Lecture 2: Character
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Now it is time to work our way through 1 Tim 3:1-8, pulling in data from 3:8-13, 1 Tim 5:17-25, and Titus 1:5-9. The numbers below refer to the relative order of qualities enumerated in 1 Tim 3:1-8.
The qualities break down into three categories: character (above reproach); calling (Bible knowledge and ability to teach), and competencies (proven managerial ability with people). In this lesson we will focus on the character for leadership.
In addition to these three categories, Paul also speaks to the process of leadership appointment. Character is virtually untouched in modern seminary education. The second category, “calling,” is often disproportionately high within the current approach to ministry training, and the third aspect Paul highlights is often addressed in a single homiletics class, but, sadly, very little else in the area of leadership skills is required of those who will eventually lead.
1. Above reproach (anepilēptos)
This is Paul’s summary concern for all elders; in their character they are to be above reproach. Not perfect, but above reproach. An interpretive translation would follow “above reproach” with a colon because what follows for several verses is a description of what “above reproach” means. A person who is above reproach is faithful in marriage. A person who is above reproach is a clear thinker. The same instruction occurs in Titus. Seeing the destruction of the church wrought by the false teachers, it is easy to see why this stands as the head quality.
2. Faithful in marriage (mias gynaikos andra)
This is one of the great exegetical conundrums in the New Testament, word for word translated “one woman man” (or, “one wife husband”), with the emphasis on the “one” due to its forward placement in the phrase. For some unknown reason, Paul chose an expression that has not surfaced anywhere else in extant, Greek literature. It is therefore difficult to know what it actually means, and it is a call for honesty and humility. I have heard too many times that an elder cannot have been divorced because, it is claimed, this is what Paul says. It may be what he means, but it is not what he says. What is clear is that the womanizing false teachers were bringing the church under reproach and this had to stop. This requirement is repeated for deacons and again for elders in Titus 1, and also for widows (but in reverse, a “one man woman”).
It certainly cannot mean the elder must be married, or Paul and Timothy could not be elders and it would contradict Paul’s preference for celibacy.
Some believe it is a prohibition against polygamy, putting the emphasis on “one” (i.e., one at a time). But although polygamy was practiced among the Jews, there is no evidence it was practiced among Christians, and there is no evidence at all for polyandry (applied to the widows).
Some hold that it means “not divorced,” and others that it means “not remarried,” but a decision here is made primarily based on one’s view of the whole topic of divorce and remarriage and not on the exegetical facts of this specific verse. Most recent commentaries and translations have moved rightly to the idea of faithfulness in marriage, hence the NIV’s “faithful to his wife.” This might allow a person to be an elder who was divorced in the distant past and has since shown himself to be faithful. It would also remove from leadership anyone who is addicted to pornography, or who is physically or verbally abusive. In modern English we have a slang expression, a “one woman kind of guy” (or some such variation). While there is no evidence that historically mias gynaikos andra, was slang, the expression does get at Paul’s statement.
I have a friend who does group counseling for sexual addictions. He focuses on pornographic addiction in the elder board; he says that you can’t face the issue of pornography in the church until you face the issue in the leadership. Unfortunately, he has many counseling groups full of pastors and elders.
3. Clear thinker (nēfalios)
nēfalios is also translated “sober-minded,” “temperate,” and is a quality required of deacon’s wives as well. It speaks of a sobriety of judgment with a nuance of self-control. This is the person not controlled by his passions but able to make decisions. He listens to the issues, in humility considers the opinions of others, and then has the courage to make his own decision. It removes from leadership the person who simply votes with his friends on the elder board.
4. Self-controlled (sōfrōn)
This quality is related to “disciplined” (enkratē) in Titus; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and a cardinal virtue in Stoicism. It carries the nuance of (sexual) decency. This is the person who is in charge of his attitudes and actions, not tossed to and fro by the winds of emotions and appetites. This is the person who responds instead of reacting.
5. Dignified (kosmios, semnos)
kosmios occurs in all three lists. It is the head term in Paul’s requirements for deacons and is also required of the deacon’s wife. It describes the person who is worthy of respect, decent. It describes how he carries himself. It removes from leadership the person controlled by his passions and emotions, screaming instead of talking.
6. Hospitable (filoxenos)
An elder must gladly welcome people into his home. We understand that hospitality was especially important in Paul’s culture, but even today table fellowship is seen as almost intimate. The NLT translates, “He must enjoy having guests in his home.” Granted, there are conditions under which this is not possible — poverty, a season of busyness. But it does exclude from leadership those who are not oriented toward people, who do not value personal relationships, who prefer the power of leadership over knowing the people. Elders must be people-oriented.
