ďThe Church and EldersĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††July 21, 2013

1 Timothy 3:1-7

 

SI:1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.

Paul says in 3:15 that he has written this letter so that Timothy will know

†† how to instruct believers to behave in the household of God,

†† which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.

 

Paulís main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the

†† church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way

†† that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.

 

We come this morning to a passage of great importance for the Gospel.

This passage doesnít explain the way of salvation or explain faith in Christó

†† but itís important to the Gospel none the less,

†† because itís about church leadership.

Itís about the qualifications for elders.

†† The qualifications that should be present in the men

†† who the congregation elects to lead them.

 

And there is nothing that has a greater impact on a churchís Gospel witness

†† than her leadership.

Good elders preserve the sound doctrine and spiritual health of the church,

†† bad elders, unqualified elders lead the church into decline and often death.

This is confirmed by example after example in church history.

 


 

INTRO:Watching Carly make her profession of faith and take her

†† membership vows reminds me of when I did the same thing.

I grew up in an old Presbyterian church.

†† and the ruling elders of the church were all old menó

†† they were men of the generation who always wore dark suits to church.

 

There were just two of us who went through the communicants class togetheró

†† me and a girl named Mary Elizabeth Johnson.

We were supposed to meet with the elders to be examined on Sunday morning

†† before church, and then stand before the congregation that very day.

We were nervous.It was a big day.Easter Sunday, communion was being served.

 

So we walked into the meeting room and there they were, ancient men in dark suits.

They said:Give us your testimony of your faith in Jesus Christ.

†† Weíll start with you, young lady.

And Mary Elizabeth took one look at them and burst into tears.

She just started sobbing.And they immediately sprang into action.

†† They were pulling out handkerchiefs, and patting her on the head,

†† and offering her chewing gum, and saying,

†† Please donít cry, Mary Elizabeth, now donít you worry, Mary Elizabeth.

And they took so much time tending to her, that I donít think they even got to me.

 

Growing up, when I thought of elders, I really thought of eldersó

†† old men in dark suits.

Paul doesnít use the term elder in this passage, he uses the term overseer.

†† Itís the Greek word episkopos.Sometimes translated bishop or shepherd.

And there are some branches of the church, the Episcopal church for example,

†† who say that an episkopos, an overseer or bishop, is a higher church office,

†† someone who is over ordinary ministers and ordinary elders and lay leaders.

 

But the fact is that the term overseer and elder refer to the very same office.

In another of Paulís pastoral letters, his letter to Titus, he tells Titus to ordain

†† elders, and then he says, Now, an overseer must be . . . and gives qualifications.

He uses the terms elder and overseer interchangeably.

The same thing in Acts 20, where Paul calls the elders of the church in Ephesus.

†† And then, when he is talking to the elders, he refers to them as overseers, bishops.

 

So what is the difference between the two terms?

Elder refers to the character of the office.It is an office characterized by maturity.

It doesnít require a man to be old in years, but it requires spiritual maturity.

†† As Paul says here, he must not be a recent convert.

Overseer refers to the work of the office.

†† Itís the work of shepherding, overseeing the congregation.

The New Testament nowhere depicts overseers or bishops as a higher rank.

Thatís a key point of biblical church governmentó

†† the elders or overseers of the church are all equal, there is a parity of elders.

†† To put it in the most basic terms, each elder has one vote.

 

And there is another important point that the Bible makes clearó

†† churches are to have elders, plural.A council of elders, a deliberative body.

†† Churches are not to be governed by one man.Paul tells Titus ordain elders.

And so at every level, the church is to be governed by qualified men, chosen by

†† church, ordained for the work, who meet together as equals in a deliberative body.

†† Acts 15, the Jerusalem council shows this deliberation.

 

Obviously, all churches donít follow this pattern of government.

Some have hierarchies, where certain church officers have authority over others.

†† Some churches are governed by a pastor who is the final authority in all matters.

†† And some churches are democratic, all decisions a vote of the congregation.

But we are Presbyterian, which means rule by elders.Greek word:presbuteros.

†† We have this form of government as a matter of biblical conviction.

And so we come to the passage.Weíre going to look at it under two headings.

 

First, and most obvious, weíre going to consider the qualifications for elders.

Every member needs to know these qualifications.We donít elect elders often.

†† Years between elections, but need to know what sort of men to elect

Our current elders need to hear this passage, to remind, to grow.

And the young men in our church need to hear this.I hope every one of you

†† aspires to church office and knows what the Bible requires.

 

Second, and this is not so obvious, consider the implications for all believers.

There is something that this passage implies about the Christian life

†† that is not emphasized very much in American Christianity.

In fact, itís something that makes some Christians uncomfortable.

†† But I donít think that will be the case with any of you.

