7. Essential Qualities of Elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7)Related Media
This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NET)
What are the essential qualities of elders? What are qualities of the spiritually mature?
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul lists the qualities of an overseer or an elder. After teaching about prayer and the roles of men and women in the church in chapter 2, he moves on to the leadership in chapter 3. It is very clear throughout the epistle that the Ephesians had leadership problems. Paul prophesied about this in Acts 20:29-31. He warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would arise, even from their own number, and hurt the flock. The leadership was abusing the law (1:7), teaching a false gospel (1:4), and some women were probably even usurping the male leadership, as implied by his prohibitions towards them (2:12). The Ephesians had a leadership issue.
Why is leadership so important? Christ said in Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.” Hosea 4:9 (NIV) says, “And it will be: Like people, like priests.” Our leaders set the spiritual ceiling in our churches, as they essentially reproduce themselves. In considering this reality, Kent Hughes said:
It is a sober fact that as goes the leadership, so goes the church. With some commonsense qualifications, it is an axiom that what we are as leaders in microcosm, the congregation will become in macrocosm as the years go by. Of course, there are always individual exceptions. But it is generally true that if the leadership is Word-centered, the church will be Word-centered. If the leadership is mission-minded, the church will be mission-minded. If the leadership is sincere, the people will be sincere. If the leadership is kind, the church will be kind. This is also true negatively—exponentially! Unloving, narrow, stingy leaders beget an unloving, narrow, stingy church.1
Before we consider the qualifications of an elder, we must first consider what an elder is. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul calls the leaders “overseers” or it can be translated “bishops.” In some denominations, elders, pastors, and bishops have different roles. Bishops oversee pastors in a region or a city, and pastors oversee elders at a church. However, in Scripture, these titles refer to the same position. We can discern this by the fact that these titles are often used interchangeably in Scripture (cf. Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28). Consider 1 Peter 5:1-2:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; (NIV 1984)
Why are these three titles used for the same office?
Essentially, they represent different qualities and roles of these leaders. “Elder” represents spiritual maturity and wisdom. “Pastor” is a shepherding term referring to how they care for people. “Bishop” or “overseer” refers to the oversight or rulership that comes with the office. The leadership in the early church was very simple—elders and deacons, of which the latter we will consider in the next passage (v. 8-12).
Elders should be spiritually mature males who shepherd the church. The term “elder” in Greek literally means “old man.”2 Throughout 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and the parallel passage in Titus 1:6-9, Paul uses male pronouns for this office such as: “‘He’ must manage ‘his’ own household well and keep ‘his’ children in control without losing his dignity,” “‘he’ must not be a recent convert,” etc. These were spiritually mature male leaders that cared for the flock.
What exactly is the elders’ job?
They are to rule (1 Tim. 5:17), to preach and teach (1 Tim. 5:17), to pray for the sick (James 5:14), to care for the church (1 Peter 5:1–2), to be examples for others to follow (1 Peter 5:1–2), to set church policy (Acts 15:22ff.), and to ordain other leaders (1 Tim. 4:14).3
As we consider the essential qualities of an elder, it should give us wisdom as we select or are involved in the selection of future pastors/elders. But, it also should challenge us to grow spiritually. These are qualities of any spiritually mature believer. Often when single women are seeking a mate, they are sent to this passage to consider qualities of an ideal husband. But most importantly, these are qualities of people that God often chooses to use for his kingdom—whether male or female.
When God looks for a man or woman to use, he finds someone with these qualities. In speaking about the selection of David as the future king of Israel, Samuel said: “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14 NIV). Second Chronicles 16:9 (NIV) says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” When God looks for a spiritual leader, he finds someone with the right heart.
As we go through the qualities of an elder, it should challenge us to grow as they represent spiritual maturity, but it should also challenge us to be the type of person God can use for his glory and to lead his people.
Big Question: What are the essential qualities of an elder and how can we apply this to our church and our personal lives?
