A Question of Character (7)
February 28, 2012
In our final installment of this series, we will look at Paul's final qualification for us to think about when selecting elders. The Apostle's last instruction has to do not with what the church thinks of the man, but what those outside the church think of the man.
Why would it be important for those outside to think well of a Gospel minister or elder? After all, more than any other profession perhaps, ministers are derided, looked down upon, and generally disdained by those who are not Christians. Much of this simply comes because those outside hate the Lord of the Gospel the man preaches. So is Paul commanding the impossible here?
I don't think so. In fact, this qualification in verse 7 may be one of the most important. If we think about what Paul is saying, it makes perfect sense. As Paul is giving general instructions to Timothy here, I think the general principle is this: a minister's life ought to be exemplary not only to those inside the church but those looking in, so to speak. The argument, again, is simple: if those without cannot see Christ in an office-bearer's life, then he is not fit to lead those within the household of God.
One thing to note off the bat: if the man meets the prior qualifications, this last one will come naturally. If he is temperate, self-controlled, not greedy, a good household manager and a mature and maturing Christian, he will immediately stand out from the world. So, I think that is one reason why Paul places this stipulation last: it naturally follows from what comes before. But let us not make the mistake that we need to lessen our attention for that reason. We are a dull people, in need of constant reminders.
It is tautological to say that this qualification that the Apostle lays down here remains unmet by so many today. So large is their number, it would be a waste of time to chronicle here the ministers in just the past few years who have incurred the wrath of those outside the church. From scandals involving young men and drugs, to greed that would make an Enron executive blush, the church in our land is beset by wolves in sheep's clothing who have devoured their own flocks, while staining the church's reputation on a national and even international stage.
But what about closer to home? As ministers and elders, what do our neighbors think of us? Our other family members? Our friends? Do we adorn our profession of the Gospel or do we bring Christ into ill repute by our ways? I know firsthand some of my own blunders in these areas. My skin crawls even now when I think about some of my public conduct that brought shame upon Christ's glorious name. Have you repented, pastor, of making those outside think less of Christ by your words, actions, or attitudes?
Interestingly, as with the preceding verse, Paul attaches a warning here, perhaps two. The first warning tells us that a man who does not have a good reputation with those outside will fall into disgrace. Haven't all of us known an elder who is well known as a cheat at the workplace, a poor husband and father, unspiritual, and undiscerning? What do unbelievers think of such a one? They mock him. They see him as one more weapon in an already overstocked arsenal with which to assault Christ's church.
The second warning is similar to the warning of verse 6. The man who does not have holy and righteous character, leading to a good reputation with those outside, not only falls into disgrace but the devil's snare. We must never forget that Satan rejoices when unbelievers hold the leaders of Christ's church in contempt. If he can bring down the generals, what will become of the foot soldiers?
The importance of the Apostle's command was brought home to me early in my Christian life. I was in my early 20's and was at a Christian men's conference with some friends from church. I remember one of the leaders relaying a story about when he was at the same men's conference a few years earlier. My friend asked the clerk at the desk of the hotel where most of the attendees were staying if the clerk would like a free pass to the conference. The clerk replied that he would not, in fact, like a free pass. When my friend asked why, the clerk replied that there were more pornographic movies ordered on the weekend of this men's conference than at any time previous. This clerk was disgusted by such behavior and rightly so. He simply couldn't take the conference seriously. The men who ordered pornography fell into disgrace, into the snare of the devil.
This story illustrates what must be the case for all Christians, but especially elders: we must be those who are the same when people are watching as when they are not watching. Most importantly, we must never forget we live always before the face of our God, before whom "no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb 4:13). What a sobering thought!
A couple of applications come to mind. First, if you are a minister or elder, do you keep careful watch over your conduct at work, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store? Is your conduct above reproach (1 Tim 3:2)? If one of your church members should come by your workplace, would your conduct there match what you are like on the Lord's Day or Session meetings?
Second, there is extraordinarily good news. Are you discouraged by the above? If you've read this series and you are a minister or elder, I am sure you are like me - overwhelmed and terrified. But take heart. The amazing thing is that we do this ministry in union with the resurrected Christ, as Philip Ryken once said. We are those who have been crucified with him and resurrected with him, to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4).
If we walk daily with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will produce his fruit in us. We will begin to be those who are self-controlled, temperate, and who have a good reputation with those without. If I could put it this way, most of what the Apostle commands us here in 1 Timothy 3 will be, in a word, a byproduct of the Spirit's ministry in us.
If we are office-bearers, we must be those who know Jesus Christ intimately. We should know his tender mercy, his lovingkindness, his amazing grace, and his care for us. As we know this more and more, these character qualities will simply burst forth in resurrection glory - a foretaste of the age to come right now. What a blessing this will be to our churches when this happens!
So let us strive after holiness. But let us not strive after these things simply to be good officers. Rather, let us simply be exemplary Christians because we've been so close to our Savior that that which Paul commands flows naturally. Let us be those whom others can look up to without so much of a trace of postmodern cynicism, so typical of those outside the covenant of grace when they behold church leaders. And let us earnestly pray with Augustine: "Oh Lord, command what you will and give what you command."