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The Qualifications and Work of Elders

Introduction.  Last week the elders announced their desire for the congregation to begin a process of considering whether there are additional men who are willing and qualified to serve with them as elders.  This morning we begin the first stage of this process— engaging in a study of what the New Testament teaches about the qualifications and work of elders.  We will focus on two texts which teach us about this very important work in the local church and a few others which add to our understanding of this position of leadership.  It is our prayer and hope that all of us will meditate seriously about this matter, and that our choices and actions throughout this process will be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord.

I.  Qualifications for Elders.

A.  Paul’s instructions to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  The Holy Spirit has given to us qualifications which set the criteria that one must meet to be appointed as an elder, and which describe the nature of the work of an elder.

1.  “Desires the position” (vs. 1).  One must want to serve in this capacity, it cannot be forced upon him.

2.  “Blameless” (vs. 2a). Such a man must not be subject to blame for some fault.  This does not mean sinless. Rather, it means that there remains no outstanding wrong that has not been corrected.

3.     “The husband of one wife” (vs. 2b). - This would exclude a bachelor, a bigamist, or a divorcee.  Clearly this is to be a man who has followed God’s law for the family.

4.     “Temperate” (vs. 2c). This has to do with sobriety.  In non-biblical literature this word is used to refer to wineless offerings (Moulton & Milligan, p. 426).  This shows that elders must be examples of abstinence from all intoxicants.  This is the standard, which the congregation itself should follow.

5.     “Soberminded” (vs. 2d).  The idea here is “sound-mindedness”.  Whereas the word before this refers to refraining from intoxicants this, refers to one’s state of mind.  Age has not taken the mind from the man.  Impulse or poor judgment does not impair his thinking.

6.     “Of good behavior” (vs. 2e). The word used here communicates the idea of orderliness.  It is the word used elsewhere in reference to modesty.  An elder should carry himself in both his dress and manner of life in a modest and orderly way.

7.     “Hospitable” (vs. 2f). The word used here literally means “love of strangers”.  It is used in reference to one who opens his home to traveling strangers.  This is not what we would think of as the “social butterfly,” having parties in his home.  Rather, it is one willing to open his home when needed.

8.     “Able to teach” (vs. 2g).  The KJV and ASV put it “apt to teach.”  This is not simply one who has the ability, but does not use it.  It is one who does teach (privately or publicly).  This is a vital qualification because of the type of work an elder engages in.

9.      “Not given to wine” (vs. 3a).  This is a bit of a restatement of the qualification in vs. 2 “temperate.”  It literally means “beside wine.” It often is used in reference to behavior the drunkard commits (i.e. insult, violence, rage). The ASV renders this “no brawler.” In other words, this man refrains from intoxicants and the kind of behavior that it would produce.

10.   “Not violent” (vs. 3b). Jesus has taught against violence.  It would not be fitting for those who rule over the body of Christ to exemplify what Christ taught against.

11.  “Not greedy for money” (vs. 3c).  This is one of two qualifications which relate to money.  This is important because elders will have oversight of the collection, and may be supported by the church (1 Timothy 5:17-19).  Money should not be the reason the man serves.

12.   “But gentle” (vs. 3d). Leadership that is not gentle becomes tyrannical.  This doesn’t mean that an elder should be passive.  Jesus taught things which  demanded that people change behavior. Yet, He did so with gentle persuasion. An elder must do the same.

13.  “Not quarrelsome” (vs. 3e). While “not violent” (vs. 3b). probably refers to physical confrontations.  This refers to argumentation.  An elder must not be one who is “looking for a good fight” (so to speak).  They will be called one to contend for sound faith, but they must not be the type of person who goes looking for a quarrel.

14.   “Not covetous” (vs. 3f). -  Elders are called on to lead those who are prosperous or those in poverty. They must be the type of people with a disposition that can lead without being covetous of those they lead.

15.   “One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” (vs. 4) “(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (vs. 5) The role and work of elders is much like that of a father ruling his household. 

·      There is a relationship between the kind of household a man produces and the kind of leader a father is.  One who leads the church must have shown himself to be an example of leading a godly family.

