This sermon was originally preached in 2016.
if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:6-9 ESV
After walking through Paul’s greeting to Titus, we last discussed Paul’s idea for church leadership. Paul’s charge to Titus was to organize each church in Crete by appointing elders in them. Because each city contained one church during the New Testament period, the apostle intended for each church to be governed by a plurality of elders. Of course, most churches today are not led by multiple elders, but it is crucial in all things that we allow the Bible to dictate our views rather than history or tradition.
Today, we dive into the next few verses of Titus in which Paul will discuss the qualifications necessary for being a church elder. Paul urges that elders should not be drunkards, quick-tempered, or greedy for gain, but instead should be self-controlled, lovers of good, and holy. The entire list of qualifications could be easily summed up in the phrase that Paul uses twice: above reproach. The church’s overseers live lives above reproach, which means unaccusable or blameless lives.
Considering the experience that many have had with church leaders (or of being a church leader), we might quickly begin to wonder who then qualifies to be an elder or a deacon. Fortunately, the Bible never calls us to attempt to make ourselves holy and above reproach; rather, Jesus reconciled us in His body in order to present us “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Col. 1:22). Thus, elders are called to lead the church in clinging to “the trustworthy word as taught.” They lead by holding fast to our hope in Christ and urging the body to follow their example.
ABOVE REPROACH // VERSES 6-8
Verse 6 begins Paul’s list of qualifications for elders, and it contains the two most controversial. Since an elder must be the husband of one wife and have believing children, many assume that this disqualifies anyone who is remarried or has unbelieving children. Let me begin by stating that I do not believe this is necessarily how we should take this verse, and then I will explain.
Remarriage & Believing Children
First, I do hold a very conservative view on remarriage. It seems that verses like Mark 10:11-12 teach that while divorce is permitted in some cases, remarriage does not necessarily follow suit: “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Similarly, Paul discusses in Romans 7:1-3 how the marriage covenant is only broken by death. Thus, I believe that remarriage is only biblically permitted via the death of a spouse. Nevertheless, I do believe that God has grace for those who have remarried, and I do not think it right to break a second covenant in order to wait for the, also broken, first one. Especially when a remarriage occurs before one follows Christ, I do not see why this would be a greater sin than any other past sin in disqualifying the elder.
Second, when it comes to having children who are believers, this is an important qualification because “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Tim. 3:5)? Yet like the issue of remarriage, I believe that a certain measure of grace must be given. Though there is biblical principle for children holding to their father’s faith, it is not a blanket promise. There may be cases where the father manages his household well, but the child or children still depart from the truth (at least for a time). Wisdom should be used greatly in considering this qualification.
Being Above Reproach
Third, everyone seems to focus upon the two qualifications above without considering the largest one present: being above reproach. Because Paul uses this term again in verse seven and once of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:10, I believe that it is the broad summary of all these qualifications.
What then does it mean to be above reproach? It means to be blameless, unaccusable, perfect. How do we focus in on remarriage and believing children over being perfect! Living above reproach is not only a high standard for the elder, it is impossible. Only one Man achieved this goal, and He is God made flesh.
Does this then mean that no one is qualified to lead? I believe Colossians 1:21-23 answers the question: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…” Paul tells the Colossians that in Christ we are made blameless and above reproach, but only if we remain steady in the faith, if we hold firm to the trustworthy word. Yes, elders are called to live mature lives that others can imitate (Heb. 13:7); however, no one will ever achieve the qualifications perfectly. Instead, elders must primarily model repentance before the congregation. They must lead the church in how to cling to the gospel in the midst of our weaknesses, failures, and sins. This is the overall qualification for an elder: does he hold fast to the gospel above everything?
The phrase as God’s steward ought to be one of the heaviest in all the Bible for pastors. A steward is simply one who enacts authority on someone else’s behalf. In Lord of the Rings, we see that Denethor sat on the throne of Gondor as steward until a rightful king ascended. Managers might be the best modern example of a steward. Though a manager might have near total control of a store, he or she is ultimately acting in place of the owner. Thus, in calling the overseer God’s steward, Paul is establishing the pastors as the managers of His church. Elders are called to lead their church on behalf of God, submitting themselves to the chief Shepherd (or Pastor) of the church, Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 5:4). This ought to be a weighty statement. It is a reminder that pastors are watching over the souls of the congregation, “as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). This burden is too great for any one man alone to bear, which is why I believe the Bible teaches elder plurality.
