As we have reviewed the skeletal system and its design and connectedness this month, we have seen that the structure of the body matters. Without having bones of the right size in the right place, we would look very odd. And without having those bones connected, we could not function properly. Likewise, as the body of Christ, we need the right people in the right places and we need to be connected together to function properly.
As the body of Christ, we must remind ourselves that it is Jesus who is the head (Colossians 1.18). We might be portions of the head like an ear or an eyelash or a nostril, all of which are important, but it is Jesus who is the head – and as the head, it is He who must lead the church. Ephesians tells us that Jesus is the cornerstone, the prophets and apostles are the foundation, and we are what is built upon that foundation (Ephesians 2.19-22).
Please understand that I am not questioning the Bible. However, the Bible clearly talks about the need for leadership within the church and without the prophets and the apostles here with us now, that leadership falls primarily to the elders of the church. In other words, the elders are the level above the foundation. Because of this, the Bible is clear about the qualifications of an elder. Why? Because if the foundation is weak, the structure cannot be supported.
Consider the foot. The foot is our foundation. If our legs ended in a peg, we would have a difficult time keeping balance. It would be like walking around on stilts. So, the human foot is important. For most humans it is not overly functional, it merely serves as the balancing point of our bodies and allows us to move without falling over. Yet, some people are masterful with their feet at different levels. For instance, soccer players use their feet in ways most of us cannot fathom. And some teach themselves to have great dexterity in the toes. Again, for most of us toes are important, but only to help us to be balanced. Without the toes extending from the body, we might be better off than if we just had pegs, but we would lean forward and still likely fall over. But some people can paint or even play guitar with their feet and toes.
So, the feet and toes are important. In fact, nearly 13% of your bones in your body are found in your feet (26 of 206). They serve as a foundation for the body. And God, as the designer planned it that way. And God, as the designer, planned what He expected from those who lead His church. As we have seen the past two weeks, the design is important, and the connection is important, and today we will see that the foundation of these leaders – that is, their qualifications – are important as well.
Paul lists thirteen items in 1 Timothy 3 (as well as similar items in Titus 1). Let me cover each of them briefly. A leader of a church should be:
Above Reproach (1)
This does not mean that the person is perfect. No leader, or person for that matter, has been perfect apart from Jesus. This is about a general reputation. The person needs to be honest, and needs to practice what is preached.
The Husband of One Wife
I prefer the translation a one-woman man. Why? Because a man could be married to one woman and have many mistresses. Of course, God does not allow for that exception, so a one-woman man is what is meant. I could teach on this for another 15 minutes to full clarify the context, but suffice it to say that a person does not need to be married to lead others (Jesus would be excluded), but if he is married, the commitment is to one, and only one, woman.
That is, he must have a clear focus about life. Having a biblical viewpoint of history and knowing God is sovereign is a part of this, but so is living life. That is, we are to live by faith, but we must also live using the practical wisdom God has given us. Having this balanced approach is what Paul means here by being sober-minded.
Some translations say prudent. The word here means sound in mind. Therefore, the idea not only means remaining in control of ourselves in a physical, and emotional, and spiritual way, but also mentally, which certainly includes the idea of not thinking too much of yourself. Many pastors and church leaders can develop what is called the Messiah complex meaning the church, the ministry, whatever it is, cannot exist without me. The temptation is great, but it is also a lie. For instance, I am just one of dozens of elders this church has had. I am just one of the many professors that has taught at the seminary. I am just one of many who have taught pastors in other countries. So, that is easy to remember. But when I begin to think of all that I do in those areas, it become easy to lose that focus. I must continually remind myself that the only Messiah is not me, it is Jesus, and I need Him as much as anyone!
The idea here is not one of general respect, but one that does not compromise the gospel. Rather it should make people desire the gospel. The Greek word here is one from which we get the English word cosmetics. Like people put on cosmetics to make themselves more attractive, a leader’s actions should attract people towards the gospel.
Hospitality is our actions and attitudes towards what we possess. Are we gracious with our possessions or stingy and clingy? As with all of these ideas, how can the church learn the characteristics if the leader does not practice them? Thus, as the leadership shows hospitality, others will hopefully follow.
Able to Teach
The idea of teaching here is more than verbally communicating the truth. It is living the truth so that others can follow. It also means to be teachable. As any good teacher knows, those who teach often learn the most. But that only happens when we keep an open mind to learning ourselves. Particularly as one who has been called to teach, it is why my number one mantra in life, as I have share before, is “When you stop learning, you start dying.”
Not a Drunkard
In other translations, this phrase specifically relates to not being addicted to wine. In my mind, the idea is addiction, not drinking itself. Now, I choose not to drink for a few reasons. First, I don’t like it. Second, I do not see what good can come from it, particularly in my case. I also do not want to cause a brother to stumble. Thus, I do not partake, but again, I believe the idea here is truly being addicted or over-indulgence. And the same could be said for food or any other vice of which, I have certainly been guilty in the past. Now my wife sometimes worries that I do not eat enough!
