Today two things are taking place: First, today is Palm Sunday, where we celebrate the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem as King. Second, today is the installation of Dave Treloar as an elder here at SonRise.
You may think these things have nothing to do with one another, but they do. In 1 Timothy 3 Paul describes what elders and deacons should look like, and he ends the chapter by giving a summary of the Gospel saying in 3:16 ‘He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’ To end a section about leaders in the Church with a summary of the Gospel means the heartbeat of elders and deacons is to love the Jesus of this Gospel and to live out His Gospel in all of life. Why install an elder on Palm Sunday? Because Palm Sunday is a profound Gospel moment and the office of elder is an office of Gospel work.
Jesus rode into the city as the humble King, and because Jesus is no longer physically present with us, where do we see an in flesh example of Christ’s humble authority? We see it in the elder.
When looking into the qualifications of elders, you may be surprised to find that the Bible has a lot to say about this. And they’re the opposite of what most people think they are. Perhaps you think those who’ve been faithful members the longest should qualify? Perhaps you think those who’ve given the most money to the church qualify? Perhaps you think it’s the faithful Sunday school teacher, or soup kitchen coordinator who qualifies? Perhaps you think those who lead their own business out in the world qualify to lead in the Church? These things make sense right? Wrong. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 gives us 6 qualifications for this office. These 6 qualifications are my 6 points today, and no surprise, they all have much to do with the Gospel:
First, the elder lives out the gospel by seeing eldership as a noble task. 1 Tim. 3:1 says, ‘The saying is trustworthy: if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.’ The word noble here could also be translated ‘good’ or even ‘beautiful.’ This brings a question: why would one someone see the office of elder as a noble, good, or beautiful task when it involves so much labor, stress, exhausting work? Well, it’s a beautiful and noble task because it’s Gospel work, and nothing is more noble or beautiful than the Gospel. Therefore the desire to be an elder is a good desire. Peter said it like this in 1 Pet. 5:2, ‘Shepherd the flock of God among you, not out of compulsion but freely…’ These two passages both speak of the same thing – when it comes to being an elder you’ve got to want it, and those who want it, want a beautiful thing. I’ve often found that it’s this inner desire for the role of elder that keeps me going in hard and difficult times. I recall one particularly hard season of ministry that was so difficult that I developed a twitch and throughout that time I couldn’t sleep well. If I didn’t deeply want to lead people as an elder I wouldn’t have made it through it. I know God has called me to this work, and that knowledge gives me a confidence in this work.
Now, this doesn’t mean that just because someone wants to be an elder is reason enough for them to become one (as we’ll see shortly in the other qualifications), but this does mean that if the desire isn’t there, it means God has something else for you.
Second, the elder lives out the Gospel by being above reproach. Paul continues in his words to young Timothy saying this in 3:2-3, ‘Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.’ Rather than instructing us to look for those who are gifted leaders, the Bible again and again puts the emphasis on the character of a man, not his ability. 10 out of 10 times it would be better to have a godly man who must learn how to lead as an elder than a charismatic leader with a history of moral failures. ‘Above reproach’ is the main call in these verses. This means the elder must do nothing that contradicts the Gospel, and must do everything that commends the Gospel. Being above reproach means the elder lives a life that’s above accusation, unblamable, one that you cannot lay hold of and charge with sin. Now, be sure that the call to being above reproach doesn’t imply that elders must be sinless, if that we’re the case no one but Jesus could be an elder. The call of being above reproach is a call to be an example of Christlikeness to the Church. Which makes the elder a living model of how to be a Christian. When the elder encounters the grace of God and is thankful we see how we’re to rejoice and be thankful. When the elder prays we see how we’re to pray. When (not if) the elder sins and repents we see how we’re to repent. When the elder worships, gives, serves, works, loves, and leads we see a real life example of how we’re to worship, give, serve, work, love, and lead. The high calling in the life of an elder is this: do you want to see what Jesus is like? Look to your elders.
