Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Elders in the Church: Qualifications

* A Bible study on elders in the church.  The previous study was Elders in the Church: Who They Are and What They Do.

The Church: Elders—Qualifications

1.     List of qualifications from Paul: 1 Timothy 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9[1]

1 Timothy 3
Above reproach
Above reproach
The husband of one wife
The husband of one wife


Able to teach
Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught—give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it
Not a drunkard
Not a drunkard
Not violent
Not violent

Not quarrelsome

Not a lover of money
Not greedy for gain
Manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive
His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination
Not a recent convert

Well thought of by outsiders

Not arrogant

Not quick-tempered

A lover of good




·      “When reading the qualifications for an elder or overseer, one is immediately struck by the relative simplicity of the qualifications.  In fact, the qualifications for an elder are the basic characteristics that are expected of all Christians.  The only exceptions are that an elder must not be a recent convert and must be able to teach.  The focus of the qualifications is on who a person is more than what a person does.”[2]

2.     Situational Qualifications—relate to one’s situation in life; not really moral or spiritual qualifications but, rather, reveal one’s desire and ability to serve.

a.     Desire to serve (1 Timothy 3.1)

                                               i.     Those chosen should want to serve

                                              ii.     Good to select people already serving in the body

b.     Able to teach (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.9)

                                               i.     Must know the Scriptures and doctrine well enough to exhort and refute those who contradict

1.     Elders must know their Bible and theology!

2.     Elders should be tested in these areas

·      If deacons are to be tested (1 Timothy 3.10) then how much more should elders be tested!

                                              ii.     All elders should be involved in some kind of teaching

                                            iii.     Not all need to preach or teach in front of the whole church

1.     Small group discipleship

2.     One-on-one counseling

c.      Not a recent convert (1 Timothy 3.6)

                                               i.     Danger: become prideful and “fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”

                                              ii.     Time is needed to allow the convert’s faith to season and be seen by the rest of the body

                                            iii.     Not set time given—application may be contextually related

1.     1 Timothy—Ephesus: more established congregation

2.     Titus—Crete: newer congregation and yet Titus is still to install elders

d.     Husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.6)

*Note: There are at least four ways to understand this qualification

                                               i.     An elder must be married—probably not correct

1.     Focus of phrase is on faithfulness to wife

a.     Greek is literally: “one-woman man” (mias gunaikos andra)

2.     Paul teaches that singleness has advantages over being married (1 Corinthians 7.32-35)

3.     Paul could have more specifically written that an elder must be a man with a wife

4.     This understanding would eliminate Paul, Timothy, and the Lord Jesus from being eligible to serve as elders

                                              ii.     An elder must not be polygamist—probably not correct

1.     Paul uses similar phrase for widows who are eligible for financial support in 1 Timothy 5.9 (“one-man woman”)

a.     This phrase is unlikely to refer to polyandry since this was strongly rejected by both Jews and Romans

b.     Parallel construction, thus, rules out polygamy

2.     “If polygamy was rare, if it existed at all among Christians, it does not seem likely that it would be singled out in all three lists (1 Tim. 3:2; 3:12; Titus 1:6) and put at the head of both lists dealing with elders.  Consequently, it is unlikely that the phrase ‘husband of one wife’ was intended to address polygamy.”[3]

                                            iii.     An elder must have only one wife his entire life—probably not correct

1.     The other moral and spiritual standards are the same as for any Christian in the church but this understanding would make it different since believers are allowed to marry again after the death of a spouse (1 Corinthians 7.8-9, 39)

2.     Wrong to treat divorce and remarriage as unpardonable sins.  “If a former murderer is able to be forgiven and later serve as a spiritual leader (like the apostle Paul who was guilty of murder [Acts 9:1; 22:4; 26:10]), then it would seem rather arbitrary that a person who remarries cannot serve in such a capacity.”[4]

3.     Parallel with widows

a.     1 Timothy 5.14: young widows should remarry

b.     1 Timothy 5.9: widows to be officially enrolled for financial assistance must be the “wife of one husband.”

c.      If the younger widows followed Paul’s counsel then they could not be eligible for assistance later if this phrase is understood as having only one husband in one’s life.

d.     If the phrase is understood as being faithful to one’s husband while alive this would allow for more than one husband but still allow for assistance when older.

