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Qualifications for the Evaluation of Elders and Deacons

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Because leadership is always so determinative on the well being and spiritual growth of the body of Christ, one of the first things the Apostle Paul saw to was the appointment of elders in every church as under-shepherds of God’s people (Act 14:23; Tit. 1).

Two key New Testament passages (1 Tim. 3:1-13 and Tit. 1:5-9) provide us with the essential qualifications that such men must demonstrate in order to be qualified to serve the local church. Rather than a detailed exegesis of all the qualifications of these two passages, the purpose of this study is to provide a brief overview of the qualifications for study and reflection in coming to grips with the main concepts in preparation for evaluating possible candidates for the offices of elders and deacons.

In addition, there are a number of crucial principles that I have found very important for understanding and applying these biblical texts which set forth these qualifications. These are concepts that are pertinent to the passages in view because they have their roots in the New Testament as a whole and bear directly on what the Bible says about leadership.

Understanding and Applying
the Qualifications of Elders and Deacons

The Nature of the Qualifications

An important question that needs to be asked and answered pertains to the exact nature of these qualifications. What exactly are these qualifications?

(1) They are moral qualities or qualities of high moral character. But they are more.

(2) They are the marks of leadership, marks which demonstrate a man’s capacity to leads others in the Christian life.

(3) As those qualities that mark a man for leadership, they are primarily the marks of spiritual maturity, the marks of one who has grown in Christ and has experienced the life-changing power of the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

Primarily they are marks of maturity. This certainly fits the context which warns against choosing a “new convert” (1 Tim. 3:6).

But by way of further definition there are three more things about these qualifications as marks of maturity that are important in grasping the nature of these qualifications.

(1) They are goals and they provide us with a target, something we should all set our sights on. Since all believers should grow and mature in the Lord, these qualifications should be the goal of every believer, not just elders and deacons. These are goals we will all strive for if we mean business with Jesus Christ. In essence this should be our aim because as these marks are realized, we will also be accomplishing the other goals God has for our lives (cf. Phil. 3:12-15; cf. also 1 Tim. 1:5-6). In a context concerned with having the right goals in ministry, Paul warns Timothy about those men who wanted to be teachers, but who had strayed from the goal of 1 Timothy 1:5-6. In verse 6, the Greek word for “straying,” astocheo, means “to fail to aim carefully, and thus to miss the mark.” They were disqualified because they were aiming at the wrong goals.

(2) Next, these qualifications are marks of identification and confirmation. They make the person who possesses these qualities a marked person with the brand of Jesus Christ emblazoned across their lives. Today, the church has lost its distinctiveness because, far too often, you can’t tell believers from unbelievers—and I am not talking about manner of dress. Rather, I am referring to values, priorities, pursuits, and godly character.

(3) Finally, as marks of identification and confirmation, they also make the possessors of these qualities examples, patterns to follow. They demonstrate the reality of Christ in our lives which enables us to be influential in the right way.

In keeping with these thoughts, especially the concept that these qualities are targets we should all set our sights on, let’s look at 1 Timothy 3:1 and the phrase, “aspire to the office of overseer.”

What It Means to Aspire to
the Office of Overseer (1 Tim. 3:1)

Paul’s statement about aspiring to the office of overseer may sound strange to many. In plain and simple terms this involves a form of ambition, an aspiration, a drive, a target to shoot at. But what exactly does this mean?

“Aspire” is a very strong word. In the Greek text, it’s the middle voice of orego which means “to stretch yourself out, to personally reach out for,” and so it came to mean “to aspire.” In plain and simple terms, it refers to ambition, to that which drives or motivates a person. Ambition comes from a Latin word meaning “canvassing for promotion.”

In our day, ambition is usually connected with some form of self-seeking motivated by selfish desires. It generally refers to a person with some very self-centered, hidden agendas. Such ambition in leaders and in any Christian is a curse to be avoided because leaders with such agendas will always end up manipulating and using others for selfish ends.

Leaders must follow the warning the prophet Jeremiah gave to Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5, “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them.”

