(I TIMOTHY 3)
In churches of Christ we have great concern for doing Bible things in Bible ways.
I totally agree that is a good and legitimate concern. But this is the question we
immediately confront: how do you decide what is a Bible thing, and how do you decide
the Bible way to do it?
As an example, consider congregational leadership.
- We want our congregations to have the same kind of leadership that
congregations had in the first century.
- But deciding how to make congregational leadership a Bible thing done in a Bible
way is complex, not simple.
- Congregations in the New Testament enjoyed four forms of leadership.
- They had leadership from the apostles.
- Without question, that was the best form of congregational leadership--it
often was not well received, but it was the best.
- We all agree that the apostles were God inspired and guided by the Holy
Spirit as no other Christians ever were.
- They also had the advantage of living and working with Jesus.
- They were the primary source of the Scripture that we trust and follow.
- For a while, the Jerusalem congregation had all of the apostles in their
- They had leadership from the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit was powerful and active in first century congregations.
- He also was essential in congregational leadership--the letters that
became the New Testament were being written.
- With all the problems the congregation at Corinth had, 1 Corinthians
documents that the Holy Spirit was very active in that congregation.
- Revelations and prophecies were essential to those congregations.
- They had leadership from evangelists.
- Evangelists were instructors, organizers, troubleshooters, and appointers.
- Timothy and Titus are primary examples of evangelists.
- Paul's letters to these two men were instructions of how they were to work
and what they were to do in specific churches.
- One responsibility was to help appoint local church leaders.
- Caucasian congregations in the United States have rejected this form of
leadership within our congregations.
- We use it extensively in our mission work--we expect our missionaries
to be proactive in the leadership of congregations on the mission field.
- But we do not accept or sanction leadership roles for evangelists in
- Many African-American congregations use the evangelist in the leadership
role of the local congregation.
- They had local men called elders, bishops, or presbyters--all referring to the
same men--who functioned as congregational leaders.
- This is our primary form of leadership in Caucasian congregations.
- It was unquestionably a primary form of congregational leadership in first
- As we use elders for leadership, we make some basic assumptions.
- We assume that elders in the different first century congregations were the same
kind of men.
- Today in our congregations we make that same assumption.
- I can testify that elders from congregation to congregation are not the same
kind of men.
- I have worked under elderships for 35 years--since 1962.
- Few elders have attended as many elder meetings as have I.
- I have listened to elders make decisions since I was 22 years old.
- I can assure you that not all elders are the same kind of men, and that
elders from congregation to congregation are not interchangeable.
- Generally, elders in all congregations do share some things in common.
- They are married.
- They have children.
- They are not divorced.
- They are not active alcoholics.
- They are not recently converted.
- One of my special blessings has been to work with some truly exceptional
elders in different contexts.
- I have worked with some in mission focused congregations.
- I have worked with some in university congregations.
- I have worked with some in a typical urban settings.
- But these remarkable men were not interchangeable.
- Within our basic assumptions about elders as leaders, we have oversimplified
- Our reasoning often has been:
- The Bible is the Bible.
- The New Testament is the New Testament.
- What Paul said to Timothy was identical to what he said to Titus.
- The circumstances at Ephesus and Crete were identical.
- The needs at Ephesus and Crete were identical.
- The composition of those congregations were irrelevant.
- So we take a concordance, look up all the references to elders, bishops,
presbyters, put them all together, and reinforce our assumptions.
- Before we study what Paul said to Timothy and Titus about elders, we
assume he said the same thing, so we approach it as if it were identical.
- We look at both as Paul's check list of elder qualifications.
- This suggestion is worthy of serious consideration and thought.
- If you think about it, it is obvious that Paul never intended 1 Timothy 3 and
Titus 1 to be "the" check list for "the" qualifications for elders.
- There are some basic, critical qualifications not included in either scripture.
- Neither scripture says anything about the man's faith in Christ.
- A congregation is in serious trouble if it entrusts its leadership to men
who do not have great faith in Christ.
- A congregation can look forward to great blessings if it entrusts its
leadership to men who do have great faith in Christ.
- A man can have little faith and meet the qualifications if we make a
check list out of those two scriptures.
- Neither scripture says anything about the love the man has for Christ.
- A congregation faces serious problems if it trusts its leadership to men
who have little love for Christ or who cannot express love for Christ.
- A congregation can look forward to great blessings when it entrusts its
leadership to men who have and express great love for Christ.
- A man can have little love and meet the qualifications if we make a
check list out of those two scriptures.
