Elders: Role models in the local church
John Griffiths, Port Talbot, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Elders are to lead by example. Look at the qualities that should be seen in our elders. I have avoided the word ‘qualifications’ as it is suggestive of institutional training and examination success. A worker was asked by elders if these qualities were like an examination – you do not need 100% to pass so long as you reach the pass mark, say 75%. The brother replied that what you have in Timothy and Titus is the pass mark!
Not only should the elders exhibit all these qualities to a greater or lesser degree but the saints in general could well measure themselves by this quality mark, ‘apt to teach’ apart.
J. R. LITTLEPROUD writes, ‘How incongruous it would be if the assembly leaders were poorer examples of Christianity than the Christians whom they sought to guide!’
Remember, character is at least as important as competence, if not more so, where leaders are concerned. Where the world has stressed competence at the expense of character in public life both have suffered irreparably.
The elders should set an example in the following areas of life: personal, moral, social, and spiritual.
THEIR PERSONAL QUALITIES
Blameless – not sinless. In 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 2 the word is ‘irreproachable’, that is, no charge is proven against the elder. In Titus chapter 1 verse 6 the word is ‘unaccused’: that is, no charge is laid against the elder. The personal integrity of an elder must be unquestioned.
Temperate – or vigilant; Titus 1. 8; 1 Tim. 3. 2 RV. This aspect of life indicates a person who is circumspect and has all areas of his life under control.
Sober – Titus 1. 8; 1 Tim. 3. 2. This quality has reference to the mind, that is, sober-minded, rather than to drunkenness. It represents a man who is capable of exercising sound discretion when it comes to decision-making.
Patient – 1 Tim. 3. 3; 1 Thess. 5. 14. In this feature, we have not so much the idea of longsuffering as that of sweet reasonableness. The elder must be ready to consider and weigh all that is put before him before reaching a fair and just conclusion: not hasty in reaching a judgement; not jumping to conclusions.
Not soon angry – Titus 1. 7. This is self-explanatory – not short-tempered, or ‘on a short fuse’.
Not self-willed – Titus 1. 7. An elder should not be arrogant and able to see only one point of view, his own! He should not be wrapped up in self-interest and seek to dominate when in discussion with others.
THEIR MORAL QUALITIES
The husband of one wife – Titus 1. 6; 1 Tim. 3. 2. ‘A one woman kind of man’ as WUEST translates it. The elder should be morally pure, giving no grounds to be accused of infidelity or philandering. It would appear that a married man is preferred as an elder to a single person. Certainly it would add to the breadth of his experience in his work for the Lord. This statement excludes bigamy, polygamy, celibacy and infidelity. The value of marriage as a God-given ordinance is lost on the world today but as believers we should recognize the honour due to this institution.
Just – Titus 1. 8 – reacting towards others with a sense of fair play; doing what is right in our relationships with others.
Not greedy of filthy lucre – Titus 1. 7; 1 Tim. 3. 3, 8; 1 Pet. 5. 2. Wealth, finance, reward: these should not drive a Christian’s life let alone that of an elder, the more so if such desire is tainted by dubious methods and motives in the obtaining of them.
In Titus chapter 1 verse 7 the elder is not to be given to filthy lucre. In 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 3 the elder is not to be greedy for filthy lucre. Peter tells us the elder is not to serve for filthy lucre. From lucre we get our current word ‘lucrative’. Elders should not be serving because such service pays well. The principle of 1 Timothy chapter 6 verse 10 is thoroughly modern, ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ RV. This is forcibly illustrated in the life of Judas – one of ‘the twelve’ who kept the bag! A thief, who sold his Master for the price of a diseased slave. In this day of ‘market forces’, where many politicians give a totally inappropriate role-model of greed, perhaps we should give closer heed to the above injunction.
Not covetous – 1 Tim. 3. 3. Lacking avarice; not money-loving. This thought takes the lesson one step further – to the underlying motive.
