When I was growing up, my dad loved to grill…and I hated it. He’d turn out these charred burgers and when I complained, he’d say, “what’s the matter? It’s just like McDonald’s!” Well, as every kid knows, nothing off the grill tastes like the microwaved deliciousness of McDonald’s.
Fast forward 25 years. Now I love to grill. This summer I was grilling some hamburgers. When I offered one to my son, he turned up his nose and said told me he was not going to eat that. Can you guess what I blurted out?: “what’s the matter? It’s just like McDonald’s!” It just came out of my mouth. It’s not as though I was thinking to myself – “oh, this is what my dad said to me and it was irritating and ineffective. Let me try it on my son!”
Whether we are even conscious of it or not, we will be shaped by the words we hear or the teaching we receive. I’m going to come back to that later on as we think about elders this morning. I wanted to start with that because it can be tempting, as women, to think that this passage about elders doesn’t apply to us. After all, here at Hinson we don’t think the office of elder is for women. I know that’s pretty controversial and we could spend a long time talking about why that is. Thankfully, that’s not the main point of this passage. In brief, it’s not because women wouldn’t be capable of serving as elders. It’s just that we believe the Bible teaches men are uniquely called to this role and responsibility. But even if we don’t believe women can be elders, this passage is for us. God has ordained that our godliness, our holiness, our love for one another depend in part on the teaching of our elders.
The focus of our passage today is on what qualifies men in a church to be elders and what elders are to do.
First, some quick background: the apostles who saw Jesus and were commissioned by Him to spread his message and do His work set up leaders called elders in the earliest churches. After that, setting up elders is common practice throughout the NT. This is why we can safely apply it universally to our churches today.
Paul gives us these qualifications in verses 6-8 for selecting elders in churches. I marvel at the wisdom of God in this passage on how elders are selected. We so often choose our leaders based on their ambition, their charisma, soaring rhetoric, how well they can create a buzz about themselves on the internet, how they make us feel about ourselves. Instead, God has us recognize men as elders or shepherds of His church who already look like their chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life for sinners like you and me.
Most of these [elder] qualifications are pretty straightforward. If you have any knowledge of Biblical Christianity you probably know that Jesus was exemplary at these things and that Christians should be exemplary in these things like not getting drunk, not being greedy, not being violent or quick-tempered, etc. Those are things that scripture confirms elsewhere are characteristics of one who’s life has been changed by knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus changes us not to be “holier than thou” but to live lives that are no longer oriented around gratifying our own selfish desires, but around loving God and others like Jesus did.
So most of those characteristics are straightforward Christian stuff. However, there are a couple here that are more controversial and confusing for people – the qualifications surrounding the elder’s wife and children. Paul says the elder should be “the husband of one wife”. There is some evidence that around that time in Crete there were Jewish sects practicing polygamy, but that’s probably not what’s in view here. If we compare this passage to 1 Timothy 3 which is very similar, also written by Paul and around the same time, we see that the elder is to be “faithful to his wife”. The point is that he’s to be a one-woman man.
The household seems to be the proving ground for elder ministry. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” But that is the hardest ministry, isn’t it? The ministry to your own family. Because they know what you’re really like, and it’s constant, and it’s long-term. I’ve heard of pastors or elders who have had affairs and usually everyone’s shocked because he was such a great pastor. I think it’s easier to be a faithful elder than be faithful to love and pursue your wife…except for all of us wives in here – we’re all really easy to love!
Paul also brings up the household here because it’s an easy place for people opposed to the gospel to malign the gospel. People who are opposed to God might say, “look at that guy, he’s a leader in the church and he’s cheating on his wife. Christianity is worthless”.
Some have interpreted the “husband of one wife” phrase to mean that an elder can’t be single, or could not have been divorced or could not have been remarried after the death of a wife in order to serve as an elder. I don’t think this is the case. The reason is that none of those cases are explicitly condemned elsewhere in scripture. In fact, Paul himself says elsewhere that while it’s good for a man to marry, actually single men can give more undivided attention to ministry. In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul also encourages young widows to remarry. Jesus himself confirms that once a spouse dies, the remaining spouse is no longer bound by the marriage covenant. The point here is not to make arbitrary rules about who can be an elder. It’s so that no one (and especially not false teachers) will be able to reproach God or His word because of these men.
In question 5 of the homework you probably noted that Paul repeats the words “above reproach” or some translations say “blameless”. A man’s marital status is not as important as his marital purity and whether or not that part of his life would bring reproach upon Jesus or his church.
I think the part about children being believers and not open to the charge of debauchery and insubordination is similarly rooted. The word “believer” in some of your translations might be translated “faithful”. There are arguments for both. Some say that believing children are the fruit of faithful gospel parenting, but I (and others) see too much scripture to the contrary. I thought of John 3, but I know there are other examples.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
And just like not every child born of Abraham is a child of Abraham, not every child born of a faithful Christian parent is a Christian. That’s the work of the spirit, not us, and we can’t know who will be born again.
