the weblog of Alan Knox

Elders (Part 2) – Character

Posted by on Sep 17, 2007 in elders, office | 9 comments

According to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, when believers appoint or recognize someone as an elder, they should take the persons character into account. In fact, most of the items in these lists are related to character or behavior. There is very little in these passages related to function or giftedness.

Thus, when recognizing someone as an elder, the believers should look first at a person’s character and behavior. But, immediately we should ask the question, “Does Scripture require an elder to have a higher character than any other believer?” Are there moral requirements or behavioral norms for elders that are different from the moral requirements or behavioral norms of other believers?

In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul says that elders should be blameless, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, upright, holy, disciplined. Are these requirements unique to the elder? No. In fact, God calls all believers to live a life that demonstrate these same characteristics.

In Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, John Hammett states:

Whatever is involved in being an elder, it is not a calling to a higher standard of Christian living. How could it be, when every Christian is commanded by Christ to “be perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and when the goal and destiny of every Christian is Christlikeness (Rom. 8:29)?

But if these character traits are commanded of all Christians, what is their significance here? The key to understanding the meaning of these lists of character traits is remembering that one of the responsibilities of leaders is to set the example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3).

Thus, according to Hammett, these lists of characteristics are not unique to the elder, nor are they a job description. Instead, they are to help believers recognize those who are already living the life that God has called all believers to live. In other words, whoever is actually living the way that God wants them to live should be recognized as an elder – that is, as an example to other believers.

I think it is possible to further refine this statement. We should recognize that no one is able to live perfectly. No elder can perfectly demonstrate the characteristics listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Just has Paul had not yet reached perfection, none of us have reached perfection yet either, though we should all be growing in maturity toward perfection in Jesus Christ. Because of this, it is probably better not to see these lists as “qualifications”, otherwise, no one would be “qualified” (see my post called “Qualifications and Examples…“).

Thus, it would probably be better to restate my earlier statement like this: Whoever is best living the way that God wants all believers to live should be recognized as an elder – that is, as an example to other believers.

But, this has implications for all believers, not just for elders. When we look at the lists of characteristics in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we should not read them as characteristics for elders only. Instead, these characteristics should be evident in the lives of all believers. The characteristics are not unique for elders. So, everyone who is following Jesus Christ should see their lives – more and more – demonstrating blamelessness, sober-mindedness, self-control, hospitality, gentleness, etc.

Furthermore, if believers are to recognize elders as those who best demonstrate these characteristics, then they must know the elders intimately. These characteristics are not found on a resume or during a weekend visit; they are observed during the rough times in a person’s life. In order to tell if a person is gentle, we must see that person react to someone else who is being harsh. In order to tell if a person is self-controlled, we must see that person react to a situation that is tempting. In order to examine a person’s hospitality, we must see how that person treats strangers. In other words, if we are going to recognize someone as an elder, we must first live with that person long enough to know whether or not that person regularly demonstrates those characteristics, and whether or not that person is a person who is growing in maturity toward Christ-likeness.

The character traits and behaviors listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are not intended for elders alone. All believers are responsible for submitting to the Spirit so that their lives will also demonstrate those characteristics. When we recognize someone as an elder, we must live with them long enough to witness a growing level of maturity in demonstrating Christ-like character. This does not mean that elders are held to a higher standard. Instead, people are recognized as elders when they best exemplify the standard to which all believers are called.

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Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion


9 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-17-2007

    Alan,

    Two quick thoughts on the traits mentioned in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1.

    First, I am always amazed at how simple and straightforward these traits are. They are not complicated, nor are they difficult to understand (with the possible exception of the “husband of one wife” issue). As you have said, all Christians should live like this.

    Second, the traits are all in the present tense. This indicates that we are to look at each person’s character now, or at least from the relatively recent past. How a person lived, for example, ten years ago does not seem to be in Paul’s mind here. It is exciting that God looks at what we are becoming in Christ, rather than at what we once were.

  2. 9-18-2007

    Eric,

    I think you have made some great added observations to Alan’s post.

    Alan,

    From time to time I hear these taught as “higher standards” that elders need to live by. It is really disappointing and misleading. I believe that the failure to see these as the regular “standard” is an impediment to the growth of the church.

    I’m enjoying this series, look forward to the next one :).

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

    The Pursuit Online store

  3. 9-18-2007

    Alan,

    Great series brother. The only qualification I’d make would be that “if anyone aspires to [be] an overseer, it’s a fine work he/she desires to do.” There may be some folks who exemplify these character traits, but have no Holy Spirit given desire to be an elder/pastor/overseer. In my book, that’s o.k., for it shows that while they are godly, it also shows that they have no desire to be an elder . . . at least not at that particular point.

  4. 9-18-2007

    Eric,

    Thank you for these additions to my post. I agree with both points.

    Lew,

    I think the idea of “higher standards” as well as the idea of unique functions and roles work to create a dichotomy between elders and other believers – a clergy/laity divide, whether we want to call it that or not.

    dusman,

    I agree with your addition also. I’m not planning to get into the question about how to choose elders in this post. I think your point about someone desiring to be an elder should be considered when choosing elders.

    -Alan

  5. 9-18-2007

    Yes. What Paul describes here is not a new concept from him, but fits perfectly into his manner of ministry.
    To paraphrase:
    Follow me as I follow Christ. Follow my example. You know my manner of life, how I… I hesitate to tell you about my visions because I don’t want you to think more highly of me than what you can see in my life.

    The life of a believer is a greater testimony than words – which in turn fits perfectly into what Jesus and John the Baptist taught about fruit. Within the home, children learn far more by observing what their parents do, than by listening to what they say. Paul doubtless understood that within the Church family the same dynamic takes place. Much of what we learn and come to believe is unspoken.

  6. 9-18-2007

    How often that “not quarrelsome” qualification gets missed. Some elders I’ve seen seem to think it’s the opposite.

    It’s educational to watch how an elder corrects someone who is in the wrong (as one who has been corrected). Gentleness breeds trust.

  7. 9-18-2007

    Brent,

    Yes, actions speak louder than words. It’s interesting that Jesus asked the Jewish leaders who didn’t believe his words why they didn’t believe his deeds. Even Jesus confirmed his words with actions.

    David,

    Not quarrelsome… hospitable… can’t we determine these from a weekend visit and a couple of phone calls? Interestingly, I think other believers (besides elders) also have problems with these characteristics.

    -Alan

  8. 7-29-2008

    Would this not mean that a pastor/elder be raised up from within the congregation instead of someone from (usually)outside your state? I have believed for a while now that it is strange that a pastor can come into an area and start a church and vet the members as they come into membership, but typically is not vetted. Most join up with a church not knowing the pastor very well. If you ask too many questions of the pastor or the members they get offended. I have seen these same members go on about how glorious the pastor is until he does something inappropriate(not necessarily unbiblical)and then they leave in a huff. Great points!
    Al

  9. 7-29-2008

    Al,

    Yes, I think you have a point. If we are supposed to choose elders because of their exemplary character, then we certainly have to know them in order to know their character. Unfortunately, most elders are chosen for their teaching ability alone.

    -Alan

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