THEIR SOCIAL QUALITIES
Ruling his own household well – 1 Tim. 3. 4, 5.
Having his children under control – Titus 1. 6; 1 Tim. 3. 4. These two qualities highlight the preference that the elder is a married man. What is the elder like in his own home? What sort of control does he exercise within the family?
In Genesis chapter 18 verse 19 God is speaking about Abraham when He says, ‘For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment’. What a commendation from the Lord himself!
How different when the Lord speaks to Samuel about Eli, 1 Sam. 3. 13, ‘For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons are vile, and he restrained them not’. Eli is criticized by God for his lack of parental control over his sons.
Discipline in the home is to be grounded in love. It should be administered with firmness and fairness but not with undue force. Paul instructs Timothy that the elder’s children should be subject to him and respect him, implied in the word ‘gravity’. The question is clear, ‘If a man know not how to rule his own household how shall he take care of the church of God?’ The expression ‘take care’ is elsewhere used of the good Samaritan, Luke 10. 34, 35. He took care of the wounded man and instructed the innkeeper to do the same, a fitting picture of the attitude of elders to saints in the local assembly. It has been remarked that the assembly should be more like a hospital than a barrack-room or a parade ground!
Paul teaches Titus that the children of an elder should be ‘faithful’ not dissolute, like the prodigal son or defiant like the son of Deuteronomy chapter 21 verses 18-21. The word ‘faithful’ could be rendered ‘believing’. This would be the ideal, as exemplified in the daughters of Philip the evangelist, Acts 21. 9, but is it a realistic expectation? Think of Isaac’s children, Jacob and Esau, Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, Moses’ offspring, Gershom and Eliezer, Samuel’s sons, David’s sons. The parents’ responsibility for their children’s behaviour lasts until they reach the age of majority or until they leave the family home.
Overall, however, an elder’s home life has a direct bearing on his leadership skills in the assembly.
Having a good report from those outside the assembly – 1 Tim. 3. 7. The word ‘must’ occurs twice in this eldership passage, in verses 2 and 7. He must be blameless and he must have a good testimony among those outside neighbours, friends, workmates, etc. If his testimony before outsiders is suspect, he will be subject to reproach and entrapment by the devil. This will reflect badly on the reputation of the assembly in its community. Demetrius, 3 John 12, ‘hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record’. Oh to be a Demetrius!
Not given to wine – Titus 1. 7; 1 Tim. 3. 3. WILLIAMS translates, ‘not present at wine’. Paul comes down heavily on those who imbibe and drink to excess with the embarrassing consequences that often follow. The ‘law of first mention’ leads us to Noah and the consequences of his drunkenness, Gen. 9. 20-29.
In some countries wine is taken with meals. Paul recommended it for Timothy’s gastric problem. Timothy abstained from wine or Paul would not have told him to take a little for his stomach’s sake. I would be hard pressed to prove from scripture the case for total abstinence yet that is my personal stance. Why ‘play with fire’ when we know the effect alcohol has on behaviour and health-related matters. Bear in mind the world has its expectations of believers and they do not expect Christians to be drinkers. My advice as a fellow-elder is to steer clear of alcohol altogether.
No striker – Titus 1. 7; 1 Tim. 3. 3. The elder should not be of a quarrelsome disposition and prone to physicality. Saints should never come to blows. However, we may be aware of instances where elders became physical and so the advice is not as redundant as we might first imagine!
No brawler - 1 Tim. 3. 3. The elder is not to be combative, confrontational or contentious.
Of good behaviour - 1 Tim. 3. 2. The elder should be marked by virtuous conduct. The word translated ‘behaviour’ also has the secondary meaning of orderliness. The elder’s life should not be haphazard, random, and disorganized, but orderly.