 

So two headings for our study:

1.The qualifications for elders††† 2.The implication for all believers

MP#1The qualifications for elders

There are a number of different ways to summarize this list that Paul gives usó

†† but I think itís helpful to look at it in terms of six qualifications, six categories.

†† Iíll give them to you as we go.

1.The first qualification is desire.

The saying is trustworthy:If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.

Paul is simply saying that the first qualification is that a man must desire to do

†† the spiritual work of a shepherd in the church.

There are other reasons why a man might aspire to the office besides the work.

†† He might aspire to the office because he desires the honor, the title of elder,

†† because he likes to be in charge and make decisions.

But Paul says aspiration for office is a good only when the man desires the task.

†† When loves the work of overseeing and shepherding the flock.

 

How do you know if a man is aspiring to the office out of desire for the task?

†† Itís simpleóheís already doing the work because he loves it.

†† Heís doing the work even if heís not an elder.

You can see it in the way he is committed to the life of the congregation,

†† in his attendance and participation in worship and all the gatherings of the body,

†† in his attentiveness to people, his conversations, his prayer and counsel,

†† his love of study and teaching.Heís pastoral.He teaches.Heís concerned.

 

2.The second qualification is characterógodly character.

What does godly character look like?Paul is so practical.Nothing mystical.

†† Heís free from scandalous sins and offensive habits that open him to criticism.

†† If he is married, he is intensely loyal and faithful and loving to his wife alone.

†† Heís a temperate, sober-minded man.Life not characterized by excesses.

†† Heís prudent.He has mastery over his natural reactions.

†† Heís self-controlled in his speech, spending, his appetites.

†† Heís respectable, he lives in a way that bears up under public scrutiny.

†† Heís hospitable.Welcoming people, particularly strangers who come to church.

†† Heís free from enslavement to or fixation with alcohol.

†† Heís a gentle man, not a quarrelsome, violent man with chip on shoulder.

†† Heís free from the love of money.Doesnít pursue dishonest gain.

†† He doesnít love things and use people.He loves people and uses things.

Thatís it.Thatís godly character.

You know some men who are brothers in Christ, and yet they have a glaring

†† defect or failure in one or more of these areas.

And you know other men whose characters conform to this description.

3.The third qualification is ability

Paul singles out one abilityóable to teach.

†† Now, what does this mean?Does every elder have to be able to preach a sermon,

†† or teach a Sunday school lesson to adults?

In Presbyterian church we make a distinction between what we call ruling elders

†† and teaching elders.We base that distinction on Paulís statement in 5:17.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor,

especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

 

Paul is saying that there are elders whose particular work is preaching and teaching.

†† Iím a teaching elderómy main work is preaching and teaching.

Ruling elders are the men elected and ordained primarily to govern the church.

†† Paul actually uses the word rule.So based on that passage, and the fact that

†† the Bible speak of the gift of leading and the gift of teaching, we make distinction.

But even so, Paul seems to be saying that all elders, not just teaching elders,

†† but even ruling elders as well should be able to teach.Audience not specified.

A former elder of our church who we held in high esteem, Mike Russell,

†† always taught children.Some teach one-on-one, personal, discipleship setting.

The point is that he must be a man who can handle Godís word for his people.

 

4.The fourth qualification is familyóif he is married and has children,

†† then he must manage is family well, so that his children are obedient.

The principle is simple enough:A man must prove himself and his leadership

†† in a smaller sphere of life, before he is given responsibility over a larger sphere.

Paulís letter to Titus makes the point even more explicit:

†† His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.

A man who is to oversee the faithfulness of the church should have produced

†† faithfulness in his own house.

 

But it is important to note that Paul does not tell us how to judge every case.

For example, what if a man has six children, five are walking with the Lord,

†† but one is in rebellion?

It could be that every evidence shows he is a faithful father, diligently pursuing

†† the spiritual welfare of children.So high hopes the rebellious child will return.

On the other hand, the man could be such a spiritually-delinquent father,

†† that the amazing thing is not that one child rebelled, but that the other five did not.

What this tells us is when it comes to the matter of electing elders,

†† it is entirely appropriate to scrutinize and make judgments based

†† the kind of father he is and how his children have responded to his leadership.

5.The fifth qualification is maturity.Itís in verse six:

†† He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit

†† and fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Paul doesnít give an age.Doesnít say that a man must be 30, 40, or 50.

†† He just says:Look, when you choose an elder, make sure heís spiritually mature.

†† Donít ever choose someone who is just recently converted.

 

Have you noticed that what a huge deal evangelical Christians in America make

†† of celebrities who make professions of faith?If they are a famous athlete,

†† or movie star or politicianóthey are made much of, invited to speak at events,

†† and conferences, interviewed.And what often happens?

Some short months or years later, they fall into gross immorality or renounce faith.

 

It happened recently with Anne Rice, the famous novelist, the vampire writer.