But there is a biblical and sanctified ambition and one that is essential to good leadership, one that is a mark of maturity, a mark that should be a part of each of our lives. So, what is biblical ambition?

(1) It is an ambition that has been cleansed of self-seeking, one that seeks only the glory of God and the well being of others.

(2) It is an ambition that seeks not position, praise, power, prestige, or popularity, but service to God and ministry to men.

(3) It is an ambition that has at its center the three important Es which define the purpose of the church: the Exaltation of God, the Edification of the body of Christ, and the Evangelization of the lost.

Why? How? Because if we are truly maturing in Christ, we should be learning to seek our security, significance, and satisfaction from the Lord rather than from people, position, power, and praise, etc. For a beautiful commentary on this study read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20.

With all this in mind, let’s note two things about 1 Tim. 3.

First, notice that Paul does not use the term elder in this passage, and that is significant. Acts 20 clearly shows that the words elder and overseer refer to the same office. Elders are the overseers, for Acts 20 elders are defined as overseers (cf. Acts 20:17 with vs. 28).

What’s the difference between the two terms?

(1) The term elder, stresses the dignity and position of this ministry in the church.

(2) On the other hand, overseer stresses the function and work of an elder.

In 1 Tim. 3:1, Paul carefully chose to use episkope, the “office or charge of oversight.” But why? Because this word stresses the ministry function and nature of this office as a charge from God and not the element of position.

God is not looking for men who are aspiring for position. Jesus made this clear to the disciples. The church needs men who want to serve the body for the glory of God and the blessing of others.

Second, note the next statement of verse one. “It is a fine work he desires to do.” Underline the word work. Work is the Greek ergon which means “work, deed, action, task, enterprise, undertaking.”

The emphasis is clearly not on aspiring to a position or a place of prestige, but on the function and work of overseeing, an aspiration which is to have its root in godly and pastoral love for the well-being of God’s people rather than personal and selfish agendas. It is this that Paul asserts as trustworthy or honorable.

It should be our prayer that we all would set our sights on spiritual maturity, but as we do, let’s be careful of our motives. The purpose of maturity is not to make us more comfortable and secure, or land us with a position in the church. Its purpose is to make us more like the Lord Jesus and effective as His representatives in a lost and dying world.

Oswald Sanders, in his classic book on leadership entitled Spiritual Leadership, has some fitting remarks: “The true spiritual leader is concerned infinitely more with the service he can render God and his fellowmen than with the benefits and pleasures he can extract from life. He aims to put more into life than he takes out of it.”1

The greatest need is not for leaders, but for saints and servants. Unless that is held in the foreground of our thinking, the whole idea of leadership and leadership training becomes dangerous.2

Since these qualities provide us with a target we should all aim for, let me bring up another principle.

The Principle of the Relative
Nature of the Marks of Maturity

If a man is honest about his life on the inside, when he reads these qualifications his response may be, “who can ever truly be qualified? Who can completely fulfill all these qualifications?” And these kinds of feelings will often cause a man to shrink back from what could be God’s will when he very well may be qualified.

The principle is simply this: No one is perfect. No one, other than the Lord Jesus, ever hits the direct center of the bull’s eye. In fact, I am convinced no one ever really gets close enough to hit the bull’s eye.

You see, one of the most fundamental principles of Scripture is that we all fall short of God’s glory and perfection. While godly maturity and Christlikeness should be the goal or target of every believer and while one of the goals of every ministry and its leadership should be to bring its people into higher and higher stages of godly maturity (cf. Col. 1:28), still, no matter how mature or how godly one becomes, none of us even comes close to perfection.

Do you remember David’s plea in Psalm 143:3? David, a man after God’s own heart and a leader of God’s people, when praying for God’s help said: “And do not enter into judgment with Thy servant, For in Thy sight no man living is righteous.”

Paul also brought out this truth in Philippians 3:10-16. The goal, indeed, the mark we are all to pursue as did Paul is spiritual maturity, being conformed to the character of the Lord Jesus, but no matter how much we have attained that goal, there will always be plenty of room and need for more growth and change. No person has ever attained full maturity except the Lord Jesus Himself!