·      I used to hold the view that the plural “children” here, would prohibit a man with only one child. However, Genesis 21:7 shows that the Holy Spirit can use the term “children” (pl.) even when only one child is being mentioned.

16.   “Not a novice” (vs. 6). An elder must not be a young convert, but one who has lived long in Christ.

17.   “A good testimony among those who are outside” (vs. 7). The hope of the church is to bring those who are outside of Christ, into the church.  If the reputation of a person outside of the church is poor how can we expect him to draw people into the church?

B.  Paul’s instructions to Titus (Titus 1:5-9).

1.     “Blameless, the husband of one wife” (vs. 6a-b), as in First Timothy.

2.     “Having faithful children, not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (vs. 6c). This is a different emphasis than what is found in First Timothy.  Here the faithfulness of the children is what is considered.  A scriptural elder must have children who are faithful to Christ.  The elder’s family serves as an example to the church, thus they must be faithful.

3.     “Blameless, as a steward of God” (vs. 7a).  Why is blameless restated?  Note: “as a steward of God.” Not only must it be that there is no outstanding charge which can be made against the man in general, but he must also be blameless in his work for the Lord. The task of an elder is that of a steward.  They are “entrusted with God’s work” (NIV).

4.     “Not self-willed” (vs. 7b). One who is self-willed is interested in his own desires.  This could be honoring personal wishes to the exclusion of the wishes of others, or to the exclusion of God’s wishes. 

5.     “Not quick-tempered” (vs. 7c).  Not only must an elder be gentle but he should also be slow to wrath.

6.     “Not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable” (vs. 7d-8a). Four qualities restated from First Timothy.

7.     “A lover of what is good” (vs. 8b). KJV says “lover of good men.” This may be in response to a word play in the Greek of back to back compound words philoxenon “a lover of strangers” and philagathon “a lover of good.” Most take it in the general sense of loving good.  This should be a characteristic of all Christians, but especially of those who lead.  Remember what 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says must be within us if we are to accept the truth—a love of the truth!

8.     “Sober-minded” (vs. 8c) and “self-controlled” (vs. 8e) as stated in First Timothy. But he adds…

9.     “Just” (vs. 8d). Doing what is right, doing what is fair.  An elder shouldn’t show partiality to some and be harsh to others.

10.  “Holy” (vs. 8f).  He must show forth behavior set apart unto God.

11.  “Holding fast the faithful word...able to...exhort and convict those who contradict” (vs. 9). The elder must be one who knows sound doctrine and upholds it.  He must have the ability, and disposition to exhort, correct, and rebuke those in error. One who could never look someone in the eye and lovingly tell them they are doing wrong, should not serve as an elder.

C.  Qualifications of His Wife (1 Tim. 3:11). This text comes in the context of the qualifications for deacons, but probably applies to “wives” of both categories of leaders. Note: “their” is supplied by the translators, but this is not talking about women deacons—that would contradict the qualification to be “husbands of one wife” (vs. 12). If this is not talking about the wives of both, why would the Holy Spirit have made the qualifications for an elder more strict than a deacon, but a deacon’s wife more strict than an elder’s wife?  In my judgment this is talking about the wives of both elders and deacons.

1.  “Reverent” (vs. 11a).  NASB “dignified”—KJV & ASV “grave.” She must be a woman who is able to be serious when it is time to be serious.  A woman who shows respect and is worthy of respect.

2.     “Not slanderers” (vs. 11b).  An elder is often put in a position of having to handle sensitive matters.  Matters than must remain confidential.  An elder’s wife must be one who can keep confidential information in confidence. She must not be a gossip or one who “bad mouths” others.

3.     “Temperate” (vs. 11c).  This is the same word as vs. 2 which refers to abstinence from all intoxicants.  Again this is the example set before the congregation which the congregation should follow. 

4.     “Faithful in all things” (vs. 11d).  Faithful to the Lord.  Faithful to her husband.  Faithful to her children.

 

II.  Names Associated with this Position. The names used in reference to those who perform this work tell us a great deal about their work.  There are three words used, which are each translated two different ways.  (1 Peter 5:1,2).  Note: 1.  Elder,  2. Shepherd, 3.  Bishop.