Elders Must Desire and Pursue Service (v. 1)
Paul says, “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” The word “aspires” means “‘to reach out after,’ or ‘to stretch out oneself to grasp something.’ The term does not speak of internal motives, but only describes the external act.” 4 “Desires” means “a passionate compulsion.”5 Together these two words describe somebody who pursues the ministry because of an inner compulsion. First Peter 5:2 describes elders as people who should serve “eagerly.” It is not so much a drive to be a pastor or elder, it’s a drive to serve—they desire a “good work.” Eldership is work. In many churches, the elders just have meetings but aren’t really involved in the ministry of the church. However, that is not biblical. Elders work—they work to care for, pray for, and serve the people God has given them. And it is not only a good work, but possibly the noblest work one can give themselves to. Christ himself is called our pastor and bishop in 1 Peter 2:25.
Often in ministry, people emphasize the call to the pastorate, as though one must hear a voice from heaven. Some may experience a blinding light like Paul or God speaking to them clearly like Samuel and Jeremiah, but this is not the norm. When God typically calls us to anything, including becoming an elder, he simply gives us the heart for it and the discipline to pursue it. Philippians 2:13 says that God works in us to will and do of his good pleasure.
Those are essential parts of a call to pastoral ministry—it is an inner desire to serve God and care for his people and the discipline to pursue it. Again, it is not about the office—it is about the work: studying God’s Word and caring for God’s people. John MacArthur said, “ambition for office corrupts, desire for service purifies.”6
Aspiring or reaching out after this ministry may take many forms: For some that means going to Bible college or seminary to train while serving a local church. For others, it is less formal. They give themselves to deep and rigorous individual study. They avail themselves of opportunities to learn from mentoring (e.g. a Paul-Timothy relationship), reading, and/or seminars, while serving at the church.
Though this applies specifically to the eldership, the principles apply to all. The spiritually mature are motivated to serve and seek avenues to use their gifts, while the spiritually immature are content to sit on the sidelines.
In addition, when God looks for someone to use, he looks for someone who has allowed themselves to be burdened by God. They see the lost and the needs of the church, and they want to serve. They desire to serve God and people, and they pursue this service in various ways. It is those people who God uses to build his church and his kingdom.
Are you allowing God to place a desire in you to serve? In what ways are you reaching out for opportunities to use your gifts and meet the needs of others around you?
Application Question: What specific burdens has God given you for ministry? In what ways are you serving or preparing to better serve?
Elders Must Be Above Reproach (v. 2)
The phrase “above reproach” can also be translated “blameless.” Many call this the overarching quality of an elder and that all the other qualities primarily support it. Kent Hughes said:
This apparently summarizes all the following qualifications, for we see that the final qualification is also about reputation: “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (v. 7).7
“Above reproach” literally means “nothing to take hold upon.”8 It is not referring to being sinless, for nobody can be sinless. It means that there are no legitimate concerns about this man’s life that anyone can hold up and criticize.
Application Question: Why is it so important for the elder’s life to be above approach?
John MacArthur gives several reasons:
- First, they are the special targets of Satan, and he will assault them with more severe temptation than others. Those on the front lines of the spiritual battle will bear the brunt of satanic opposition.
- Second, their fall has a greater potential for harm. Satan knows that when a shepherd falls, the effect on the sheep is devastating.
- Third, leaders’ greater knowledge of the truth, and accountability to live it, brings greater chastening when they sin.
- Fourth, elders’ sins are more hypocritical than others’ because they preach against the very sins they commit.9
Again, these are qualities of spiritual maturity. The spiritually mature seek to be above approach, even in areas where there is freedom. Where the spiritually immature only ask, “Is this OK?” or “Is this my right?”, the spiritually mature ask, “Will this be beneficial for me and others?” Often, they forsake their rights to not cause others to sin. Like Paul, they declare that they will not eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else if it causes a brother to stumble (Rom 14:21).
