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1 Timothy 3:1-7: The Need for Faithful Leaders Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 27 August 2006

Leadership is vital to the health of every local Church.  Even though we as Southern Baptists prize our right to vote and take part in the decisions and direction of our local Church, we also recognize the need for faithful leaders, faithful men who will guide us and oversee us and fight for the sanctification of our souls.  In the book that we will be covering next in our menís study entitled Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever includes biblical Church leadership as one of the nine marks of a healthy Church.  In the chapter devoted to this, Dever points out our need (and our struggle) for maintaining the biblical model of leadership in our Churches.  He, along with so many others in our day, is calling the Church to understand and implement biblical Church leadership.

Yet, we must ask this question: why is biblical leadership so important for the local Church?  Let me offer just a few thoughts. 

First, we need biblical leadership because we want to be obedient to our God.  As we said last week concerning our roles as male and female, God has given us instruction and we need to be obedient to it.  Second, we need biblical leadership because of our need for oversight.  We need men who are committed to Christ and His glory to keep watch over our souls.  Being sheep, we have a tendency to wander at times and we need faithful under-shepherds to call us back to the fold and to keep us from leaving again (see 1 Peter 5:1-5, Hebrews 13:17).  And finally, we need faithful leaders so that we can learn to humble ourselves and submit to their care.  After Peter gives his charge to the elders and the young men in 1 Peter 5, he then exhorts them to humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (verse 6).  We Christians can be a prideful lot.  But faithful leaders can help us learn the joy of obedient submission.  For these reasons and more we stand in need of faithful leaders.

After addressing the women in 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Paul then turns his attention to the overseers, or elders, in chapter 3.  As we go along we will speak more of the differences between elders and deacons, but for now let me just say that it is the elders who are to oversee the flock (primarily through preaching and prayer) and the deacons who are to serve the Church in more practical ways.  In both of his lists of qualifications Paul is contrasting faithful leadership with that of the false teachers.  He calls Timothy (and us) to focus on the character of men when considering them for leadership in the Church.  Before we look at the different characteristics and qualifications, let me begin with just some general thoughts about the lists.

General Thoughts:

First, the office of elder is to be desired.  Look at verse 1.  For Paul, aspiring to the position of elder is a noble thing.  Of course Paul is not saying that all one has to do is aspire to the office and one is automatically qualified.  If that were the case, then he would not give us a list of qualifications.  Rather, one must have an inward desire, a call from God, and the affirmation of the local Church.  All of these are important.

Second, the general qualification for being an elder is being above reproach.  Look at verse 2a.  In general, elders are to have a reputation that is blameless based upon their observable conduct.  This is not Paul calling for elders to be perfect, for then all would be excluded.  We must be careful that we do not become legalistic in our interpretations of Paulís qualifications.  To do so would be unfaithful to the teaching of the New Testament, not to mention horribly impractical.  Yet, at the same time, we do need to keep the standard as high Paul sets it.  This is no flippant list of suggestions.  No, Paul requires that elders be above reproach in general and will go on to flesh this out in 2b-7.

Third, the specific qualifications, which are listed in 2b-7, are all present conditions of the candidate.  The idea behind the word translated must be is one of present obedience continuing into the future as long as one holds the office.  In other words, when Paul writes that an elder is not to be a drunkard (v. 3), he does not mean that if a man got drunk in High School then he is disqualified to serve.  Rather, the man is not to presently be a drunkard and while he serves as an elder is never to be a drunkard.  Since all of the specific qualifications are related to the statement in verse 2, they all are looking to the present condition of the man.  Letís move now to the specific qualifications and look at them verse by verse.

Specific Qualifications (by verse):

Going on in verse 2, Paul writes that an elder should be the husband of one wife, or as the ESV notes, a man of one woman.  Much controversy surrounds this difficult phrase.  Since we are to discuss this at length tonight, let me simply give you my interpretation of the verse this morning.  I see this phrase as referring to a man of one woman, or a man who is faithful in all areas to his wife.  Of the different interpretations that are offered, I believe this fits the grammar, context, and the rest of the Scriptures most faithfully.

