Today we are in 1st Timothy chapter 3. Paul is moving from the good order of the church in chapters 1 and 2, including our focus upon the gospel message as that which has been passed down to us. And now, in chapter 3, he moves toward a focus on the two church offices. In verses 1-7, he gives qualifications for elders, or pastors. We see those terms used interchangeably in the New Testament. And then in verses 8 thru 13, Paul gives qualifications for deacons.
One of the most important questions you can ask when looking for a church, and trying to navigate whether a church is healthy—is the question, “who’s in charge?” Who are the decision-makers? Oftentimes in churches, you have the lead pastor making most if not all decisions. On the other end of the spectrum, in some churches the entire church votes on just about every decision you can imagine. Maybe some of you have experiences that, where a wall in a children’s room’s needs to be painted, and there’s a church-wide discussion over the color to choose for the paint. Maybe even church-wide arguments and petitioning.
Here at Lamar, as in most congregational churches, the biggest decisions are made by the church at large. In other words, the hiring of a new lead pastor, who serves as elders and deacons, the annual budget, and all changes to the church’s Constitution and Bylaws. So, the church decides how the church will function, particularly with regard to the Constitution and Bylaws. And leaders chosen from within the church are given the freedom to lead and shepherd the church under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Suffice it to say, in the New Testament, pastor and elder—those two terms—are used interchangeably. So, even though, I as lead pastor, may have the primary responsibility of preaching and leading the staff, I am not the CEO of Lamar Baptist Church. There is one CEO—his name is Jesus. And by God’s grace, He leads our church through a plurality of Godly men called elders.
So, these elders—Drew Stasio, Joel Skinner, Brad Perkins, myself, and soon Luis Gonzalez and Kham Do Mung—we together seek God’s will for the future of our church. We together aim to protect the doctrine of the church. We together oversee the broad functioning and care of the church. So put all that together; what is reasonable conclusion? It is incredibly important to get qualifications for elders right. We must use God’s standards for leadership, and not the world’s standards. That’s why today’s text is so important. Murray Evans is going to come and read for us, 1st Timothy 3:1-7. Murray is one of our deacons and has been here from the very beginning of our church. He was even part of Northside Baptist with Jonibeth even before Lamar Baptist existed. So, I am honored to have him read for us this morning. 1stTimothy 3:1-7. Would you join me in standing for the reading of God’s Word?
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
This is the Word of the Living God. You may be seated. This is a crucial passage of Scripture, not only for seeing a picture of God’s standard for elders and pastors. But also, for knowing what Christian leadership looks like in general. Except for one attribute in this list we just read, these are things we should all be striving for. Except for the ability to teach, leaders in God’s church pursue these attributes with devotion and passion. Or at least that’s the goal.
I want you to notice, first and foremost, that to desire the office of elder is to desire a good thing. That’s what Paul writes in verse 1. That’s not to say you can’t desire this role for the wrong reasons. Your motivation can still be an issue. But I think it’s reasonable to say it’s not wrong to desire to be an elder. This is more than a relief for me, personally, because I love pastoring God’s church alongside our other elders. I could see myself doing nothing else. I love it so much.
But there’s a reason why God sets such a high standard for those who would serve as elders and shepherds of God’s church. We read this list of qualifications, and it may not seem too high of a standard. That’s one of the interesting things about these. There’s nothing about high intelligence, or strategic brilliance, or worldly influence. There’s nothing about having a winsome personality. The main characteristic of the elder, or pastor, or overseer is that his life is a constant reflection of Christian values and integrity. In other words, it’s all about character.
An elder or overseer is to be an example of Christlikeness to the flock. So, let’s work our way through these. And as we work our way through these qualifications, keep in mind two things as far as why they’re relevant for you. First: the elders of our church must exhibit these attributes. And if ever they don’t, that needs to be brought to the attention of the other elders. And as we seek out and pray for new elders in the future, these attributes must be on full display in any potential candidate. Secondly, as we go through these, ask yourself this: am I following after Christ in these ways? That’s not because you may one day serve as an elder. But I want you to ask that because as Christ sets our example, and as our elders put that example on full display—every single one of us are called to this standard, except for the ability to teach.
- Above Reproach
What does “above reproach” mean? Well, another word for this is blameless. That doesn’t mean that an elder has to be perfect, otherwise no one would be qualified to be an elder. But it does mean that there’s no obvious inconsistency that would keep people from being able to follow and trust this man. And really, this sums up all qualifications! Our goal in seeking out the right elders for God’s church is to seek out a few of the Godliest men in our church. Not the most influential, not the most popular. Nothing wrong with having influence, nothing wrong with being loved—but those are not biblical qualifications for elder. Biblical qualifications are about holiness! Are these men so following after Christ in their hearts and in their lives that nothing comes to mind as far as a consistent flaw or spiritual inadequacy? That’s the first qualification Paul lists.
2. Faithful to His Wife
Verse 2: “the husband of one wife.” Some of your translations may be translated a bit differently: “Faithful to his wife” is another common translation. This qualification, by far, has been the most discussed and disagreed-upon. Some take this to mean that an elder must be married. No single elders allowed. But that doesn’t seem likely. Paul writes very highly of singleness in 1st Corinthians chapter 7. Paul himself was single, at least when he wrote this, and he gives no indication that these instructions to Timothy would exclude himself or others like him as a possible elder. So that seems unlikely.