A lover of hospitality – Titus 1. 8; 1 Tim. 3. 2. Literally, ‘a lover of strangers’. At a time when the Lord’s servants were itinerant, homes were to be open to these strangers. Gaius is commended by John in his Third Epistle, ‘Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren and to strangers; which have borne witness of thy charity before the church, whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well’. The brethren and strangers are thought to be one and the same. The writer to the Hebrews would similarly remind us, ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’, 13. 2. Was he thinking of Abraham when he lunched with angels and with the Lord Himself? The elder’s home should be open for servants of the Lord, for strangers, and for the saints.
THEIR QUALITIES SPIRITUALLY and SCRIPTURALLY
A lover of good – Titus 1. 8. That is, good people and good things. The sixth fruit of the Spirit is goodness, Gal. 5. 22, 23. ‘Whatsoever things are of good report . . . think on these things’, Phil. 4. 8. Elders should cultivate such people and practices.
Not a novice – 1 Tim. 3. 6. The elder is to be spiritually experienced. Age is not the factor, here. The word ‘novice’ is literally ‘newly planted’, that is, a new convert. The danger of a novice doing an elder’s work is pride! When pride entered Satan’s heart it became a pitfall and he was cast out of heaven. The pride in a new convert’s heart could become a similar pitfall, hence the prohibition.
Holy – Titus 1. 8. When you consider the Cretan’s character, to whom Titus is sent by Paul to point out elders, it is hardly surprising that holiness is underscored. The elder is to be ‘clean’ from contamination in his relationship to the world and consecrated in his relationship with God.
Holding fast the faithful word – Titus 1. 9. Elders must trust the word of God implicitly. They must be totally convinced of its inspiration and inerrancy and not deviate one iota from its doctrine and practice. Elders must teach the word of God by living it out in their everyday lives and by orally transmitting it to the saints.
Apt to teach – 1 Tim. 3. 2; Heb. 13. 7. Each elder is expected to be skilled at teaching believers. There will be different levels of ability as suggested elsewhere, ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine’, 1 Tim. 5. 17.
Every elder must be able to teach on a one-to-one basis; some will be able to teach publicly in their assembly and even have a wider sphere for their teaching ministry. The duty of the elder is to ensure that the saints are fed sound, wholesome food. There must be no ‘death in the pot’, as experienced by Elisha and the sons of the prophets, 2 Kgs. 4. 38-41.
Able to convince the gainsayer – Titus 1. 9. The word ‘gainsayer’ means ‘to speak against’ and probably has in view false teachers such as the Judaizers who dogged the footsteps of Paul. They constantly sought to undermine the work of the apostles by speaking against them.
Elders should have both the knowledge and skills ‘to contend earnestly for the faith’ and to expose error for what it is. In the process, there is always the hope that the gainsayers will be convinced of their error and repent.
Watching for your souls – Heb. 13. 17. As mentioned earlier, ‘watching’ implies ‘sleeplessness’. The elders’ responsibility for the flock is a full-time commitment. They must be tireless in their oversight of the spiritual well-being of each and every believer in fellowship. To certain aspirants to eldership I would say, ‘Forget the imagined halo, and think instead of the hours and heartache involved before you consider the role’.
Concerns for saints with special needs – 1 Thess. 5. 14. ‘Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient towards all’. The ministry of elders is not limited to the spiritually fit and healthy but should encompass the disorderly who receive censure, the downhearted who require strengthening, and the defenceless who need support. Such ministry will entail great patience on the part of longsuffering elders. Pray for elders. How easy it would be for them to react to the saints as Moses did when, after years of faithful leadership of an ungrateful, murmuring people, he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, thus losing out on entering the land of promise. Elders are to lead by example and to lead from the front, thus gaining the recognition and respect of the believers.
Assemblies of God’s saints, elders in God’s assembly, we still have the opportunity to reject the violation and travesty done to the scriptural pattern by the religious world and to heed the words of Christ Himself to the assembly at Sardis, ‘Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent’, Rev. 3. 3.