Above reproach means not only seeking to avoid evil, but also seeking to avoid the appearance of evil. This is what the word blameless is getting at. Picture this: suppose I’m driving down US-19 and need to make a U-turn because I’m stuck and traffic and don’t want to be late to a meeting. Then suppose I see that my only option to around anytime soon is the empty parking lot of a strip club. What do I do? Do I turn in and turn around? Of course not! I wait in traffic for the next possible spot to make the U-turn! Now, I’ve never been inside a strip club, and I don’t ever want to be in one, but if I made a U-turn in the parking lot of such an establishment and someone who knows me sees my truck, how will they interpret my actions? They’ll perceive that I frequent such places, conclude that I’m a hypocrite, tell all their friends, get an awful taste for Christianity, and likely never return to our church. It is true that perception is not reality, reality is reality, but perception really does matter. If I give the appearance of evil, as an elder, I am not living a life that’s above reproach.
The rest of this list in v2-3 gives us more markers of what it means to be above reproach. ‘…sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunk, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.’ This meaning is plain to see isn’t? Perhaps a modern example would help: ask yourself what would Donald Trump do and then think of the opposite. The elder is not to be characterized with things like: insults, boasting, disrespect, combativeness, argumentative, domineering, explosiveness, addictions to substances or money. Rather the elder is to be a peacemaker rather than a fire starter, a gentle giant rather than a proud talker, a tender warrior rather than a troublemaker, a lion-hearted and lamblike leader rather than a totalitarian general. The elder is to be like Christ. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of wrong, the charges didn’t stick because He was above reproach. When dealing with the proud He was straightforward and clear. When dealing with the sick or sinful He was gentle. Jesus is the Great Shepherd of His sheep, and is in Himself the model for all under shepherds, for all elders.
Third, the elder lives out the Gospel by making it plain in teaching. 1 Tim. 3:2 lists a qualification we sometimes forget. Right there in the middle of the verse it says ‘…able to teach…’ It’s at this point we come across of the most untaught truths on elders. Many people think the pastor is the CEO while the elder’s are his board of directors or trustees, wrong. In the New Testament there’s not an office of pastor, we only find two offices: elder and deacon. And the biggest difference between the two is that elders are to be ‘able to teach.’ This means, elders are pastors, and because they’re pastors they must be teachers. That elders must be able to teach means at least, 2 things. First, elders must participate in the teaching ministry of the church. As you can imagine many elders shy away from this because they think their amateurs because they don’t usually have a seminary degree, or are too busy throughout the week to prepare a full and complete message. No excuses. It’s the elders of each congregation who are entrusted with teaching that congregation the truth. This means the most important teachers and pastors in your life aren’t the ones you listen to online or the ones you go see at conferences or the ones whose books you read, no. The most important pastors in your life are the ones you see and hear from each week of the year. Whether it’s a Sunday sermon, Bible study, prayer meeting, membership class, private discipleship relationship, or any other venue, it’s the elders who teach the church.
Second, elders must protect the teaching ministry of the church. In the qualifications given for an elder in Titus 1, Paul tells Titus this in 1:9, ‘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.’ Two things: able to give instruction and able to rebuke those who contradict. The elder must recognize truth from error, and when he sees error he must warn the church. This is why Paul called out many people by name in his letters, to protect the sheep. This is frowned upon today, we’re to be accepting of everyone, but ask this. Is it loving to see someone wander off into error and not warn them? No, if you love someone you’ll want to protect them, and the best way to do this as an elder is to know the real thing as well as you can. When you know the real thing, the real Gospel, you’ll be able to smell a counterfeit easily. Elders protect the church by making the Gospel plain in teaching.
