A Good Man (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
A few years ago, Tammy had prepared a fabulous meal for Valentine’s Day. We were doing T-bones and potatoes and all the fixings. Tammy laid out some rolls, covered them in saran wrap, wrote a note telling me to preheat the oven and then to stick them in while she showered. I followed her checklist to perfection, and when she went to get the rolls out of the oven, the saran wrap had melted all over the pan and the rolls. I followed her checklist perfectly — If she had told me to take off the saran wrap, I would have been more than happy to oblige.
Have you ever used checklists? Do you keep a to-do list at work to help you stay focused? Do you ever sit down and make a list of chores you need to do? Do you make a grocery list so you don’t forget to purchase the ingredients of a recipe?
In this morning’s text, Paul, with an inspired pen, gives us a checklist of qualities elders need to possess. There are some in the brotherhood who suggest that these are not hard-and-fast rules. That cannot be, for the Word of God does not change. “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps 119:89). Scripture is nothing less than God’s revelation to us: “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).
However, I believe that congregational autonomy means that congregations can understand some of these requirements differently than other congregations. I know an elder who lost his only son to cancer; the day his son died he resigned from the eldership because he no longer had children. I know another elder who is single. He lost his jewel of a wife a couple years ago, and I believe he might have been appointed an elder after his wife’s death. I personally believe John is well-qualified to serve as an elder, but others might disagree with me.
With the qualifications of elders, we must continually ask ourselves, “What is the will of God?” This morning, we want to think about the qualifications of elders that Paul gives to Timothy.
As you look at those qualifications, one thing stands out to me above everything else: “Elders are good men.” There are only a couple people in New Testament who are called “good.” Joseph of Arimathea was “a good and just man” (Lk 23:50). Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). Elders are to be men like Joseph and Barnabas, good men with servant hearts.
Let’s think about how elders are to be good men.
Scripture (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
This material does not lend itself so easily to preaching. I once preached a sermon from this text where I described in detail each one of these qualifications. I and those who heard me were bored to tears.
On the other hand, we cannot overlook these qualifications. We dare not pretend as though there are not real qualifications given for elders. We cannot appoint a woman or a single man or a man with a horrible temper or a man who is a lover of money.
As I have read and reread this text, it seems to me that Paul divides the qualifications for elders into 5 categories. We’ll think about what these five things say about the type of men elders need to be.
Elders are to be good men in the Congregation.
The office to which a good man might aspire is that of “bishop” (New King James Version) or “overseer” (English Standard Version). In order for one to be an overseer, he must be active in the congregation. How can a man watch over the souls of those in the congregation unless he is actively involved in the congregation?
An elder must be hospitable. When people have us over and fix supper for us, we call that hospitality. That’s fine and dandy (and I like to eat), but that’s not exactly what Paul means when he speaks of hospitality. The Greek term for “hospitality” literally means “lover of strangers.” In the early church, evangelists would undertake mission trips and never know where they were going to stay. Hospitality in Paul’s day often meant housing missionaries. Thus, biblical hospitality says, “I want to help my brethren because I love the Lord.”
An elder must also be “able to teach.” You cannot find the modern idea of Bible classes in Scripture. We find authority for such classes in places like Acts 2 where the church came together daily and were continuing in the apostles’ doctrine. But, there was a great deal of private teaching that took place. Think about times when Jesus, the Master Teacher, taught privately: e.g., Nicodemus and the woman at the well. When Apollos knew only the baptism of John, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside to teach him (Acts 18:26). Elders may not be skilled in public teaching, but they may be excellent private teachers. An elder must be able to teach in order to combat error (Tit 1:9).
Elders are to be good men in Character.
They are to be blameless, temperate, and of good behavior. They are to be model citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
Elders are to be good men in Career.
He is not to be a lover of money; Paul says that an elder cannot be “covetous.” “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:10).
So many have strayed from truth because of the things of this world. Ahab killed to take Naboth’s vineyard, and God promised that the dogs would lick Ahab’s blood (which, of course, they did). Judas betrayed the Lord for a measly 30 pieces of silver. “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim 4:10). We must keep a love of the things of this world out of the church.
Elders are to be good men in Cottage.
He is to rule his house well, and he must have his children in submission with all reverence.
Part of ruling his house well is that an elder is to be “the husband of one wife;” in a time when marriage is cheap and marriage vows mean almost nothing, elders provide a powerful example of what a stable home is to be.
The man of God is also to care for his children. This world has so much sin to offer, and a man of God will carefully lead his family in the truth of God. “You, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
Elders are to be good men in Community.