So, what does this truth and fact mean—the fact that no man is perfect or fully measures up all the time?

(1) It means there will always be room for improvement and growth in the qualities mentioned in these passages. Being “above reproach” is not a demand for perfection before selection. If that were so, no man would ever be qualified.

(2) However, it teaches us that being above reproach in relation to these qualities means that a man’s life-style is such that, generally speaking, no one can legitimately accuse him of conduct which is unbefitting a mature believer.

(3) It means that these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they stand out as prominent and consistent characteristics. They are clearly distinguishable, but there will be room for growth and times when he may fall short.

(4) It means that, because none of us is perfect, we should not expect our leaders to walk on water. They all have feet of clay.

(5) However, being above reproach does mean we should look for those men who are mature and examples of Christlikeness, and we should expect them to continue to grow.

The Principle of Emergent Leadership

An important question is this. How do we go about selecting the right men for the ministries of elders or deacons? This is an important question because it involves motivating the flock to understand and act on key biblical concepts which lead to the flock’s ability to do two things: (a) select the right men, and (b) respect and respond to the leadership and ministries of those men who are chosen to serve as spiritual leaders of a congregation.

Though Scripture gives clear guidelines concerning the spiritual qualifications of elders and deacons and concerning the functions of the elders, we find no clearly stated instruction for the process of selecting elders or deacons.

(1) Acts 6:1-7 is often used as an example and does provide us with some important insight, but those selected at that time were never given an official title like deacon. It was undoubtedly a temporary ministry but it still provides us with a biblical example of selecting people for important ministries through the guidance of the leadership, but also through involving the congregation in the selection process according to certain spiritual qualifications.

(2) Acts 14:23 is another passage dealing with the appointment of elders. Scholars are divided, however, down the middle on the precise meaning of “appoint” (ceirotonew, “to vote by stretching out the hand”). Some emphasize its literal meaning while others its derived meaning. Being divided on the meaning, they are also divided on the procedure used by Paul and Barnabas. But probably, they used a procedure similar to that of Acts 6 which involved the recognition of spiritually mature and growing men through input and involvement of the congregation in the process because it was the people who knew them and had seen them in action (cf. Acts 16:1-3 where Paul seems to have chosen Timothy based on the report of the people).

In this regard, there is an important principle that we need to keep in mind. Acts 20:28 clearly teaches that it is really God who makes or appoints and qualifies men for ministry by maturing them, by gifting them, and by giving them a burden for such a ministry. In Acts 20:28, the word “made” in “made you overseers” is the Greek tithemi, “to place, set.” But it often carries the idea of “appoint” and is so translated six times in the NASB (cf. John 15:16; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 2:11; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 2:8).

Since God is the one who appoints men to the ministry of elders (and this would apply to deacons also), what exactly is the responsibility of the church? What is it that the church does in the selection process?

It is the responsibility of the church to recognize the emergence of those men whom the Holy Spirit has prepared and appointed by the qualities of their lives from the standpoint of (a) their character, (b) their giftedness, and (c) their burden and concern for the body of Christ.

Thus, while the local flock is asked to participate in the selection process, its job is not so much to elect or select such men as it is to confirm the Spirit’s work and thus His appointment and gift of certain men to serve either as elders or deacons. How? By recognizing God’s work in their lives through growth in Christ-like qualities. These qualifications then simply demonstrate God’s work and His appointment (cf. Acts 16:1-3).

What then is an emergent leadership?

It is a leadership that gradually emerges or develops like fruit growing on a tree. Selecting an emergent leadership is tremendously crucial. Listen to what Oswald Sanders says:

The Holy spirit does not take control of any man or body of men against their will. When He sees elected to positions of leadership men who lack spiritual fitness to cooperate with Him, He quietly withdraws and leaves them to implement their own policy according to their own standards, but without His aid. The inevitable issue is an unspiritual administration.3

So according to the New Testament, leadership is to be an emergent leadership, a leadership that emerges as a product of God’s work within the flock of God’s people. As an emergent leadership, men are not simply elected or appointed by men, but recognized by the qualities of these passages in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This is why evaluation according to the criteria of these passages is so important. This is why finding men who meet the qualifications is so much more important than selecting a certain number to meet a quota even though that number of qualified men are not ready or prepared by the Spirit of God.

