Note: This post is adapted from two sermons I delivered during the Sunday Morning Worship Service of Stansbury Park Baptist Church. The full sermons can be found here and here and are available for free download. Further, I recognize that this post is a bit longer than most which we contribute here at ParkingSpace23.com; however, bear with me and I will follow up next time with something shorter (I promise).
If by chance you have been checking in here at ParkingSpace23.com every other Friday, you have probably noticed that I have been taking that time to address the issue of local church elders. In the course of addressing this topic I have taken time to explain what elders are (here) and likewise presented a series of posts arguing for the restriction of the office to men (here, here, here,and here). What I would like to do today is shift attention from those issues to the issue of how can the folks in the church recognize the men whom God has qualified to be elders. I believe we can answer that question by looking at Titus 1:6-9 in which Paul provides to Titus 3 categories of the qualifications a man must meet in order to be considered for the office of elder.
- Marriage and Family (v. 6)
- Personality and Character (vv. 7-8)
- Adherence to and Ability to Defend Sound Doctrine (v. 9)
Paul introduces these qualifications by asking a rhetorical question of sorts that expects that the condition of the statement can be met with an affirmative answer. In other words when Paul writes “If any man is above reproach” he is assuming that such men exist, that they are above reproach in the ways Paul will qualify and Titus will indeed find these men.
The first category (Marriage and family) is actually broken down into the relationship the man has with two particular groups within his household; first his wife and secondly his children.
He is to be a “one woman man” which is the literal rendering of the phrase “husband of one wife” in your English Bible. Let me explain what this is by first telling you what it is not. It is not:
- a prohibition against single/unmarried elders
- a reference to polygamy which is forbidden for ALL Christians
- a preclusion from a remarried widower becoming an elder
- an explicit statement regarding divorce
It is, however, referencing the singularity of faithfulness of a man to his wife and implies inner (thought life) and outer sexual purity. This expression is qualitative, being without the definite article, placing the emphasis upon “one” – the thrust being that the overseer or elder has nothing to do with any woman not his own wife. In other words, this is a man for whom no woman but his wife occupies any portion of his desire.
After addressing the relationship and devotion such a man must have with his wife, Paul moves to the children the man may or may not have. Once again this is not to say childless men cannot be elders. However there is some difficulty in determining exactly what Paul means by “children who believe.” And this is evidenced by the fact there are two major camps when it comes to this phrase.
Camp 1 says it means It means “having children who are Christians, who are also living in a manner indicative of their salvation”
- the fact that the children are believers is an indication of the father’s careful Christian life (Kent)
- In this case the children, being believers would be a reflection of a man’s leadership in the home and the effective evangelism of his own children (MacArthur).
- MacArthur goes further than some by addressing the descriptors of the children as not being accused of dissipation or rebellion and taking these further qualifiers to be an indication of adult or near adult children.
- The description both here and 1 Tim 3:4 require children to be well behaved and obedient. However, this phrase implies an even more stringent condition – the requirement that the prospective elder be capable of influencing his children to submit to Christ in salvation demonstrates the conviction of Paul that effective spiritual leadership in the home is suggestive of effective future leadership within the church. Not only is the elder to be a natural father to his children but a spiritual one as well. (Lea/Griffin)
Camp Two says; It means “having children who are faithful to their father’s authority and do not behave in an outwardly rebellious way”
- In light of the instructions given to Timothy that an elder “must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” it would seem that the Apostle’s intent here is that elders have ‘faithful children’ that is to say children who are not wild and uncontrollable as evidenced by the descriptor following this phrase (Kitchen)
- not so much requiring an examination of a child’s professed testimony as to evaluate whether the child in an age appropriate way is exhibiting evidence of consistent biblical discipleship and spiritual nurturing (Hughes/Chapell)
So what does all this mean for us? At the end of the day, either of these interpretations can be put into practice by the local church without compromising the Gospel – for what is clear is that regardless of interpretation the prospective elder’s Christian faith has radically affected his marriage, parenting, and home-life. However, I believe even with that being the case that the more conservative interpretation of “believing children” is the more likely to meet the over-arching qualification of being “above reproach” in every area of life and should thus be adopted as the standard for men serving as elders within the local church.
The proving grounds of man’s home is the one area where the fruits of a man’s daily efforts can be easily displayed and examined. But a man’s home is not the only area in which he should be evaluated for even his demeanor and attitude are to be examined and are included in our second category of qualification of Personality and Character.
The first thing you see when reading Titus 1:7-8 is that the overarching qualification of being ‘above reproach’ is restated along with the purpose behind such a high standard – the elder or overseer (synonymous terms for the same office) is acting as a steward in God’s house.
