Title: The Two Offices of the Church (Part 1)
Text: 1 Timothy 3.1-7
CIT: There are standards by which elders should live.
CIS: The work of an Elder is noble and should not be entered into lightly. The church should recognize these men and appoint them very carefully.
Intro: Last week we dealt with a particularly tough text, but only if it is taken out of context. When understood within the context of the letter, you understand how important our roles and responsibilities are.
Now, here is our biggest problem: people who serve in areas they shouldn’t be serving in! We’ve all experienced deacons and elders who gave those offices bad names. I’m grateful for the men who I’ve had the privilege of serving with who fulfilled their roles with dignity and honor; And, brought honor and dignity to the office.
You don’t know him, and I’ve not spoken to him in 30 years. His name was/is Malcolm Dickinson. Malcolm and his little family went to our church in Copperas Cove. Malcolm was a deacon and he took his responsibilities seriously. I’ll never forget driving down the road and seeing him working on a widow’s porch. Another time I saw him repairing a screen. He took his job of caring for the widows seriously.
Here’s the thing about Malcolm. He was a coach at the local high school and was busy with 4 little boys – 4 little rambunctious boys. And yet he still found time to be a good deacon.
He was a godly man. I loved to hear him pray during the worship service. It was like everyone disappeared and it was just Malcolm and God.
This morning I want to talk with you about the two offices of the church: elder & deacon. In the context of our passage, Paul is writing to Timothy, but for the benefit of the church. So, this is how I’m seeing this. I want to approach this from the perspective of a letter to the church and your responsibility toward your leadership and your potential leadership. Consider this: God has placed men in your midst who are elders and deacons. You recognize them right now by their actions, their demeanor, and their deportment. You see it in the way they carry themselves and how they are around others. There will come a time when you will need to ask them to step up and fulfill the role. Will you commit to praying about it now?
Ill.: I’ve had the privilege of serving on various teams, committees, and boards. I’ve been on some incredible bands. Over the past 40 years, I have sung with and/or played the bass and/or played acoustic in many bands with many people – and this is what I’ve learned: having the right people in the right place is the key.
I played with many singers and instrumentalists who were very good at their job; however, their personalities caused so many problems in the band that we couldn’t function properly. And it only takes one person to disrupt your group. It is the same with your staff or team or committee. You might have a wonderful businessman who has no business serving as an elder. You have to be careful who you select and appoint to these roles. Again, will you commit to pray over this?
App.: the application remains the same for any team or committee or board or staff member: One wrong person can create havoc on you and your work. So, you as a body can select a really good man – who fits the requirements in every way and still fracture your body. And that is the scary part. Our goal is unity for the benefit of our witness.
Remember the context: These folks have been looking down on their leadership. They’ve shown disrespect and dishonor to folks in authority. And because of it, they’ve been a poor witness to the community at large.
Transition: you have a great responsibility – maybe that is why Paul goes into such great detail about who should and who should not serve as an overseer.
Let’s go back to the beginning and identify the steps that got us to where we are in 1 Timothy:
- A charge to confront false teachers and their false teaching (chap. 1);
- The role of men and women in the public arena concerning prayer and worship (chap. 2); the lost are watching; it appears throughout this letter that there is a lack of understanding of how you treat your leadership and those who are seniors.
- Leadership in the church… the role of the church to put the right men in the right spot… all within the context of false teaching and false teachers.
From this text we find that there are two offices in the church:
- Overseers (4 terms: Overseers [bishops], Pastors [shepherds], Elders, and leaders) v1-7; interchangeable
- Deacons v8-15
Ill.: The opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one great example of this: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
BTW: this is clarified in our Statement of Faith (BF&M 2000) in Article 6: VI. The Church
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
This morning, I’d like to focus on just the first of these two offices: the elders or overseers. We note first in v.1 that Paul declares this a noble task. Rd v 1; The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. This someone aspires to something good. It is a good work. Overseer is ἐπισκοπή (episcope, i.e.: Episcopalian): epi: over and scope: to see. He desires a noble task. Lit.: a good work; We saw this phrase a good work up in the previous chapter (2.10), as a characteristic of a godly woman. ἀγαθός and καλός, both are synonymous and are used in Scripture attributes of God.
So, the first step in becoming an elder is: you want to be one.
I. If someone aspires to be an overseer… he desires a good work. So, because this is a good work, a noble task, the church should not enter lightly into selecting men to serve here. That’s why Paul says in the next verse: Therefore… rd v 2-3;
Transition: So, if someone aspires to be an overseer,
II. If someone aspires to be an overseer, you will see it displayed in his upstanding character.
Exp.: We’re talking Behavior/Actions; rd v 2-3; Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
I agree with DA Carson who said that there really isn’t anything special in these quality characteristics – except for one – being able to teach. I mean really, shouldn’t these be characteristics of any man or woman who claims to be a believer?
- He must be above reproach: in Titus, he uses the synonym It isn’t that he’s perfect and sinless, but rather that he exemplifies Christ in his manner and deportment. Thabiti Anyabwile: Being above reproach means that an elder is to be the kind of man whom no one suspects of wrong-doing or immorality. People would be shocked to hear this kind of man charged with such acts. Above reproach; blameless.
- He must be ‘a man of one woman’: that’s the literal translation; most translation read: the husband of one wife. It’s hard to know exactly what is meant here. It could mean that he’s never been divorced. There are a lot of scholars I respect deeply who hold to that opinion. I think there is a principle being taught here, though, that is really important. I’m not absolutely positive that Paul is laying down the letter of the law here, but rather presenting a principle. No matter your view on divorced or even single men serving as elders, I think Paul is communicating that this man has a high view of marriage as between a man and a woman and that marriage is sacred. His marriage is a display of this belief.
