Elders: People of Character

Elders are meant to be examples of the norm in the church

Elders: People of Character

As we continue our study in the book of Timothy, we see what it means to be a church who is obedient to the Word of God and led by the Holy Spirit. As a church we are to be a people who are directed by grace, motivated by love and not legalism, a church that draws near to God in prayer, rooted and grounded in His Word and not in what the culture around us dictates. We want to be a people of faith and godly character.

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

(Timothy 3:1-7)

Paul states the reliability of every word of God and especially on this subject of leadership and character. He states, “Those that aspire, long for, desire to be an overseer seek a noble task. God calls men who have a desire to and are eager to serve others, not men who simply serve out of a sense of duty. He works this desire in people’s hearts; He doesn’t twist them by the arm.

What does Paul mean by an overseer?

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words identifies these individuals as:

Those who, being raised up and qualified by the work of the Holy Spirit, were appointed to have the spiritual care of, and to exercise oversight over the churches

The related term presbuteroi, translated “elder,” indicates the nature of their work as having mature spiritual experience. In 1 Peter 5:2-3:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

The responsibility of the elder is linked to shepherds (poimen) who pastor the flock (church).[1] It should be noted, however, that the term elder (πρεσβύτερος— presbuteros) usually occurs in the plural, suggesting that the authority of the elders is collective rather than individual.[2] The Elder, shepherd, is not called to function alone but with other godly servants.

Why is it a noble task?

In verse 1, it is considered a noble task. Why is it noble? Because these servants are motivated by the Lord to equip His people to serve well, to build up the body of Christ in faith and knowledge of God, to help others become mature and walk with Him. This is a noble undertaking (Eph 4:12-13).  

Now you may think that this passage is only for the leaders in the church. However, those who lead the flock are not called to a different life than the congregation but to model how we as Christ’s family are to conduct ourselves in the church. The elders are to be examples of the norm.

It is true that not every person will be called to become a leader in the church but what this passage also teaches is that each person is to discern: who should be appointed to serve in various positions in the church. Who should lead in the church, who should be entrusted with certain responsibilities, i.e., finances, teaching, outreach. How do we choose the right elders? Who should we support on the mission field, who should teach Sunday school, lead Bible studies, etc.? What type of people should they be?

First, we need to see what the Scriptures prescribe for leadership, and to then pray for discernment and wisdom for choosing persons who exemplify the description found in 1 Tim 3:2-7. The biblical pattern is not to appoint a person for a certain position and hope that they meet the challenge, rather a position of authority should be given to those who are already living out these principles in their lives so they can be entrusted with a broader area of responsibility.

Second, when we take a look at these character traits for ourselves it helps us to know what type of people we should be, the areas in which we need to grow and how we can live fruitful and productive lives for the Kingdom of God.

Our church is led by qualified men who are chosen from within our community to watch over the well-being of the people of the church as  elders and pastors .

Our church is led by qualified men who are chosen from within our community to watch over the well-being of the people of the church as elders and pastors.

The Christian life is not anchored in what I do but in who I am

My Christian life is not anchored in what I do but in who I am. Our greatest pursuit is to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, to be effective and fruitful in every endeavor to which God calls us but this comes out of a relationship with a living God, who empowers us to fulfill His plan for our lives. Life is short and it can be spent pursuing our own short-lived dreams and desires or it can be spent seeking God’s eternal Kingdom above all else and living righteously. And If I am to be used to make a positive, lasting impact in people’s lives and for God’s Kingdom, and will be able to stand against the attacks of the enemy, God will have to work perseverance and character into my life.

The attributes listed in 1 Tim 3:2-7 - is something we should all aspire to. As God’s children, we to be above reproach, to be a faithful spouse or friend, we are to be temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not given to drunkenness, gentle, not argumentative, and not people who love money. For every member of the church, whether you are an elder, a deacon, a lay leader in the church, a person who earns his or her living in the market place, who serves in the local church as a vital member of the body of Christ. 

Each contributing member is engaged in a noble task and maximizing their service to God and His Kingdom. This list of attributes is not just for elders but is a godly standard for every person who is called to a position of authority or influence, whether you are a husband or wife, a father or mother, a single person, a retiree or teenager - we are all to train ourselves to be godly, to be reliable, faithful, hardworking, to be trustworthy in our relationships and responsibilities no matter where God has placed us or what He has called us to. When these and other godly traits characterize my life, there is a promise and reward.

2 Peter 1:8-9 says,

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Maybe you are thinking, “if people only knew how far I am from these qualities in my life.” Or maybe you are thinking I have all these qualities and ready to serve in this capacity. In either case it is God who prepares us for positions of authority by the power of His Holy Spirit and the church simply recognizes and affirms the work that has been done in that person life. No one is perfect and all of us are still maturing in Christ and so we understand that character is something we are continually growing in. When these principles become our guiding compass it can absolutely redirect our lives and our future can be radically different from our past.  