As the ESV notes, the Greek can be translated as a man of one woman, or a one woman man.  As for the context, Paul is not necessarily talking about things a man has done in the past.  Rather, he is speaking of his present condition.  Is he presently being faithful to his wife in all areas?  Is he developing unhealthy relationships with women other than his wife?  Is he leading her and loving her as Christ leads and loves the Church?  Or is he a womanizer, or someone you would not want speaking to your wife?  Is he like the false teachers who were creeping into households and capturing weak women (see 2 Timothy 3:6)?  Likewise, this interpretation fits better with the rest of the New Testament teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage (as we will discuss tonight).  Thus, I hold that an elder (and a deacon, see verse 12) must be a one woman man, a man who is faithful in all areas to his wife.  [For more thoughts on the other interpretations, refer to my article, ĎOptions for Interpreting 1 Timothy 3:2a, 12a.í]

Paul goes on in verse 2 to speak of the man being sober-minded.  An elder needs to have sound judgment as he oversees the members of the Church.  Likewise, he needs to be self-controlled.  This is a general term referring to all areas, including sexual desires, drinking, anger, etc.  He also needs to be respectable, or a person that the community of faith (and the outside community) can respect.  He should be held in high regard by others.  Going on, he must be hospitable.  Since many ministers traveled from town to town, it was important for the Ephesian elders to welcome other Christians in their home.  In the same way today, elders need to welcome members into their homes and lives as they seek to oversee their souls.  Finally, in verse 2, Paul says that the elders must be able to teach.  This is the only task oriented qualification and points, as we saw last week, to the authority of the elders over the congregation.  One way that they exercise their authority in oversight is through faithfully handling the Word of God.  They may not necessarily be great preachers or orators, but they must be able to faithfully defend and teach the true doctrines of the faith (see Titus 1:9).

In verse 3, Paul gives us four negative qualifications.  First, an elder is not a drunkard.  Paul is not calling for elders to abstain completely from alcohol for that would disqualify himself and Jesus and all the other Apostles.  Rather, he is calling for moderation and self-control.  Second, an elder is not violent but gentle.  Due to the nature of the office, elders will have to confront others and battle for the truth.  Yet, as they do this they are to be gentle and not quarrelsome, as Paul goes on to write.  Elders are to maintain peace and truth in the local Church, which will be a difficult task at times.  Finally, an elder is not a lover of money.  Since the elders will be involved in managing the funds of the Church and some will be paid for their services (see 5:17-18), they are not to be lovers of money, an apparent problem with the false teachers in Ephesus (see 6:9-10). 

In verses 4 and 5, Paul deals with the qualification of managing the household well.  Look at those verses with me.  An elder is to be a faithful leader in the home before he becomes a leader in the Church.  This involves having children who are under control due to faithful discipline from their father.  Of course we can take this too far, but generally elders need manage their homes well.  Paul tells us why this is important in verse 5.  If a man cannot manage his home well, then how can we expect him to faithfully oversee the Church?

In verse 6, Paul states that an elder must not be a recent convert.  ĎRecentí is a relative term and Paul purposefully does not give a set amount of time, which would only lead to legalism.  Yet, a man needs to be a believer long enough to be tested in the other areas and to prove himself a man of character.  Otherwise, he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  A man needs to be a believer long enough that he recognizes that the only reason he has been given a place of authority is because of Godís sovereign grace.  As a man matures in his faith, he becomes more and more aware of this fact and less susceptible to conceit.

Finally, in verse 7, Paul concludes his list by calling for an elder to be well thought of by outsiders.  This is not Paul saying that we should choose our leaders in the same way that the world does.  Rather, since the Devil is looking to discredit the Church by discrediting her leaders, an elder must have a good reputation among those in the community.

Wow!!  Pretty impressive list.  As I read and studied through these qualifications this week, I kept coming back to the fact of our total dependence on the grace of God, secured for us at Calvary.  Aside from the work of Christ, no man would be able to faithfully meet (and continue to meet) any of these qualifications.  Yet, by the grace we find at the cross, God raises up men who are above reproach in their homes, Churches, and communities, and calls them to oversee the flock of God.  May we pray for such men (I implore you prayers on my behalf) and pray that God would raise up faithful leaders to serve us and oversee us here at Trinity.  Amen.

1 Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 205-29.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 04 September 2006 )

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