The Forgotten Qualification


This should be a golden era for the church. Never before in church history has there been such unfettered access to the word of God, especially here in the West. Not to mention all of the great theological content that is available for free online, like many puritan writings, much from Charles Spurgeon, S. Lewis Johnson and so much more. But we are not in a golden era, and I am convinced that a large part of problem is a lack of qualified leadership in the church. To be clear when I say leadership, I mean pastoral leadership (eldership), and when I say qualified, I don’t mean talented or full of ability, I mean meeting the biblical character qualifications spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Even in many churches that say they value the biblical qualifications, there seems to be a forgotten qualification, an elder must not be quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3).

Allow the text of Scripture speak for itself:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 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


This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9

There it is in black and white. And I would argue that not quarrelsome in 1 Timothy is subsumed in not arrogant or quick tempered (not to mention self-controlled and disciplined) in Titus.

Quarrelsome is the Greek word amachos (ἄμαχοs) which the go to Koine Greek lexicon defines simply as peaceable.[1] The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis edited by Mioses Silva offers this expansion of the definition, “not disposed to fight, thus avoiding quarrels, peaceable, that should characterize church overseers (1 Tim 3:3), but also Christians more generally (Titus 3:2).”[2]

There is no debate about what the word means, and so there should be no debate about the application of the qualification. According to Scripture a man who is prone to run towards quarrels instead of avoiding them is as unqualified for the office of elder as someone who is unfaithful to his wife, addicted to alcohol or who doesn’t hold to the trustworthy Word. An argumentative man is unqualified. Period.

Yet in some places that say they uphold the biblical qualification for elders, this qualification is ignored or at least behavior that runs afoul of this qualification is rationalized away. Men are said to be zealous for the truth or willing to stand up for sound doctrine, or standing firm for a biblical worldview when they seem to be unable to resist the temptation to argue and engage in controversy; the naked truth is that such men are quarrelsome. 

I am not of the opinion that the Scripture calls for an elder to be perfect in these things, rather elders ought to be examples to the flock in theses things (1 Peter 5:3). (Certainly being exemplary in some of these area, like marital fidelity, adhering to sound doctrine or addiction, requires  zero tolerance of sin in these areas.) But someone who is incapable of not taking the bait, is in endless twitter beefs, finds their hobby horse issue in every text of Scripture they preach or acts on an us and them mentality except as it applies to the lost and the redeemed is not exemplary.

Although I have seen it attributed to various sources, I think this is a worthy quote, “You don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to.” If an elder is unable to turn down such an invitation, he is not exemplary in this area, so he must be considered unqualified. If a man is in an endless stream of twitter beefs and online arguments, they are unqualified. If a man habitually is the third (or fourth or fifth, etc.) into an argument, he is unqualified (see Prov 26:17).

Commenting on 1 Timothy 3:3 John Kitchen says “controlling oneself is the precursor to commanding the respect of others.[3]” If an elder or pastor isn’t exemplary in this area, when he speaks to the flock about sexual immorality, or drunkenness or materialism or the importance of sound doctrine or discernment he speaks with less authority. When an argumentative elder speaks on these issues whether from the pulpit or in discipleship, he speaks from a greatly diminished platform. That is why this qualification must not be ignored, redefined or minimized.

If you say you love the church, you ought to love it enough to insist that the quarrelsome elder is as unqualified as the drunkard or the adulterer. And if you are an elder or a pastor who is quarrelsome you ought to love the church enough to step down, at least until you are not.

[1] BDAG A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, p52.

[2] The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis ed Silva, Vol 3 p252.

[3] John Kitchen The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors, p128.

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About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.