A Question of Character (5)

After reading Dr. Trueman's and Pastor Walker's posts on this topic, the reader will permit me a fair amount of reticence to post on 1 Timothy 3:4-5. My colleagues' thoughts have been very convicting to my own rather green pastoral conscience, so I write with a good bit of trepidation!

It is perhaps nowhere more evident than in an elder's home the true spiritual temperature of the man in the office. Is he outwardly charismatic, always ready to listen to a needy congregant, at every single event for every single child of the church, never misses a meeting of any committee, and willing to lead multiple Bible studies, prayer groups, etc.? Go to his home. What do you find there? Is his wife sullen, distant, or "putting on a front"? Are his children estranged from him and bitter about the church? The pulpit and a man's public ministry often hide many sins the confines of his home exposes.

Here,in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, the Apostle directs our attention to the governance of the man's home. In verse 4, he writes: "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive." Since we are focused on the character of a Christian minister in this series, I want to make a few observations on this verse as it relates to the character of a minister in his home.

First, Paul calls upon ministers to manage their homes well. The man is the primary nurturer and discipler in the home. He is not simply to delegate childrearing responsibilities to his wife and then forget about them. Rather, he is to patiently and calmly oversee the affairs of his home, from finances to discipline. First and foremost, the minister must be a shepherd and overseer of the little flock entrusted to him in his home.

Second, Paul calls upon ministers to make sure their children are submissive, with all dignity. Without entering into the thorny details of the debate, I do not think that Paul here, or in Titus 1:6, is teaching that ministers who have unconverted covenant children are disqualified for the office. Rather, I think he is calling upon the minister to be an example of true Christian parenting in his home.

This means the minister's home should be one where the children are disciplined according to the word of God. This is patient, wise, and caring discipline. The minister will not spare the rod but he will never use it in anger. He will model for his flock godly parenting, in short.

The minister's home should also show forth the daily joys of parenting. He should regularly gather his little flock for family worship. He must catechize his children. He should pray with them every day. He should speak frequently about God's wonderful works in creation and redemption. And he should see that his children are constantly trained to see all of life through the lens of Christ. And while he will not seek a "crisis conversion" experience for his children, he will not neglect to pray for and look for the fruit from children who have owned the precious and amazing covenant promises of God for themselves. 

How many ministers have been hindered in Gospel effectiveness because of unwise home management? How many wives and children despise the church and her Lord because of such unwise management? I fear the answer to both questions is: "Many." But there is hope. I remember a man whose ministry I greatly admire relating to some of us the story of putting his own son under church discipline. As you can imagine, it was heart-wrenching. And praise God, the Lord used this move by my friend: his son eventually repented and is now a church officer to boot. But my friend took his duties of home management seriously - to the point of doing something I think most ministers shudder to think about doing. As always, however, the question is whether we will trust God and his wisely ordained means or our own wisdom? The former leads to blessing; the latter leads to confusion and heartache.

Paul tells us in verse 5 why these high and lofty expectations are to be met by a minister in his home: "For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" Paul's argument here is simple. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater: if a man cannot manage his own home, how can he be expected to manage God's "home," the church? The expected answer to Paul's rhetorical question is: "He cannot."

Therefore, a word to churches looking for pastors: when the lights are down, and the amazing sermon is over, and the winning personality gets into his car to drive home, do you know what he's coming home to? Do you know if he has tended his own garden well, as it were? Could it be that perhaps one of our great failures as churches is the criminal lack of examining a man in the vital area of his home life? We cannot expect the Lord to bless our churches if our ministers' homes are not blessed.

Finally, a word to my brothers in the ministry. It is a tired but true adage to say that the only people that will be in the car with you when you move are your family. Are you discipling them? Would you be unashamed if a camera were placed in your home and the proceedings shown to your church? How easy - and extraordinarily dangerous - it is to be all things to all men and nothing to the people dearest to us - our families.

Where does a minister's character show up, then, according to Paul? In our homes. You can put on a smile, preach a great sermon, pray a lofty prayer, and oversee every committee expertly, but if your home life is a mess, you will be building little cities of wood, hay, and stubble. What will it profit us if we love our churches but not our flocks under own roof? Let us all take heed to the Apostle's words here: fitly manage your own home to the glory of God, or "Ichabod" will be inscribed over your management of God's household.