A steward is and was one who would exercise considerable authority in his Master’s household as it pertained to the carrying out of his prescribed duties. He would likely be in charge of administering to the needs of the family in general, managing the finances, even supervising and tasking other servants/slaves of his Master with duties. As you might imagine it was a position of considerable trust and given only to servants/slaves who had proven their ability and loyalty. However, just as the steward in a human household was not the master, so also is the elder not the Master over God’s house but merely His representative.
In expounding what it means to be above reproach as God’s steward Paul provides two lists, the first a compilation of five negative traits which are not to be found in the prospective overseer followed by a collection of six positive characteristics which must be found in the man. For the sake of space and so as not to insult your intelligence I am merely going to list these traits with a very short explanation of each as I believe that these things are pretty self-explanatory.
- not self-willed, this term comes from an unusually strong adjective denoting an arrogant self-interest that asserts its own interests with utter disregard for how others might be affected
- not quick-tempered, not one who is given to anger or easily provoked but rather he is able to handle the difficult situations of life without exploding into anger
- not addicted to wine, not known for the intentional ingestion of wine or other strong drink for the purpose of becoming drunk
- not pugnacious, not one who is ready to obtain his recourse through violence nor is he known for resorting to this activity in order to resolve the issue at hand
- not fond of sordid gain/greedy – not inclined nor likely to use his Christian service as an opportunity for financial profit but rather is a man of strictest integrity as far as money is concerned
- hospitable – one who gives practical help to anyone who is in need friend and stranger alike – this is especially a reference to having people in one’s home
- loving what is good – so many in society love what is evil/bad, the elder by contrast must love both the things and the people whom God has deemed/made good
- sensible – a sensible man not given to flights of fancy – cast to and fro by every whim of his own mind
- just– one who lives carefully by the standards presented by God in His word in his own daily life dealing with all people equitably
- devout – one who is seeking to walk closely and even more closely with God day-by-day; one who is actively seeking after their own progressive sanctification
- self controlled – a visibly exemplary external life which demonstrates submission to the Holy Spirit’s internal control over him
So here you have a mold for the men who desire to be an elders – he is above reproach in that he is not one who acts of his own accord selfishly, prone to fits of controlling anger, given over to drunkenness, leading to violent behavior, and on top of all of that he might even rob you because of his desire for personal riches. No instead of that man you are looking for a man who is welcoming to all friend and stranger alike, he takes no delight in the evil of the world seeking after all that God has declared good instead, he is a man who enjoys his life but is not taken to pursing pleasure knowing it is vanity after all. The man you are looking for is fair in the way he deals with other people showing no preference based upon social position, education, or ethnicity; he is like the blessed man in Psalm 1 who dedicates himself to God’s Word and living obediently in light of what he reads seeking to be in control of himself by being filled by the Holy Spirit.
If such a man who has his household in order and meets the character qualifications outlined here is found among you then the only thing left to check is his Adherence to and Ability to Defend Sound Doctrine. This qualification is found in Titus 1:9 and is often compared or paralleled to 1 Tim 3:2 and the requirement that the candidate for the office of elder be “able to teach.”
What you find here is that the man under consideration is known for a habitual observable pattern of being devoted to God’s Word. He is not one who will necessarily offer his own opinion on a given situation, but might instead say, “Well you know Scripture says thus.” the manner of the man when he communicates this information is not one of self-righteous piety as it is his own recognition that God has provided all we need to know regarding faith & practice in His Word.
You can be confident in knowing that it is indeed God’s Word to which this man clings by understanding the phrase “the faithful word which is accordance with sound doctrine.” This faithful word is everything which comports with what Paul and the other Apostles have taught and is to be differentiated from the teaching which comes from the men whom are described in Titus 1:10-16.
And there is a reason we are to look for such men who are devoted to the Word in such a way; namely that the man who is obedient in such a manner has been equipped to both exhort and reprove from the Word of God. Elders is to be ones who can lovingly and authoritatively encourage or exhort his brothers and sisters in Christ toward a more active obedience because they are aware of the truthfulness, accuracy and completeness of God’s Word and that it produces health by transmitting truth to the Believer as well as providing a correct view of reality. This is not an activity of do this or else, it more along the lines of this is what is required and we have been given the ability and opportunity to be faithful so let’s strive together toward that end.
On the other hand, not everyone responds to that kind of encouragement and some even rebel against it, which is why the same man who lovingly exhorts is the one who also authoritatively rebukes or reproves those who bring into question the truthfulness of God’s Word. The idea behind this activity is that of applying the truth in such an effectual way as to bring about conviction even if not confession of sin. In other words the correction is such that the one being corrected is made aware of and even understands his/her error even if they are unwilling to admit it.
In either of these cases the idea is that this is a constant struggle and tasking for the elder as folks will continually need to be encouraged and spurred on to greater obedience to and from Scripture. Likewise, there will always be those folks who think they know better than God who will needed to be refuted and rebuked in order that the church may be protected and remain at peace.