†† She started the recent vampire craze, she was into vampires before vampires cool.

She had a very convincing conversion.Was celebrated and interviewed in some

†† prominent Christian publications, but recently rejected the faith.

It can happen with eldersóa man who is prominent, charismatic,

†† an on-fire new convert.This is what we need to get this church going.

Paul says:No.Maturity.Thatís what you want.

 

6.The sixth qualification is reputation.

Must have good, moral reputation with non-Christians, well thought of by outsiders.

The longer I live in a small town, the more I have to chuckle at this qualification.

Paulís ministry was almost exclusively to big cities.

†† Ephesus, where Timothy pastored, was a big, cosmopolitan city.

Paul himself was from a big city, he was educated in a big city.

So I wonder if he really knew the dynamics of small-town life.

 

In a small town, everybody has critics.

Even the most godly, honest, upright Christian man in Cullman, I guarantee,

†† you could find someone in this town who would call him a snake-in-the-grass,

†† who would say:I would never go to a church where he is an elder.

Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a good reputation with those on the outside.

†† Might take filtering through things, but we are called to make that judgment.

†† Elders must be men who even unbelievers recognize as honest, moral men.

 

So here are the qualifications for elder in a nutshell:

 

Desire for the work of shepherding, godly character, ability to teach, well-

†† managed family, spiritual maturity, and a good reputation with those outside.

Christ Covenant congregationódonít ever elect any man who does not meet those.

†† Elders of Christ Covenant, myself included, strive to be the model elder.

†† Young men of Christ Covenantóaspire to church office, to be the man described.

 

We could stop there.Itís a lot of information.

†† Itís the kind of thing we need to know and be reminded of now and again

†† about church government.Itís an important topic, even if rarely elect elders.

But I want to turn this passage in another direction, I want to turn it inward.

 

MP#2The implication for all believers

There is something in this passage that applies to all of us.

†† Itís this:You must live a life worthy of the title Christian.

You must strive to become the best Christian possible, so that you bring credit to

†† Jesus and credit to your church rather than shame and embarrassment.

The Christian life is a noble life, and you must rise to that noble calling.

 

Christianity is the only religion in the world

†† that does not require good conduct or good character for salvation.

It does not require you to live a life worthy of God,

†† it does not require that you strive to be good in order to have peace with him.

Every other religion, every other philosophy, teaches some form of salvation

†† as a reward for your performance.

†† Give to God, so that he will give to you.

†† Do good things, and good things will happen to you.

 

But the Bible declares that the only righteousness acceptable to God is perfection.

And not only are we unable to even begin to obey God as we should,

†† even if we could, even if we could become perfect people tomorrow,

†† that would not deal with the mountain of our guilt for past sins.

The performance acceptable to God is impossible for us.

†† Our only hope that somehow we can come under the perfection of another person.

 

And thatís the Gospel.Thatís the Good News.

God, in his love and grace has provided for us the performance of another.

†† Jesus Christ was the man of perfect conduct and perfect character.

Only Jesus could live the life we should have lived.

†† And when we trust him, and not ourselves, we are united to him.

His righteousness, his character, his goodness is ours.

†† His death is the punishment for our sins.†††

God made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us,

†† that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Because of Jesus Christ, we are absolutely forbidden to rest our hopes

†† on our own performance.Our trust must be in our Savior alone.

†† Salvation is 100%, completely Godís grace.

 

And, at the same time, as people freely saved by grace alone,

†† we are placed under great obligation to live in a way that pleases God.

†† We are called to live lives worthy of our salvation.

We are commanded to pursue perfection in conduct and character.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians, we are ďto cleanse ourselves from every defilement

†† of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.Ē

And he prays for the Thessalonians that God will count them worthy of his calling.

And Paul says of himself, that he beat his body and made it a slave so that he

†† would not be disqualified for the prize.

 

The Bible is very candid about the continuing sinfulness and moral failures

†† of even the best believers.Think of the sins of Abraham, Jacob, David, Peter.

How easy it would have been if the Bible said:

†† Just be accept your own moral imperfections, be content with Christís

†† righteousness, and wait until the day you are made perfect in heaven.

But thatís not at all what we are told to do.

 

This is the unique dynamic of the Christian life:Salvation is all by grace.

†† And at the same time, you must live a life worthy of that salvation.

†† You must live a life worthy of the name, worthy being called a follower of Christ.

Did you notice that there is nothing in this list of requirements for elder

†† that is not required of each and every Christian person?

With the exceptions of a desire for the work of shepherding and gift of teaching,

†† everything else Paul mentions are things we must all strive for.

 

Godly character:We are commanded in numerous places to be sober-minded,

†† self-controlled, dignified, hospitable, martially faithful, not drunk, not violent,

†† not quarrelsome, or a lover of money.