Though the nature of being a steward is heavy for the pastors, there is also a responsibility for the church to submit to their leadership. Within many churches where decisions are finalized via congregational vote, there is the tendency to provide the leadership with a set of boundaries and guidelines rather than obeying and submitting like Hebrews 13:17 commands. In general, this seems to stem from the importation of the democratic ideology into the church. While in theory democracy looks just as helpful for the church as the government, the reality is that church and state are entirely different beasts. Democracy means “people-ruled,” and this idea works well for governments where people of various ideologies must work cohesively together. The church, however, was always meant to be a theocracy (God-ruled). God, not people, must govern, rule, and lead the church. Democracy leads to a people-centered mind, but the church must be God-centered. Many churches, under the best of intentions, attempt to market themselves primarily toward reaching people, and they do this out of love for others. However, the most loving action we can do is point people to God. Making churches about people fails to love them fully. Instead, let us attend and organize our churches for God, and as we point people to Him, they will behold the deepest spring of love.
Further Elder Qualifications
Here Paul lists large amount to qualifications, which in general are fairly self-explanatory. The first five items are what an elder should not look like.
Arrogance is entirely anti-Christian because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
He should be slow to anger, sober-minded, a lover of peace, and not a lover of money. The prosperity teachers give us all too many examples of those who are greedy for gain.
The second six items are positive.
Hospitality today is often thought to be a female gifting, but Paul lists it as a necessary attribute of an elder.
Loving good should be logical, along with being self-controlled.
Upright means to be righteous, to live a “morally good” life. Paul mentions this concept in other words in 1 Timothy 3:7 by saying that “he must be well thought of by outsiders”.
Holiness should be a hallmark of the pastor. In short, holiness means to be devoted entirely to God. The elder should lead the congregation in being completely given over to God and His kingdom.
Finally, discipline should also fill the pastor’s life. Particularly consider how the spiritual disciplines are present in his life. Does he fast? Does he pray? How does he pray? Does he study, memorize, and meditate upon the Scriptures?
THE WORK OF ELDERS // VERSE 9
Given all of the qualifications that Paul lists, it is interesting to note that only this verse is expressly devoted to the elders’ responsibilities. Does this mean that elders only have this duty? Not at all, but it should give us pause as to the seriousness of this task for it to be the only one Paul mentions. It is one task listed in two actions, but as both actions are entirely dependent upon one another, together they create one cohesive responsibility.
The first command of action that Paul gives to the elders is to hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught. This is an internal responsibility of the pastor. He must cling to the Scriptures and the truth that they proclaim. Note that Paul calls it the trustworthy word. How often do pastors grasp desperately for leadership books and the teachings of psychology and sociology rather than the word of God! All those who adhere to the sufficiency of the Bible will find time and again that it is trustworthy. In fact, pastors are entirely dependent upon it. Also consider that Paul commands us to hold firm to the word as taught. As taught by whom? We cling to the Scriptures as taught by God, who breathed them out (2 Tim. 3:16), and the apostles and prophets whom God “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Commentaries and teachings are great blessings and graces of God, yet before viewing anyone else’s teaching on the Bible, we must first consider: What does the Bible teach?
After the internal clinging to the Scriptures is continuously in motion, the pastor then is commanded to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those opposed to it. The pastor is, by his office, a man whom God has anointed to instruct the church in His word. Thus, if an elder does not give instruction in the truth and rebuke those against it, he is in disobedience to God. Likewise, if he teaches without holding firm to the word as taught, he then teaches things that are not of God. Both must be present, the internal and the external. The pastor must devote himself to the truth then teach it to the congregation. In short, a shepherd must feed the sheep with the trustworthy word of God, while also defending them against the wolves of false teaching.