Are there any aspects of your life that the enemy or others can hold up to accuse you? We must all seek to live above reproach because ultimately our lives either honor or dishonor Christ—they either gather or push people away from him.
Application Question: Are there any areas in your life that the enemy could take hold of to accuse you or the church? If so, how can you get free in those areas? In general, how can we maintain a blameless life?
Elders Must Be Faithful to Their Wives (v. 2)
Paul said that the elder must be “the husband of one wife.” There have been many interpretations of this throughout the centuries: Some think it means elders must be married; however, this would disqualify Paul, Timothy, and Jesus. Others believe this forbids the practice of polygamy. Others think it disqualifies a divorced and/or remarried man.
However, most likely, it has nothing to do with one’s marital status at all. It literally can be translated “a one-woman man.” It means, if he is married, he is faithful to his wife. If he is single, he doesn’t flirt with women. He is not a ladies’ man. David Guzik said, “This means that the Biblical leader is not a playboy, an adulterer, a flirt, and does not show romantic or sexual interest in other women, including the depictions or images of women in pornography.”10
No doubt, one of the reasons Paul lists this is because elders are so prone to stumble in this area. Elders minister to women, even as Christ did. Often this ministry happens when they are most vulnerable. A man not walking in victory in this area will be prone to fall. The failure to be a one-woman man has probably put more men out of ministry than any other sin. It is, therefore, a very important concern.
In Proverbs, Solomon’s father warned him of the adulterous woman. He said,
Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways—do not wander into her pathways; for she has brought down many fatally wounded, and all those she has slain are many. Her house is the way to the grave, going down to the chambers of death.
Many are the victims brought down by sexual promiscuity. Samson succumbed to sexual sin, and so did David and Solomon. In ministry, it is important to enlist those who are blameless in their relations with the opposite sex.
Again, this is not just for elders—this is true for all. It is a quality of spiritual maturity. Where a spiritually immature person might be known for being flirty and unwise with the opposite sex, the mature believer knows the dangers in this area. If they are courting, they are focused on that person and establish wise boundaries to protect from stumbling. If they are married, their eyes are only on their spouse and they try to maintain appropriate boundaries with members of the opposite sex.
When God looks for a person to use for his ministry, he finds someone who is wise in their relations with the opposite sex. How are your relations with the opposite sex?
Application Question: What are good boundaries to maintain with members of the opposite sex? How is God calling you to practice greater wisdom and restraint in your relations with the opposite sex?
Elders Must Be Temperate (v. 2)
“Temperate” literally means “wineless” or “unmixed with wine.”11 Metaphorically, it means to be “‘alert,’ ‘watchful,’ ‘vigilant,’ or ‘clearheaded.’ That may be its primary sense in this passage. A leader must be one who thinks clearly. He must possess the inner strength to refrain from any excess that would dull his alertness.”12
Excess in any area can affect our spiritual discernment. We must be wise and careful about our eating and drinking, our sleep, our entertainment, our exercise, and our relationships. We must be clearheaded in order to discern God’s will for our lives and others.
Are you temperate—practicing self-restraint?
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to be temperate?
Elders Must Be Self-controlled (v. 2)
“Self-controlled” can be translated “sober-mindedness.” Warren Wiersbe described the elder’s sober-mindedness this way:
He must have a serious attitude and be in earnest about his work. This does not mean he has no sense of humor, or that he is always solemn and somber. Rather it suggests that he knows the value of things and does not cheapen the ministry or the Gospel message by foolish behavior.13
Sadly, many pulpits have been cheapened by the humor proceeding from them. Peter said that preachers should speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11)—like their words come directly from him. There is a place for levity, but not when it cheapens or removes the seriousness of God’s message.
Sober-minded believers are serious about God and faith. For many, their faith is not a priority. They are serious about many other endeavors but faith is not one of them. Being sober-minded is another characteristic of the spiritually mature. To the sober-minded believer, faith is the most important aspect of their life. It affects everything they do—they are serious about it.