8. Temperate in drink (mē paroinon)
Characteristic 7 applies to the elders calling, so I will discuss it below. Apparently the false teachers were ascetics when it came to food (1 Tim 4:3), but drunkards when it came to drink; the requirement that a leader not be a drunkard occurs in all three lists (1 Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 2:3). All the translations work to make it clear that Paul is not prohibiting social drinking (e.g., “not addicted to much wine,” NIV), but excessive drinking. Etymologically, it pictures a person who spends too much time in the company of liquor (para + oinos). It reminds us of Isaiah’s ridicule of people whose pride lies in their ability to drink: “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (5:22).
9-10. Not violent but gracious (plēktēs, epieikēs)
Both here and in Titus mention of the drunkard is followed by the requirement not to be violent, perhaps thinking of what we might call an “angry drunk.” This removes from leadership anyone who is a violent person, a brawler, bully; it is the opposite of being gracious, gentle, the type of person who embodies the Beatitudes of not insisting on his rights but willing to rise above personal injury and injustice as an act of love.
Humble (mē authada)
Related is the requirement in Titus that an elder be humble, not stubborn and arrogant but willing to listen. This is the person who expresses himself clearly, even passionately, but without anger.
Slow to anger (mē ogilos)
In Titus we also read that an elder must not be quick tempered. This flows naturally from the quality of humility.
11. Not quarrelsome (amachos)
Returning to the list in 1 Tim 3, we read that the elder must not be quarrelsome. This is the person who is willing to discuss topics that matter, even passionately, but is also a peace seeker. The term refers to serious bickering, even physical combat, and was an oft repeated quality of the false teachers.
12. Not a lover of money (afilargyros)
An elder must not be greedy for dishonest gain (aischrokerdnēs), which excludes the false teachers who were teaching for the sake of financial gain (1 Tim 6:5; Titus 1:11). The requirement occurs in all three lists, showing the depths of the problem in Ephesus.
13. Not a gossip or slanderer (mē dilogos)
Moving to the requirements of deacons, we meet a fascinating word. It is extremely rare, which means we have to look at its etymology. It is a compound of twice (dis) – said (logos). It is natural to want to define it more clearly. Perhaps it refers to a gossip, or saying one thing to a person but meaning another, or saying one thing to one person but another thing to another person. But the temptation to become too specific should be resisted; this is the person who lacks integrity, whose words cannot be trusted. It removes from leadership the person who votes one way in a board meeting but claims the opposite when speaking to others. It is the person who is not rigorously honest.
14. Loving what is good (filagathon)
It is not enough to simply be passive, to stay away from evil. An elder must actively, aggressively, apply Phil 4:8 to all that he sees and thinks and says. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
15. Just (dikaion)
Church leaders must pursue both personal and social justice. This means they seek for conflict resolution at a personal level. It also means they seek reconciliation in whatever context they live and work.
16. Holy (hosios)
This is perhaps the most important quality when you compare Paul’s instructions to the state of the Ephesian and modern church. “Holy” means wholly dedicated to God. It means the elder hasn’t compartmentalized his life, giving some of it to God (the “holy”) but keeping back some for himself (the “profane” or “secular”). As long as we live in the tension between the “now” and the “not yet,” between the “promise” and the “fulfillment,” no one will ever be experientially holy. But it is the goal toward which we strive, living a life that is wholly pleasing to the Lord. And it must be the trajectory of the elder’s life.
As an example we need to look no further than the elder’s sexual life. The statistics today are frightening as to the number of people calling themselves Christians who are sex addicts, whether it be pornography, affairs, or molestation, and unfortunately many of them are living out what was done to them as children. But whatever be the reasons, the elder’s life must be characterized by an ever increasing movement from one degree of glory to the next.
17. Spiritually mature
The next quality of an elder is that he be spiritually mature. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (ESV). This is similar to the charge that deacons first be tested. “And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (ESV).
The practical question is, how mature, and how can you determine a person’s maturity level? At the end of this chapter I will address the issue of a position paper and it is there that your church will need to decide things like the number of years. But experience has taught me that you do not know a person’s character until you give them power. LeaderSource is a ministry training pastors especially in China, and they have what is called the four dynamics of growth: relational, instructional, spiritual, experiential. You see a person’s spiritual maturity when you build a relationship with him, instruct him (as in this chapter), focus on spiritual realities (and not talking just about football or church), and especially when the person is placed into a moderated experience where they experience some power and responsibility with the possibility of failing.
Related to #15 is the requirement that the elder have a good reputation outside the church. “He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (ESV). “Of the devil” (tou diabolou) is probably a subjective genitive; Paul sees the devil as actively laying snares for Christians (cf. 1 Pet 5:8), and when he is successful the elder’s reputation is destroyed. This also corresponds to the general concern that an elder be “above reproach.”
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