What are the qualifications of an elder?

Previously discussed on this blog, we answered the question “How is the church governed?”

We turn our attention now to the qualifications of an elder.

The Mandate

God has ordained and established for his church to be governed by a plurality of elders. Essential to this government includes the appointment of elders who exhibit the proper qualifications. It is imperative to understand God has revealed qualifications in order to aid the church in their appointment of said Godly leaders.

1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9 serve as our primary passages for understanding the attributes of those who “aspire to the office of overseer” (1 Timothy 3:2). Striking similarities between the two texts, and mere wording differences, will lead us to only examine 1 Timothy 3:2-7 today.

1 Timothy 3:2-7

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 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.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? 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 Qualifications

For the man who aspires to the role of overseer, he is called to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). The phrase “above reproach” is the overarching umbrella term for the aspiring elder, fleshed out by the resulting description of 1 Timothy 3:2-7.

Husband of One Wife

The first qualification for an elder is a man who is married to one wife (3:2). Grudem and Barclay agree that Paul is primarily speaking against the epidemic of polygamy. Paul’s silence concerning divorce and remarriage, and the use of “present status” terms listed in the qualifications for an elder support this argument (Systematic Theology 917).

Self-Controlled & Respectable

Secondly, an aspiring elder is self-controlled and respectable. Paul’s word image is that of self-discipline and upright honesty. The honest, respectable man has learned the discipline of self-control, curbing the sinful nature that desires ungodly things.  An elder is not controlled by his emotions or temptations, and is of good repute with those in his family, the church, and the community.

Hospitable

In addition, an elder is to be hospitable (3:2). This prescription for eldership circumferences all Christians as illustrated in Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” The Christian and elder alike are called to, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). An elder is to love strangers and not be prone to the sin of favoritism (James 2:9).

Able to Teach

The ability to teach (3:2) is uniquely descriptive of the elder only, distinguishing him from the corporate church and the role of deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Translated from the greek word didaktikos, the English construction “able to teach” refers to one who is skilled in instructing. An inherent understanding of teaching truth and refuting error must also accompany this characteristic.

Not a Drunkard

An elder is not necessarily to be a total abstainer, as Paul mentions the medicinal benefits of wine (2 Timothy 5:23). Old Testament passages viewed wine as a sign of joy and God’s blessing (Psalms 104:15, Proverbs 3:9). In contrast, a clear distinction of drunkenness as sin is evident throughout Scripture. Drunkenness is debauchery (Ephesians 5:18) and those who engage in this act will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:21). So an elder is to control his intake of wine because of its ability to influence and induce sin.

Not Violent but Gentle, Not Quarrelsome

Gordon D. Fee suggests these characteristics are applied uniformly because of the context surrounding Paul’s letter to Timothy (Fee 81). False teachers had infiltrated the church in Ephesus where Paul had left Timothy. His charge to Timothy was to deal with these teachers (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul describes these men as “craving for controversy and for quarrels about words” (1 Timothy 6:4-5). In response, he urges Timothy to raise up elders who teach the truth and are not prone to argumentation producing “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people” (1 Timothy 6:5). Even in their teaching and correcting, elders are to be gentle  and not quarrelsome (2 Timothy 2:23-25).

Not a Lover of Money

An elder is one who knows “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation” and “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Paul again applies a contrast of false teachers and godly men in his letter to Timothy, comparing false teachers in 1 Timothy 6:3-10 with Timothy’s personal call to biblical manhood (1 Timothy 6:11). A false teacher is one prone to desire money, but an elder discerns the love of money is a craving that is the causation for some who have “wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Manages His House & Cares For God’s Church

Paul draws a parallel between the elder both caring for his home and for God’s church. In essence, the implication is one must care for his home first before attempting to care “for the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15). The obedience and faith of their children is a requirement for an elder (Titus 1:9).

Not a Recent Convert

Gordon Fee states the Greek metaphor used means “no newly planted person” (Fee 83). Time matures the young seedling as it also matures the new convert. A danger arises in placing the immature in mature roles. Paul warns Timothy the “newly planted” person may become filled with pride concerning this highly favored and honored position (1 Timothy 3:6). This is no minor caution as the condemnation of the devil came about because of his sinful pride (Isaiah 14:12-15).

Well Thought of By Outsiders

Paul is concerned with the outward portrayal of the church to the world. Elders are called to engage in good relationships with those outside the church. The faith of an elder is to effect observable behavior changes that testify and witness to an outsider concerning the legitimacy of his beliefs. Paul is quick to point out that a bad reputation with the world will cause the church be disgraced, slandered, and fall into the devil’s trap (1 Timothy 3:7).

The Conclusion

The church is called to appoint godly leaders, and qualified elders are called to rule the church accordingly. The world will only consider the legitimacy of our faith when godly men arise to care for the church. Believers must not select men according to their own standards but only by the principles of God.

In selecting these godly men, the church must not look at outward appearances for the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). No level of notoriety, accomplishment, or financial success equates to spiritual maturity. So it is that the church should judge the inside of a man, allowing the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:2-7  and Titus 1:6-9 evidencing the inward character of an elder.

For the church to stray from these qualities in leadership is to invite rule by men not in accordance with God’s standards. We must appoint as the Lord has prescribed, seeking men who exhibit these qualities “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:7) and who will manage “the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15).

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