Are you sober-minded—serious about God and the things of God?
Application Question: How can a lack of sober-mindedness hinder a spiritual leader?
Elders Must Be Respectable (v. 2)
“Respectable” can also be translated “orderly.”14 It is the opposite of chaotic. A spiritual leader must have an orderly, well-disciplined life. Commentator Homer Kent said this: “‘The ministry is no place for the man whose life is a continual confusion of unaccomplished plans and unorganized activities.’”15
God is a God of order and not of chaos (cf. 1 Cor 14:33). Therefore, as we grow in spiritual maturity, we will find the ability to discipline our mind, body, and life to accomplish the tasks the Lord calls us to. Are you orderly? Do you conduct affairs in a manner that is respectable?
Application Question: Why is it important to be orderly, and not chaotic, as a spiritual leader?
Elders Must Be Hospitable (v. 2)
Every elder should be faithful in ministry even before being selected. “Hospitable” and “able to teach” describe that ministry. The word “hospitable” literally can be translated “lover of strangers.” His house is open to the saved and unsaved alike. This was extremely important in ancient times as there were not many inns. It also was important for traveling missionaries who visited and stayed in homes as they shared the gospel.
Romans 12:13 says this to all believers about hospitality: “Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality.” The word “pursue” can also be translated “practice” or “chase.” It can mean a “strenuous pursuit.”16 Christians should not wait for opportunities to show hospitality—they should pursue them. This is especially true of potential elders. These are not men waiting for a ministry—these are men already doing ministry and the church just recognizes what God is doing through them. They are already shepherds.
Similarly, when God calls for people to serve him in a greater fashion, they are already being faithful in a lesser fashion (cf. Matt 25:23). They are faithful with their church, their friendships, their job, their money, their devotions, etc., and as they are faithful, God equips and uses them in a greater way.
Are you pursuing hospitality? How are you practicing love for strangers?
Application Question: Why is the practice of hospitality so important? What are some ways of showing hospitality? In what ways can you grow in this ministry?
Elders Must Be Able to Teach (v. 2)
This is the only non-character qualification in the list. Elders must be students and teachers of God’s Word. Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.” Therefore, he must have sound doctrine, be able to encourage others with it, and also refute those who teach wrong doctrine. This is one of the primary jobs of the elder.
Interpretation Question: Do elders have to be gifted in teaching?
Not necessarily. First Timothy 5:17 says, “Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.” All elders must be apt to teach, but only some specialize in preaching and teaching. Others specialize in ruling—overseeing the church and caring for the flock. Some churches distinguish these as ruling elders or teaching elders. Often the teaching elders are called the pastors, while others are only called elders. However, as mentioned earlier, Scripture does not distinguish—elders are pastors.
Because every other characteristic on this list can be developed and the fact that not all elders excel in teaching, most likely teaching doesn’t need to be an elder’s spiritual gift. All believers are called to teach (Heb 5:12). These men love God’s Word, study it, and share it where there is opportunity—in small groups, in one on one situations, and in the pulpit when offered the opportunity. Teaching is a characteristic of the spiritually mature. Though not necessarily spiritually gifted in it, they have developed the knowledge and the skill to do it. They are also passionate about sharing God’s Word, whether in public or in private.
When God looks for someone to use, he finds someone who loves Scripture and teaches it to others. Remember what God said to Joshua: “This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful” (Joshua 1:8).
Not only was Joshua called to meditate on the law and obey it, but also to never let it depart from his lips. He was called to be a teacher. When God looks for a person to use, he finds someone committed to studying and sharing God’s Word.
Are you committed to studying and sharing Scripture? These prospective elders would already be serving at the church—they would be showing hospitality and sharing the Word of God with others. Are you?
Application Question: Why is being in God’s Word and sharing it with others so important for believers, and especially elders? Describe your spiritual disciplines in studying and teaching Scripture. How can you grow in them?