The Principle of Balance

As I have sought to demonstrate in the summary of the qualifications of elders and deacons that follows, you will note that these qualities may also be seen from the standpoint of all of a man’s fundamental relationships in life—to God, to His Word, to self, family, others (including the outside world), and things. Why do I call this to your attention? Because it is a way to stress that these requirements, as marks of maturity, encompass every area of a man’s life. A truly mature man is a well-rounded and balanced man who has allowed Jesus Christ to invade, take charge, and change every sphere of his life (cf. Col. 1:9f ; Josh. 3:13-14).

The point is simply this: Biblical Christianity knows nothing about compartmentalized living. There are to be no areas of the life where the Lord is not allowed to invade and take charge. In other words, there are to be no spiritual “junk closets” or areas we reserve for ourselves. We are to be His lock, stock, and barrel.

The Principle of Two Sides of the Coin

As churches consider these passages and consider men in their light, I believe it is tremendously important to recognize their primary focus so that can become our focus as well. What then is the focus?

(1) Christian character

(2) Spiritual maturity

(3) Well-rounded godliness.

The interesting point is that there is no direct, clearly-defined reference to spiritual gifts in these verses. Indirectly we undoubtedly find a reference to the gift of teaching in “able to teach” in 1 Timothy 3:2, and since one of the gifts given to the body of Christ is the gift of “leadership,” we probably have an indirect reference to the gift of leadership in the analogy between managing his family and the church in 1 Timothy 3:5. The word “manage” in verses 4-5 is proistemi, “to lead, go before.” It is used of the spiritual gift of “leading” in Romans 12:8, and of the responsibilities of elders in 1 Timothy 5:17 and in 1 Thessalonians 5:12.

There is a principle here. Clearly such gifts are necessary to some degree if an elder is going to be able to fulfill the functions and responsibilities of an elder. Without these he would be working in areas of his weaknesses rather than in areas of his strengths as gifted by the Lord. Giftedness is important to every believer’s ministry, and especially to the ministry of church leaders. In other words, what God has called you to do, He has gifted you to do, and what He has gifted you to do, He has called you to do (1 Pet. 4:10).

But the important point is this: The Apostle does not tell us to look for men who have the gift of teaching or leading or exhortation. Further, he does not tell us to look for men with dynamic personalities, or who are regarded by people as great pulpiteers or men of oratory, or for men who are successful businessmen. God’s emphasis in this passage is not on giftedness, or on dynamic personalities because such things in themselves never qualify a man for leadership in the church. The emphasis is on godly character. The body of Christ needs men who are first and foremost men of God.

How far removed this is from our day and age and from, unfortunately, the thinking of the average believer or church goer. When most people think of a church leader, they think of such things as pulpit ability, a dynamic and glowing personality, or of someone who looks good in a blue suit and is a leader in the community. We tend to focus on the outside and we give little emphasis to spiritual character.

There needs to be balance. Ability, skill, and a man’s outward impression are not unimportant nor are they completely neglected in these verses, BUT THEY ARE NOT GIVEN OR HIGHLIGHTED AS THE PRIMARY CONSIDERATION. Instead, God is telling us in no uncertain terms that the key to a man’s success in leading the church is not his skills, methods, personality, nor even his gifts. Instead, the key is in his emotional, mental, and spiritual maturity.

The ministry of overseers in the local church is like a coin with two sides and both must be included. But you know what we do? We tend to ignore or depreciate one side or the other. Both sides are important and neither should be neglected, but the side of the coin God has turned up for us to see, the side needed the most by the emphasis of these qualification passages, is the side I am calling spiritual maturity for no matter how gifted a man is, if he is spiritually immature, he will be a poor leader and the church will be in trouble.

Hebrews 13:7 teaches us the same lesson. The readers are told to remember those who had taught them the word of God, but it was not their giftedness or skill in preaching that they were told to consider or imitate. Instead, it was their conduct and their faith.