- He must be sober-minded: the literal meaning here means temperate in his use of alcohol. He is sober. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t drink any alcohol, but rather that he never drinks alcoholic beverages to a point that he is out of control. Baptists like to use this part of Scripture to declare alcohol is bad. You should never do it. But that’s just legalism, too. This man, though, he never lets what he consumes get out of control.
- Self-controlled. The negatives in v 3 below outline a man who is out of control. He can’t control his drinking (must not be a drunkard). He can’t control his anger (he must not be violent). He can’t control himself in conversation (he is quarrelsome; he always has to be right!). And he can’t control his appetite for more and more money. Maybe he gambles, hoping for a big windfall. He works too long and too hard to make more money, not observing the Sabbath, but trying to get the extra cash. No, our man is self-controlled.
- He must be respectable: these are noted by his family (his wife and children) and the community. We’ll look more at this when we get to those verses in 4-7.
- He must be hospitable: this Gk word is a compound word translated a lover of strangers. He is a lover of strangers and not a lover of money. The man who loves his money holds his purse strings tight. The man who loves strangers opens up his moneybag and pours out his money for them. He uses his money to love people instead of using people to satisfy his love of money.
- He must be able to teach: this is our first and only requirement that isn’t really universal of all believers. Basically, all of the traits we’ve listed simply outline who and how we should be as Christians.
Now Paul turns toward the negatives, which we already listed with the out of control man.
- He must not be a drunkard
- He must not be violent but gentle
- He must not be quarrelsome
- He must not be a lover of money.
So, the only requirement listed here that wouldn’t be an expectation of any man in your congregation is that he be able to teach. I believe the reason for this is his responsibility to communicate sound, healthy doctrine.
Conclusion: If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – he must display upstanding character. You will have already seen it in his behavior.
III. If someone aspires to be an overseer, then he has set an example of leadership with his family.
If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – his example has already been set in his family.
Exp.: rd v 4-5; He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
This doesn’t mean that his family is perfect any more than it means that the church is perfect. There are problems; there are struggles. You will find it anywhere you find relationships. The issue isn’t that he has the perfect family. Because he won’t and he can’t! It has to do with his management skills in caring for his family. Here is a good question to ask: Does his wife respect him? Do his children hold him with high regard and have that same respect? You can witness this respect through the submissive nature of their relationship. They hold him in high regard. They know him better than anyone else. Their respect speaks volumes.
Conclusion: If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – his example has already been set in his family. Not that they are perfect, mind you, but that they see him that same way.
IV. If someone aspires to be an overseer, then the church must determine his fitness based upon his spiritual maturity and positive public perception.
Exp.: If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – the church must be careful in its appointment of this someone to the position of overseer. Rd v 6; He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Spiritual maturity will help a man avoid those pitfalls and snares of the devil. Oh Man, if there is anything the devil can do to bring down your elders, he will. So be careful in your appointments. Don’t appoint a man before his time.
So to review:
- If someone aspires to be an overseer… he desires a good work.
- If someone aspires to be an overseer, you will see this desire displayed in his upstanding character.
- If someone aspires to be an overseer, then he has set an example of leadership with his family.
- If someone aspires to be an overseer, then the church must determine his fitness based upon his spiritual maturity and positive public perception.
Take-a-ways: As we consider sound doctrine…
- Church, your theology drives your methodology. It impacts everything you do. That is why your doctrine is to be pure and sound.
- Bad theology corrupts a church body. Remember, it was Paul’s purpose in placing Timothy in Ephesus – to protect them.
- Church, when you appoint men to serve as elders (and deacons for that matter), you are making a doctrinal statement. Too often, the church wants to pick popular, pretty people. Standards set in the Word of God are cast aside for comfort and popularity.
Ill.: Mark Dever writes: I had made a statement in a doctoral seminar about God. Bill responded politely but firmly that he liked to think of God rather differently. For several minutes, Bill painted a picture for us of a friendly deity. He liked to think of God as being wise, but not meddling; compassionate, but never overpowering; ever so resourceful, but never interrupting. “This,” said Bill in conclusion, “is how I like to think of God.”
My reply was perhaps somewhat sharper than it should have been. “Thank you, Bill,” I said, “for telling us so much about yourself, but we are concerned to know what God is really liked, not simply about our own desires.”
And all of God’s children said, “Ouch”. Dever has a great point: what someone likes to think about God isn’t so as important as what God says about himself. Our theology is important and it must be grounded in God’s Word. The God of Christmas in Luke is also the God of Judgment in Revelation. So, when you appoint men to serve, you’re making a doctrinal statement about what you believe. Finally,
- Men, if you aspire to the office of elder, I’d like to close with two thoughts:
First, as a pastor and elder, there are certain texts of Scripture that float around in my head on a regular basis. Scriptures like James 3.1: 3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. And Heb 13.17: 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Professor John Brown was sought out by a former divinity student, who had graduated and moved to the country to become the pastor of a very small church. This young man wrote his former professor declaring his impatience in serving the 16 souls in the country church. He stated that he could not wait until he was finally asked to pastor a much larger congregation with greater prestige and publicity. The kindly professor responded to this eager young preacher:
I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.
Oh, what a mighty leadership team we could build if we selected men with this mindset.
Second, 1 Peter charges the elders to serve the people under their care: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And then he finishes with this: 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.