As parents we have the responsibility to make the gospel attractive to our children but we can’t save them. However I think especially Fathers can largely have an effect on their submission to parents and their behavior. So in considering whether a man should be an elder, has he cultivated respect and obedience from the children in his household? This can be complex. Some kids are rebellious through no fault of their parents. Maybe they have a mental illness or maybe they have behavioral issues because they were adopted out of a difficult situation or many other circumstances. But again the point is, is this man’s parenting above reproach. Or is his teen off the rails because the dad is putting his own interests ahead of his kid’s. I know these are the things that our elders consider before recommending a new elder to the congregation.
Speaking of our elders, it’s not just a formality when our elders bring an elder nominee before the congregation and then wait a few months until we vote him in. I think they always say something like, if anyone knows a reason why so-and-so might be unqualified, please speak to one of the elders. Here’s a way that we as women have an opportunity to help in our church. We don’t need to feel badly disclosing our concerns privately to the elders if we have them. Maybe that man is not the one God has for us at this time.
There’s another way we women can participate. I mentioned earlier that it isn’t because women aren’t incompetent to the position that they can’t be elders. But actually, if you have a husband, he is incompetent to be an elder without you. Those are actually Pastor Michael’s words, not mine and it’s a biblical concept. You were called from the very beginning to be your husband’s helper. He needs your help to build a godly home and to grow in the qualities right here in our passage. Not every man will become an elder, but every Christian man should aspire to be elder-like in his character. So, wives, what are you doing to help your husband be more like the elder of verses 6-9? It might be a good question to pray about or ask your husband.
In contrast to the false teachers ruining whole households by their teaching (1:11), the teaching and lives of true elders should build up their own households, the households of those around them, and the household of God. Why? To bring God praise and glory and to quote Paul later in Titus, so that no one will malign the word of God (2:5), so that those who oppose [us] will have nothing evil to say about us (2:8), and so that [the church family] makes the teaching about God our Savior attractive (2:10). The point of all of these qualifications for elders is to choose men whose lives have clearly been changed by the gospel and who will make our beautiful Savior attractive to all.
By God’s grace working in their lives, many men here at Hinson exhibit the qualifications in verses 6-8 and all of us Christians should be seeking to grow in these. But I hope you saw that elders are distinctly to “give instruction in sound doctrine and to refute those who oppose it.” (v.9) First Timothy 3:2 says it even more simply – [he] must be…able to teach. That was the point of question 9 in your homework. The thing that distinguishes an elder from the other biblical church office of deacon, and from believers at large is that they must be able to teach and apply God’s Word. It says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
I think some people, maybe some of you in here, get nervous when you hear the word “doctrine”. I get that. “Sound doctrine or right doctrine” sounds like holier-than-thou attitude, or dividing churches over minor matters, nit-picking people, waging endless blog wars. Even the word “doctrine” sounds cold and heady, a far cry from the blood-soaked love of Christ. But faith in Christ comes through hearing and believing right things, right doctrine, about who God is and who we are and what He has done for us. This sound doctrine that Paul wants elders to guard and teach isn’t legalistic commands but the gospel itself.
Here’s some sound doctrine put to song:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life. God’s very own son came from Heaven to die. Suspended he hung, as he shed his own blood, what grace in his pardon. By this we know love.”1
In it’s simplest terms the gospel can be understood and believed by a young child. But make no mistake, it is very easy to add or subtract from the gospel. Maybe you’ve experienced this in your own life? And this is why we need wise, godly elders to fiercely guard it, teach it, and rebuke those who oppose it. Titus was written barely 30 years after Jesus’s resurrection and believers in Crete are already falling back in to error of adding and subtracting from the gospel. I won’t go into it now but you can see how they’re doing that in verses 10-16, right after our passage.
We’ve talked about the theme of Titus being “right belief leads to right behavior”. Put in the words of Titus 1:1, faith and knowledge of the truth leads to godliness. We must be taught this sound doctrine, this knowledge of the truth well. If not, our church will be void of the Christ-centered, gospel-rooted love and godliness that glorifies God.
One theologian (whose wife may or may not be in this room!) said ,”Leaders in particular are called upon to guard the gospel and to teach it faithfully, for love in the church will be squelched if error becomes predominant.”2
There can be no love, no godliness apart from a right understanding of who God is and what He has done for us in Jesus. To teach the gospel faithfully is a high calling that none of us and no elder does perfectly. And that’s why our elders need our prayers. So we’re going to take some time right now to pray for the elders here at Hinson. Ladies who aren’t members here maybe won’t benefit as directly, but please participate – you’ll get your reward in heaven. And maybe these ideas will serve you as you pray regularly for your own elders.
1Judah Groveman. © 2009 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)
2 Schreiner, Thomas R. (2013-07-15). The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Kindle Locations 11369-11370). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.