Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ready to Lead? 1st Timothy 3:2-7

"An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
Paul lists a number of qualifications for an elder; most of which are common sense, but a few that are still a bit controversial even today. Most of these qualifications apply to a candidate's character and preparation for ministry. Only one requirement, that they be "apt to teach", applies to their actual ministry. At the heart of these requirements is the requirements that an elder be blameless, ubrebukeable, and "above reproach." This is not only for the protection of the church but also for the protection of the person. Paul says that, for an elder to "fall into reproach," it is a "snare" from the devil. It is a lot easier to deal with your own issues when in obscurity than to try and defeat sin while you stand in the limelight. How many gifted men have been destroyed publicly because of sin and other issues in their lives that were not dealt with before they gained public exposure? All men fall, but those who fall publicly fall more spectacularly. If you desire to be an elder, deal with your stuff first, for the light of the office is very bright and probes very deep.

Understanding this will help us to understand Paul's requirement that an elder be the "husband of one wife." This requirement has caused some debate as to whether Paul meant to restrict having multiple wives concurrently or serially; either by polygamous or through divorce. My belief is that Paul was refereeing to those who had remarried while their divorced wife still lived. While some of the Greek kings did practice polygamy, it was not common among the people. There would be little reason to caution Timothy not to elevate a polygamist into eldership, since there most likely were few if any in Ephesus. I believe that Paul was referring to those with divorced wives, which was certainly an issue there and then as it is here and now. As a man's reputation outside the church could invite reproach and a "snare", imagine an unbelieving divorced wife and the accusation and reproach she could being to an elder and the church. Divorce is rarely a clean break, certainly not in the same way death is. A divorced man is most often tethered in someway to his divorced wife; child support, alimony, children, arguments, and even memories and lingering emotions. It is best to let such a one serve and minister as God would call him, as a member of the body, but not appoint him to oversight in the Body of Christ while his divorced wife is still living.

Finally, Paul says that an elder should not be a "new convert." The Greek word means, "Newly Planted." Paul's concern is that such a new believer would be conceited by their (in their mind) elevated position and fall into pride and condemnation; the same pride and condemnation that the devil experienced and fell from. It concerns me greatly when we promote young men and women to positions of ministry without consideration to their age and growth in Christ. They may be gifted or even called, but to we expose them to the temptation of pride while they lack the spiritual experience of age to properly deal with the increased weight of temptation and responsibilities. We also see men with young families appointed to positions of oversight, either as "elders" or "pastors." Men who often have young families which, rightly so, place a great demand on their time and attention. Finally, we promote men with young families that have not yet shown they know how to manage their own household since they are still at beginning of the process. Might not these be also considered as "novices?" Perhaps, at this stage in their lives, they need to spend their time and energies raising their family and learning to walk with God? I think we do them, and the church, a disservice by rushing them into a place of responsibility that they are not yet ready for Elder means "old man." Maybe we need more "old men" to lead us while the "young men" learn the grace, character, and skill requisite for overseeing.

David Robison

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