to get into this subject more fully next weekend but a big part of an elder’s role is to equip the body (that’s you) for the work of ministry. Paul says that in Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.“
So when you install another elder the attitude isn’t, “Oh good we’re installing another elder so that’s less we have to do.” No the attitude is, “Great we’re installing another elder so that’s more equipping of the body that can take place for the ministry to which God has called The Gathering Church!” Are you all with me on that?
THIRD STATEMENT (and I want to say this as clearly as I can) even though there is a special calling placed on the life of an elder (to lead & equip) there is equality before God as children as heirs as priests as ministers. There’s EQUALITY in worth EQUALITY in value. EQUALITY IN DIGNITY & EQUALITY as image bearers of God.
This call to eldership is not a call to authoritarianism. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the way many churches have set up their elders (in an unhealthy way) has led to abuse. It’s led to a domineering attitude & a damaging of the body of Christ.
We must understand that Elders are given by God as a gift to the body for its benefit. They are not given to dominate or belittle or to stand above anyone else. Listen to the gravity of these texts:
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.“
Acts 20:28: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.“
A call to eldership is not a call to dominate & bully. It’s a call to love & feed & nurture & care for. IT’S A CALL TO GREAT HUMILITY. And it helps us stay humble when we realize just how dependent we are upon Jesus Christ for absolutely everything!!!!
AND that’s where I want our hearts to go this morning. I want this discussion to drive all of us to deeper & deeper dependence upon Jesus Christ for everything. Because that’s exactly where a discussion about human leadership has to take us.
Because we are weak but He is strong. We are insufficient but He is infinitely sufficient. Where we were dead & hopeless & blind, He is THE ONE who has brought us back to life and given us sight.
You see this discussion should serve to cast a spotlight on the power & sufficiency of Jesus Christ and the beauty of His provision for us. How can it not when we’re talking about man doing something that man is not capable of doing? That must be designed by God to create greater dependency on Him.
So as I go through these qualifications for eldership let’s not for one second say in our hearts, “Man look at how awesome Jinson is!” or “Look at how awesome Saju is!” or “Look how awesome any other elder is!” Let’s instead be wowed at how awesome Jesus is!!!!! Are you guys tracking with me?
Here are the qualifications that Paul lays out for an elder in our text. There are 6 of them and I’m going to just list these up front and then I’ll go through and unpack them one-by-one.
4) Family Leadership
First Paul says that the man must ASPIRE or have a DESIRE for the office of elder. Look again at verse 1: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.“
Now we need to be really careful to define the type of desire that Paul’s talking about. Because throughout the history of the church there have been men who have desired the wrong things and have been primarily concerned with authority and not hard work & care of the body.
I think that’s why Paul uses the language he does here. He doesn’t describe an elder in terms of office (or status) but in terms of work.
“If a man desires this TASK (this work)“. That’s really important for us to understand. Because serving in the capacity of elder isn’t about status It’s about hard work that’s fueled by a passion for the care of God’s people. It’s a passion to contend for the faith of those in your care.
That’s what Paul is pointing to here. That an elder desires to do the spiritual work of a shepherd in the church. It’s not about being esteemed or thought highly of or achieving some rank. It’s about deep humility that drives hard work.
Now I would suggest that you’ll be able to see if that type of desire is in a man. You’ll see it in the way he studies the Word You’ll see it in the way he desires to teach the Word You’ll see it in the way he commits himself to the life of a church family You’ll see it reflected in a passion for the mission of God and a passion for making disciples It will be unmistakable over time.
So that’s the FIRST QUALIFICATION. There must be a godly aspiration: a desire for the office of elder.
THE SECOND QUALIFICATION deals with a man’s CHARACTER. Now if I had to summarize this area I’d say that an elder must be characterized by a degree of godliness (or holiness in the Lord).
So the question is what does godliness look like? Well thankfully Paul gives us a really practical description of what this looks like. Look again at verses 2 & 3: “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.“
This is a pretty straightforward list. If I had to paraphrase these things I would say that: The man must be free from scandalous sins & offensive habits that would open him up to public criticism – that’s what being above reproach looks like.
He’s marked by fidelity in marriage. I would say more specifically that his marriage is biblical: heterosexual, monogamous & pure.
He is a temperate or sober-minded man. He has a wakeful mind. He’s alert, vigilant & opposed to all kinds of excess in his life. He has self-control. That is, he has some mastery over his natural reactions.
He’s hospitable to those within and those outside of the church. He’s free from being controlled by alcohol or for that matter. He’s free from being controlled by anything other than the love of Christ.
He’s not violent but temperate. He’s not given to quarreling but is a peace-maker. He is increasingly gentle and meek and humble. And his heart is free from the love of money. In other words he understands that God owns everything and he is merely a steward of what God has entrusted to him.
