1 Timothy 3:2b – an overseer must be…sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
When Timothy had received this letter from Paul, nearly three decades had passed since the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. During this period, Paul was running around eastern Europe planting churches (Acts 9-28). Over the early gestation of the church, one of his biggest challenges was that false teaching was mixed in with good teaching and tainting the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:3, 4:1-3). To combat the heresy of the 1st century, he writes his letters to Timothy and Titus with the overall theme of identifying false teaching and its results and contrasting it with what the church should be like. This letter is to help Timothy steer the church in the right direction and a big part of that is naming the right leaders (3:1-13), which is why it’s so helpful for us today.
The overarching characteristic of 1 Timothy 3 is about elders being above reproach in all areas of life and Paul fleshes out what he means by this. These first four words – sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable – are his sub-points of qualifications under that same idea. He tells us that an elder must be sober minded, that is control his mind, he must be self-controlled or control his body, he must be respectable, that is thought well of by others and hospitable. He can’t be afraid to engage with them and host them.
Being above reproach is about having Complete Character. Paul is guiding Timothy to select men whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel in all areas in relationships (2 Corinthians 5:17) – with their wife and children (3:2a, 4) and people inside and outside the church (3:2b, 7.) They must all good stewards of money (3:3) and of their minds and body as well (3:2b).
The last phrase in this passage – the ability to teach – is the unique attribute of elders, but we are left without a detailed explanation of what Paul means by this. Since we don’t have any details, what should we do? How do we solve the interpretation problem of having an unclear passage? We allow a more clear passage to provide its meaning and we receive this clarity in Paul’s parallel teaching to Titus.
Titus 1:8…An elder 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.
Based on this verse, we can summarize the office of an elder as one who Communicates the Content of the Faith with Conviction and models Complete Character. There are three points to highlight from this passage in Titus to flesh out the teaching requirement referenced in 1 Timothy. First, an elder gives instruction, meaning that he’s able to communicate well. Second, this communication is in sound doctrine, that is the content is pure. Last, he must hold firm and rebuke those who contradict orthodoxy.
The first element of being able to teach is being able to give instruction – communication
- We have a God who speaks. He is here and is not silent. God says something, then he does it, whether with the creation (Genesis 1:3) or His covenants (Genesis 8:20-9:17, Genesis 12:1-3 and others). He reaches down to us with His special revelation of Himself and His plan in words. Without His speaking to us, we only guess at what He is like (Isaiah 44:9) and will end up making Him in our own image to serve our own purposes. The idea of God speaking and revealing Himself is so central that the first thing that Satan challenged in the garden when he talked to Eve was what God said (Genesis 3:1).
- God’s representatives in the Old Testament were speakers. Prophets spoke to the people, priests spoke to God for the people, kings ruled the people by their commands. The ability to communicate for and with God is core to the offices and it continues to be a requirement of elders in the church. They must be able to convey the truth God has given to us
- In a similar vein, Jesus was the “good Teacher” (Mark 10:17). He was the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and spoke the things from the Father (John 8:28, 12:49). He accommodated different audiences, young and old, foes and fans, and taught in different style sand contexts. An elder should have the ability to tailor the message to his audience and convey Biblical doctrines clearly. This can happen in the context of preaching, informal teaching or one-on-one relationships
The second element of being able to teach is knowing the content of “sound doctrine”
- To have sound doctrine, a teacher must be a learner, one who has moved past the milk and on to the meat (1 Corinthians 3:2) by transforming his mind with the Scriptures (Romans 8:29) so that he can help you be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 12:2). He must be able to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
- He must know the key elements of the Faith (Jude 1:3) including what we believe, how we should act, and how we are to commune with and worship God. These three elements have historically been summarized by Luther and others as the code, the creed and the communion better known as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). For most churches today, the essentials are captured in the Statement of Faith, which outlines the Gospel and other essential beliefs about God and man. An elder must understand these doctrines well
- Once again, Jesus is our ultimate example of sound doctrine. He was the Word made manifest (John 1:14), so He was living doctrine as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He captured the essence of the Old Testament law in one word – love (Luke 10:27). He explained how all road of Biblical history lead to Himself on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35). He pointed to Himself as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)
The last element of being able to teach is holding firm to the trustworthy word as taught…and rebuke those who contradict it. To hold firmly is to have conviction about beliefs. To rebuke requires conviction as well
- Conviction is the strong belief in the Gospel and the passion to defend it. Even the demons know about God (James 2:19), so belief must go beyond mental ascent. To know if someone is holding firm, consider whether he is like Job (Job 1:21) and Joseph (Genesis 50:20) who waited patiently on God, trusting in his providence in difficult circumstances or in contrast is quick to question what God during times of difficulty. For rebuking contradiction, does the man identify heresy and protect others from being deceived by it or look at it as harmless because he doesn’t recognize the error veiled by some grain of truth?
- Another way to test conviction is to look at the spiritual disciples of the person including prayer, fasting, giving and evangelism. If these disciples aren’t exhibited, then you should question the commitment and maturity of the person
Communication, content, and conviction, if any one of these three elements is absent, a person cannot serve as an elder. These three requirements can be tested to see what happens if one of them is missing.
- Test 1: Someone who can communicate well and knows the content of the faith, but lacks the conviction in it is a religion professor. He doesn’t believe what he’s teaching and cannot be an elder
- Test 2: One who communicates with conviction, but has no Gospel, no true content is one of the false teachers Paul wrote the letter to protect against or what we’d call a liberal pastor today
- Test 3: A man who knows the content of the Faith and is convicted of it, but has no ability or desire to communicate it is a great member or even a deacon, but not ready to be an elder
If Ezra lived today, he would pass the tests of eldership. We are told in Ezra 7:10, that he “…set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” He learned it, lived it and passed it on.
To summarize, an elder who meets Paul’s qualifications is one who Communicates the Content of the Faith with Conviction and models Complete Character. He knows how to teach, what to teach and believes in what he teachers. A good elder is one who completes Paul’s directives to Timothy by living as an example to others (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), so that his walk matches his words, his discipline matches his doctrine and his life matches his learning (Hebrews 13:7, 1 Timothy 4:16). Select the elders with much care and prayer because God will judge him more harshly than others (James 3:1) and must give account to God for the lives under his care (Hebrews 13:17).
This discipleship video does a nice job of blending being an example as well as teacher to illustrate the idea of being an elder or generally one who is worthy of following.
Next, learn about the office deacon and associated qualifications or view a brief presentation that compares qualification and roles elders and deacons