The coin principle does not stop here. Giftedness is important, and for truly qualified elders a number of gifts undoubtedly come together to enable men to shepherd the flock of God—gifts such as teaching, exhortation, showing mercy, leading, and administration. In other words, there are (a) communication skills and abilities, and (b) shepherding, leading skills and abilities. We tend to over emphasize one to the exclusion of the other, or we find a board of elders functioning primarily on administrative matters rather than on other aspects of ministry.

On any board of elders, some will be more skilled and gifted in one area and others in another. One of the needs of the board and the flock is to allow men to work in their areas of giftedness so that the men on the board are able to complement or integrate their gifts together for the benefit of the church.


One of the designed results of these marks of maturity is that such men become examples of the Christian life and of the power of God that is available in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The responsibility of the church is to select those men who are models, examples for the flock to follow as we see in Hebrews 13:7 and 1 Peter 5:3.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too,” That’s the state of the world and, unfortunately, of many well meaning Christians and leaders. They are like the commercial pilot who told his passengers, “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we are lost, but the good news is that we are making good time.”

Motion in itself never means direction just as activity in itself never means effectiveness. We can be like the cowboy who rushed into the corral, bridled and saddled his horse and rode off in all directions. We need quality lives with quality motion aimed in the right direction with specific, biblical objectives.

Effective ministry to others is often equated with dynamic personalities, with talent, giftedness, with training, with enthusiasm, and with charisma. But these things alone are inadequate. Much, much more is needed.

Howard Hendricks, in his unique style, tells the story of a student who came to him with a problem.

“Hey prof., I have a problem.” Hendricks, “Yea, What’s your problem?” Student, “Why did the Lord choose Judas?” Hendricks, “Ah, that’s no problem. I have a bigger problem than that.” Student, “Yea, what’s that?” Hendricks, “Why did the Lord choose you?” And I think he also added, “ Why did the Lord choose me?”

His point was, look at the disciples. How would you like to launch a world wide campaign with the likes of Peter and his companions? Yet, with these common, average, uneducated men, the Lord launched a campaign that has reached the world and turned it upside down. Why? Because of their methodology? No! Because of their dynamic personalities or programs? No! Because these common men intimately knew the Lord and began to experience His life and character in theirs by the Spirit of God. He took common men and made them into great men who became spiritual leaders because they were experiencing Him. Our need? The selection of godly men!

If we must choose between giftedness and godliness, let us choose godliness. If we can choose both, that’s great and that’s the ideal, but let’s keep the emphasis where God puts it!

Qualifications for Elders

In General

As a summary statement for all that follows in the qualifications, Paul says an elder is to be a man who is above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). His lifestyle is such that no one can legitimately accuse him of conduct which is unbefitting a mature believer. However, this does not mean he is perfect or without room for improvement. Why? Because none of us are perfect (Phil. 3:10-14; Ps. 143:2). Generally speaking, an elder is to be a model of Christian maturity and the qualities of these passages are marks of maturity which normally characterize the qualified man. Note that these qualities may also be seen from the standpoint of a man’s fundamental relationships—to God, His Word, self, family, others including the outside world, and things.

As to God and His Word

(1) Not a new convert (1Tim. 3:6). Not a neophyte, novice, one newly converted. Does he truly know the Lord and has he shown definite progress in spiritual maturity?

(2) Devout (Tit. 1:8). Does he demonstrate a definite commitment to know, love, and walk with God?

(3) Holding fast to the faithful word . . . able to exhort . . . and refute . . . (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). Is he a student of the Bible? Is he stable in the faith, sound in doctrine and practice? Does he know the Word well enough to teach it to others? Is he able to use the Word of God to exhort people with sound doctrine and to refute those who are antagonistic to the faith or the truth of Scripture?

As to Himself

(1) If a man aspires to the office of overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). Based on biblical criteria and motives, does he have a strong desire to serve the Lord and the body of Christ as an overseer of the flock, or does he feel constrained by necessity (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily according to the will of God”)?

