As we continue in our study of elders, leading up to the day when we will be able to appoint Jonathan Douglas as an elder, I want to look at the qualifications for elders. However, let me give you a few words of warning as a preface. Do not think these qualifications apply only to an elder. Something with which I have been amazed as I have looked at these qualifications in the past and now is that these qualifications are not distinct from the way every believer is instructed to live in Christ Jesus. We are all supposed to model these actions and characteristics in our lives.
Secondly, I warn you not to settle for thinking that a good majority of these things in your life are appropriate. I fear that we’ve begun to see excellence as our goal instead of obedience. Let me show you what I mean. In business we strive for excellence. Now, that doesn’t mean that we do everything the way we’re supposed to do it, but it means that we do better than our competitors. And that is acceptable for us in business. Doing most things right is considered great. But things differ when you talk to your children don’t they? You don’t expect them to be excellent in the sense that they disobey you here and there but generally do better than the neighbor’s children. No, you expect them to be obedient. It is irrational to expect anything different when they are completely capable of being obedient.
The same is true in the Christian life. As I lay out this list of qualifications that should be present in every believers’ life (with the exception of being a novice and apt teacher), I fear that you will be tempted to think, “Well, this is just an ideal list, and there are really no people that I know who really live like this.” Don’t think that way, for God expects obedience out of his children no less than we do of our own.
Therefore, yes, we really should live this way. But what are the qualifications and characteristics of an elder (and the rest of the church)?
Qualifications (see note 1): (I’ll go into detail on a few of these)
… above reproach … (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6)
That is, the elder (see note 2) should have a good reputation. He should not bring reproach on the church because of the way that he lives his life. He understands that by being a part of a church body that he brings reproach on something greater than himself when he lives in an unholy fashion. That truth is in fact one of the driving forces behind us having a church covenant. It is a covenant that we will help one another live in a “manner worthy of the calling with which we were called.”
He does not live one way here and another there, but is consistently seeking holiness, realizing that the world sees a perception of his Lord from the way he lives his life. Such a man is not responsible for the world’s criticism that “The church is just full of hypocrites.” This should surely be all of us.
… not quick tempered, but gentle and peaceable … (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)
This person should not be quick to argue or get mad. People should not feel like they are walking on nails around him. He should not be easily angered but peaceful. Thus, he should be approachable.
The Scripture has no room for a man serving as an elder who rings fear into the heart of everyone because of his quick temper, harshness, and desire to argue. Rather, he should be bent toward making amends and only tough when love requires him to be so. Otherwise, he should be tender and even children should like to be around him (as they were our Lord).
Nor should he be bent toward being critical before being encouraging. I think this is tied into being gentle and peacable.
… not arrogant … not a new convert, lest he become conceited … (1 Timothy 3:6, Titus 1:7)
There is no place for arrogance in the Christian life. There is absolutely no excuse for it at all. We would do well to memorize and often quote to ourselves Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
Everything we have is of grace. We could not tie our shoes apart from the grace of God. And what will we do that could ever compare to God’s sacrifice in Jesus Christ dying on the cross? Absolutely nothing. So there is no room for pride and self-pity in the Christian life. We have eternal life because God gave his Son for those due his wrath. And we are arrogant? God forbid!
… free from the love of money … not fond of sordid gain … (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)
The believer should find more joy in pouring his finances into the kingdom more than anything. You should not have to remind him to tithe, for he does so out of the joy of his heart. And he should not let ministry decisions revolve around money and concern for financial future.
The way he lives his life and handles his money should be a sign that he has no love for luxury but a desire to store up treasures elsewhere.
And before those who do not have much money start thinking this does not apply to them, we should be reminded that we need not have money to be greedy for it. We all should be free from such love, no matter our financial position.
… not addicted to wine … self-controlled … (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:8)
In saying “not addicted to wine” I do not believe that Paul means that it is acceptable to be addicted to a number of other things. Rather, the elder should be mastered by nothing. He should even remind his flesh through fasting that it has no rights of its own. He should be freed from all fleshly enslavements.
