Elders And Their Community

by David Padfield

What makes a man suitable to serve as a shepherd of God's people? The qualifications for the office of an elder are laid down in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Many of these essential qualities are determined in one's youth. A man cannot wait till he is ready to retire and then decide its time to "set his house in order" so he can serve as an elder. Let us examine the qualifications of an elder as they relate to the community in which one lives.

Blameless

The English word "blameless" (Gr. anepileptos) as found in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6-7 means "without reproach: one who cannot be laid hold of: who gives no ground for accusation" (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies In The New Testament, Vol. 4, p. 29). W. Robertson Nicoll said, "It is not enough for him to be not criminal; he must be one against whom it is impossible to bring any charge of wrong doing such as could stand impartial examination" (Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. IV, p. 403). Trench said the word "blameless" would afford "nothing that an adversary could use as the basis for an accusation" (R. C. Trench, Synonyms Of The New Testament, p. 403).

Being "blameless" does not mean that no one ever says anything bad about you -- the Pharisees and Sadducees often said evil things about Christ, yet they could not bring any accusation that would "stand impartial examination." This is why Jesus could boldly ask, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" (John 8:46).

An elder is to live in such a way that no shame or embarrassment will be brought upon the church because of his conduct.

His Temperament

A faithful elder will have many occasions which will try his patience -- but even under provocation he must not lash out against others. He is to be an example of self-control, which is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23; 2 Pet. 1:6).

An elder is not to be "violent" (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7). Vincent defines this as "a pugnacious or combative person" (Vol. IV, p. 230). Neither can an elder be a "quarrelsome" individual (1 Tim. 3:3). This word means "not contentious." He cannot be one who is always finding fault with others or a man with whom you cannot disagree without him becoming defensive.

Anger in itself is not wrong, for we are told to "be angry, and sin not" (Eph. 4:26). An elder can not be one who is "soon angry" (Titus 1:7). The New International Version translates this as "not quick tempered."

Jesus was angry on several occasions, but He never lost His self-control. When He healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day in the synagogue, "He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts" (Mark 3:5). Jesus never lashed out when His pride was insulted or ego bruised. Sometimes men confuse temper tantrums with righteous indignation.

Paul charged Timothy to rebuke elders who sin "in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear" (1 Tim. 5:20). Before appointing a man as an elder you need to consider how he would react if the preacher had to rebuke him publicly. If a preacher refuses to rebuke a sinning elder for fear of losing his "job" you have two problems: one man unfit to be an elder and a cowardly preacher unfit to fill a pulpit.

His Money

An elder is not to be "greedy for money" (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7). This covers not only the love of money, but questionable means of obtaining it. There are some occupations that an elder just could not be involved in. I just don't see how an elder could own a video store-knowing that many of the video tapes he would have to rent out are not suitable for decent folks to view. Christians are not to be "lovers of money" (1 Tim. 6:6-10; Matt. 6:19-21).

Not Given To Wine

The phrase "not given to wine" has often been a topic of heated discussion when studying the qualifications of an elder (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7). Unfermented grape juice was often used as a beverage and as a medicine. When used as a medicine, it was sometimes applied externally and at other times taken internally (cf. Luke 10:34). Timothy apparently questioned the use of "wine" for medical purposes and was instructed by Paul to "no longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23).

Shepherds of the flock must not be subject to wine or any other intoxicating beverage or substance.

Of Good Report

"He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap" (1 Tim. 3:7, NIV). The word "report" is used "in an ethical sense, of testimony concerning one's character" (J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, p. 391). This is the word translated as "testimony" in the gospel of Mark when "the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree." (Mark 14:55-56).

There are some things a man can do at a young age that will scar him for life and probably make it impossible for him to ever serve as an elder. When I was a teenager my father told me to "never trust a draft-dodger" -- the advice was good and I have not seen anything over the years that would change my mind about it. Cowardice is a fundamental character defect.

When we get married we make vows in the presence of God that we will be "faithful till death." An adulterer is not only a liar, he is also untrustworthy, unreliable and unstable. I personally don't see how an adulterer could ever be qualified to serve as an elder-he might be qualified to write for "brotherhood papers" but he is unfit to shepherd the church of God! Yes, man can repent of his sins and bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Matt. 3:8; Acts 19:18-20), but there are some sins which we can commit that even people of the world will hold against us for years to come.

Christians, and especially elders, are to be an example of a Christ-like spirit in this wicked world. "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:13-16).

bishops, pastors, shepherds of the flock