(2) Temperate (1 Tim. 3:2). In the everyday situations of life does he tend to react according to biblical principles so that he remains under God’s control? Is he Spirit-controlled and disciplined rather than self-indulgent?

(3) Prudent (1 Tim. 3:2). Is he prudent or biblically minded to the extent that he walks wisely according to the wisdom of Scripture?

(4) Not quick tempered (Tit. 1:7). Does he have a short fuse? Is he emotionally stable and in control of his feelings?

As to His Family

(1) Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Literally, a one-woman man. He is a man totally devoted and faithful to his own wife so that he is not distracted by other women? (See the Addendum on this controversial clause.)

(2) One who manages his own household well (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Tit. 1:6). Does his wife love, respect, and follow his leadership, and are his children believers, under control, respectful of authority, and responding positively to God?

As to Others

(1) Hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8). Literally, “a lover of strangers.” As he is able, does he share his home with others in order to minister to their needs?

(2)Able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Is he able to communicate the Word of God to others? Is he able to handle those who disagree with him in a patient and gentle manner? Have others recognized in him the ability to teach and communicate the Word at least in small group settings?

(3) Not self-willed (Tit. 1:7). A self-willed man is a self-centered man who demands his own way because he cares only for himself. As a servant, an elder must seek to please God and care for others. Is he able to set aside his own preferences in order to promote unity and care for the needs of others?

(4) Loving what is good (Tit. 1:8). Literally, “a lover of goodness.” He is a man who is devoted to that which is good or beneficial either in things, deeds, or people (Ps. 15). Does he take advantage of opportunities to do good to all men (both Christians and non-Christians) in order to build them up rather than tear them down?

(5) Not pugnacious or a striker, i.e., anger out of control (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7). Does he show a tendency to be either physically or verbally abusive? Has he shown a disposition to use a position of leadership to bully or push people around?

(6) Uncontentious (1 Tim. 3:3). He is not a quarrelsome person who struggles against others for self-seeking reasons such as jealousy or selfish ambition. He may strongly disagree, but he will state his case without being contentious.

(7) Gentle (1 Tim. 3:3). This word in the original Greek text refers to strength under control, like a powerful, but gentle horse. Does he handle others in a gentle, patient, and gracious way? Is he yielding, showing a mellow gentleness, or is he heavy-handed, insisting on the letter of the law?

(8) Just (Tit. 1:8). In his relationships with others, is he able to make just decisions, those that are wise, fair, impartial, objective, and honest according to the principles of Scripture?

(9) Respectable, orderly, balanced (1 Tim. 3:2). Is he respected by others because his life adorns the Word of God? The basic idea of this word is orderly. It describes a man whose behavior is good and blended harmoniously in a balanced manner.

(10) Having a good reputation with those on the outside (1 Tim. 3:7). Does he have a good reputation among unbelievers because he has a life-style of unquestioned integrity.

As to Things

(1) Free from the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7). Does he have his priorities straight? Is he seeking his significance, security, and primary satisfaction from material wealth? Is he involved in dishonest business practices? Is the amount of salary he receives the most important thing about his occupation? Is he seeking the office of elder for personal gain?

(2) Not addicted to wine (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7). Is he free from any form of substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, etc.) or any kind of addiction which might take control of his life, cause belligerent and irresponsible behavior, and cause weaker Christians to stumble (Rom. 14:13-21)?

Qualifications for Deacons

In General

Tested . . . beyond reproach (1 Tim. 3:10). Before a man is asked to serve as a deacon, he is to be observed over a period of time to see if he is qualified for that ministry. If he is found to be beyond reproach (if there are no violations in the qualities needed to serve), he may then be chosen to serve as a deacon. This is a warning against hastily choosing men for ministry for whatever reason (the pressure of needs, to fill a quota, etc.). Time is needed so his qualifications can become clearly apparent.

This principle also applies to the selection of elders (see 1 Tim. 5:22). Because of context, some think 1 Timothy 5:22 deals with church discipline, but the only record we have of the laying on of hands in the New Testament and in early church history (before the third century) is associated with the selection and ordination of men for ministry (cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). Because of this, it is better to take this passage as a warning against hasty selection and ordination of elders.