                                            iv.     An elder must be faithful to his wife—probably correct view

1.     Manifest faithfulness to his wife; prohibits polygamy, promiscuity, and homosexuality.

2.     “The emphasis of the qualifications given in 1 Timothy and Titus stress the present situation of a man’s moral and spiritual character.  The real issue is not so much where he has come from but who he is now by God’s grace.”[5]

3.     Divorce should give us caution for a number of reasons; wisdom needed to assess differing situations.

“The situation of a divorced man must be treated seriously, however.  If he was the ‘innocent’ party in the divorce and was not unfaithful, some time is still needed for him to prove himself in his new marriage.  The same is true if he was divorced before he became a Christian (whether he was unfaithful in the relationship or not).  But if a professing believer was unfaithful to his wife and was later divorced, then extreme caution must be exercised.  The sin of unfaithfulness and divorce, like all sins, can be forgiven, and the person can become renewed.  Thus, after a period of many years in his new marriage, it may be possible, though perhaps not advisable, for a divorced man to become an elder.”[6]

e.     Manage his own household well (1 Timothy 3.4-5; Titus 1.6)

                                               i.     Avoid an undue literalism: he doesn’t need multiple children living at home!

                                              ii.     Does he manage his household well—this should be evident; not perfection but evident faithfulness

                                            iii.     Does this mean all the children must be believers?  Probably not.

1.     Word in Titus 1.6 can be translated “faithful”; referring to behavior not necessarily the status of child

2.     Comparison with 1 Timothy 3.4 favors this interpretation: “keeping his children under control”

3.     Crete was a newer church than Ephesus.  Would Paul place a more stringent requirement on a newer church?  Doesn’t seem likely.

4.     Fathers are not in ultimate control of their children’s salvation.

3.     Moral Qualifications: Positive and Negative

a.     Above reproach (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.6)

                                               i.     Not perfection

                                              ii.     Godliness

                                            iii.     Free from blemishes of character or conduct

b.     Sober-minded (1 Timothy 3.2)

                                               i.     Mental sobriety

                                              ii.     Can think clearly and spiritually about important matters

c.      Self-controlled (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8)

                                               i.     Disciplined exercise of good judgment

                                              ii.     Having discretion

d.     Respectable (1 Timothy 3.2)—a life worth following

e.     Hospitable (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8)

                                               i.     Open to others; relational

                                              ii.     Opens their home to minister to others

f.      Gentle (1 Timothy 3.3)

                                               i.     Not overbearing or harsh

                                              ii.     Patient when wronged

g.     A lover of good (Titus 1.8)—willingly helping others and seeking their good

h.     Upright (Titus 1.8)

                                               i.     Righteous

                                              ii.     Abide by God’s righteous standards in his Word

i.       Holy (Titus 1.8)

                                               i.     Devout and dedicated to God and his Word

                                              ii.     Lives and thinks this way even in the midst of an unholy time

j.       Disciplined (Titus 1.8)

                                               i.     Similar to self-controlled

                                              ii.     Engaged in spiritual disciplines in order to fight against sin

                                            iii.     Not lazy in the pursuit of God, his word, or his righteousness

k.     Not a drunkard (1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7)

                                               i.     Shows a lack of self-control

                                              ii.     Not a call for total abstention

1.     Timothy told to drink a little wine for his stomach: 1 Timothy 5.2

2.     Churches should not require leadership to abstain from alcohol; adds requirements to God’s word

l.       Not violent (1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7)

                                               i.     Avoid over-eagerness to fight

                                              ii.     Watch for verbal abuse

m.   Not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3.3)

                                               i.     Quarrelsome people divide congregations; not peacemakers (Matthew 5.9)

                                              ii.     2 Timothy 2.24-25; Titus 3.2

n.     Not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7)

                                               i.     1 Timothy 6.9-10

                                              ii.     Can’t be a lover of money and a lover of God (Matthew 6.24)

                                            iii.     One of the big three problem areas where leaders fall into sin:

1.     Money
2.     Sex
3.     Power

o.     Not arrogant (Titus 1.7)

                                               i.     Arrogance is noticeable—not just a hidden sin in the heart

                                              ii.     Elders must be able to work together on a team

p.     Not quick-tempered (Titus 1.7)

                                               i.     Need to be patient

                                              ii.     Able to control one’s temper; they will be sinned against

     [1] Chart from Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2008), 110.  Italicized words are the qualifications that only appear in one of the lists.
     [2] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 109—bold-face added.
     [3] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 125.
     [4] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 126.
     [5] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 128.
     [6] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 128.