Elders Must Not Be Drunkards (v. 3)
Paul says that elders must not be given to drunkenness. Obviously, Scripture does not forbid drinking alcohol. Christ drank wine. The early church used it during the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:20-21). However, Scripture does caution us about drinking and forbids drunkenness. Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to crave strong drink, lest they drink and forget what is decreed, and remove from all the poor their legal rights.” Leaders need to be careful of wine because it can affect decision making. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery…”
In ancient times, the water was often contaminated and therefore alcohol was added to purify it. The mixed water was typically around eight parts water and one part alcohol to avoid drunkenness.17 Because Timothy was abstaining from alcohol all together, he was having stomach problems, and Paul tells him to drink a little wine for the constant infirmities (1 Tim 5:23).
Elders should, like Timothy, either avoid alcohol all together—to not cause someone to stumble (Rom 14:21)—or limit its use. It can be a major stumbling block in ministry.
Application Question: What are your views on the use of alcohol? How can believers avoid liberalism and legalism in their view or use of alcohol?
Elders Must Not Be Violent (v. 3)
“Not violent” can be literally translated “not a giver of blows.”18 The elder should not be known for physical violence either publicly or privately. He must be a man who trusts God to fight his battles. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
We get a good picture of this in the story of David after losing his kingdom to his son, Absalom. While marching away from the kingdom, he is mocked by a man named Shimei. David’s men became angry and asked to take off his head. However, David responds, “Let him mock! Maybe, God will see his mocking and restore his blessings on me” (2 Samuel 16:9-12, paraphrase). David, though a man of war, was a man who trusted God to fight his battles.
Obviously, a violent man would greatly hinder God’s work in the church. But this is true for any spiritual leader—he or she would be a cause of discord instead of peace. Not being violent is a quality of the spiritually mature.
Are you trusting God with your battles?
Application Question: Describe a time when you left room for God’s wrath. How did it turn out?
Elders Must Be Gentle (v. 3)
The word “gentle” has the connotation of forbearance and patience when wronged. John MacArthur’s comments are helpful:
Epieikēs (gentle) describes the person who is considerate, genial, forbearing, and gracious, who easily pardons human failure. Such a person remembers good, not evil. He does not keep a list of all the wrongs done to him, or hold a grudge. Many men leave the ministry because they can’t accept criticism. A leader, when wronged, must have no thought of retaliation.19
In ministry, the elders will constantly be criticized and attacked as they serve God faithfully. Therefore, they must be able to respond in a gentle manner—if not, they will aid in causing division and possibly church splits. Where the spiritually immature are often harsh in response to being wronged, the spiritually mature instead respond with gentleness. Paul said, “Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:20-21).
Are you gentle in response to criticism and wrongs committed against you? Do you seek to overcome evil by good? This is a sign of spiritual maturity and a characteristic in those God often uses greatly.
Application Question: Why is gentleness such an important quality for ministry? How can we grow in it?
Elders Must Not Be Quarrelsome (v. 3)
Essentially, Paul says elders should not be “contentious.” They are not arguers—always fighting over something. They must be able to disagree without being disagreeable. Second Timothy 2:24-25 says,
And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth
The reason God’s servants don’t quarrel is because their confidence is not in their arguments or raising their voice. It is in God. They know God is the one that changes hearts—not them. Short tempers make for short ministries.
Are you disagreeable—commonly in an argument? If so, it will hinder your usefulness for God.
Application Question: What are your triggers? What types of things get you angry and can potentially cause you to stumble? How can you become more even-tempered?
Elders Must Not Be Lovers of Money (v. 3)
Ministry should not be chosen for career and financial aspirations; it should be chosen because of a desire to serve. In 1 Timothy 6:9-11, Paul said this about the love of money:
Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.
Paul’s challenge to flee from the love of money does not just apply to money itself. Elders should not be materialistic in general. They should not be consumed with clothes, electronics, cars, etc. First Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.”