As to God and His Word

Holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Tim. 3:8). “The mystery of the faith” refers to the body of Christian doctrine to which we hold (believe and live by) through faith. “With a clear conscience” means he seeks to honestly live by the truths of Scripture. He keeps short accounts with God.

As to Self

(1) Men of dignity (1 Tim. 3:8). He is one who takes his life and work seriously as a part of his devotion to the Lord. He has a vision for his life’s purpose.

(2) Not double tongued (1 Tim. 3:8). He is not a hypocrite who says one thing to one person and something contradictory to another. He speaks the truth, is honest. He does not destroy his credibility by words that are contradictory.

As to Things

(1) Not addicted to much wine (1 Tim. 3:8). (See above under elder qualifications.)

(2) Not fond of sordid gain (1 Tim. 3:8). As with an elder, he must not use the office for personal gain, or be controlled by the desire for material wealth. Wrong motives kill a man’s ability to serve the Lord and love others. He cannot serve God and mammon or self-seeking goals.

As to Family

(1) A husband of one wife (Literally, a one-woman man) (1 Tim. 3:12). See Addendum. (See above under elder qualifications.)

(2) Good managers of their children and their own households (1 Tim. 3:12). (See above under elder qualifications.)

There is one word which truly summarizes these qualifications. It’s the word SERVANT. A deacon, as with an elder, is to be a servant of God and a servant of men (Mark 10:43-45).

Support that “the husband of one wife”
means “faithful to one wife”

Does this clause mean that an elder or deacon must be married, or married only once? Some have interpreted this to mean, “married only once.” But there are several reasons this is not the best way to understand this passage.

Ed Glascock has an excellent explanation of this clause. Writing of the view that the passage means “faithful to one wife,” he says:

This view holds that the translation “husband of one wife” is not the best understanding of the Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra, but that it should be translated “a man of one woman” or a “one-woman man.” This understanding emphasizes the character of the man rather than his marital status. Thus even a single man or a man who has been married only once must demonstrate that he is not a “playboy” or flirtatious, but that he is stable and mature in character toward his wife or other females. A man who demonstrates a character of loyalty and trustworthiness in such personal relationships is qualified in this area. He, being a one-woman type of man, can be placed in this high position and trusted to deal in maturity and with discretion in a situation involving female members. This view shifts the emphasis away from an event that took place in a man’s life before his conversion and properly concentrates on the character and quality of his life at the time of his consideration for this high office.4

This is not saying a man must be married to be an elder. Most men were and are, so this becomes a very important quality that must be considered. Being married, however, is not a qualification which would seem to go contrary to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, 25-28 where he encourages the benefits of singleness for the sake of ministry. The whole passage is dealing with subjective qualities of Christian character, i.e., qualities in which no man is 100% perfect and in which there will always be room for growth and maturity. If the clause means married only once, then it would be the only absolute quality in this list of qualifications.

The qualities that follow have to do with temperance and self-control. The point is that a man needs self-control here as in all areas. There must be no sexual promiscuity or laxity with other women.

A further support for this position is the similar qualification placed on widows to be enrolled in the list of widows who could receive support in 1 Timothy 5:9. Concerning this Saucy makes an important point:

The Scriptures nowhere forbid or even suggest as morally questionable remarriage after the death of a spouse. Paul explicitly advises the younger widows to remarry (1 Tim. 5:14). If the qualification in 1 Timothy 3:2 prohibits elders from second marriages, then the requirement for a widow to be “a one-man woman” in order to be enrolled for aid (1 Tim. 5:9) also precludes a second marriage and thus excludes from aid in their later years the younger women who followed Paul’s counsel for remarriage.5

1 Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 20.

2 Ibid. p. 180.

3 Ibid, p. 98.

4 Ed Glascock, “The Husband of One Wife Requirement in 1 Timothy 3:2,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 1983, p. 249.

5 Robert Saucy, “The Husband of One Wife,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July, 1974, p. 230.

Related Topics: Administrative and Organization, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership

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