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Intro: Who should lead us? The question is applicable to nearly every corporate human endeavor. The unity and effectiveness of the group is dependent on good leadership. No leader is a good leader, unless others follow. Who should be our leaders? Does it matter?
- Are leaders of the church (overseers) born leaders? The appearance of qualifications in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, would imply to us that the character of a godly leader is not genetic or simply a matter of natural personality. Although a church may be able to easily recognize those who should lead, the qualities of leadership that God demands in His word are not naturally attained. They come through the work of the Spirit of God in the inward man. In fact, Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). This is most likely a reference to the spiritual characteristics evidenced in their life that qualified them to be overseers. They were overseers through the application of the words of the Spirit of God, not simply the consensus of men. These same qualifications are given to us as well to help us choose who should lead us.
I. The Character of the Overseer: Our theme text of I Timothy 3 contains the qualifications of both elders (overseers) and deacons. Let’s begin by reading them together. 1 Tim 3:1-7 – This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. NKJV. Paul also included qualifications in Titus 1 -Titus 1:5-9– 5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you — 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. NKJV
Note: I distributed a comparative list taken from both 1 Timothy and Titus (NKJV). You may use this as a reference in our study. These separate list need to be viewed as a composite, not as competing or different lists. We need to study them with a view toward harmony in that they describe the qualified person comprehensively, form both the positive and negative perspective. We are not going to consider each characteristic individually from both lists. We will view them together under four general headings, in attempt to get an overall picture of who the elder is to be.
A. 1 Tim 3:1 – “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”(HCSB) When Paul refers to one who aspires to be an overseer, he is not describing a man who seeks to hold an an office, or exercise power. In fact, the work of the overseer is not a position of power, but service. He is spiritually motivated to lead as God desires His people to be led. He aspires to do the work, that the apostle calls “noble” (kalos) – good, in the sense of honorable, or useful. [Titus uses another word for good in his list of qualifications, lover of good – (philagathos) one who values virtue – moral goodness.]
II. 1 Tim 3:2 – “A bishop then must be…” Here is a simple question… What does the word “must” mean? If the sign says “you must be as tall as Yogi Bear to ride this ride” what does that mean? Even a child can understand the restriction involved. If it says You must be 35 years old to be president of the United States, is there any exception to that “must”. These qualities are not optional, or simply optimal. They are requirements that must already be possessed before one is appointed to the work.
Note: We might notice that the lists contain both relative and absolute qualifications. One must be a man, a husband and a father… these are absolute – he is either one of not. Other positive qualities are relative; he must able to teach – but one may be more able to teach than another; holy, just, hospitable – he may hold these qualities with varying degrees. But he must not be void of them. According to these passages, Who should lead us?
A. A Man of Character–He is blameless – above reproach; there is no ongoing sin in his life. He cannot be indicted of any moral defect. He is a faithful husband, A one woman man. He is a peaceful man who does not look to fight or strike back. He is calm-headed and cannot be easily angered. He is self-disciplined (temperate) in the affairs of his life. He is not given to wine or engage in a drinking lifestyle (literally does not stay near the wine). He does not engage in the reckless lifestyle of the world. He thinks clearly (soberly) and is not frivolous or insincere. He is honest and not greedy for money and the things it can buy. He cannot be bought. He is not a new Christian, as his appointment to the work might cause him to become arrogant or prideful. He is a man who has developed a good reputation among unbelievers.
B. A Man of Proven Ability– In a sense this man must already be displaying the ability to do the work before his is appointed to it. He can be trusted to rule the house of God well because he has already demonstrated his ability to rule his own house well. Have his children been taught to respect him and obey God? Are they Christians? This man does not rule his family with an iron fist, but he is compassionate and caring. He is not a hypocrite. He rules with dignity and is respected for his authority in the home. His children have followed in his teaching and are not reckless or insubordinate to authority. He has been honest and faithful when placed in the charge of the things of others (blameless as a steward) Paul provides us with a logical conclusion in this matter – If he does not display his ability to manage his own family, he is not capable of managing the spiritual household of God.
C. A Man Who Relates Well to Others – The person Paul described here is a man who values people and seeks to have honest and beneficial relationships with others. He is not headstrong or self-willed to the point of demanding his own way. He respects the needs of others. He is patient, even when others are not. He is just (equitable) always seeking to do what is fair and honest. He is holy, and seeks to be inwardly molded in the image of God. He is not a quarrelsome bully, who incited violence in others or resorts to violence himself. He is hospitable– He is man who freely gives to others and opens his home to those in need and to those he does not know well. He is not remote or aloof, but sociable and accessible to the people he will lead. He loves and supports what is good (agathos – morally good or right). Some translations add the word men – he supports those who do good. He is reasonable (sober-minded) – He listens well to others and seeks to make good decisions. Relationships are important to him. He has a genuine love for people that is displayed in his desire to connect with every person in the congregation.