Can I tell you what I love about this type of list and where it should bring our hearts? This list should drive us into deep dependence upon Jesus Christ. Because there’s no way we can do these things perfectly all the time!!!
But that’s the beauty of the gospel. And the reason why an elder must be rooted in the gospel. You see this type of lifestyle is progressive in nature. It grows over time and its growth is completely dependent upon us abiding in Jesus Christ.
You see when we look at a list like this and just try harder to live up to these standards or when we put on a mask and pretend like we have these things figured out or when we do both of those things at the same time it will only lead us further away from the heart of God.
That’s why an elder’s life cannot be marked by performing or pretending. And elder’s life MUST BE MARKED by radical dependence upon Jesus Christ to cultivate these things in his heart.
Put more plainly an elder must be defined by & saturated in & fueled by the gospel. And with every passing day he is to be marked more & more & more not by what he can do but by resting in what Jesus has done for him.
And by the way this is not just true of elders. This principle is true for all of our lives. We are (all of us) called to be increasingly “gospel fluent“.
So first is a desire, second is godly character, THE THIRD QUALIFICATION is ability. This is also found in verse 2:”An overseer must be able to teach“
Now I find it absolutely fascinating that Paul only singles out one ability for an elder in this text. He must be able to teach. Notice how he doesn’t say, “He has to be an amazing leader or he has to come from a certain class of people or be in a position of prominence in culture.” He says that he must to be able to teach.
Why would Paul single out that one thing? Well I think it has a lot to do with what I just said about the necessity of gospel fluency. You see what Paul is pointing to here is that an elder must be able to disciple other believers.
Which means that he has to be so fluent in the gospel that he’s able to give that away to others. This is why we see so many church contexts that are defined by a performance mentality it’s because they are led by elders who are rooted in performance and not gospel.
This is why we see so many churches that are marked by pretending it’s because they are led by elders who are rooted in pretending and not in the gospel.
This is why we have so many churches that are gospel light & spiritually anemic. It’s because they are not being led by men who are radically dependent upon Jesus Christ and whose hearts are being progressively transformed by the gospel. God is calling men to the office of elder who are able to teach the gospel to others.
You see when you understand that Paul is talking about the ability to disciple and teach the gospel (in all kinds of settings. Not just in the form of a sermon at a worship gathering). It makes sense why he would list this as the only ability.
Because this is the primary task that Jesus has given to the Church. “To go and make disciples of all nations, to baptize them, and to teach them obedience to everything that Jesus commanded.“
SO it makes perfect sense that the elder must be able to do that effectively because the elders help set the pace for the rest of the body in carrying out the mission that God has given the church.
So desire, character, ability. FOURTH IS FAMILY LEADERSHIP. Look again at verses 4 & 5: “He must manage 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?“
Paul’s point here is very clear. If you want to know whether a man will be a good shepherd in the church, start by looking at the way he shepherd’s his family. If he’s a good leader at home chances are he’s going to be a good leader in the church.
And so how a man leads & serves his wife is very important. How a man loves his children & points them to Jesus is very important. Does he lead his family from the gospel from grace or is he harsh with them and domineering?
This cannot be understated. If a man is not pastoring his family well he’s disqualified from pastoring a church. That’s something that the church overlooks all too often. And it’s damaging to churches & it’s damaging to families.
Now I know that a common question that’s raised is, “Does an elder have to have a family in order to serve in that office?” I don’t believe he does. However, I believe that extra scrutiny should be given in these other areas for someone who is single. That’s because of how revealing this one area is.
So desire, character, ability, family leadership. And then FIFTH Maturity. Look again at verse 6: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.“
Now it makes good sense that an elder must be mature. But to what kind of maturity is Paul referring here? Does he mean that men must be older or does he mean that they must be older in the faith?
Well I believe that it’s clear when you take into account the rest of Paul’s writings. That he is referring to spiritual maturity. I’ve met some guys in their 20’s who are incredibly mature spiritually. And I’ve met some guys in their 60’s & 70’s that I wouldn’t trust to talk to my kids about spiritual things because they have no grasp of the gospel.
The point that Paul’s making is that we cannot install a recent convert into the role of elder no matter what other abilities or qualities they have. There must be a period of testing that takes place. And that happens over time.
SO desire, character, ability, family leadership, maturity. And then FINALLY they must have a good reputation. Look again at verse 7: “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.“
Simply put Elders must be men of integrity and that should be obvious to those outside (as well as inside) the church. Again the primary call of the church is to make disciples. To show the world what God’s love is like. And elders are to lead that charge.
And they are to lead that charge with their lives. If a man is going to shepherd the church he must do so with a life of integrity & reputation that communicates something even to the unbelieving world around him.
Even where people don’t like you because of the message you’re sharing. They cannot bring a charge against your reputation & your character.