A.  Bishop (Overseer).  1 Timothy 3:1 and Titus 1:7 both use the word “bishop”.  In Greek this is the word episcopos meaning literally  “overseer.” The NKJV in 1 Peter 5:2 renders this “overseer”. 

1.     “This is not the idea that we might often associate with the term “overseer.” We might think of the slave master as an “overseer.” Instead, this is one who watches for the souls of the flock (1 Peter 5:3,4).

2.     “1 Timothy 3:1 uses a form of this word, episcopes in reference to this “position” or “office” of a bishop or overseer. 

B.  Elder (Presbyter).  This is the word presbyteros referring to an elderly person.  1 Timothy 4:14 uses the phrase “presbytery” referring to the eldership as a whole.  Elders are not to be young Christians.  They are to be those who have lived a faithful life in Christ as an example to the flock.

C.  Shepherd (Pastor).  This is the word poimen meaning shepherd or feeder.  The NKJV in Ephesians 4:11 translates this word “pastor.” The religious world falsely uses this word to refer to a preacher’s work.  Though a preacher may be an elder, a preacher who is not an elder is not “the pastor.”  The elders are pastors, they are shepherds.  They feed the flock and watch for them.

III.  The Work of an Elder. Let’s look at a few passages which show us some things about the work of elders.

A.   “Shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:17, 28-32).  Note:  The role is primarily spiritual.  The elders are charged with the task of keeping the saints faithful, true to sound doctrine, and true to the word of God.

1.     “Being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  Note: Three “not as...but by” statements.

·       Not “by compulsion”—“but willingly.” An elder does not simply command, but motivates willing action on the part of the members.

·      Not “for dishonest gain”—“but eagarly.” This probably addresses the elder’s motive for service. It is not for material purposes. It is not to gain from access to the funds the church uses.

·      Not “as being lords”—“but being examples.” Yes, the elders have the right to instruct. We’ll see in a moment that the membership is to “obey” them. However, the primary way that elders lead is by example. This means that the behavior that should be true of elders should be followed by the members.

B.  “They watch out for your souls” (Hebrews 13:17).  Note:  They watch for the souls.  Elders must “give an account.” Elders are going to have to answer to God for those who become unfaithful, those who fall away, and turn from the truth.  That is a serious responsibility!

1.     Many have taken a dangerous view in their understanding of the work of elders, deacons, and preachers.  They have assigned to elders primarily maintenance and bookkeeping tasks, given preachers the spiritual oversight that belongs to elders, and left deacons with little or no real responsibilities.  That is not what Scripture outlines.

Conclusion.  Let’s end our study with a few final considerations.

A.  “Choosing elders is an appointment not an election. It is not a popularity contest. It is not a matter of winning the support of a majority of members. If a man is qualified and willing to serve, the congregation should submit themselves to his leadership.

B.  “Serving as an elder is a spiritual work. It might be easy to view the eldership like a management position in business. That is not a perfect parallel. It is leadership but it is not unilateral. An elder cannot lead like a manager or CEO. It is leadership by example, persuasion, teaching, and an interest in the spiritual well-being of those under them. Because of this, when considering men who are qualified for this work, it might be that one who works in management in a secular job could serve as an elder, or perhaps he could not. That means that someone in “blue collar” work in his secular work might be just as qualified if not more so (in some cases) than a brother in management in a secular job. The spiritual maturity of the brother is the issue—not what they do for a living.

C.  “Those who serve as elders have a tremendous impact on the welfare of the church. (3 John 9-11). This text tells us about a man named Diotrephes. We are not told if this man was an elder, but it does tell us that in his behavior he was either acting with authority, or as if he had authority. His behavior had a tremendous impact on the church. He put some “out of the church” when they received those approved by John. Men who serve as elders set a tone for a congregation. They can by their leadership steer a church in the way it ought to go, or into division, strife, apostasy, and error. May God give us wisdom as we contemplate this choice, understanding that the choices made today will have an impact on the Lord’s church in the years to come. 

Kyle Pope 2010

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