Elders in Every Church (Part 2): Character Qualifications for Elders #1

Elders in Every Church (Part 2): Character Qualifications for Elders #1

First, a word about the qualifications in general. Some have attempted to say that the qualifications for elders are not really qualifications, but are only meant to present a general description of those who can serve as elders. This argument is made to defend the appointment of a man who does not fit all of the qualifications. Those who argue this will often say that since the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 does not match the list in Titus 1, then we cannot combine the passages and strictly follow them because Timothy and Titus were able to appoint elders without having the other list.

There are two problems with this argument. First, it assumes that Paul was writing to Timothy and Titus about something he had not discussed with them previously. This cannot be the case. Paul told Titus he was to appoint elders “as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). The things that Paul taught, he taught “everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17). Therefore, he had given uniform instructions to both Timothy and Titus about the qualifications for elders. Second, it is difficult to imagine anyone who would qualify using one list but not the other. We must see these qualifications as exactly that – qualifications that must be met for one to serve as an elder.

On the other hand, we should not consider it reasonable for congregations to continue without elders for an extended period of time. When Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders…in every church” (Acts 14:23), those congregations had not been in existence for very long. This is not to say that the qualifications for elders were relaxed or ignored in order to appoint elders in these churches in a relatively short period of time. Elders “must be” qualified (1 Timothy 3:2) and must not be appointed “too hastily” (1 Timothy 5:22). However, we can see from this example that a congregation should not go years without elders when there are qualified men who can serve. When men are qualified, and the congregation truly desires to have elders, the appointment of elders can be done in a relatively short period of time.

Most of the qualifications given for elders have to do with their character. Their lives must reflect the high standard that is found in God’s word for His people. Notice what Paul told Timothy:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3).

Let us consider the character qualifications given in the passage above.

An elder must be above reproach – The King James Version uses the word blameless. This is important because leaders will face greater scrutiny because of their position. James wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers [masters, KJV], my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). However, the fact that an elder must be above reproach does not mean that he is sinless. No Christian, no matter how mature he is in the faith, will be completely without sin. John made that clear in his first epistle: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But an elder must not “continue in sin” so that he does not lead others into sin (1 Timothy 5:20). Peter indicated that elders are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). An elder must be known for doing good rather than being known for sin and hypocrisy.

An elder must be temperate – The definition of this Greek word means to abstain from wine. The point is that an elder must think clearly. Nothing must cloud his thinking regarding God’s word. This is why Lemuel was told to abstain from alcohol: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Proverbs 31:4-5). Anything that causes one to forget or prevents one from focusing on God’s law will hinder the elder’s work. Those who serve as elders over God’s people will “give an account” to God for how they have kept watch over the flock (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore, they must not forget or be distracted from the word of God.

An elder must be prudent – This same word is translated sensible in Titus 1:8. The King James Version uses the word sober in both passages. This word means to curb one’s desires and impulses. It is the idea of denying self as Jesus said that His disciples must do: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). We must “not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). One must develop this quality before he can serve as an elder.

An elder must be respectable – The word translated respectable here is also used elsewhere to refer to modest apparel: “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). The word modest – or respectable (1 Timothy 3:2) – means to be well-ordered. That should be a characteristic of an elder’s life. He is to quietly gain respect through his good works. The King James Version translates the word this way – “of good behaviour.” This is similar to the instruction that Peter gave to wives (1 Peter 3:1-4). They were to engage in “chaste and respectable behavior…with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit” in order to positively influence their husbands to faithfulness. This sort of modesty and respectability in life allows an elder to be an example to others as they oversee the church.

An elder must be hospitable – We sometimes equate hospitality with someone opening up his home and hosting get-togethers. This is certainly an example of showing kindness and qualifies as a good work, but it is not the same thing as hospitality. The Greek word (philoxenos) is a compound word that means to show brotherly love to strangers. While we can certainly show hospitality to brethren (1 Peter 4:9), much of what it means to be hospitable is to treat strangers as brethren. Notice some examples of hospitality in the New Testament: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 5-6). Hospitality is not so much about social interaction – though there would be some of this – but it is about providing material help to one who is in need.

An elder must not be addicted to wine – The King James Version translates this as “not given to wine.” It comes from a word that means staying near wine. It is related to the quality of being temperate that we discussed earlier. The qualification of temperance emphasizes the need to be clear thinking. As we noticed already, alcohol hinders this (Proverbs 31:4-5). But instead of the general instruction of the need to be clear thinking, this qualification emphasizes the abstinence of alcohol. Peter indicated that the life of a Christian involves abstaining from “drunkenness, carousing, [and] drinking parties” (1 Peter 4:3) – more than just avoiding the destructive use of alcohol, but also the casual or recreational use of alcohol. An elder must not be given to wine, even if he never proceeds to drunkenness.

An elder must not be pugnacious – The King James Version has “no striker” here. This means an elder is not to be quarrelsome as this is not how a Christian should be. Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Part of the work of an elder is to “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). He must be able to do this honorably. His responsibility, which is also the responsibility of any teacher or preacher, is to “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Boldness does not require an argumentative demeanor.

An elder must be gentle – This word means to be fair or mild-mannered. It is the opposite of being pugnacious or a striker. It is the same word translated moderation in Paul’s letter to Philippi: “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Philippians 4:5, KJV). In the context of the letter to the Philippians, this was emphasizing the importance of being at harmony with others in the Lord (Philippians 4:2). Paul told the brethren in Rome, “So then, we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19). We must strive to maintain unity and harmony in the body of Christ. If an elder does not have this quality in himself, he will undermine the peace that should exist in the congregation.

An elder must be peaceable – This goes with the previous point about seeking peace. The King James Version translates this negatively – “not a brawler.” An elder is not to be contentious and should instead abstain from fighting. Of course, we are certainly to fight for the Lord (cf. 1 Timothy 6:12); but Christians are not to fight for another reason unnecessarily as this is counterproductive to the cause of Christ. Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). This is especially important for elders in a church.

An elder must be free from the love of money – He must not serve for the sake of “sordid gain” (1 Peter 5:2). There is a slight difference between the New American Standard and King James translations that help us arrive at a better understanding about what this verse means. An elder must be “free from the love of money” (NASB) or “not greedy of filthy lucre” or “not covetous” (KJV). We can see in this that there is a connection between the “love of money” and covetousness. The fundamental problem with the “love of money” is that it is the “root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Paul equated covetousness with idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Jesus said that one “cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). Elders in the church are not exempt from this warning. It is particularly important for those in the position of elders as they will have the responsibility of handling congregational funds (cf. Acts 11:30).

These are not all of the character qualifications for elders – and there are other qualifications that pertain to things other than his character. The rest of the qualifications pertaining to the elders’ character will be considered in the next lesson. After that, we will notice the other qualifications given in the Scriptures.

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