Christianity 201

October 2, 2014

Exegeting Eldership

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1 Timothy 3 – New International Version (NIV)
Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Exegesis is the careful word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, verse-by-verse study of a Bible passage. Unlike topical study, the student is rooted firmly in the text and while cross-references may be used, one’s Bible stays open to the passage at hand. A great example of this is David Murray’s recent blog post on the qualification of an elder in I Timothy 3.  This appeared at his blog Head Heart Hand and you can click the title below to read this at source. (His title was also alliterative.)

Electing Elders Is An Evangelistic Act

I and my fellow elders at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church have been focusing on elder training over the past couple of months. Part of that involved preaching on 1 Timothy 3 v1-7, a sermon that ended up with 10 points (not usually recommended!):

1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy

This passage is the second “faithful saying” and is introduced with the same words as the amazing statement of soteriology in 1 Tim. 1:15, emphasizing the importance of ecclesiology.

2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer

Paul uses “shepherd,” “elder,” and “bishop/overseer” interchangeably indicating that they are three different words for the one office.  To “oversee” includes observation, analysis, discernment, guiding, guarding, etc.

3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…

This is a strong desire but also a commended desire because it is not motivated by selfishness and pride but by a desire to serve Christ and His church.

4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task

It is work; it involves labor, sweat, toil, and effort. But it is noble (lit. “beautiful”) work.

5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be

Given the importance and worth of this work, there are rigorous qualifications to be imposed. It’s not “Ideally…If possible…We’d prefer…” It’s a “must.” An imperative. An uncompromising standard.

6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless

After insisting that the elder must be “above-reproach,” “blameless (lit “unassailable”) Paul moves to Christian morality in general with a strong emphasis on Spirit-given self-control or self-discipline:

  • Self controlled in sexual matters: husband of one wife
  • Self-controlled in behavior: vigilant, temperate:
  • Self-controlled in thinking: sober-minded
  • Self-controlled with money: not covetous
  • Self-controlled in the use of addictive substances: not given to much wine:
  • Self-controlled in conflict: not violent

7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach

His holy character comes out in holy service of others:

  • The elder is hospitable: warm, welcoming to others, invites people to enjoy food and fellowship in his home
  • The elder is able to teach: able to communicate appropriate information in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time

8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well

Due to parallels, a man’s home is a testing place for his role in the church. One indicates suitability for the other.

9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert

Choosing elders is a serious business with serious consequences if we get it wrong – both for the church and the person. That’s why we must avoid electing new converts or any with limited spiritual maturity.

10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

September 9, 2012

Protecting The Flock from Attack

For today’s post we make a return visit to Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. Even though I find myself currently immersed in the worship life of two different congregations, I can honestly say that I am not aware of any factions within either of them. For that I am thankful, especially because my job causes me to sometimes have to listen to people from other congregations voice various complaints. Still, pastors and leaders need to keep their eyes open for things that would disrupt the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches. Elsie titled this Wolves in the Church, and as always you’re encouraged to click the title to read at source.

In our many moves, we have attended many churches of all sizes. Some were small and struggling. Others were healthy and growing rapidly. In my observations and experience, it seems that the biggest blessings are for those leaders and congregations that are concerned with God’s glory. Personal desires and ambitions have no place and because of that, the churches whose focus is on Jesus Christ are blessed, united and strong.
However, the Apostle Paul knew that strong churches would become targets. Our spiritual enemy will attack, using whatever will work to divide its members and crumble its foundations. The church at Ephesus was a strong church. When he met with their leaders, Paul warned them…
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28–30)
Here, “fierce wolves” seems to apply to those who teach false doctrine in an effort to draw people from the truth. These wolves want to build their own kingdom and will try to split the church toward that end. However, pastors must be watchful against all that tends to injure and corrupt a congregation. If false teachers and other factions come in, the elders of the church must put them right or put them out. Yet, this is a task for which they receive little training.


Most courses offered by seminaries for a Master of Divinity degree do not offer instruction in how to deal with those who try to split or corrupt a congregation. There are a few online sermons that explain how to spot wolves and deal with them, but I get the impression that those preachers learned this from experience rather than advance preparation.


This problem actually requires more than one person. Church leadership at its best is in a congregation with a plurality of elders. In fact, the word for Christian elders in the New Testament is almost always plural. These days when individualism, authoritarianism or even economic necessity make the pastoral role a “one-man show,” churches still must promote teamwork in their leadership.


However, that leadership must be God-given. Paul said, “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” The Lord motivates and gifts men to be leaders. Their job is to be caring, pastoral and corrective. They are to watch their own selves even as they protect and feed the people of God. Their role also includes admonition of those who stray, which presupposes resistance and even opposition. I’ve never envied the duties of a pastor!


As one preacher says, this leadership will be serious, conscientious and intensely personal. After all, this is the church of God, bought with the blood of Christ. It does not belong to the pastor, or the elders, or the congregation.


Not only that, even with today’s emphasis on spiritual gifts and special roles, such as administrator, educator, counselor, church-growth strategist, and so on, the Bible puts greater emphasis on shepherding, tending, feeding, and protecting the people of God. We are like sheep and we need good shepherds.


Wolves are not interested in caring for the sheep. They want a following. They want power. They want to be in authority and have the strongest voice in all decisions. They are more interested in feeding and protecting themselves. In every church we have attended, there are a few who may faithfully attend, but constantly gripe about leadership and authority. They are not interested in unity or in promoting peace and spiritual growth. If the pastor knows how to deal with these, they tend to move on, looking for easier prey in another congregation. If not, the pastor will eventually be brought down and the congregation will fall with him.


Lord, nothing is more distressing than observing a church divided against itself, particularly when this division is fueled by wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. As You said to the disciples, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15) and “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).


Most of the time regarding these matters, I feel about as wise as an oblivious dove. I struggle with objectivity and clarity regarding those who do these wolf-like things. Are they dangerous? or merely disgruntled? Yet either way, You say to pay careful attention to myself. I am not an elder but can certainly pray for and support those who lead Your church with integrity and in the desire to glorify You.  Amen.
~Elsie Montgomery
I apologize for the dots between paragraphs. Reblogging from Blogspot to WordPress is always difficult, but normally I can eliminate the unwanted HTML tags after a few tries. Today it just wouldn’t work.