Fourth, the elder lives out the Gospel in his family. 1 Tim. 3:4-5 says, ‘He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?’ v3-4 teach us that a man’s private family life tells us much about who the man really is. The elder must be a ‘one-woman man,’ a devoted husband, faithful to his wife, loving and caring to his wife, respected by his wife. He must serve her as Christ serves him, care for her as Christ cares for him. He must lead her to a holy life and progression in it. He must be willing to lay down his life for her at any moment. As the husband, he must love his wife with an exclusive love, similar to the love God has for His people. His wife must feel treasured, adored, and prized. Also, the elder must also be a devoted father, a loving father, who wields a strong yet caring hand, who recognizes that the children are not his friends but his children and not the center of the family. His children must respect him, obey him, and show him regard in all matters. As parents submit to God, his children must submit to him. It’s his calling to teach his children the Scripture, when they rise, lie down, walk, or drive around. And he must not only teach his children the truth, he must show them the truth by his life effectively saying ‘Do you want to know how do life? Watch me.’
Bottom line: if the elder is to be a pastor within the church, he must first be a pastor within his home.
A comparison may be helpful for you: compare the business world with the church. It’s seen as normal in our culture to separate ones public life and private life. When a leader in the business world is evaluated he is examined solely on his performance or his sales numbers, not on his marriage, kids, or family life. The business says, ‘Who cares what he does at home, as long he’s bringing in high numbers.’ It’s not like this within the Church. While a man may be a very successful leader in a business while he leads his family very poorly, that same man would be disqualified for leadership within the church, simply because he leads his family poorly. Why? How he treats his bride will tell us how he will treat Christ’s bride. How he treats his children will tell us how he will treat God’s children.
Again, if the elder is to be a pastor within the church, he must first be a pastor within his own home.
Fifth, the elder lives out the Gospel in his public and private maturity. 1 Tim. 3:6-7 says, ‘He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.’ The elder must be a mature man, not a new believer, or an immature believer. The warning is clear: if a new believer, or an immature believer is made an elder, he’ll quickly become puffed up with pride and will fall into the condemnation of the devil. The Acts 29 church planting movement says, ‘The more the gospel of God’s electing grace and undeserved mercy penetrate my heart, the more I grow in maturity and humility. In general, this will mean the new convert, isn’t qualified, because he will see the office of elder not as a noble task but a badge of honor.’ This implies the elder is a man who presses into personal growth and sanctification, who studies the Scripture, who seeks to know God better and better each day.
Notice that this maturity must not only be evident to the man himself in private but it must be evident to those who do life with him, believers and unbelievers. The elder is to be a man who is thought well of, who is respected, who lives out the gospel in the church and out of the church. If your neighbors see you only as ‘that angry guy on the corner’ you’re not an elder.
Sixth, perhaps it should be obvious by now but let me say it clearly: the elder lives out the Gospel in his role as male. God has called men, and only men to be elders within the church. Think about this: all throughout our 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Paul refers to the elder as ‘he.’ 1 Timothy 2:12 (one chapter before our passage) says a woman isn’t allowed teach or exercise authority over a man.’ The context around this passage makes it clear that the office of elder or overseer is in view, which is an office of teaching and of authority, so Paul says it should be reserved for men. Paul has also linked leading a church to leading a family, and just as God has called men to lead their own families, he also calls men to lead in the church family.
Does this mean women can never teach, confront sin, or model godliness? Of course not. Does this mean men are better than women? Of course not. This does mean that since Genesis 1 God has created men and women equal but with different roles to play. Men are to humbly lead while women are to humbly follow. After the fall who did God first call to account? Adam. He was the leader, thus he was called to account. Created equal, with complementary roles to play, each having our own characteristics of masculinity and femininity that both show the glories of God.
So to end let me just say this: the life of the elder is so important because overtime what the leaders are in themselves will be what the church becomes. As the leaders go so goes the people. So if the character of the elders is in line with what we see here in 1 Tim. 3, it means the life of the congregation will beautifully adorn the gospel to this lost city.
‘Serving as an elder in a local church is an immense privilege and responsibility because it carries an eternal significance. The task seems daunting, even impossible at times. Yet it is worthy of everything poured into it, because elders are stewarding nothing less than the blood bought people of God and working for their eternal good and God’s eternal glory.’ (Jeramie Rinne)