Another way some read this is to say that anyone who has remarried is immediately disqualified. In fact, I know that’s part of Lamar’s past, not only for elders, but for deacons—being remarried (no matter the reason) was an immediate disqualification. But again, Paul gives no indication that remarriage is always wrong. In Romans 7, he speaks well of remarriage especially in the case of a spouse who has passed away.
Many have tried to interpret this verse as disqualifying anyone who has been divorced. A few problems with that: first, that’s not what Paul wrote. He wrote, “husband of one wife”, or “faithful to his wife.” He didn’t say “never been divorced.” All that to say, I think the best way to interpret Paul’s words here are to not add or take away from what he’s saying. Is he the husband of one wife—no concubines for one, and is he faithful to his wife? That’s the question here.
Now, I’m using this qualification to summarize multiple things listed here. In order of what is listed, sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable really do go together well. The self-controlled elder is clear-headed, not distracted by vanity or triviality. He’s respectable in that he’s easy for others to respect and show honor. He’s self-controlled in many different ways. Paul includes “not a drunkard.” We know from Ephesians 5:18 that drunkenness is not Godly. It is sinful. He brings up “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome.” That certainly fits the bill for self-control as well, right? He’s not known for having an out-of-control temper. He’s temperate, self-controlled. In every way, by God’s grace, he has learned to imitate the self-control of Christ. And then we have, fourth:
Most fundamentally, this means that the overseer is not a hermit. This doesn’t mean you have to be extroverted, but that you do love people. You desire to be with people. Don Carson writes, “It won’t do to have a pastor who is a great reader of books and a disciplined thinker, but who loves the church only in the abstract, while being unable to stand people.” That doesn’t mean that people don’t rub you the wrong way sometimes. It means that you choose to be around and influence people anyway. You want to accommodate people because you care about people. Certainly, that is crucial for the office of elder or pastor.
5. Able to Teach
We see that right there at the end of verse 2. This is really the only difference we see between qualifications for elders and qualifications for deacons in verses 8-13. This makes sense for an elder. The ability to teach assumes some sort of knowledge of God’s Word, if not a pretty expanded knowledge. It also means that an elder needs to be able to help people understand God’s Word better. They don’t have to be particularly gifted at teaching. Paul doesn’t say that. But they must be able to teach. Number 6:
6. Not a lover of money.
If elders are to be some of the Godliest men in the church, that means they are men who love and trust Jesus, right? They are not obsessed with money, because that’s not where they find their stability. One clarification about this: it doesn’t say someone can’t be wealthy. It says they can’t love their wealth. I always like to clarify that just because someone may have a lot, doesn’t mean they love it. And just because someone doesn’t have a lot, that doesn’t mean they don’t love money. Wealth is not necessarily an indicator of whether someone is a lover of money. Number 7:
7. Manages His Own Household Well.
I read verses 4 and 5 repeatedly this week, because I wanted to do some self-examination. And this one does make good sense when you think about the church being the household of God. If an elder doesn’t manage his own household well, how can he be expected to manage God’s household well? Now, to be clear: this doesn’t mean that we have unhealthy expectations upon pastor’s wives and kids. That’s not what Paul writes here. But he does write that an elder’s kids should be submissive. They listen to their father. That shows a sign of respect that the father has fostered in each of them.
8. Not a Recent Convert.
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.” In other words, like the devil himself, he may lift himself up in pride against God. This is another one that kind-of just makes sense, right? We want elders to be established in their faith, especially so that leadership may not cause them to become arrogant or authoritarian. Again, that probably makes sense to most of us. Number 9:
9. Well Thought of By Outsiders
Verse 7 is an important qualification, but also not to be misunderstood. Paul writes, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” This isn’t always something an elder can control, right? Particularly in a culture that is hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ, there are limitations here. But as far as is in the control of the overseer, he should be well thought of by those outside the church. He should be known for his integrity and character. The gospel has its own obstacles for people, right? The gospel is offensive on its own. So, what we don’t need are elders who are adding to those offenses with hypocrisy. We don’t need elders who make it even harder for those outside of the church to consider Christ. That’s what Paul is getting at here.
Now, these qualifications are not meant to be exhaustive. How do we know that? Well, because we see other qualifications that are not the exact same as this one in other places in Scripture. But what we do see very clearly here are two things: elders are to be able to proclaim and protect the truth of God’s Word. And they are to be superb models of Christ! They protect the Word, and they model the Word. We see these two things summarized elsewhere as well.
1st Peter 5:1-3: “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: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” So you see: gentle, loving oversight and living as examples to the flock.
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.” Again: you see oversight as a responsibility of the elder, but also living as examples— “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock.”
I know we live in a day when we want charismatic leaders with winsome personalities and strategies plans for growth and success. I’m not saying those are necessarily bad things in church leaders. But I am saying that there’s a reason God didn’t include those kinds of things in his qualifications for leaders. That’s because character and integrity are what matter to God.
So, what’s your resume look like today? Because what people are impressed with in the world is often contrary to what God actually cares about. What our kids are learning about right now in Kids Church and over the past few weeks: your spiritual resume matters infinitely more than your earthly resume. Your spiritual accomplishments aren’t always as measurable as earthly accomplishments. Faithfulness to Christ can’t always be measured with numbers. As someone who has been bought with the precious blood of Christ, are you becoming more and more like him? Are you pursuing holiness?
Just because someone is a leader in the larger culture, that doesn’t mean that should be a leader in the local church. Worldly credentials mean nothing to God, and therefore mean nothing for the potential of church leadership. However, your character, who you really are especially when no one is watching—that’s what we’re talking about here.