Active use of your spiritual gifts.If itís teaching, then you teach.If serving, serve.

†† Our study of Romans 12 back in the winter pushed this home.

†† The life that pleases God is a life of active participation in the church, using gifts.

A godly home, raising your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Starting in Genesis, the Bible calls believers to give utmost attention to children.

It gives story after story, example after example of believers who gave attention

†† to the spiritual development of their children passed on the faith.

And it gives examples of those who neglected it

†† and their children became covenant breakers.

 

Striving for maturity, seeking to grow in grace, bearing fruit.

And finally a good reputation with unbelieving neighbors.

†† Jesus says, we are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

 

On the other hand, a man who drinks too much, a man who loses his temper,

†† a man who is quarrelsome, a man who doesnít love his wife faithfully,

†† or manage his home competently, or raise his children to love and serve the Lord,

†† a man who is not well thought of by unbelievers who know himó

That man has a defect that disqualifies him from being an overseer in the church.

†† He is, in that respect, not what a Christian man should be.

 

The Apostle Paul is the champion of salvation by grace alone.

But Paul says such a man is not good enough to be an overseer in Godís house.

†† And to meet the Christian standard of conduct and characteró

†† he must become a better man than he is.

 

We donít like to talk this way.It makes us nervous.It sounds legalistic.

We would never say that this man is a better Christian than that man.

†† But thatís exactly what Paul is saying.

†† There are many Christians who need to be better Christians than they are.

No one can be good enough for salvation,

†† but that doesnít mean it doesnít matter how good a Christian is

†† or what kind of reputation he has.It matters a lot.

 

Why does it matter?What is Paulís ultimate concern?The Gospel.

†† The life of a church congregation, the lives of its overseers,

†† and the lives of each individual member, your life does one of two things:

It either detracts from, erodes, and contradicts the Gospel

†† or it adorns and magnifies the Gospel.

Thatís hard to hear.Thatís hard to bear.

†† That my life detracts from or magnifies the good news of Jesus.

†† And yet, that is the life we are saved for and called to live.

We had a wonderful vacation.We went to Michigan, of all places.

†† That is not a normal vacation destination for us.

†† In fact, I had never before stepped foot in the state of Michigan.

But we had a family wedding in Lansing, so we figured that while we were

†† up there, we would keep heading north and see the Great Lakes.

Iíve always wanted to see the Great Lakes and we did see them

†† and they are truly magnificent.

 

One of the charms of the Great Lakes is the many old lighthouses.

†† All of them are now electrified and automated.

But there used to be (learned all this up there) a special lighthouse keeper corps.

†† They were a branch of the Coast Guard.Their own uniforms, traditions.

Keepers lived in a house next to the light house, sometimes attached to it.

†† These were very remote locations.We visited several, even remote today.

†† And in the old days, it was just the lighthouse keeper and his family for months.

 

He had two basic duties:The first duty was to keep the light going to guide ships.

†† That required the daily performance of certain repetitive tasksó

†† cleaning and polishing the enormous crystal lenses in the top of the tower,

†† tuning, repairing and winding the clock-like mechanism

†† that turned the lens to produce the strobe effect.

And, last but not least, every single night he had to attend to the kerosene flame.

†† Keep his eye on it, keep it burning, make sure it didnít go out.

That was his first dutyófollow the daily rituals to keep the light going

†† to warn ships away from the dangerous rocks, steer them safely.

 

And his second duty was to be ready to risk his life to rescue shipwrecked sailors.

†† There have been over 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.

In all the lighthouses we visited, there were accounts of shipwrecks,

†† and the brave lighthouse keepers taking rowboats into raging lake.

 

There was a lighthouse at Whitefish Point on Lake Superior that we visited.

One of the lighthouse keepers was stationed there for thirty years.

†† There was a historical display about him.

†† And in that display there was a quote, something this man said when he was once

†† asked about his lifeís work, about being a lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.

He said:ďIt is a lonely life, but also in a way, a noble life.Ē

 

That jumped out at me for two reasons.

First, because it made me think of this passage.

I knew I would be preaching on it my first Sunday back in the pulpit.

†† ďIf anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.Ē

I thought, yes, the life and task of an elder is like a lighthouse keeper.

 

But also, itís the life of every Christian.Yes, there are sacrifices.

†† Yes, there are callings and duties that you must carry out day after day,

†† month after month, year after year for your whole life.

Yes, there are those times of crisis when your faith and calling is tested,

†† and you know that you have to rise to the occasion and itís frightening.

And yet, what a noble life to which Christ has called you.

 

To display in your character, and in your conduct your deep gratefulness

†† for his free salvation, and to show the world the impression his love

†† has made on your heart.

And in doing that, as Jesus said, you do become a light,

†† a city set on a hill that cannot be hid.