Not Violent, but Gentle
This phrase deals with anger. We must understand that being angry is not a sin. It is a primary emotion. Jesus was angry when He cleared the temple (Matthew 21.12-13), yet the Bible says He was without sin (Hebrews 4.15). Likewise, Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin,” giving warning that if the sun sets (i.e. too much time passes) and we remain angry, we are more likely to sin (cf Ephesians 4.26). So, we should avoid being quick-tempered and instead by gentle (or reasonable) in our response.
It is one thing to engage in an argument, it is another to be argumentative. The English language is fun and absurd. For instance, we say it is good to be content, but bad to be contentious. The suffix, “ious,” means to be full of something. So, being full of grace is to be gracious. So being full of content should be contentious, yet that means to be argumentative. Anyway, a time and place does exist to argue. For instance, we must stand for truth. But even then, we can follow the example of Jesus to slip quietly through the crowd at times. But being quarrelsome is quite the opposite.
Before I share the last few, lets take a quick look at how these items relate. For instance, many drunkards lack self-control, are not hospitable, are quarrelsome, and often become violent, which causes a lack of respect from others meaning people will not follow their lead because they are not above reproach. The point is that the Bible is not some overly spiritual set of high-minded guidelines. It is extremely practical for understanding life and living. Now, to continue…
Not a Lover of Money
This statement does not mean that someone cannot have money – even a lot of money. Rather, the focus is on what the person loves. As Jesus said in the greatest sermon ever preached, it is impossible for us to serve (love) both God and money (Matthew 6.24). Every one of us has materialistic tendencies and that is evidenced by the fact that the average Christian in America gives two percent (2%) of their income. If leaders do not set the example, then who will?
Manage His Household Well
The leadership of a family represents how a leader will lead the church. Now this does not mean that every person in the family will be perfect, just as the church will have those who go astray. And that is where the other characteristics in this list come into play. How does the father handle the family? With extreme anger and hostility? With a sound mind or in a drunken stupor? The issue of leadership here is not whether the family members sin, but in their overall lifestyle and attitude towards sin.
Not Be a Recent Convert
As I have said many times, not all leaders are Christians, but all Christians are leaders. That is, if we are called to make disciples, then we are to lead others at some level. But the overseer of a church must lead many and thus, should be thought to be a mature (and maturing) believer. Otherwise, pride is the result. Pride is the downfall of many leaders and it often sneaks up on them (us?) The next leadership book I am planning to read is Didn’t See it Coming (by Carey Nieuwhof) which, I believe, will help me to be better prepared for certain challenges that leaders face. Additionally, I constantly quote 1 Corinthians 10.12 to myself to remind me not to fall.
Well Thought of By Outsiders
This last item encompasses so many others. It is helpful to know that Paul was writing this letter to Timothy who lived and pastored within the pagan culture of Ephesus. Moreover, Paul was likely stating these characteristics for Timothy (as he also did for Titus) because Timothy would need to find new leaders who would replace him once he left to be with Paul. (That fact is more apparent in the 2 Timothy.) So, Paul’s words here, representing the characteristics of whom God desires as a leader, describes a leader who would be able to lead the church because of these characteristics, but also be able to lead others to Christ because of the different type of lifestyle being lived.
Last week, we talked about the community of Jerusalem and how the people responded to Nehemiah – their leader in his day. We do not know a great deal about Nehemiah, but it is safe to say that the characteristics described in the New Testament would have been similar, if not the same, as what God would have expected in the Old Testament. As I mentioned before, no leader in the Bible, or otherwise, is perfect except for Jesus. But God has given us a list to consider as He continues to build a foundation that began with the prophets, continued through the apostles, and should now be present in the elders of churches today.
It is this foundation of leadership which provides us with the opportunity to stand strong as a church just as the foundation of the bones in our feet allow us to stand strong as humans. But if we cast aside the ideals of God, the foundation will begin to crack and eventually the structure will no longer be able to stand.
And that is why our…
JOURNEY letter for today is: O – OBSERVE.
Jesus told His disciples to teach others to observe all that He had commanded Him. These first disciples, are the apostles which are part of that foundation which Paul mentioned at the end of Ephesians 2. As an apostle, Paul then taught others, like Timothy, to observe and to pass the information along to others that they might follow God’s decrees as well (see 2 Timothy 2.2). Likewise, we are now a link in that chain. And those commands are not just for leaders, they are about leaders. That means that it is the people who follow who should also be on their guard to ensure that the leaders are measuring up to the standards God has set. Because, once again, if the leader does not set the example, who will.
PRINCIPLE: God has established a foundation for His church and He has provided explicit instructions on who qualifies to be added to that foundation.
QUESTION: What is usually most important for churches in selecting a leader?
OPPORTUNITY: Attend the study on the last Wednesday of each month to learn more about God’s design for the leadership of His church.
LEARN: Take time to learn what else the Bible says about church leadership.
LIVE: Adapt these principles of 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.6-9 into your life because we are all. leaders at some level.
LOVE: Pray for the leaders of the church because if the enemy can affect the leaders the church will often be hurt as well.
LEAD: Guide others into understanding that church leadership is more about character than how well someone can speak or communicate.
(1) Although this list is from Scripture (particular wording from the ESV), some of the explanations have certainly been influenced by the book, The Measure of a Healthy Church, by Dr. Gene Getz.