Money and the things of this world must not have a grip on their hearts. They should be men who are content and not running after every new thing. Godliness with contentment is great spiritual gain, but those who love wealth open the door for many temptations. Was it not, in part, Eve’s desire for things that led her away from God? In the same way, all believers, not just leaders, must be careful of materialism. It can hinder spiritual growth and one’s ministry (cf. Matt 13:22).
Are you a lover of wealth? Christ commanded us not to store up riches on this earth for where our treasure is, our heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21). When God looks for someone to use, he finds someone who is content whether in plenty or in lack (Phil 4:11-12). They will not be distracted from the mission by materialism. They work hard but ultimately trust that God will meet their needs, as they seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33).
Application Question: Why can the love of money and wealth be so dangerous spiritually? How can we practice discipline with the riches God gives us?
Elders Must Manage Their Households Well (v. 4-5)
He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?
Here Paul makes an argument from the lesser to the greater. If a person manages his family well, then he will be able to manage God’s church. “Manage” is a military term referring to “lining up in rank under one in authority.”20 This includes his children obeying him. Titus 1:6 says, “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Managing one’s family is holistic. It includes faithfulness with finances—the elder pays his bills on time and stays out of debt. He teaches his wife and children the Word of God. He faithfully cares for his home and therefore will be faithful in caring for the church. The word “care” is used in the story of the Good Samaritan to describe how he faithfully cared for the victim of the robbers (Lk 10:34).21
When it says that the elder does this “without losing his dignity” or in a “manner worthy of full of respect” (NIV), it means that the elder’s house should be a model for others. He cares for his family in a dignified manner that encourages and draws respect from others.
Sadly, this characteristic has been largely ignored in the church. It is not uncommon for elders to have unruly children, have all types of debt, and neglect their families for ministry. Instead of managing their home in a manner worthy of full respect, their family is in disorder.
For this reason, elders, and Christians in general, must prioritize their family, even before the church. In 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul teaches that it is the first place that believers must practice their faith. Those who neglect this are disqualified from other ministries. Eli, the high priest, neglected his family and his children rebelled. Because Eli knew of their rebellion and did nothing, God severely cursed him and his descendants—no one from his family would ever reach an old age (cf. 1 Sam 2:27-36, 3:13). This is a sober warning for all ministers and Christians in general. Our first ministry is our family.
Are you faithful in caring for your family—your parents, brothers, sisters, wife, and children? Prioritizing one’s family is a sign of spiritual maturity. When God finds someone to serve him, he looks for someone who is faithful in his or her home life.
Application Question: Why is it so common for pastors and missionaries to have unfaithful children or ones that fall away from the faith all together? How can spiritual leaders better care for their families?
Elders Must Be Mature (v. 6)
Paul said he must not be a “recent convert.” The phrase means “one newly planted,” referring to a young Christian.22 The ministry of an elder requires experience, wisdom, and understanding. Paul says this is necessary in part so that he does not “become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact” (v. 6). “Arrogant” means “to puff up like a cloud of smoke.”23 Like Satan, a young believer might become prone to pride and therefore receive God’s judgment. “The church must not lift up those whom the Lord will later have to cut down.”24
The opposite of pride is humility. An elder must be a humble, mature man. This comes from both being in God’s presence and being humbled through failure. He knows that anything good coming from him must be of God. Paul said that no good thing dwelled in his flesh (Rom 7:18). It was this humility that opened the door for God to use him. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
While the spiritually immature are prone to pride, independence, and judgmentalism, the spiritually mature have learned humility, and God exalts them because of it. When God finds a man or woman to use, he finds someone who is mature and therefore humble.
Application Question: Why is it important for an elder to not be a young believer? How can believers grow in humility and get rid of pride?