The principles for modeling godly character are clear for the elder and deacon. This is what God is looking for in His church and desires that we would be people that exhibit His nature and character. In verses 2-7 Paul list those desirable characteristics which are to be found in those who have been entrusted with responsibility.

An elder should be

  • Above reproach - free from underserved accusations and condemnation, an accusation which does not "hold up" after the situation is correctly (or fully) understood. Today many Christians are imprisoned for their faith or ridiculed for their convictions but this is not a reason for shame.

  •  Faithful to one wife - If married, an elder must be a one-woman-man in thought and deed.

  • Temperate - Spirit-controlled, clear-headed, mentally alert, able to make sound judgments.

  • Self-controlled - doesn’t live by his feelings, but by obedience to God’s Word and filled with God’s wisdom

  • Respectable - a person who lives a well-ordered, decent life in every area; a life that honors the Lord and His Word

  • Hospitable - “a lover of strangers.” He is quick to open his heart and home to others. He is not afraid to meet new people and to welcome them.

  • Able to teach - must know Scripture well enough to be able to set forth sound doctrine and to deal with error in a gentle manner without quarreling. When we look at these qualities of elders they need to be those who have a deep grasp of the truth and are able to communicate it. It does not mean that all elders will teach and preach but they are competent in upholding the truth of the Christian faith in the body of Christ.

An elder should not be

  • A drunkard - overindulges in strong drink causing him to be…

  • Violent - He should control his anger so as not to be easily provoked. This person has been softened by God’s grace and is, therefore, gracious to others.

  • He should not be...

  • Quarrelsome - not getting into senseless arguments, whether over theology or other matters.

  • A lover of money - not greedy for money or desiring to get rich

  • A novice - immature or one newly converted, who in his position of responsibility, thinks too highly of himself and will, like the devil, suffer a great fall. 

He is to care for his own household first, not neglecting his family in the name of ministry. When he is faithful in little, God can entrust him with much more. Paul was saying that those who serve should live in a way that does not to bring shame to the name of Jesus Christ and in a way that does not give the Devil and opportunity to use your failures against you.  Dr. Dennis Hollinger, distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary said:

All believers are called to live and embody God’s designs in every sphere of life. But pastors and Christian leaders have a special responsibility, for as the Apostle Paul cautioned, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3)

In our manner of speech, our plans of living, our dealings with others, our conduct and walk in the church and out of it—all should be done as becomes the gospel (Phil 1:27).
— Albert Barnes

In a Time magazine article by Larry Ross , he wrote that for over 33 years he worked closely with Billy Graham and found that he was the same person over dinner as he was in a crusade, in the pulpit, or on TV. ”I observed that he did much more than just preach the Gospel — he lived it. He was a man of simplicity, humility and integrity.” He believes that as the world reflects on Mr. Graham’s passing, “it will not be a time of mourning, but rather of celebration — of a life well-lived, a Lord well-served.”  I believe we would all like to be known and remembered this way, as a person of integrity - the same person on the inside as we are on the outside.

Franz’s testimony

This was Franz’s testimony to all the people his life touched. Those of you who knew him personally could testify how he loved his family, loved people, and loved life. One member who knew him well said “Franz definitely did not cover his lamp as he testified to how the Lord had calmed the storms in his life. And he loved community, he was an advocate of the men's group and loved to be around the fellowship table after the service visiting with people, a real light to those around him.” The person who related this about Franz’s life said that he had just had a dream the night before Franz died, that they were with a bunch of people from the chapel, singing worship songs together around the piano and Franz was there with them. You may remember how he would always make Kaiserschmarrn after church when we had special events at the Chapel. We would meet first time guests after the service and ask them how they heard about the Chapel and they would tell us that they met Franz on the Ubahn and he invited them to church. He was a unique individual and his wife Helen said “larger than life” there are many great stories we could tell about him that revealed the type of character he had and the love he had for the Lord. 

It seemed his life was cut short but in God’s eyes he lived a full and fruitful life and he laid up treasures in heaven for all of eternity. 

What will be our testimony when our life is over? What will people say about you? What type of life and characteristics are we modeling to people closest to us or to those we don’t even realize are observing our lives? 

In closing, when we look back at our text in 1 Tim 3:2-7, we need to carefully consider the characteristics that qualify a person for the responsibility of elder. The same standard should hold true for deacons, and anyone else who leads in some capacity or has been given responsibilities in the church. The church leaders model Christ’s life to each person in the congregation and as Paul prayed for the church in Colossae, 

Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.  

[1] Welch, Robert H.. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry (p. 38).

[2] Erickson, Millard J.. Christian Theology (p. 995).

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