Monday, July 25, 2016

1 Timothy 3:1-7 “Biblical Eldership”

I remember  somewhere in the mid - nineties   calling an older seasoned pastor, saying  to him, ”please help, I am struggling to give the church direction  amidst some  difficult challenges from  some people”.  I distinctly remember  his  fatherly  tone  and sensible biblical  advice  which he gave me, and it made all the difference at that time! 
The church at Ephesus, led by a young pastor called Timothy   needed  help from Paul, his fatherly mentor.

In chapter 1  we have seen Paul  settling the matter  of apostolic doctrine as opposed  to the heterodox  teaching  by certain persons in the church.  He tells Timothy  to charge certain persons not to teach  any different doctrine. The work of the pastor elder is to protect the church from  spiritual wolves  and to maintain sound doctrine.     

In chapter 2 Paul  addressed a few matters pertaining to the  public worship of the church. He addressed  the importance of  public  prayer  for all kinds of people and especially those in authority. The stability of  family, church  and country  depends on this.  Furthermore, Paul addressed the matter of  the public  conduct of men  and women  in worship.  We observed that his teaching  is a mixture of  biblical principles  (which are unchanging) and peculiar cultural  matters  related to  the unique setting of the church   in the city of Ephesus,[1] which was hugely dominated by the cult of the goddess Diana, otherwise known as  Artemis of the Ephesians [2]

In chapter 3 Paul  now addresses the matter  of  pastoral  and diaconal  leadership  in the church.  Here  we find   a vital  key to  the health of the church. The health of the church  depends on  the  quality of its  pastoral and diaconal leadership. At Eastside we have been making slow but significant  progress in this area. I have been amazed at the resistance and apathy  to  the establishment of these  biblical offices in the church  over 27 years, but I  do understand  that Satan would resist our attempt  to  develop  biblical leadership,   since he cannot flourish  in churches where  a biblical church order prevails.   Sound leadership is essential  and we see this  in   the O.T. where  the welfare of the nation was  always dependent  on the effectiveness of its leaders.  Israel  was either blessed or cursed  under  good or bad leaderships. The same is true for the N.T. church. The secret of good church  leaderships seems to lie in the fact that we choose our elders and deacons according to the biblical pattern prescribed in 1 Timothy 3. 

A STUDY OF 1 TIMOTHY  3 :1-7  Concerning  Overseers

Before we look at the   aspects or qualifications   that  would guide us in the appointment of church elders, we  must consider  the introductory statement  in v. 1 : “The saying is trustworthy”. This is the second time  which Paul  makes this statement (see 1:15)and  he  will continue to make a series of such statements throughout  the pastoral epistles[3]. So, this  is a reliable public saying, which Paul endorses  here as reliable: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”   We point out that the word overseer (Gr. episkopos),  pastor (Gr. poimēn), elder (presbuteros)  and are used synonymously in the Bible. 

Some people  may  be asking at this point whether  the desire   to become an elder or pastor  lies  with one’s own desire.  It is clear from Scripture[4]   that the   root of such a desire   lies with  the God who calls and equips us  for such a ministry. It is  also true however to say that  such a call works itself  out in terms of  an inner desire, as was the case in my own calling  to the pastoral ministry. There is  a threefold process  involved in a pastoral calling (i) the call of God  (ii) the  inward aspiration  (iii)  the  affirmation of the church. 
In this regard  we must point out that  whilst pastoral gifts (along with all gifts) belong to  men and women alike, pastoral leadership  is restricted by  God  to certain qualified  males (described in our text).  We all have the duty  to choose them wisely.

The Marks of Elder Leadership :
As we survey the  marks of  elder leadership  we take note that  they relate to  the moral and spiritual character of the man. “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach.”  The meaning of "above reproach" is defined by the character qualities that follow in our text. cannot mean “faultless”, for no one would qualify, if that were the case. But it must mean that  such leadership must be exemplary.   In both of Paul’s lists of elder qualifications[5], the first, specific, character virtue itemized is "the husband of one wife." This means that each elder must be above reproach in his marital  life.

The other character qualities stress the elder’s integrity, self-control, and spiritual maturity. Since elders govern the church body, each one must be self-controlled in the use of money, alcohol, and the exercise of his pastoral authority. Since each elder is to be a model of Christian living, he must be spiritually devout, righteous, a lover of good, hospitable, and morally above reproach before the non-Christian community.

In pastoral work, relationship skills are preeminent. Thus a shepherd elder must be gentle, stable, sound-minded, and  non- contentious. An angry, hot-headed man hurts people. So, an elder must not have a dictatorial spirit. He must not  be quick-tempered,  quick to get embroiled in fights and arguments , or  be self-willed.  In addition  an elder must not be a new Christian. He must be a spiritually mature, humble, time-proven disciple of Jesus Christ.

