Elders in Every Church (Part 3): Character Qualifications for Elders #2

Elders in Every Church (Part 3): Character Qualifications for Elders #2

In the previous lesson we noticed several of the character qualifications for elders. This lesson will discuss those that remain which are found in the following passage in Paul’s letter to Titus:

For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self- controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:7-9).

There are several character qualifications given in these verses. A few of these were discussed in the previous lesson. Let us consider the ones that we have not discussed already.

An elder must not be self-willed – This word means to be self-pleasing, self-willed, and arrogant. It is used one other time in the New Testament to describe false teachers (2 Peter 2:10). It is important to note this connection because one will progress into false teaching when he puts his will above God’s will. Paul warned the Ephesian elders of some who would “draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). This would be done through their teaching (“speaking perverse things”), but it would be motivated by their self- will. An elder cannot have this type of attitude. Instead, he must put the interests of others ahead of himself. He is to have the attitude about which Paul wrote: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). This is particularly important when it comes to one’s spiritual interests. Elders “keep watch over [the] souls” of the congregation, even though this is often done with “grief” (Hebrews 13:17).

An elder must not be quick-tempered – The King James Version says he must be not soon angry. This could be lumped together with “self-controlled” (Titus 1:8), but it is distinguished for emphasis. Anger prevents one from listening to and obeying God’s word. James warned about this: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Anger is one of the “deeds of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-20). While all Christians should strive to avoid anger, it is particularly dangerous for an elder. The wise man wrote, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22). Anger produces strife instead of the peace which we are to pursue with one another (Romans 14:19). When an elder is guilty of being quick-tempered, because of his position, the strife that results will have an even more devastating effect on the congregation.

An elder must love what is good – The King James Version words this a little differently – lover of good men. Thayer defines this as “loving goodness.” Men become “good men” (KJV) as they follow that which is good – the word of God (Proverbs 30:5). An elder must be careful to do what Paul said that all Christians are to do: “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica, “Hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In context, he was referring to teaching which is in harmony with the word of God. The attitude which an elder must have is not just a “tolerance” for what is good, he must love what is good. This, of course, must be good by God’s definition – we find this in His word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For one to the qualified to serve as an elder, he must not love what is popular, politically correct, new, traditional, etc. He must love what is good.

An elder must be just – The word that is used here often means righteous. Another meaning, which fits in this context, is to be fair in his judgments and dealings with others. Christians are to strive to be impartial, treating others equally. James wrote, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1). Elders will often have to handle disputes between Christians. When “a complaint arose” in the church in Jerusalem, the apostles addressed the situation (Acts 6:1-6). Without apostles in the church today, the ones to handle similar situations would be those in a similar position of spiritual oversight – the elders (Hebrews 13:17). Paul told the brethren in Corinth that rather than going to law against their brethren, they should consult a wise man among them to decide between them (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). An elder would fit this description. When Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony, he encouraged the brethren in Philippi to “help these women” do this (Philippians 4:4). Elders, because of their position, would take a leading role in this. In cases like these, it is essential that the elders who are seeking to restore unity between contending brethren be fair in the dealings with them. If an elder is partial to one party over the other – regardless of the reason – that will often drive the other party away.

An elder must be devout – The King James Version translates this word as holy. We often think of being holy as being set apart. This would be true for an elder, but in this context, this word has particular emphasis on being undefiled by sin. We have already discussed the fact that an elder must be above reproach or blameless (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). Being above reproach is not based upon a subjective standard (public opinion), but an objective standard (the word of God). In the next lesson we will discuss more about what it means to have “a good reputation” (1 Timothy 3:7). But for now, let us remember that an elder being above reproach is not just that people speak well of him. Instead, it means he must devoutly follow the word of God.

An elder must be self-controlled – The word temperate is used here in the King James Version. However, it is not the same as the Greek word translated temperate or vigilant that we discussed in the previous lesson (1 Timothy 3:2). This qualification emphasizes the fact that he is in control of his emotions. We have already noticed this about anger (Titus 1:7), but it is not limited to just that emotion. The word basically means that he is strong mentally. Elders deal with discouragement, personal attacks, stress, mental fatigue, and so on. In one sense, they are like the apostle Paul who wrote, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (2 Corinthians 11:28-29). While the scope of the elders’ work is narrower – overseeing the flock among them (1 Peter 5:2) – the pressure upon them is the same. One must be self-controlled in order to deal with the demands that are placed upon him in that work.

An elder must hold fast the word – The word to which an elder must hold fast is the word of God. All Christians are expected to do this (2 Timothy 1:13; Philippians 2:16), but it is especially important for elders because of the influence they have over others. Others will follow them, even into sin and error if they depart from the truth (Acts 20:30). Also, remember the work that the elders have been given:

  • Feed the flock (1 Peter 5:2) – They are to make sure the congregation is fed the word of God (cf. 1 Timothy 4:6).
  • Protect the flock (Acts 20:28-30) – They are to guard against threats posed by those who would teach things that are contrary to the truth (Titus 1:9-11).
  • Lead the flock (Hebrews 13:17) – They are to provide spiritual leadership. This is done through the word (Hebrews 13:7), not contrary to it (Acts 20:30).

The work of the elders cannot be accomplished if they do not hold fast the word.

As we have seen in this lesson and the previous one, God wants us to be careful to appoint men to the office of an elder who meet a high standard with regard to their character. It is easy to see, from a practical standpoint, why these qualifications are necessary for this role. We need to look for and develop men with these characteristics.

However, there are other prerequisites to becoming an elder than just being a mature, godly man. The next lesson will consider the rest of the qualifications for elders.

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