D. A Man Who knows and Communicates the Scriptures to Others–The overseer is a person who “holds fast the faithful word” (Titus 1:9 – “he must hold firm to the sure word as taught – RSV). He is a man of firm convictions, not tossed about by every new doctrine that comes along. He must be able to teach others. As a shepherd, he has a fundamental and personal responsibility to feed the flock. That goes beyond just hiring a preacher or organizing Bible classes. He must be able to stand before the congregation and teach the truth, even when it will not be received well. He is man who holds fast the faithful word, distinguishing between truth and error. He must be a man of courage who can both encourage the weak and convict (condemn) those who teach error.
III. A Time for Overseers… Is the appointment of elders an urgent matter? Is this a good time for elders? When Paul wrote to Titus, the young evangelist was teaching and preaching on the island of Crete, off the southern coast of Italy. Titus and Paul were close – he refers to Titus as his “true child in the common faith”. As Titus’ mentor, Paul was concerned about Titus’ spiritual environment. In the beginning of his letter the apostle gives Titus two charges:
Titus 1:4 – For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you —
A. What was out or order? Why were elders so important at that time?After Paul provides the qualifications we just studied, notice how he addresses these questions:
• Titus 1:10-16 – For there are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those from Judaism. 11 It is necessary to silence them; they overthrow whole households by teaching for dishonest gain what they should not.12 One of their very own prophets said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. 13 This testimony is true. So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith14 and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commandments of men who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled.16 They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work. (HCSB)
B. Titus was living and working in an evil place. Even one of their own prophets openly commented that every Cretan was an evil, lazy, lying glutton, and Paul says that is an accurate description! What a place to preach the gospel.
1. Rebellious people (will not submit to authority)
2. Idle talkers and those who speak to deceive others (who can you trust?)
3. Those who follow fables rather than the truth
4. False religionists who lead entire families into false doctrine just to enrich themselves.
5. They profess to know God, but they deny him with their works.
6. Paul describes those of Titus’ world as detestable, disobedient and disqualified from any good work.
a. Maybe Paul should just write this place off, and send Titus somewhere else. But Paul does not do that. He charges him to stay and put things in order and (notice this) appoint elders in every city. In Paul’s assessment, this was a time for elders.
C. We live in just such a place and time. Lying is commonplace and acceptable. Many people are lazy, looking to others or the government to provide their needs. Out society is characterized by gross immorality and evil, where human life is devalued and people live like animals, and have no other objective in life than to simply to satisfy their fleshly desires. In this evil and overindulgent society, what do we need to do? Paul’s words cannot be ignored.
1. We need leaders who will put thing in order. Elders who will use the truth of the scripture to silence the deceivers and idle talker. We need elders with the knowledge and courage to rebuke those who teach error and encourage others to remain sound in the faith. In a time like this the lord’s church needs elders, overseers, shepherds.
2. How can the church be successful in the work of preaching the gospel to the lost in such a place without godly leaders? There is work to do. If we are serious about doing the work, we must be serious about appointing shepherd over the flock. It may be that some congregations go years without elders, not just because they do not have qualified men, but because they are content to remain as they are and are not serious about growing and accomplishing more in the kingdom of God. This is good enough.
D. This is a time for elders because every Christian needs shepherds. The word every is important to the point. We tend to think that some sheep do not need shepherds. We can look out for ourselves. We do not want or need another taking care of us. We think sick sheep, new sheep, or not-so-smart sheep need shepherds. But we are tempted to think that some of us are so spiritually mature that we really don’t need shepherds.
1. But the scriptures do not teach this. It is implicit in the role, work and qualifications of elders, that they are responsible for every Christian among them. I need shepherds, You need shepherds. Even the shepherds need shepherds. Why does God command a plurality or elders in a local church. We often say it is to avoid a dictatorship – as a check and balance to authority. I submit a better reason is that shepherds need shepherds. Elders mentor each other, hold each other accountable, teach each other, and confess their sins and struggles to each other. That is how God designed it.
2. Submission is the heart of applying the gospel message to ourselves. It is what makes the disciple of Christ stand out from the world he lives in. We need godly leaders to submit to and learn from. This is a time for elders.
Conclusion: Every godly overseer works to bring others to the True Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. Will you submit to Christ by obeying the gospel message?