Elder Qualifications: Part 1

1 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. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

We continue today to look at some of our Lord’s instruction regarding His church. Specifically, today we will look at some of the qualifications of overseers or elders in the church.

As we look at these qualifications of an elder in the church, it is important for each of us to remember that these qualifications are characteristics that should mark every Christian, especially Christian men. With the exception of being able to teach and not being a recent convert, all other characteristics mentioned are, again, character qualities that all Christians should possess in Christ. There are not super Christians and all other Christians, that is not the point, we are all to aspire to a life lived for God’s glory as we understand from the Bible, so this is for all of us.

One thing we have talked about over the years here at GFBC is that we would like to get to a place where every man in this church is elder and deacon qualified. That does not mean that every man would hold the office of elder or deacon, only that every man would be qualified to hold the office. That would be a worthy goal for a church, that is to be intensely discipling the men of the church to all get to a place of spiritual maturity.

So as we go through this list, let’s all think about where we are and honestly evaluate our walk and consider ways that we can further love our Lord and walk with Him and with each other by living obediently to our calling as Christians together.

We looked at verse 1 last time and talked about those who aspire to be an elder and desire to be an elder, that this is a good or noble thing, it is a good work. In verse 2 Paul begins with stating that an overseer must be above reproach.

I’ve got to tell you that every time I read through these qualifications I do so with a measure of fear and trembling. I know myself, I’m aware of many of my weaknesses and struggles, and then I read of these qualifications and on most points I can easily see many, many ways in which I need to grow. And right off the bat this is true. Paul says that an elder is to be above reproach. This being above reproach is sort of an introduction to the list that follows. That is, he is to be above reproach in the specific things that follow. He gets to the specifics of what that means.

Being above reproach means “not able to be held.” If thinking of this in a very literal way it would be like a person who cannot be arrested as if he were a criminal, like there is nothing in his life, in what he has done, that would warrant being held as a prisoner. He is above reproach in that sense. He cannot be accused, or if he is accused it does not stick. This is in the present tense so it means in his present state he is above reproach.

This of course does not mean he is sinless, no one is sinless. It is not possible to find a man who is faultless, if you think you have found him then you don’t know him well. You can ask his wife if he is faultless. J.I. Packer said regarding this idea of being above reproach, “It is one thing to be weighed down with ordinary faults that do not tarnish a person’s reputation, because most other men share such faults, but it is a totally different matter to have a reputation that is derided and blackened by scandal.” Being above reproach has some to do with how others see the man live. This is similar to what we will see in verse 7 where Paul says, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders.”

In other words a man cannot preach or teach or shepherd week after week and not be one who is striving to live out what he is teaching. If he does that, if he does not strive to live out his teaching, then his teaching will not carry the weight as the glorious truth that God has made it to be. And so being above reproach can include a man staying on a path of progressively being sanctified by God and becoming more like Christ. Here is what I mean…

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

Paul is urging an elder to pursue personal holiness in his own life, not just to encourage the flock to pursue personal holiness. He is saying, “You need to live what you are teaching, you need to be growing in Christ.” This is a part of pastoral ministry, the pastor growing and changing in the presence of the people he is called to shepherd. He is to be above reproach.

Other qualifications for elders/pastors…

Husband of one wife – Literally “a one woman man.” This is a man who is wholly devoted to his wife and not to any other woman. He loves his wife, desires his wife, thinks only of her rather than other women. He maintains sexual purity in his mind and in his conduct. In Ephesus sexual sin was rampant as it is in our own society today. This phrase the husband of one wife is a moral duty of a spiritual leader. A one woman man is not a flirt, he does not imagine being with another woman. He is devoted to the wife that God has given to him. He holds marriage in high esteem and sees his marriage as that of representing Christ and the Church. Christ demonstrates ultimate fidelity to His church. Once we are His, His eyes are upon us and faithfully so. He does not wish for others to replace us, no matter how we act. He has loved us all the way to the shameful cross which He bore for us. He is our example, He is our faithful example. God says that men who will be elders must be a one woman man.

Sober minded – A balanced, moderate life, not given to excess. This is to be clear headed and alert, not one who lives according to changing emotion or is carried away by feelings. This is a man who is solidly committed not to how he feels in a moment of longing for certain feelings to live by, but is committed to God’s Word and clearly so. This is a steady man. The word sober is often understood within the context of drunkenness. Think of a drunk person. He does not think straight, he does not act rationally, he is not dependable and sometimes not safe to be around. He does not carefully think through to his next move nor exercise good judgment with his plans. No, he goes where his drunkenness takes him. He is not in a position to lead well. Our Lord says an elder is to be sober minded.