“He must have a good testimony among those who are outside” (1 Tim 3:7). Elders must be men who live right before others and cast the church in the best possible light.
“Elders are good men.” How do we then live?
One: Understand the importance of these qualifications.
Too many churches appoint unqualified men to the eldership. I once knew an elder who told me he didn’t know the Bible well enough to teach it. I knew another elder in another place who did not at all “have a good testimony among those who are outside.” Tammy and I would invite folks to church, and they would say, “As long as he is an elder we will never come there.”
There are three major problems with appointing unqualified men to the eldership:
- I really believe the church operates much more smoothly with qualified men in the eldership. Since the all-wise, all-powerful God set His church up like this, that shouldn’t surprise us.
- Appointing unqualified men in the eldership is inconsistent. The churches where I’ve known unqualified elders would never think about using an instrument (God says sing), would never have used women to preach (God says you can’t), or have partaken of the Lord’s Supper on Saturday night (God says the first day of the week). Why is it acceptable to follow God’s Word on some issues and not on others?
- God’s Word says we cannot appoint unqualified men. God expects His Word to be followed. If you don’t believe me:
- Ask Adam and Eve what happened when they ate the forbidden fruit.
- Ask Uzzah how things turned out when he touched the ark.
- Ask Ananias and Sapphira how God rewarded them for lying.
God expects His Word to be followed. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). In the context of our discussion this morning, Paul says: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1Tim 3:15). 1 Timothy was written as a “church manual.” How can we not follow God’s inspired “church manual”?
Two: See the wisdom of God in these qualifications.
The function of the eldership demonstrates God’s wisdom. Think about God’s wisdom in having elders in every church: Some church down the road goes off the deep end. If there were an eldership that oversaw three or four congregations, we might would go off the deep end, too. The elders here can stop that from happening.
Think about God’s wisdom in having more than one elder. Every time we find elders in the New Testament, there is more than one elder serving a congregation. Because you need at least two elders: Each elder has someone who can help shepherd his soul, too. Elders — like the rest of us — disagree. That keeps one man from running a congregation, and that helps the elders reach better decisions: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17).
Think about the wisdom of God evident in this morning’s text. An elder is to be “sober-minded.” Do you really want someone who can’t think clearly leading a congregation? An elder must be “able to teach.” What will happen if an elder is unable to defend truth against heresy? An elder must be gentle. Would you really want to seek help in overcoming a sin from someone who was not gentle? An elder must rule “his own house well.” Why? “If a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?”
Three: Make sure you only put forth names of men qualified to serve.
We’ve already mentioned that we absolutely must only appoint men who are qualified to serve. But, be careful that you don’t look around the congregation and nominate “good ole boys.” Spend considerable time with the two texts which give us the qualifications of the elders (1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9). Only then put forth names. We must, as we’ve already mentioned, be very careful to do what God expects.
Four: We must not seek our own way.
I have not really been part of selecting elders before now; however, I was part of selecting deacons a few years ago. The elders asked me to print a form and place it in the foyer next to a box where people could put their completed forms. It was one of the most disastrous things I’ve ever seen in ministry. The elders, deacons, and I met together and went through the nomination forms. There were three men who had been recommended over and over: the son of one elder and the sons-in-law of the other two elders. There was an uproar like I’ve never seen! There were days I thought that church was going to split right down the line.
The fact that God gives us specific guidelines should prevent us from seeking our own way; these are God’s guidelines. Love “does not seek its own” (1 Cor 13:5). As we think of that truth in this context, it’s not whom I want to be appointed an elder; it’s about who meets the qualifications and who can best serve. This is God’s church, not mine.
Notice also what Paul says about elders: “He must have a good testimony among those who are outside” (1 Tim 3:7). If I run my mouth to non-Christians about those who were selected, I can make them ineligible. Greater than one individual being run down, however, I could severely damage the church to those on the outside.
God has required many people to fulfill obligations before they could serve. If you were going to serve as a priest in the Old Testament, you’d better be a Levite (Num 3:5-13). If you were going to fight with Gideon, you’d better lap your water like a dog (Judg 7:4-8). Throughout the New Testament, we find people needing to fulfill requirements before they could serve. There were requirements to be an apostle (Acts 1:15-26). There were requirements to be one of the seven to care for the Grecian widows (Acts 6:3). There were requirements for widows who were enrolled (1 Tim 5:9-16).
There are also requirements for people to have salvation. “Having been perfected, [Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb 5:9). Are you obeying Jesus?