- Neither scripture says anything about the love the man feels for the people
in the congregation--how important is it that the shepherd love the sheep,
especially the wounded, sick, or erring sheep?
- We emphasize his "love of the truth" rather than his love of the sheep.
- Some leaders love the truth but do not love the sheep.
- Elders love both, but love of the sheep makes them great shepherds.
- Neither scripture says anything about the men having the fruits of the Spirit
(Galatians 5:22, 23) or the Christian graces (2 Peter 1:5-8) which must live
in any man who has the spiritual maturity to provide leadership.
- I suggest that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are not a check list of elder
- I suggest that each provides a profile of the kind of spiritually mature men
that can be trusted to be shepherds in two different situations.
- To both Timothy and Titus, Paul says, "This is the kind of spiritually mature
Christian men you are looking for in your situation."
- A man could be spiritually mature and not fit the profile.
- Paul did not intend either scripture to be a checklist.
- Please take a careful look at the situation at Ephesus.
- Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Mediterranean world with perhaps a
population of a quarter of a million people.
- The city was the gateway to Asia.
- Caravans met the ships at Ephesus.
- Militarily, it had been a strategic city for around a thousand years.
- One of the most important and impressive temples in the world, the temple of
Artemis or Diana, was there; Ephesus was the religious center of all Asia.
- It was one of the important urban centers of the Roman empire.
- It was a center for the business and religious world.
- It was wealthy, sophisticated, with significant cultural development.
- The congregation existed in a city "where it was happening."
- This congregation enjoyed all four forms of first century leadership.
- Paul, the apostle, taught every day in the school of Tyrannus for two years, so
this congregation had direct leadership from an apostle (Acts 19:8-12).
- As in all the congregations, the Holy Spirit was active (Ephesians 4:30; 5:18).
- Timothy worked with the congregation as an evangelist (1 Timothy 1:3-11).
- And they had elders.
- Evidently they had elders before Paul completed his long and effective stay in
Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20).
- Later, as he passed near Ephesus, he called the elders at Ephesus to meet
him at Miletus (Acts 20:17,18).
- In that meeting, Paul said some striking things to these men (Acts
- They needed to be on guard for themselves as well as the congregation.
- Their appointment to be shepherds was from the Holy Spirit.
- Men who were described as savage wolves were going to enter the
eldership and the congregation and cause destruction among the sheep.
- Some of these very elders would exalt themselves.
- Some of them would tell the congregation things that would direct the
congregation away from what was right and good.
- Some of them would deliberately create their own followings.
- Some of them would develop their own personal disciples.
- Before Paul wrote this letter to Timothy that we call 1 Timothy, Ephesus had
elders--elders were in place there for some years before this letter.
- Now turn to 1 Timothy and follow me as you remember two things: Timothy is
in Ephesus; and years before, Paul told the elders that some of them would
- Look at what is happening:
- Certain men in the congregation are teaching strange doctrines (1:3).
- They are emphasizing myths, genealogies, and speculation (1:4).
- They are pursuing fruitless discussions (1:6).
- They make confident assertions they don't understand (1:7).
- Some of these men have rejected faith and a good conscience (1:19).
- Their faith is shipwrecked.
- Paul names two men he has "delivered to Satan" to teach them not to
- Isn't that what Paul warned would happen in Acts 20?
- The situation:
- The congregation had elders.
- Some of those elders were exceptional, worthy of double honor (5:17).
- Some of those elders were sinful and needed to be rebuked before the whole
- Those worthy of honor were not to be subjected to irresponsible
charges--accusations must be supported by two or three witnesses (5:19).
- All elders were accountable to the congregation.
- In the matter of honor or charges, there was to be no bias, no partiality, and
no action taken hastily (5:22, 23).
- If you want to see one contrast between the profile of a man you need as an
elder and of a man you don't need as an elder, contrast 3:1-7 with 6:3-5.
- The need:
- Timothy, the congregation needs more elders.
- It has some very good ones, and it has some sinful ones.
- It is not a matter of just adding some men.
- A certain kind of man needs to be added; this kind of Christian man; here is a
profile of the kind of men Ephesus needs as elders.
- He is respected for his mature spiritual character within the church.
- His values stress the spiritual, not the material.
- He is a family man, so he knows how to love and work with people.
- He had the spiritual maturity not to be deceived by the unspiritual thinking
going on in the congregation.
- The community respects him.
Can you see from the scripture that we are not talking about a checklist, but the
profile of the kind of man that was needed to be a shepherd and overseer in the church
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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