Elders Must Have a Good Reputation among the Lost (v. 7)
Finally, Paul says, “he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.” “Well thought of” literally can be translated “beautiful witness.” He must have a beautiful witness among outsiders. They may accuse him because of his doctrine and belief system, but they acknowledge his honesty, integrity, and hard work. If the elder does not have a beautiful witness, it opens the door to fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap. MacDonald said this about the snare of the devil:
The snare of the devil is the trap which Satan lays for those whose lives are not consistent with their profession. Once he has caught men in this trap, he holds them up to ridicule, scorn, and contempt.25
Those who profess godliness at church but practice drunkenness, immorality, and dishonestly throughout the week open the door for the devil to trap and accuse them, and bring dishonor upon God and his church. The devil is always seeking to destroy the believer’s testimony because to do so often destroys the testimony of Christ and his bride—the church.
Are you seeking to live a beautiful life before the lost? While the mature are identified by being different from the world, the spiritually immature are often worldly—bearing the marks of the world (cf. 1 Cor 3:1). Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” It’s a beautiful life that draws nonbelievers to Christ and an ungodly life that pushes them away.
Application Question: In what ways have you witnessed leaders fall into the snare of Satan—opening the door for the world to mock Christ and the church? How can we develop a beautiful witness before the world?
1. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be challenged to cultivate our character.
When God sought a new king for Israel, he looked for a man after his own heart (1 Sam 13:14). God is not looking for degrees, skills, and accolades. He looks for people with right hearts towards him. His eyes roam the earth seeking those whose hearts are right towards him so he can use them for his glory (2 Chr 16:9).
Certainly, this reminds us to give attention to our character. It has been said in business, “Find someone with character, and then, teach them the skills.” And no doubt, this is God’s method. He finds those with character and gives them grace to do his work.
Are you giving attention to your heart—your character? From it flows all things (Prov 4:23).
2. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be challenged to pray for them.
In reading their qualities, it is important to notice that the devil is mentioned twice in verses 6 and 7. Elders and spiritual leaders are strategic targets of the devil. We must constantly pray for their families, their ministries, and their protection. The enemy wants to destroy them because when they fall, many others fall.
Are you praying for your spiritual leaders?
3. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be challenged to pursue ministry.
Males should consider eldership as a potential ministry. Paul said that anyone who aspires to be an overseer desires a good work. It is a noble ministry to serve and care for God’s people. It is the very ministry of Christ, for Scripture calls him the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). There are no greater foot-steps to follow in. Eldership is hard and the standards are high, but it is fruitful and worth it.
Most elders will be unpaid. Like Daniel, David, and Joseph, they minister to God’s people while maintaining a secular job. However, these men love God, his Word, and his people and, therefore, seek to serve them. Certainly, many men should pray about and develop ministry skills to serve God and the church in this manner.
And in general, all believers should covet and seek opportunities to serve God and his people. Christ taught that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few (Matt 9:37). God calls for all believers to partner with him in building his kingdom. In fact, he calls us his co-workers (1 Cor 3:9). Serving God and people is a noble task that pleases God. We should desire and pursue ministry opportunities to serve and honor God.
Application Question: Which qualities of elders stood out most to you and why? If you could only choose one, which would be your weakest area? How can you pursue growth in that area?
1 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 76). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 219). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 97). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 94–95). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 94–95). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 95). Chicago: Moody Press.
7 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 77). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
8 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 219). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
9 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 102). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 Guzik, D. (2013). 1 Timothy (1 Ti 3:2b–7). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
11 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 104). Chicago: Moody Press.
12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 105). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 220). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
14 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 220). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
15 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 106). Chicago: Moody Press.
16 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 79). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
17 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 110). Chicago: Moody Press.
18 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 80). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
19 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 110). Chicago: Moody Press.
20 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 113). Chicago: Moody Press.
21 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2087–2088). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
22 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 221). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
23 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 117). Chicago: Moody Press.
24 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 117). Chicago: Moody Press.
25 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2088). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.