Within the lists of elder qualifications, three requirements address the elder’s abilities to perform the task. He must be (i) able to manage his family household well, (ii) he must provide a model of Christian living for others to follow, and (iii) be able to teach and defend the faith.

           (i) Able to manage his family household well:    The scriptural reasoning here is that if a man cannot shepherd his family, he can’t shepherd the extended family of the church. Managing the local church is more like managing a family than managing a business or governing a city or  country. A man may be a successful businessman, a capable public official, a brilliant office manager, or a top military leader, but be a terrible church elder or father. Thus a man’s ability to oversee his family well is a prerequisite for overseeing God’s household.

        (ii) Able to provide a model for others to follow: An elder must be an example of Christian living that others will want to follow. Peter reminds the Asian elders "to be examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:3b). If a man is not a godly model for others to follow, he cannot be an elder,  even if he is otherwise  a good teacher and manager. The greatest way to inspire and influence people for God is through personal example. Character and deeds, not official position or title, is what really influences people for eternity.  We need to see authentic examples of true Christianity in action. That is why it is so important that an elder must be an example  and  a living imitator of Christ.

       (iii) Able to teach and defend the faith: An elder must be able to teach and defend the faith. It doesn’t matter how eloquent a man  may be  in his speech,  or how intelligent he is. If he is not firmly committed to historic, apostolic doctrine and able to instruct people in biblical doctrine, he does not qualify to be a biblical elder (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9).  The New Testament requires that a pastor- elder "must  hold firm to  the trustworthy  word as taught, so that  he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9). This means that an elder must firmly adhere to orthodox, historic, biblical teaching. Elders cannot afford to  experiment  with  the latest religious fads  and  doctrines. Since the local church is "the pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim. 3: 15b), its leaders must be rock-solid pillars of biblical doctrine,  or the house will crumble. An elder must be characterized by doctrinal integrity.  A prospective elder must have  acquired  for himself a  solid  habit  of years of  reading and study of Scripture. He must be able  to reason intelligently from  Scripture. He ought to  have  formulated  his doctrinal  convictions. He ought to be able  to  teach others.

A biblical eldership is a biblically qualified team of shepherd leaders. The local church must insist on biblically qualified elders, even if such men take years to develop. Unqualified elders provide no significant benefit to the church. It is better  to have no elders than the wrong ones! Because of  the real  problem of pride, Scripture also advises us  that a recent convert  should not be an elder: " He must  not be  a new convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of  the devil" (1 Tim. 3:6).

Serving Elders !
New Testament  elders are to be servant leaders,  and not rulers or dictators. Elders are  called  to live a life of service.  Like the Lord Jesus , their  leader example ,  elders  sacrifice their time and energy for the good of others.

In addition to shepherding others with a servant spirit, the elders must humbly and lovingly relate to one another. They must be able to patiently build consensus. The must be able  to  compromise on non- essentials. They must be able to listen, handle disagreement, forgive, receive rebuke and correction, confess sin, and appreciate the wisdom and perspective of others.  Older, stronger and more gifted elders must not use their giftedness  to   manipulate. Power struggles  in the pastoral leadership  endangers  the unity and  the peace of the entire congregation.

To be  a serving elder does not imply, however, an absence of authority. The New Testament terms that describe the elders’ position,"shepherd, overseer, elder” imply authority as well as responsibility. As shepherds of the church, elders have been given the authority to lead and protect the local church (Acts 20:28-31). The key issue is the attitude in which elders exercise that authority. They depend on God for wisdom and help, not on their own power and cleverness. Biblical elders do not dictate; they direct. True elders do not command the consciences of their congregation,  but  they would appeal to their  congregation to faithfully follow  the Lord Jesus in obeying God’s Word.

True elders  bear the misunderstandings and sins of other people so that the assembly may live in peace. They lose sleep so that others may rest. They make  personal sacrifices of time and energy for the welfare of others. At times they face  attacks. At all times  they guard the  church’s  liberty and freedom in Christ, and to create an environment  in  which the members  are encouraged to  thrive  and  to develop their gifts, and so to  become  mature.

These are the kind of men we ought to pray for, to lead our  church. Pray that God will give  Eastside  Baptist Church godly shepherds – even better ones   than you have had. 
Don’t take them for granted.  
Pray for your elders. 
Be involved in choosing them when such times arise. 
Encourage them  by  your obedience to Jesus.  
Amen !

[2]  See  Acts 19:21-41 . The Temple of Artemis or Artemision (Greek: Ἀρτεμίσιον)  also known less precisely as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was completely rebuilt three times before its eventual destruction in 401 AD. Only foundations and sculptural fragments of the latest of the temples at the site remain. [
[3] See also 4:9 ; 2 Tim 2:11 ; Titus 3:8
[4]  E.g. Acts 20:28
[5]  here, and  Titus 1: 5-9

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