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.

March 6, 2013

Digging Deeper Into I Timothy

One thing we’ve learned from the publication of The People’s Bible — an NIV edition that highlights the most frequently searched verses at BibleGateway.com — is that some scripture verses are more prevalent in the public consciousness than others. In keeping with the oft-mentioned theme here of scripture as a jewel, we find when we return to a passage something staring us in the face which may have totally missed before.

For example, consider I Timothy 3, the passage dealing with the requirements to be an overseer (as in the ESV and NIV, some use bishop, CEV uses church official, etc.) or deacons (today we might say elders or board members).  While you might not have this passage memorized, you could probably describe it: Self controlled, a solid marriage, not involved in any shady business dealings, a good manager of their family, well-liked by those outside the church, etc. But then we come to verse 9:

NIV I Tim 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Matthew Henry says of this:

The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion. If we keep a pure conscience (take heed of every thing that debauches conscience, and draws us away from God), this will preserve in our souls the mystery of faith.

Now notice, we would say that those ‘handling’ the truth of God’s word need to do so in purity; personally, I would want to see this passage as parallel to the purity laws in Leviticus required of the priests who were instrumental in administering the sacrifices.

But Matthew Henry reverses the cause and effect from what I would expected, and says that those who love truth will be kept from error and delusion by so doing, because the truth acts as preservative.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, however sees this passage as I expected, while the Eerdman’s Bible Commentary defines the ‘mystery’ referred to here as referring to truths not apparent to the common man, the one who is not privileged to be a partaker in the truth.

The other verse which I wanted to look at today is in chapter 5:

NIV I Tim: 524 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.

This is a chapter dealing with the treatment of widows and the responsibility of elders. The NIV section header adds “and slaves” though the word isn’t used in the chapter, but does occur at the start of  chapter six.

I like the CEV on this verse:

24 Some people get caught in their sins right away, even before the time of judgment. But other people’s sins don’t show up until later.

The Message Bible couples this with the verse that follows, offering a positive implication to follow the negative:

24-25 The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.

This couplet of verses seems like it would be more fitting in the book of Proverbs. It does stand out here which may be why we tend to skip over it, jumping to the next chapter and the treatment of slaves.  (And historically, we must see this referring to slavery; even the most modern translations avoid an attempt at being contemporary with the suggestion that this might refer to ’employees.’)

The Reformation Study Bible tells us that this section is included as a reminder of the type of screening process that is necessary when choosing elders, overseers, etc.

Matthew Henry reads it differently:

Ministers have need of a great deal of wisdom, to know how to accommodate themselves to the variety of offences and offenders that they have occasion to deal with. Some men’s sins are so plain and obvious, and not found by secret search, that there is no dispute concerning the bringing of them under the censures of the church; they go before to judgment, to lead them to censure.

Others they follow after; that is, their wickedness does not presently appear, nor till after a due search has been made concerning it. Or, as some understand it, some men’s sins continue after they are censured; they are not reformed by the censure, and in that case there must be no absolution. So, also, as to the evidences of repentance: The good works of some are manifest beforehand. And those that are otherwise, whose good works do not appear, their wickedness cannot be hid, and so it will be easy to discern who are to be absolved, and who are not. Observe,

  1. There are secret, and there are open sins; some men’s sins are open beforehand, and going unto judgment, and some they follow after.
  2.  Sinners must be differently dealt with by the church.
  3. The effects of church-censures are very different; some are thereby humbled and brought to repentance, so that their good works are manifest beforehand, while it is quite otherwise with others.
  4. The incorrigible cannot be hid; for God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary sees this passage in the light of verse 22, which says,

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

(Note: Just to be clear, there are always some who read ‘laying on of hands’ as referring to prayer for healing or deliverance; but it refers to setting someone apart for ministry leadership.)

The commentary suggests that the overarching principle should be, “By their fruits you will know them;” thus character is established over the long term. (Ref. Matthew 7:20 also verse 16.)

The International Bible Commentary reflects the implications when both verses 24 and 25 are considered together:

…Great discernment will be required where the true nature of the individual is not so obvious. Some will only after a time reveal disqualifying traits. Others, in danger of being turned down, may subsequently show that they possessed in good measure the qualities of a first-class elder. Timothy must be aware of making a rapid assessment, and arriving at a superficial judgment. First impressions are not always accurate. Where uncertainty exists, caution will clearly be the wisest choice. And yet Paul encourages his colleague; good deeds, though not always immediately discernible cannot be concealed forever.


Do you have a verse you’d like to see looked at closer?  No promises, but if so, feel free to use the contact page. (Try to avoid known difficult passages as there is never full resolution on those!) If you know a link where the passage has already been discussed include it with a note as to whether or not you found that explanation satisfactory.

July 11, 2010

Discovering and Using The Spiritually Gifted

Today’s post is something I feel strongly about and is being jointly published here and at Thinking Out Loud.

I think we’ve all been to enough seminars on “discovering your spiritual gifts” to last a lifetime. But what happens to the “spiritually gifted” after they’re done doing the survey, taking the course or completing the booklet?

We’ve all heard the verse, “…Your old men will prophesy; your young men dream dreams.” This implies that God will — both in general and in the last days in particular — be raising up people of vision.

But what opportunity do the visionaries have to implement those forthtellings or visions? In the average church, both the power base and the vision base is concentrated in the hands of a very few church staff members and church board members.

Our churches are actually “prophecy protected” to the point where, even in Pentecostal circles, it’s getting harder and harder for a person to say, “This is where I think the Lord would have us go;” unless they are the pastor or chair the deacons board.

I believe God still births vision in the hearts of old men and young men (and women) but that there are few places in the average church for their prophetic vision to be heard. This only leads to a great deal of discouragement and frustrated.

I’ve known what that’s like. Fortunately, I’ve also known what it’s like to have the freedom to develop new ideas. I’ve worked in three places where I was told to create new initiatives. In the one, I came up with new ideas every two to three weeks. In the other, I came up with a new program every month. In the final one, I came up with new concepts on a daily basis. But I was paid staff. The church, historically, does not function solely with an elitist hierarchy. It’s a community. It’s organic. It’s grassroots.

So have your seminars. Do your spiritual gifts series. But balance it out with means for people to take those visions and turn them into realities. If every time a member of the laity walks into your office with a concept, and your response is a default “no” answer, your spiritual gifts series was a complete waste of time.

Don’t tell people to discover their spiritual gifts until you, as leaders, learn how to discover your spiritually gifted.