… husband of one wife … (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6)
I have saved this one for last because there has been much disagreement about this one. Many have viewed this meaning anything from the necessity for the elder to be married to a forbiddance that he remarry after his wife has died to a forbiddance of polygamy. I believe it means something a bit different than any of these. However, before giving the meaning that I think it carries, let me dispute one meaning. I dispute this one because I fear that it could cause division in the body, and I long for us to stand on the same page together.
The meaning that many think this verse carries that I do not is that Paul is saying that the individual must have been married only once, excluding anyone who has been divorced from holding the office of elder in the church.
A few of the reasons that I do not think this is the case is because:
1) All the other characteristics are present status qualifications. That is to say, Paul is not demanding that the candidate for elder has never been drunk or rebellious or temperamental, but that this is not the case in his life right now. Therefore, why one this one issue would Paul suddenly change his style and drift back to a point of the past?
Robert Saucy is surely correct to ask, “Are these characteristics to be interpreted in the sense that they were never a part of the man’s life or are they to be interpreted that by God’s grace they have been worked out of his life so that they are not now as he is being examined for eldership a part of his life?” (see note 3)
Also Wayne Grudem is correct to conclude, “If we made these qualifications apply to one’s entire past life, then we would exclude from office almost everyone who became a Christian as an adult, for it is doubtful that any non-Christian could meet these qualifications.” (see note 4)
2) Paul could have said “having been married only once” if he had wanted to, and he did not.
3) The text can be translated “a one-woman man” or “a one woman kind of man” for the word for wife and husband are also translated woman and man.
Therefore, I think this qualification is that the man who would be an elder is to be a one-woman kind of man in what he thinks, the way he lives, and what he looks at. That is to say, he is to be morally pure in his sexual behavior, allowing his wife to know in this thoughts and actions that his desire is for her alone.
Many men that have been married only once are not one-woman men. Many with one wife are unfaithful to that wife in their thoughts and actions. And, “While remaining married to one woman is commendable, it is no indication or guarantee of moral purity.” (see note 5)
Therefore, though we have probably interpreted this phrase to mean that men who have been divorced should not be elder because we wanted to hold the standard high, we have probably actually lowered it. For it is raised when you see it as a great demand for sexual purity. “In placing an emphasis on the positive characteristic of a faithful husband rather than simply upon the legal married status, this understanding actually exalts the requirement. While there are men who have been barred from eldership who on the basis of this interpretation should be permitted to occupy this position, there are others now serving as pastors or elders who under this understanding of being characteristically a one-woman man should be disqualified. Legally as far as their married state is concerned they are husbands of one wife, but their actions and attitudes demonstrate that they are not truly one-woman men.” (see note 6)
Therefore, men, we should not be comforted and pat ourselves on the back for being one-woman kind of men just because we have never been divorced. But ask yourself if you can tell your wife that she is the only one from whom you draw sexual gratification from through your eyes and thoughts. Now, that’s raising the standard isn’t it?
But this is simply obedience to the command of Christ not to look lustfully at a woman. And this is probably the number one struggle that men let remain in their lives that should be dealt with as quickly and determined as one removes an object in his eye.
The other qualifications which I will list quickly tell us that the elder should be just, holy, sensible, reasonable, respectable, honorable, hospitable, and have faithful and respectable children. They are also to be able to teach, but I will focus more on this one in the coming weeks.
In other words, they are called to live exemplary lives. But they are called to live no differently than the rest of the congregation. For we are all to live holy as our God is holy.
Today, if you have settled for a strive for excellence instead of being obedient to the Lord’s commands, then I beg you to repent. If you have not taken sin seriously and are bringing reproach to the church, have you yet to realize that you are not your own, but you were bought with the precious blood of our Lord. And being of the covenant people of God, you have covenanted with your brothers and sisters here to live in a manner worthy of our calling.
May we all today, in hearing these qualifications for elders find ourselves examining our hearts and determining by faith to live obedient to our Lord’s commands.
By His grace we can. Amen.