Self-controlled – Being self-controlled is a result of being sober minded. It is being very serious about spiritual things, thoughtful character or demeanor marked by seriousness. This does not mean a spiritual leader has to be dreary or boring, but he does take serious things seriously, he doesn’t just joke about all things, he is not a clown. If a man cannot take serious serious matters then no one will want to come to him for help, teaching, or counseling You know in our day, it seems that among many spiritual leaders there is this desire, or a lust, for popularity rather than for godliness.

I sat under a preacher for a while that was literally a clown. He dressed as a clown and did magic tricks on Sunday mornings. He took spiritual matters, the gospel, and seemed to trivialize it in order to try and gain attention from others. What was meant to be serious matters of sin and forgiveness and salvation and growing in godliness were couched in fun and games. The message was lost with his antics. Serious matters should be taken seriously and spiritual leaders should understand this.

Respectable – Of good behavior representing holiness. Approaches all aspects of life in a systematic, orderly manner; is diligent with duties. He is a man that others can look to and respect because of his manner of conducting his own affairs and his duties in life. He is not a man that is jumping randomly from activity to activity, always changing his mind and direction in life with little thought. He is systematically stable in how he conducts himself. You might even say that he is predictable. I think this is so because he has patterns and precepts to follow and they are found in God’s Word. In other words, his commitment to God’s Word forces in large measure this orderliness in life. Apart from God’s Word life can become just living crazily, without any order really. An elder is to be respectable.

Hospitable – A willingness to open one’s home to others. This idea of being hospitable is one that every Christian is to obey. Romans 12:12-13 says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” In the ancient world this was really important. We of all people ought to be opening our homes to others, even to those we may not know well. We should take every opportunity to show the love of Christ in our homes.

In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Being hospitable is not just inviting your best friends over, but is having over those whom you can bless, those who need your help. It is ministry in the home, using your home for significant ministry. Maybe this seems uncomfortable, having over those you may not know real well, but that is okay. It is not about us, it is about reaching out to others in love. Church leaders should model this, should model hospitality for the church.

Able to teach – This is a skill-related quality, unlike the others we have discussed. An elder is to be able to teach others biblical truth. Elders are called to preach the Word. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” The church is to be a pillar and support of the truth and the elder is to proclaim truth. Teaching can happen behind a pulpit, in a Sunday school class, one on one, and in other forms. The point is the elder must study and understand the Word well enough to communicate it to others in a way that is understood.

Not addicted to much wine – Drunkenness is clearly a sin and prohibited. This is not just true for elders but for all Christians. We are not to be drunk with wine but filled with the Holy Spirit. The Proverbs warn again and again about drunkenness and the destruction that follows it. Spiritual leaders will recognize this and refuse to be controlled by strong drink.

Not violent but gentle – Violent here means literally “not a giver of blows” or “not a striker.” This then is a man who is not one who turns quickly to physical violence. He is not one who tries to settle problems with a fight. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 – “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

He is to be gentle. This means considerate and gracious. He easily pardons others, he remembers good not evil, he does not hold grudges. Even when he is wronged he doesn’t quickly consider retaliation, that is not who he is. He knows people are sinners and people don’t always respond rightly, and so he can, recognizing this, be gentle and gracious.

Not quarrelsome – This means he is peaceful and a peacemaker. This is not as much about physical violence but about an attitude. He is not quick to get into verbal sparring, he is not argumentative. He tries to promote and encourage harmony, and many times this will be by the way he conducts himself with others. He does not have a demeanor of picking fights with others.

Not a lover of money – Or not fond of gain. As men who in some cases will handle the money of the church, it is important that they are not or do not appear to be ruled by a desire for gain. 1 Timothy 6:9 says that a pervasive desire for financial gain corrupts a man. Many false leaders can be recognized by their desire for gain through the church. He must even avoid the appearance of such greediness. His attitude should be like what we read in 1 Timothy 6…

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Again, while we look at each of these qualifications, I want to emphasize the importance that we see them as not just for our leaders but of how God desires that each of us live in this world for Him.

As I close for today, in addition to considering each of these character qualities in your own life, I’d like you to do this. Pray for the elders in our church. None of us are perfect examples of these things. If you know us at all then you know that. But it is our unanimous desire to lead well in these areas. Pray that we will. It takes Christ in us to live rightly in the role of elder. Apart from Christ we will fail miserably. We need Christ’s strength to lead well. So I ask you to pray for Mark White, Bilal Nassardeen, Michael Lawrence, and me. I know that many of you do regularly and we thank you for that. In addition, I would ask that you pray that the Lord will raise up others in our church body to be in the office of elder. Pray that the Lord will add to our group of elders for this special work of ministry here at GBFC. Thank you for praying for this.

1 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. (1 Timothy 3:1-3)